Display That! (Examples + Commentary)

(Re-edited; originally posted March 1, 2014.

When I started this blog in 2007, I identified several subjects of interest: graphic connoisseurship, broadly speaking; the relationship between cartooning and illustration; the culture of popular images and artifacts; and informational images.


Since that time I have continued to teach synthetically-oriented courses in communication design. These experiences are designed to address illustrators, designers and hybrid types. In many respects my own work has a hybrid sensibility. 


I like making pictures that inform and/or document. 




When this post first appeared, I was working with wonderful colleagues Amy Auman and Scott Gericke in Word and Image 1–a really fun, if challenging, course to teach.  

In 2017, commencing the same project, Amy is abroad and Scott is taking a break from teaching; Liz Sullivan is still in the mix; and Vidhya Nagarajan and Heather Corcoran are on the team. Heather has not yet appeared due to her other duties, but students, do not miss Heather's excellently written design blog. This post on book covers will be relevant. 





We're in the early stages of a new project: The Collection Poster. Each student has been assigned a topic (e.g., mammals, firearms of the Napoleonic Wars, echinoderms, summer apparel). They are to research the subject, then develop a collection of 8 to 20 items to present on a poster measuring 16 x 20 inches. Their approach can be taxonomic, historical, primarily decorative, explanatory (How a Steam Engine Works), or some combination of thereof. It's an awesome problem; we're jealous of the students who get to work on it!







Today I'm pulling old and new sources together to provide a sense of just how big the world can be on such projects. Many students, when presented with the problem, experience it as a limitation. "Why would I make a poster that just shows _________? That's boring!"  Well, it might be. It also might be fascinating, delightful, eye-opening, wonderful!

Here, then, are some samples of images which display groups, things, people, sites, processes, etcetera. These samples are varied, but far from exhaustive.

An astronomical diagram with type, from the mid 19th century. 








A cross section of skin, from the 1965 World Book Encyclopedia. Very straightforward: a black-and-white drawing enlivened and clarified with tints. Given a good key drawing (no small thing) it would take about 30 seconds to do this by multiplying the black layer in Photoshop and throwing a little color behind it.












A similar image at a rather different scale: a still from Destination Earth, an industrial film from 1956 with a modernist sensibility, showing offshore oil exploration in cross-section. (More stills from this film here.)




Several variations on a theme: figures displayed to show relationships or actions on a single plane.


A Fremont petroglyph, from Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, photographed by my friend and colleague Stan Strembicki a few Mays ago. He climbed up on a ledge to shoot this one, just as I was beginning to figure out that you can drive into Nine Mile Canyon, but you can't drive out the other end. Big bummer.









A WPA poster promoting a play; note the hieratic arrangement of the figures and the effective and efficient use of 3 colors. 











A character sheet presenting the cast of The Jetsons, 1961 or 62. 










Ed Benedict draws Snagglepuss, 1958. The "display" is inadvertent, really: he is just trying things, one next to the other. The traditional draftsmanly drawing material devoted to flat modern form is surprising, appealing. 







For comic relief–plus drawing meets photography. On the distressingly named lolsnaps.com. I cannot find an attribution. 









Reasons to buy a Dodge Polaris, especially if you're female.









An essay in line weight, by Elizabeth Buchsbaum, from Animals Without Backbones. I have written about her before. (I would really like to locate her drawings for exhibition purposes. I once heard from someone in the Buchsbaum clan, but then the line went dead. Anybody out there?)












Matisse flattens with color, erasing depth from a putatively descriptive picture: the Red Studio. Militant two-dimensionality. 






France, as it appears among the Geographical Panels in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. I stood in this room in 2003, agape. I bought the ridiculously expensive book, which sits among my atlases of various cartographic and typographic personalities. A really beautiful thing; lovely color and variation in treatment.











Data underscored by image, but not subordinated to it. It seems like a metaphor, but really isn't. More like a simile, I guess.








Google Street View before the fact.









In the urban vein, here's an illustration from Sasek's This is London. Okay, it's deep space, so not strictly informational, but look at the handling of the cars. None of them overlap. They're simultaneously units of information and decoration.






The Swedish graphic designer Olle Eskell. Clear rules, elegant decisions, charming and comic result.







This may not be intelligible, but who can gainsay its urgency? By Francesca Ryan. Children are ferocious intenders. I love this thing. (I pumped the contrast on the pencil, producing that somewhat over-the-top yellow. Not Francesca's fault. Bad art direction!)











