Archive for the 'Illustration' category

 | October 2, 2011 4:19 pm

LIbreGraphics Magazine - Issue 1.3LibreGraphics magazine is one of those sorts of bold things that the open source world needs more of. It’s designed as a catalyst for discussion and, more importantly, a showcase of what can be accomplished with open source software.

In the graphic arts world, a sizable number of graphic design users have this idea that the only software worth using is a suite of proprietary (and extremely expensive) tools. For that reason, one of the stated goals of LibreGraphics magazine (part of their manifesto, in fact) is a desire to shatter this idea.

They want people to know:

As users of [free software], we know that our work, when executed well, is indistinguishable from work produced by more traditional means. Thus, ehre we will unite all our previously disparate successes. We will elevate the discourse around LibreGraphics as a professionally viable option, raise awareness, and show that it is the vision of the artist (and not the cost of the tool) that is important.

They do an excellent job.

Issue 1.3 of the magazine was just released. It takes a look at what it means to work collaboratively. It is available for download on the LibreGraphics website or for purchase. (If you have trouble downloading from the main site, there are mirrors available.)

The Voice in the Shell - Page Spread

LibreGraphics - In Print


Colored Extravagence

Breaking Into Floss

 | January 25, 2011 10:10 pm

Note: Still working on the book.

In my heart, I have a very soft place for engraved artwork.

I respect the tremendous degree of skill – a third drawing, a third etching, and a third sculpture – required to create it. I admire the way in which line density is used to create the illusion of tonal depth. But most of all, I love the texture.  Unlike other forms of art, you can both look at and feel an engraved image. (I’ve often wondered if this is why people love the feel of a newly printed dollar bill.)

For most of life, I’ve wanted to learn to engrave. Unfortunately, though, this will probably never happen. To learn engraving requires specialized equipment, time to practice, and the presence of a master who is willing to teach.

I have access to none of these.

But even though I will probably never learn to engrave, this doesn’t mean that I can’t create images with a similar quality and texture. One technique that shares much in common with engraving is the scratchboard.

When using a scratchboard, drawings are created using knives and other etching tools. You work on a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with black India ink, and carefully, you remove the ink to reveal the image within. For the past few weeks, I’ve been planning a project that might work well on a scratchboard, and for that reason, I’ve been busily looking into it.

While trying to learn more about scratchboard, I’ve come across two artists who specialize in it. Their online are beautiful examples of what you can achieve via scratchboard, but even better than the images is the insight into their work process that both artists share.

Below, you can find information about the artists, examples of their work, and a description of how they go about creating beautiful art.

Apollo Driving the Chariot of the Sun - Mark Summers

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 | January 10, 2011 5:36 pm

Yesterday morning, I spent some time scouring the internet for visuals which creatively highlight the importance of water. I’ve been trying to think up six or seven different ways that I could approach a fund-raising brochure that I’m working on.

In so doing, I’ve found some wonderful images that provide a slightly different take on water. I enjoyed them so much, I thought that I would post them here.

The Person You Love is 72.8% Water

The first example is part of a promotional book put together by Teagan White, a design student and is based on a quote from Alan Fleischer’s book, “The Art of Looking Sideways.”


This second group is a series of illustrations drawn by Alexandra Zaharova & Ilya Plotnikov. I thought they beautifully understated the importance of water to life, everywhere.  These illustrations, or ones like them, could be used to great effect in a minimalistic brochure.

Note: This posting was originally part of Life, Water, and Propaganda. After some consideration, however, I decided to split it into a new post.  It just didn’t fit with the other very well.

 | October 26, 2010 2:37 am

Note: Still working on the book.  Making progress, hope to be finished very soon.  (Very, very soon.)  Regular programming will resume when the draft is sent to the editors.

There’s nothing like a deadline to throw you into pandemonium and confusion.  I am trying to finish up the chapters on stuff and things, and I’ve found myself deeply conflicted on what I want to do and how I want to do it.

I can take one of several paths, but all options require compromises which don’t excite me.  And due to the need to actually finish sometime in my lifetime, I’m going to have to cut material.  I’ve already made really deep cuts and  now it’s time for more.  Without supporting bits (already cut) I’ve discovered that a lot of remaining material doesn’t make sense.

This is painful, because I thought the material lovely, interesting and essential.  The bits were amongst my favorites, and I hate to see them go.  (But then, after you’ve worked on a book for a year, you lose any semblance of objectivity. Ideas are like your children, cutting them feels tantamount to murder.)

