Category Archives: Illustration

I Know She Should Be an Inspiration But, Damn, on Some Level She Really Makes You Want to Quit. Not Quit to Reinvent Yourself, But Just Quit Designing Altogether and Go Work as a Desk Clerk at a Sleazy Motel or Something.

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Let’s begin with a bio lifted outright from the credit line of an article Bantjes wrote for the AIGA website (which, in the nature of these things, we will assume is autobiographical):

Marian Bantjes is a designer, artist and writer working internationally from her base on a small island off the west coast of Canada, near Vancouver. She was trained as a book typesetter (1984–1994) and was a straight-up graphic designer from 1994–2003. But it is her more recent, highly personal, obsessive and sometimes strange graphic work that has since brought her international recognition.

If you know her work already then you’ll know what you think of it and whether you want to buy this wonderful little book or not. If you don’t know her work, check out her web-site. Take your time. When you’re done then pop back here (if you can even remember where you started from). We’ll just insert all the price and bibliographic information here in the meantime.

Designer and Design 066: Marian Bantjes
? 2008: Marian Bantjes cdnmapleleaf, Émilie Lamy & Debbie Millman

Marian Bantjes beautiful work integrates calligraphic typography and illustration with astounding originality. So idiosyncratic that it brings to mind everything from the gestural calligraphy of Martin Andersch to Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur to the work of contemporary Iranian designers like Mehdi Saeedi. (2008: Pyramyd Editions; ISBN 9782350171265)

$32.95

Eye Magazine 72
? 2009: John Walters

$37.50

OK, so, she’s insanely talented, obviously highly committed to her craft and uncompromising … and has a career vector so extraordinary* that it flies in the face of virtually all design industry convention (and possibly, if you’re a struggling Canadian designer, your assumptions about the nature of the universe). Reading what Sagmeister, Bierut, Millman, and all have to say about her, it seems like it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. And yes, Bantjes is always very thankful for the support she has received from colleagues and rightly calls attention to her hard work and an undeniably brave decision to give up her traditional design practice to pursue her passion. Seriously though, looking at her website it’s hard not to want to pinch her to see if she is dreaming (and, by extension, that we are all just figments of her nocturnal imagination). A $77,000 Chopard diamond pendant? Really?

Bantjes mentions in her cover story in the current issue of Eye Magazine (oh, did we forget to mention that she has the cover story in the current issue of Eye Magazine?) her regret at not having given up her design practice sooner, but, six months earlier, or later and who knows what might have happened? Chaos theory posits that, when initial conditions are just right, the beating of a butterfly’s wing can start a hurricane. More commonly, however, the butterfly barely succeeds in ruffling a ladybug’s hair. Congratulations Marian but, for everyone’s sake, please don’t pinch yourself.

* I just read the Eye interview and discovered Walters begins with an almost identical observation (he uses “trajectory” rather than vector – which is the word I was looking for in the first place). Damned if I’m going to rewrite now, though it occurs to me that Bantjes is likely pretty sick of the how surprised everyone seems to be by her success. – David

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To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at: info@swipe.com.

Children's Books by Graphic Designers, Part 3: Munari and Mari

In the late 1960s and earily 1970s Bruno Munari and Enzo Mari produced a series of children’s books and products for Italian manufacturer Danese, who otherwise specialized in fancy desk accessories and stylish ashtrays (a rather Italian product mix). Despite this association, the two designers are reputed to have rather contrasting personalities.

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Bruno Munari is one of the most universally beloved figures in Italian art and design. Having designed and illustrated children’s books for decades, Munari began, in the 1960, to travel the country giving workshops on art and creative thinking to young children and their teachers. While none of us at Swipe ever met Munari, several of our Italian customers of a certain age relate fond grammar-school memories of “Uncle Bruno”.

With Mari we do have some direct experience. In 1999, after having spent a day being shown around Toronto by a Design Exchange staffer, the diminutive Mari marching up to the counter at Swipe and announced unceremoniously: “I used to think Canada was the country of dreams, now I know it is the country of shit.” A second Mari story come by way of a customer who, while attending a party at the flagship Alessi shop on Corso Matteotti in Milan, noticed a man sitting all alone in a corner. When he asked his host who the sad looking gentleman was, he was told: “Ahh, that is Mari. Nobody likes Mari.”

What is most astounding about Mari’s reputation as a world-class grump is that he is, in fact, responsible for some of the most lyrical, joyful and empathetic pedagogical products ever designed. His 16 Animali and 16 Pesci puzzles, designed in 1957 and produced by Danese throughout the 1970s, are wondrous objects, equally delightful to any three-year-old as to the most critical aficionado of industrial design. Anyhow, perhaps Mari’s frankness is exactly what the design world needs today. At a recent talk hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco, Mari stated flatly: “Now, people frequently want to buy stupid things, but good design is not a copy of what people want.” Damn.

