Winnie-the-Pooh Wanders into the MFA Boston

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A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh has never suffered for lack of exposure–far from it. Since the publication of Milne’s first children’s book starring a loveable, honey-hungry bear in 1926, Winnie-the-Pooh has been translated into fifty languages and been the subject of numerous films and exhibitions. Here’s one more to add to the list: on September 22nd, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will present nearly 200 drawings, letters, photographs, and ephemera in a show entitled, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic.”
The exhibition originated in 2017 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London where most of the items on display are part of that institution’s permanent collections. The show then made its way to the High Museum in Atlanta before setting up in Boston.

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The goal of the show is to explore various relationships between a bear and a boy, the interplay between Milne’s text and the art of E.H. Shepard, and how classic children’s literature remains relevant in the 21st century.
Highlights include Shephard’s first character portraits of Winnie, Eeyore, Kanga, and other creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood, a 1926 handwritten letter from Milne to Shephard, and photos of Milne’s family.
The show is definitely geared towards children, and the MFA curators have installed various interactive elements, such as recreations of Pooh’s home and the childhood bedroom of Christopher Milne, the inspiration for Christopher Robin. Cuddle-worthy corners throughout the gallery invite children to read, draw, and even listen to a 1929 recording of Milne reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud. Co-sponsored by Hood Milk, visitors who attend on opening day can enjoy games like a round of ring toss on the MFA’s Huntington Avenue lawn along with generous servings of cookies, milk, and Hoodsie  cups.
To paraphrase Pooh himself, you can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for this show. Check it out before it heads back to London.

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic,” runs from September 22nd through January 6th, 2019 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. More information at www.mfa.org.

Images, from top: Winnie-the-Pooh first edition, 1924, published in London by Methuen & Co. Ltd; printed by Jarrold & Sons Ltd.

“Pooh sitting on his branch … beside him, ten pots of honey,” 1970, Ernest Howard Shepard.

 “For the first time he learned to think before he spoke.” Johnny Tremain: A Classic Revisited

Esther Forbes’s 1944 Newbery Medal-winning story set on the eve of the Revolutionary War turns seventy-five this year. To commemorate the milestone, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently released an updated edition with new jacket art and includes an illustrated forward by author-illustrator Nathan Hale (not the American spy executed by the British in 1776).

As riveting as ever, Johnny Tremain should be required reading for everyone, adults included. The book has never been out of print and Walt Disney turned it into a movie in 1957. Let’s not forget that Forbes also won a Pulitzer in 1942 for Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, a vivid biography of the patriot’s life based largely on his correspondence.

Forbes, for her part, was a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander and a trailblazer in her own time: born the fifth of six children to William and Harriette Forbes in Westboro, Massachusetts in 1891, she moved with her family to the county seat of Worcester, where her father practiced law. Forbes and her sisters were among the first girls to attend the private Bancroft School where, dyslexic and nearsighted, the young Forbes was once accused of plagiarism after sharing a story she had written to amuse her siblings. Undeterred, she continued to write, and at her death in 1967 was working on a book about witchcraft. The first woman to become a member of the American Antiquarian Society, Forbes left the Worcester institution the rights to her books as well as material for her unfinished final volume.

Johnny Tremain 75th Anniversary Edition, by Esther Hoskins Forbes, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99, 320 pages. ages 9-12. 

Bank on Booksellers Auction Funds Disaster Relief

It’s no secret that being a bookseller is hard work, but thankfully they have the book industry charitable foundation known as Binc to lean on when times are tough.  Billed as “the saftey net for booksellers,” Binc has provided more than $6 million in financial assistance and scholarships to bookseller employees since its inception in 1996. The foundation has helped with everything from paying for serious medical expenses, utilities, and even funeral costs.

As the only nonprofit dedicated to providing aid to bookstore employees, Binc is fully funded by generous supporters and is currently hosting an online auction called Bank on Booksellers.  One hundred authors, illustrators, and celebrities like Judy Blume, Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, Jeff Kinney, and Marc Brown decorated piggy banks to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. (Check out the selection here.) Ten thousand dollars have been raised so far, but the auction ends Saturday. Help Binc bring home the bacon by placing a bid at the foundation’s secure website.

