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.
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...