One piece that I had and really liked was a bit about the history and evolution of type, particularly how new letterforms allowed for new stories and types of ideas.  Then, I removed much of the surrounding material and the graphics no longer make sense.

But some of the ideas are nifty, and I’m always a sucker for history of any kind, so I’m making a last minute salvage attempt.

What do you think of the layout below?  (PDF to be found here.)  Is it too dense?  Are there too many words?  Does it work?  Does it help to tell a (somewhat butchered) story?  Opinions, thoughts and critiques welcome.

 | August 17, 2010 4:10 am

Evolution of Abstract ArtOne of my all time favorite charts is entitled “Cubism and Abstract Art.”  It was a lithograph created by Alfred Barr (then director of the Museum of Modern Art) as the catalog cover image for a 1932 exhibit of the same name.

I love the image for three reasons reasons:

  1. It’s simply awesome.  Barr’s chart manages to take 45 years of tumultuous history and condense it down to 13 categories, 80 words and 51 arrows.
  2. The graphic is simultaneously informative, provocative, controversial and insulting.  It stressed the evolution of art at the expense of the people responsible, a significant blow to monumental egos.  Only six artists are even listed by name!
  3. The chart beautifully accomplishes an ambitious goal.  Alfred Barr attempted to map the evolution of artistic ideas and cultural movements, both of which are notoriously difficult to chronicle.  Yet, he manages to provide information about how the trends are related to one another, how they evolved through time, and which influences were internal to the art world (depicted in black) and those which were external (red).

It’s a fantastic example of a concept map, network diagram, and process chart all rolled into one.  (Edward Tufte has a great write up about the chart on page 64 of Beautiful Evidence.)

I was reminded just how fantastic again this morning.

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 | August 6, 2010 8:34 pm

Hunt-Lenox Globe 1I’ve always been intrigued by the phrase “Here Be Dragons” (in Latin “Hic Sunt Dracones”), which was sometimes used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories on older maps.  (Or at least, that’s how the phrase has passed into cultural memory.)  There’s just something romantic about it.  It conjures up thoughts of explorers, adventurers and pioneers heading off to uncharted domains just to see what was there.

Which is why I was shocked to learn that “Hear Be Dragons” or “Hic Sunt Dracones” doesn’t appear on a single historical map.

Not one.

The only place that you can find it is on the Hunt-Lenox globe – a small bronze globe created in the 16th century.*  The magical words appear off the eastern coast of China.

But even there, the actual meaning isn’t clear.  There’s no indication that it was used for uncharted regions or mysterious locales.  It may be referring to legends of the Komodo dragons, which were well known in Europe at the time.

Does this mean that the phrase and everything it has come to stand for is somehow fraudulent?

No, it doesn’t.

Literal representations of “Here Be Dragons” may be lacking, but there are many historical examples of similar admonitions (both verbal and pictorial), some of which are just as interesting.  Below, you can find a gallery of examples, spanning history from the Romans to the late Renaissance.**

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 | August 4, 2010 4:11 pm

Slaves Packed Below DecksIn hindsight, it is easy to believe that great events had an inevitably about them.  After all, it was destined that slavery would be abolished, Germany would lose to the allies during World War II and that Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Struggle would win equal rights for all Americans.  After all, slavery was wrong, Hitler was evil, and deep-seated racism was destroying the social fabric of America.  Right?


Such historical determinism ignores the significant struggles required to convince a community that a particular practice is wrong and then drive them to do something about it.  If the allies had done nothing about Hitler, or if Martin Luther King hadn’t spoken, organize and marched; modern society would look quite different from the way it does now.

Which all underscores the fact that propaganda has gotten a bum rap, as of late.  As seen in the case of the abolitionists, the struggle against Nazism and the Civil Rights Cause, propaganda is a necessary form of communication.  It’s one of the most effective tools for influencing the attitude of a community over time.

In fact, propaganda is little more than communications tool and is hardly nefarious.  (Though it can certainly be abused, just as statistical/scientific reporting can also be used to confuse and mislead.)  A good piece of propaganda tells a story in an effective manner or presents information within an appropriate context.  The difference between propaganda and impartial reporting is that propaganda uses arguments, evidence, pleas to emotion and opinion to influence an audience.