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To all the booksellers and everyone else in the path of Hurricane Florence, please be safe. We are all thinking of you.

Q&A with Jennifer Morla, Designer and Subject of Forthcoming Book from Letterform Archive

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Jennifer Morla is a legend in her own time: for forty years, her shadow has loomed over the world of graphic design. Earning over 300 accolades like the Cooper Hewitt award, the AIGA medal, and the Smithsonian Design Museum National Award, Morla’s work has graced publicity campaigns for some of the world’s best-known brands like Levi’s, Design Within Reach, Swatch, and Nordstrom. The Library of Congress and MOMA have her pieces in their permanent collections, and when she’s not running her eponymous design firm, Morla is teaching design at the California College of the Arts.

 

Now, Morla is the subject of a forthcoming biography being published by Letterform Archive. Entitled, fittingly, Morla: Design, the Kickstarter-funded project explores Morla’s career, her creative process, design philosophy, and also offers behind-the-scenes stories about various high profile projects. Staying true to Morla’s contemporary and lively aesthetic, the book features neon bookmark ribbons, metallic inks throughout, and a vegan leather case, itself a design triumph. Letterform’s all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign ends Saturday, September 8, though it has already surpassed its $50,000 goal. Donations in all amounts are still very much welcome, but those willing to pledge $125 and up will receive a copy of the book.

 

Morla graciously answered a few questions recently about the book, the importance of listening to clients, and whether words remain as important as art in our increasingly image-saturated world.

 

1. Your book is the second book to be published by Letterform Archive, following on the heels of W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design. How did your project come about?

 

It seemed like the appropriate time for me to discuss my design approach and identify the issues that I consider when formulating my design process. Letterform Archive showed an immediate interest in publishing my monograph and has been a true partner in bringing this book to print.

 

2. You founded Morla Design in 1984. What drew you to this field?

 

My aunt was an editor at Condé Nast in the 60s and would occasionally cast my sister and myself in photoshoots when we were young. By the time I was 10 years old, I already had been exposed to the workings of a magazine and an in-house “art department.” Another great influence was visiting MOMA’s design wing as a child and seeing chairs, posters and books displayed in a museum.  Those events, coupled with my ability to draw, solidified my decision to become a designer.

 

3. What is it like to know your work will exist in perpetuity in institutions like the LIbrary of Congress and is considered a touchstone of American design?

 

It is very, very humbling. I consider myself so very fortunate to have had clients who have collaborated with me in defining communication goals without defining the solution.

 

4. Was yours an artistic household? Growing up in Manhattan, I imagine you took great advantage of your surroundings. What were (or remain) your New York design influences?

 

My mother was an art history major and would take us to museums often when we were young. One of my favorites was the Guggenheim, an architectural icon, so very different from any other museum in the city. I was in love with the building, and what nine year old doesn’t love skipping down a six story ramp? Another big influence was The New York Times. Type, illustrations, fashion, a magazine, and those wonderful, full page Ohrbach’s ads! In 1970, the Vietnam War was raging and political images proliferated all around the city: in the media, on construction barricades, in subway ads. Push Pin’s posters, an Evergreen magazine cover by Paul Davis of Che Guevara, the musical “Hair,” all had a profound influence on me understanding the power of design in its many forms.

 

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5. Your first job out of college was at San Francisco’s local PBS station, followed by a move to run the art department for Levi Strauss. What was that leap like? Was it challenging going from a nonprofit to a commercial entity?

 

The biggest difference was design budget. Although my meager salary was the same for both positions, the Levi’s creative budget allowed me the opportunity to produce big ideas. At the PBS station, the creative budgets were so tight that I hand-cut rubylith [masking film] to save money. I handled every project from beginning to end: photography, lettering, illustration and animation. At Levi’s, I was able to hire great photographers, print thousands of posters, and create high end brochures using every specialty printing technique. Both jobs were extremely informative and gave me the confidence to open my design studio at 28 years old.


6. I’m going to ask you a question you’ve probably been asked hundreds of times: what makes good design? Does good design change with the times, or are their classic elements that never go out of style?

 

Great design is, quite simple, innovation that reflects the spirit of an era and becomes a classic because of its timeless appeal.