An index of weaponry. 












Olle Eskell, again. A positive/negative flip on traditional display, combined with whimsical narrative. 













More old stuff from Britain. Specimens from a book of English fossil finds. To some degree like the spearheads above, a stone wall built from tiny pebbles and varied rocks, mortared with negative space.











Speaking of calcified stuff: cetaceans (whales) as artifacts as well as a kind of 3D chart, at the Galerie de paléontologie et d'anatomie comparée in Paris. What a wacky place. My photograph, from the summer of 2013.








Game boards provide excellent case studies in systematic display, from the purely geometric… 










…to the more pictorial. 










To pay my respects to the winter gods who have been gentle with us indeed, even as March arrives: an ode to meteorological phenomena.  





Finally, an array of heads, completed this week at a frantic pace as part of a quick turnaround project. Mostly skeptical people at a public hearing...





Happy composing!

Milt Groth, Automobile Paper Dolls, center "Playtime" spread, Jack and Jill Magazine, circa 1950.

D.B. Dowd, 1967 Chrysler New Yorker and 1965 Ford Econoline Pickup, from "Shanghai Pictorial," Spartan Holiday No. 1, 2012. 

D.B. Dowd, Cassiopeia Does the Twist, an evening's worth of stargazing notes, August 10-11, 2008, near Moab, Utah.

Jim Flora, cover illustration, Research and Engineering, January 1956.

John Emslie, Transparent Solar System Displaying the Planets with Their Orbits, as Known at the Present Day, published by James Reynolds and Sons, London, circa 1844. 

Illustrator credit unavailable, Cross Section of Human Skin, World Book Encyclopedia, 1965. 

Oil Exploration, still from Destination Earth, 1956. John Sutherland Productions. Directed by Carl Urbano, Production Design by Tom Oreb and Victor Haboush. 

Stan Strembicki, Fremont Petroglyphs,  Nine Mile Canyon, Utah. 2012.

Richard Halls, WPA poster design for The Emperor's New Clothes, 1936. 

Ed Benedict (?), Character Sheet for The Jetsons, a Hanna-Barbera Show, 1962. George, Jane, Judy et. al., may have been designed by Benedict–they betray his sense of shape. I have never been able to find a character design credit for the show. 

This is definitely Ed Benedict, as the signature shows. Snagglepuss character design, 1958. I shot this on my iPhone (a little grainy) at the Norman Rockwell Museum in February 2017, at the Hanna Barbera Show. Benedict's pencils were the best things in it. 

Credit unavailable, Drawing On Windows Because Work Gets Boring, Sharpie on window pane. Posted on lolsnaps.com.

Illustrator uncredited, advertisement, 1960 Dodge Polaris.

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Polyp Types, Hydra, from Animals Without Backbones, 1937.

Henri Matisse, The Red Studio, 1911.

Stefano Buonsignori, Map of France, from the Geographical Panels in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. 1576.

Global Emissions, Good Magazine.

Illustrator uncredited, a fragment of a broadsheet-sized rendering of the Astor family real estate empire, published on January 1, 1899 by the New York World.

Miroslav Sasek, Picadilly Square, in This is London, 1960.

Olle Eskell, a park with cityscape. 

Francesca Ryan, Untitled (Megalomanical Obelisk with Tapeworm? Powerline Vaudeville?). 2013.

Spearheads. A Scandinavian expert memorably named Worsaae catalogued Viking artifacts in the British Isles in 1846-47. This is one of 12 watercolors (No. 3, to be precise) to appear in An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1851-52.

Olle Eskell, cover illustration, Graphis 39. 1962.

"Eocene Shells at Bracklesham" from The Geology and Fossils of the Tertiary and Cretaceous Formations of Sussex, by Frederick Dixon. 1850. This (and a thousand other printed pictorial excavations) at the wonderful blog Bibliodyssey.

Galerie de paléontologie et d'anatomie comparée, Paris.

Kolor-Blox game board, circa 1935

Snakes and Ladders, forerunner of MB's Chutes and Ladders. N.D. Snakes is creepier, but way cooler, too.  

An encyclopedia of weather, crammed into a tidy rectangle. Meteorology, illustration by John Emslie, London, 1844. 

D.B. Dowd, Audience at Public Hearing. Project pending. (Will provide citation in March '17.)