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 | July 28, 2010 6:28 pm

daVinci-NervousSince “Hannibal, Napoleon and Joseph Charles Minard” was posted in February, it has consistently been one of the most popular posts on this website.  Along with “Eragon Shadelayer: Sociopath” and the project pages for Time Drive and LyX-Outline, it accounts for about 60% of my overall traffic; which is pretty impressive since there are nearly 150 other posts, an image gallery and several content pages vying for people’s attention.

The popularity of Time Drive and LyX-Outline is self-explanatory.  Other than the book, they are my two largest projects.  Moreover, they are the only projects that I promote outside of this website with any regularity.

(Time Drive was even featured by Lifehacker, which was just awesome.  Seeing one of my projects in a big-time website/media outlet was one of ten Life Goals I set in High School.  Now I just need to do something cool and world changing, so I can be invited to present at TED.  That would knock out two more.)

I also understand why “Eragon Shadeslayer: Sociopath” is popular.  There is a thriving community of people who utterly detest the work of Christopher Paolini.  They’re a far more cohesive community than even Paolini’s fans.  They have support clubs, websites and everything.  It’s really quite impressive.

Earlier this week, I finally figured out why “Hannibal, Napoleon and Joseph Charles Minard” is so popular.  While I would like to think that it’s my brilliant commentary or witty prose, that would be wrong.  It’s because I included pretty pictures.   But unfortunately, the popularity of the post isn’t because of my skill as an artist, either.  It’s due to the subject matter of the images.  Because, they’re more than just pretty pictures.  The images included with the Minard post are high quality and (somewhat faithful) translations of Minard’s original maps; and to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only place on the Internet where you can get PDF (vector) copies of the artwork.

I created my copies of the illustrations for the book project, but I liked them so much, that I also wanted to post them on this site.  But since I drew heavily on the work of others (including Edward Tufte and the wonderful Revisions of Minard website), I thought it best to release them under a Creative Commons License.

Over the past six months since they’ve been available, I’ve been contacted by many people who have wanted to use the images for various purposes.  Of these requests, the most common is a desire to print out very large copies and hang them on the wall.  (Edward Tufte offers a copy of the Minard poster for purchase and it is wonderful and beautiful.  Unfortunately, it is also very small.)

It wasn’t until earlier this week, after some back and forth with a nice man named Kevin, that a light bulb in my head went off.  I thought, “Since people want big copies of the images, why don’t you offer them as posters?  You used to run a production office and know something about this whole printing thing … and it probably wouldn’t be that hard.”

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 | February 22, 2010 5:49 pm

Charles Minard - Railroad Routes

No study of the history of scientific communication can be complete without mention of Joseph Charles Minard, a 19th Century French civil engineer and cartographer.

At the end of his life, Minard created two very famous examples of statistical charts, called flow maps, that every scientist, engineer and student should be familair with.  The first showed Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps (218 BC, Second Punic War), and the second describes Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia (1812-1813).

Both examples are beautiful works of art and masterful examples of evidence.  But they are also more than that, they tell cohesive and interesting stories.  In this post, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the history of Hannibal and Napoleon, and highlight the ways which Minard’s charts help us to explain their eventual outcome.

(Note: High resolution, PDF versions of the two maps are available for download.  These versions have been translated from the original French.  To download, either click on the images, or here for the Hannibal invasion of Northern Italy, and here for the French Invasion of Russia.)

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 | December 16, 2008 6:49 pm

As described in part 1 of this article, vector graphics offer a tremendous number of advantages over their raster counterparts. These benefits include the ability to enlarge the image to any size without a loss of detail or quality and better reproduction in both print and online form. Combined with the existence of many high quality icon libraries, vector graphics represent a valuable source of art for desktop applications.

In part 2 of this article, we looked at a way to convert vector graphics using Adobe Illustrator. While useful, the XAML export plug-in has a number of limitations and is not always able to faithfully convert the image to XAML. Thus, while Adobe Illustrator is a good conversion method when working directly with artists and graphic designers who are able to provide art files in Adobe Illustrator (AI) format, it is not so well suited to existing OpenSource libraries which tend to be distributed in the SVG format.

Due to their use of alpha transparency, Adobe Illustrator is always able to read the images from other editors, though it contains basic SVG support. This is unfortunate as these icon libraries, such as the Oxygen Icon Set, are freely available under permissive licenses. Fortunately, there is a way to overcome some of these limitations. In this article, I will look at how to convert SVG icons to XAML using the stand-alone utility XamlTune. We will also be using the OpenSource SVG editor, Inkscape.

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