 

7. How has your design aesthetic evolved, if at all, over the course of your career?


Although I can see some influence of a certain time period in my work, I have always maintained that design should be appropriate to the problem rather than a stylistic conceit.  I hope the work shown in the book is a testament to that belief.


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8. It seems our society is moving away from verbal communication towards more visual marketing and communication. Has this trend changed how you work? Or do words remain as relevant as ever?

 

As designers, we often underestimate the impact we have on the world at large, and how our visual vocabulary is influenced by political, social and cultural events. I created Designisms, a listing of my observations and reflections on design and designing. Specific to your question, a designism: Words are as important as images and images can be more powerful than words.

 

9. How do you approach a project? What’s your process?

 

I always start with sketching. Many sketches. The final sketches identify the solution, including typeface considerations, color, illustrative style and final form. I often consider whether the solution can be accomplished with just type.


10. Have you ever worked on a project that didn’t turn out as expected, for better or for worse?

 

Oh yes, I believe in allowing the process to help define the solution. And accidents are an important part of the process. Only the creator can identify when an accident, something you did not expect, adds an informative detail to the solution.

 

11.  Are you a collector? If so, what do you collect. And why?

 

Not a collector at all, I am a minimalist. But I do love to read and read about 50 books a year. I guess I collect books.

 

12.  What are your favorite books?

 

I especially like fiction and my list of favorites is vast: Orlando by Virginia Woolf, the way she shocks the reader with the unexpected, to John Updike’s uber-realistic Rabbit series. From contemporary novelists like Jenny Egan to Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary. When my girls were in eighth grade, I read what they were reading and I got to fall in love again with Huckleberry Finn and Pride and Prejudice. Current favorite authors beside Egan are George Saunders, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and for a chuckle, David Sedaris.

 

13. Could you talk a little about the design process for Morla: Design. It is encased in vegan white leather with a vacuum-formed cover. What do you hope the design of your book will convey to readers?

 

That design is not only about two dimensional space, that form can surprise and generate curiosity. I relish experimenting with materials; the vacuum-formed and debossed covers both are seductive and amplify the pattern cover art. Fluorescent inks act as chapter dividers and bring attention to the section of the book I dedicated to my best loved typefaces and characters. I utilized many of my favorite printing and binding techniques in designing the book: Fluorescent and metallic inks are used to identify my essays, vellum sheets with white ink display my “designisms”, full bleed images throughout showcase projects and the ribbon markers allow the reader to mark favorite images. The book itself is a tactile and visually rich object.


14. In addition to running Morla Design, you teach at California College of the Arts. What are some of the most common questions you receive from students about making a living as a designer?


I believe that a good designer is a great listener, and if you carefully, the client nearly always gives you the solution to the problem.


Images courtesy of Letterform Archive

 

New Exhibit at Korean Cultural Center Uses Typography to Examine Common Ground

 

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To examine various similarities and differences between Korean and Western cultures, the show looks at how language is used in both artistic and typographic endeavors. Show organizers paired nineteen Korean and nineteen Western artists to represent their take on a theme through typography, with the goal of highlighting common ground.
Each typographic artwork examines expressions regularly used in both cultures, highlighting that though the translation may not be literally identical, the meaning is generally the same. For example, Korean typeface studio Yang-Jang & Bazbon (양장점) and New York-based calligrapher Margaret Fu were paired up to explore the phrase, “It takes two to tango.” (손바닥도 마주쳐야 소리가 난다.) Yang-Jang & Bazbon’s work shows a close-up of two men in black suits shaking hands against a red background, the whole creating a very Big Brother, almost menacing vibe. Written in slashing Korean characters, the expression back translates into English as “It takes two hands to make a clap,” suggesting that cooperation helps get things done. Meanwhile, Fu’s artwork also shows two hands, though intertwined in a dance-like embrace, with flowing, graceful script spelling out the phrase. The American’s representation is a more literal take on the the expression.

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Additionally, a pair of artists was commissioned to create works inspired by “the progress for peace and harmony on the Korean peninsula.”
Found in Translation is at the Gallery Korea at the Korean Cultural Center New York (460 Park Ave at 57th St., NYC). The exhibition is on view through September 10.