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Nella Notte Buia / In the Darkness of the Night
? 1956: Bruno Munari

Arguably Munari’s most famous children’s book, In the Darkness of the Night is a poignant and touching voyage through darkness. First published in 1956, the book has become a landmark in children’s publishing for its tactile and interactive qualities. (1996: Corraini Editore; ISBN 9788875700799)

$ 48.95

Bruno Munari’s ABC
? 1960: Bruno Munari

Munari’s ABC was originally published exclusively for the American book market in 1960, but its success led to numerous reprints in multiple languages, including his native Italian. Beautifully illustrated in Munari’s iconic style, ABC plays with whimsical combinations of text and image to create a playful introduction to the alphabet. (2003: Chronicle Books; ISBN 0811854639)

$ 25.95

The Circus in the Mist
? 1968: Bruno Munari

As with In the Darkness of the Night, the elaborately produced and beautifully illustrated The Circus in the Mist is a wonderful book for children and adults alike. With a range of paper stocks, and the creative use and vellum and die-cuts, Munari captures the feeling of traversing Milan’s characteristic fog only to arrive at a circus dress rehearsal. (1996: Corraini Editore; ISBN 9788887942972)

$ 43.95

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Adapted from Munari’s famed Playing with Art workshops, this wonderful series for older children playfully explores the relationship between perception and visual representation. In Munari’s view, careful observation leads to liberated self-expression and actually connects the young artist to the essential nature of the subject. Make art, not pictures!

Drawing a Tree
? 1978: Bruno Munari

“When drawing a tree always remember that every branch is more slender than the one that came before. Also note that the trunk splits into two branches, then those branches are split into two, then those two, and so on, and so on, until you have a full tree, be it straight, squiggly, curved up, curved down, or bent sideways by the wind.” – BM (2000: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 888794276)

Drawing the Sun
? 1980: Bruno Munari

“When drawing the sun, try to have on hand coloured paper, chalk, felt-tip markers, crayons, pencils, ballpoint pens. Also remember that sunset and dawn are the back and front of the same phenomenon: when you are looking at the sunset, the people over there are looking at the dawn.” – BM (2000: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 8887942773)

$19.95 each

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Più e Mino / Plus and Minus
? 1970: Bruno Munari & Giovanni Belgrano

A unique visual game for children, Plus and Minus consists of 72 images printed on opaque and transparent cards, which can be superimposed to create landscapes, vignettes and narrative scenes.

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As can be expected of Munari’s games, there are no rules and the game is only limited by the child’s imagination. This new edition of Plus Minus has been carefully reissued by Corraini, remaining completely faithful to the 1970 original. (2008: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 8033532910020)

$ 74.95

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Il Gioco delle Favole / The Fable Game
? 1965: Enzo Mari

The Fable Game is among Mari’s most beloved projects and is one of the high points in the history of design for children. Similar to the Eames’ House of Cards, The Fable Game consists of interlocking cards printed with characters from Aesop and La Fontaine, intended to encourage children to develop narratives based on the ‘intersections’ of the cards. Each new card combination brings together different characters and suggest a new story. (2004: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 888794296x)

$ 38.95

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? 1978: Enzo Mari

Another extraordinary concept piece from Mari, Drawing Cards anticipated Taro Gomi’s Doodles series by three decades. Each cardstock folder contains five long strips of thick drawing paper partially printed with images or graphic elements intended to provide a point of departure for young artists who would prefer to draw rather than simply colour. (2008: Corraini Editore; ISBNs 9788886250672; 9788886250665; 9788886250696; 9788886250702; 9788886250689)

$14.95 each set

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Il Posto dei Giochi / The Place of Games
? 1967: Enzo Mari

Perhaps Mari’s key insight was his recognition that children are best left to imagine for themselves. With his die-cut cardboard play structure Il Posto dei Giochi, or The Place of Games, Mari provides a subtle suggestion of fantastic environments, leaving the child’s imagination to fill in the rest. Unfortunately, Il Posto dei Giochi is produced in Italy in such small quantities that it is priced more as a design object than as a child’s toy.

$ 149.95

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To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at: info@swipe.com.

Cwoffee with Aunt Maira?

Everyone loves Maira Kalman. She’s the cool aunt in the city that teenage kids run away to when they decide that their parents are hopelessly square. She’s embodies the civilized, thoughtful and sentimental qualities particular to New York City. You just want to take her to coffee and never come back. Conference organizers know this.

Maira was the M in M&Co and, while it is difficult to define each individual’s contribution to the output of the firm based on design credits alone, her illustration and inspiration crop up again and again throughout the M&Co and Colors years. With the death of husband and professional partner, Tibor, from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1999, Maira has simultaneously kept his work in the public eye and established herself as a beloved New York cultural icon and, in diverse media, one of the most respected artists working in America today.