Image credits: (Top) Yang-Jang & Bazbon; (Bottom) Margaret Fu

Hope Never Dies: A Q&A with Obama-Biden Mystery Writer Andrew Shaffer

It’s August. It’s hot. Perhaps you’ve already got kids back in school. Perhaps you’re still at the beach. Whatever you’re doing, it’s still officially summer, which means you’re entitled to enjoy a frothy, kicky, beach-appropriate book whether you’re seaside or stuck at work. Andrew Schaffer’s latest adventure, Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, checks all those requirements with equal parts bromance, action thriller, and detective mystery.

After having spent a lifetime serving the people, former vice-president Joe Biden is lonely and lost. Puttering around his Wilmington, Delaware home while wife Jill is off teaching, Joe misses his good pal Barack, who’s living his best life ever, which involves kitesurfing, base-jumping, and hanging out with A-list celebrities. Then, one day, Barack shows up with news that Joe’s friend, an Amtrak conductor, was found dead, struck by a speeding Acela. Something smells fishy to Joe, but as a private citizen, there’s little he can do–at least, until he ropes a cigarette-smoking, sawed-off-shotgun-toting POTUS 44 into uncovering the truth. Their sleuthing leads to run-ins with dangerous biker gangs, strange women, and drug runners lurking in the dark underbelly of Wilmington. Hope Never Dies may star two famous Democrats, but the political barbs are sure to entertain folks on both sides of the aisle.

We spoke earlier this summer with Hope author Andrew Schaffer and asked why he felt the time was right for a Biden-driven action-mystery, how he knows he’s struck the right comedic tone, and what’s up next for this crime-fighting duo.

What inspired this book? Why now?

I’d toyed with the idea of a Biden mystery novel for years, but it finally picked up steam when the bromance memes started being shared during Obama and Biden’s final months in office. It started off as a parody of classic noir novels. After a few pages, however, I could already see that it was going to have more heart than my other parodies. The message—that “hope never dies”—isn’t a joke. It’s a message that I think many of us need to hear right now.

Are you planning a Hope sequel or series?

There will, at the very least, be a sequel—Hope Rides Again, on sale next summer from Quirk Books. It will be set in Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago. Expect more malarkey.

Do you lean in a particular political direction? This book doesn’t make any major political statements other than taking jabs at the current administration, but you’ve also written The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America. Are all political figures fair game? 

The Day of the Donald was a satire about a reality-TV show host becoming president of the United States. We released it during the Republican primaries in 2016. I voted for the Obama/Biden ticket in 2008 and 2012, so you can probably guess which way my politics lean. When it comes to satire, though, all politicians are fair game. There were jabs at both Trump and Hillary Clinton in the book. The shots at Bill Clinton in The Day of the Donald were just vicious. It did decent numbers, but I hadn’t realized while writing it just how partisan politics had become in this country. I don’t see Hope Never Dies as a satire—it’s a mystery that happens to star two well-known public personas.

When did you realize you had a knack for writing humor?

I wrote and illustrated humorous comics in grade school, which would get passed around in the back of class. They were a little on the bawdy side. I was never the class clown, but I realized early on that I could make people laugh through my writing. It occasionally got me into trouble, which only furthered my belief that words had value.

How do you know when you’ve struck the right (funny) tone? What’s your process?

I’m in a local writing group, so I will sometimes read pieces out loud to see what kind of reaction they get. I’ve also read new material at book tour events. A live audience will let you know very quickly if you’re on the right track. There’s nothing more sobering than silence. Other than that, I rely on my editor and a few other early readers.

Your wife, Tiffany Reisz, is also a writer. Do you bounce ideas off each other? 

Tiffany writes erotica, romance, and gothic fiction, but her stuff can be very, very funny. She will occasionally punch up jokes in my books—the “POTUS, SCOTUS, or FLOTUS” game in Hope Never Dies was all her. I wish I could say I punch up her sex scenes, but my contributions are more along the lines of copy editing.

Do you think you’ll ever try your hand at other genres?

In addition to mystery, I’ve written parody, satire, romance, science fiction, and horror. I might be running out of other genres to write in! I plan to stick with mysteries for now. At least until something else catches my eye.