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Grand Central Station Mural: 1999

The breadth of Kalman’s interests and talents is awesome, ranging from brilliant children’s books, covers for the New Yorker, theatrical set designs, and a mural in Grand Central Station, to an entirely unpredictable bestseller in the form of an illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and a newly launched New York Times illustrated blog, And the Pursuit of Happiness, following on the success of her earlier blog, The Principles of Uncertainty, published as a highly acclaimed book in 2007.

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What Pete Ate from A-Z

Smartypants (Pete In School)

? 2003: Maira Kalman

Typical of Kalman’s children’s books, the Pete series is so universal and yet so intensely personal that it’s hard not to feel like you’ve lived next door to Pete and the gang for years. What Pete Ate ranks as one of the most original and delightful alphabet books ever written and Smartypants (Pete in School) captures a child’s view of school as intensely exciting while being fraught with potential social disaster. (2003: Puffin Books; ISBN 978039923362351699 & 2003: Putnam Juvenile; ISBN 0399234780)

I was out walking the dear dog (who is a sweet meal ticket – two books about him, one New Yorker cover and a back page) and I saw 500 things that made me want to make art. – MK

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey

? 2005: Maira Kalman

Among the most astonishing and heartbreaking children’s books ever written. An extraordinary tale of the heroism of ordinary people and the potential for seemingly trivial efforts and acts of kindness to be important beyond reckoning. We won’t even try to summarize here. (2005: Puffin Books; ISBN 0399239537)

Next Stop Grand Central

? 2001: Maira Kalman

Grand Central is the functional heart of the greatest city of the Twentieth-Century. A wonder made all the more wonderful because it is so much more than a wonder. Here Kalman offers a passionate celebration of “the busiest, fastest, biggest place there is.” (2001: Puffin Books; ISBN 069811888x)

What Pete Ate from A-Z: $20.95
Smartypants (Pete In School): $23.95
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey: $25.50
Next Stop Grand Central (paper only): $9.99

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Elements of Style

? 1959 (2005): William Strunk, E. B. White & Maira Kalman

This classic manual has conveyed the principles of plain English style to millions of readers. So what would possess an artist to illustrate the work and then spend several years in an effort to convince first, the original publisher and later, the authors’ estates to allow its publication? And why is the result so bizarrely engaging? (2005: Penguin Books; ISBN 1594200696)

Principles of Uncertainty

? 2007: Maira Kalman

Principles originally ran from May of 2006 to April of 2007 as an illustrated blog on the New York Times Op-Extra page. Like peeking into your favourite artist’s personal sketchbook, this sequence of thematic visual studies defies easy classification. It is a sort of stream-of-consciousness, existential meditation on life and death, love and loss. (2007: Penguin Press; ISBN 9781594201349)

Elements of Style: $34.95
Principles of Uncertainty: $35.50

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To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at: info@swipe.com.

Children's Books by Graphic Designers, Part 2: Bob Gill

Bob Gill is one of the most influential figures in post-war graphic design and has the kind of biography that could easily be reimagined as a sitcom. Born in Brooklyn in 1931, Gill put himself through art school playing piano in the Catskills. In 1962, in Austin Powers’ London, he co-founded Fletcher / Forbes / Gill which today is known as Pentagram; in ’67 he designed the first Beatles album cover for Apple Records; in ’75 he directed a hardcore porno (Double Exposure of Holly) in New York; in ’79 he created Beatlemania for Broadway (1006 performances); and in ’81 he published one of the best-selling graphic design books of all time, Forget all the rules you ever learned about graphic design. Including the ones in this book. (unfortunately long out-of-print). And somewhere in between he created wonderful, whimsical children’s books, alone and in collaboration with Alastair Reid, the renowned translator of Borges and Neruda.

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A Balloon for a Blunderbuss

? 1961: Bob Gill & Alastair Reid

Gill’s most enduring children’s book, the illustrations for this classic ‘trade-up’ scenario are bold and exciting and the concept evokes perfectly a kid’s train of thought. (2008: Phaidon Press; ISBN 9780714848730)

An odd example of life imitating art is the widely publicized story of Kyle MacDonald who, through a series of internet trades, began with paperclip and ended up with a house. –David

What Colour is Your World?

? 1962: Bob Gill

How we see the world around us has a lot to do with the assumptions we bring to perception. Here Gill asks children to consider taking an artist’s view of colour as more of a creative choice than an immutable attribute. (2008: Phaidon Press; ISBN 9780714848501)

I Keep Changing

? 1971: Bob Gill & Alastair Reid

Are you brave or afraid, slow or fast, ravenous or full? That all depends on when you’re being asked. It is thanks to Edizioni Corraini in Mantua, Italy that this Gill / Reid classic is available, so this edition is dual language, English and Italian. (2008: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 9788875701628)

Balloon for a Blunderbuss: $14.95
What Colour is Your World?: $14.95
I Keep Changing: $32.95

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To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at: info@swipe.com.