 

 

Q&A with “Kama Sutra” Illustrator Victo Ngai

Just as each age has reinvented Shakespeare to suit its own time and culture, so to, it seems, that every era needs its own Kama Sutra, that ancient Hindu treatise on courtship and sexual behavior. To wit: the Folio Society recently published a limited-edition run of 750 hand-numbered copies of the 2,000-year-old instruction manual for joyous living.

 

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This edition of Vatsyayana’s seven-part Sanskrit compendium is a blend of old and new. The text remains Sir Richard Burton’s 1963 landmark English translation but is accompanied by a specially commissioned essay by historian John Keay that explores the importance of sensuality in ancient Hindu society.
But the art is what really sets this edition apart: sumptuous illustrations by award-winning artist Victo Ngai. The work of the Hong-Kong-based RISD graduate has graced the pages of The New York Times and covers for Simon & Schuster and Random House. Here, her precise handiwork expertly captures the nuance and detail of the Kama Sutra. Interestingly, Ngai is the first woman to ever illustrate this pleasure tome, and her art presents a decidedly female focus.

 

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We recently spoke to Ngai after her own recent nuptials and asked about this commission and the various influences that shape her work.
Were you surprised by the Folio commission?

Not really because I first suggested this book to The Folio Society’s art director Sheri Gee a few years ago after finishing our first book Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies together.

Did you consciously illustrate the Kama Sutra to reflect a woman’s perspective?

Frankly it hasn’t been my intention to make a “feminist’s Kama Sutra.” To me, the main objective of this project has always been to create the most lush and sumptuous volume that’s worthy of and true to this 2000-year-old Sanskrit classic. However, examining the pieces now in hindsight, I believe I did subconsciously work from a female-centric perspective by selecting subject matters which interest me and composing images which would tell the stories from the woman’s point of view.

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What was your approach to illustrating the book? How, if at all, was it different from other projects?

In many ways the process is very similar to illustrating other books- reading the book to get the big picture, rereading the book to pick out stories that catch my eye, distilling the stories into short phrases and simple ideas, translating and refining these ideas into visuals through thumb-nailing, polishing the thumbnails into sketches, creating line drawings which forms the foundation of the final images, then finally finishing the pieces with fitting colors and mood. What is unique to illustrating each book is its content as it would inform the composition, storytelling, color palettes and mark making of the arts.

Were you familiar with the Kama Sutra prior to this project?

Only as familiar as everyone else, that it’s an ancient book about sex from India.

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In the West, the Kama Sutra is commonly associated with unexpected and inventive sexual positions, but it’s really a guide to living a well-rounded life. Did anything in the book surprise you?

I was surprised by most of the book, actually. Only one chapter is dedicated to sexual union, which is what you hear mostly about. The other six chapters were a new discovery. I think the biggest surprise to me is how the book can be both patriarchic and progressively feministic at the same time. In many ways it reflects the male dominating social order of its time–that men have the (official) monopoly on polygamy and women’s well-being largely rely on their successes with men. Meanwhile the book stresses the importance for men to keep their women happy and devotes long paragraphs going into great detail on what men need to do to win and sustain a lady’s heart. However, in my opinion, the truly feministic idea appears in the chapter about courtesans. One can always argue the suggested kind gestures and tenderness towards women from other chapters are ultimately means for men to gain what they want, be it sex, love, loyalty or devotion. Whereas in this chapter, the book encourages the women to take charge of their sexuality, giving helpful tips on how to get what they want through manipulation of men, which turns the objectified into an active agency in the heterosexual relationship.

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The 25 black and white positions illustrations are certainly erotic but not pornographic–how did you strike the right tone? When did you know you got it right?

Thank you, that’s great to hear! The figure-design was definitely one of the most challenging and time consuming process in this project. Besides the balance between eroticism and pornography, there’s also the juggle between being poetic and informative.

The first round of thumbnails was too realistic and felt like porny medical diagrams. The second round was overly expressive and looked cartoonish. The third round was excessively geometrical that took the fluidity out of the forms. I knew the sweet spot laid somewhere in between all of these unsuccessful attempts, but it still took a few more rounds to get there. What I was aiming for the final design was that the faces and bodies were generic and stylized just enough, but not much, that they can be part iconographies, which are graceful and unemotional, and part humans, which are sexy and provocative.

Were you familiar with Indian art and culture prior to this project?

I wouldn’t say I was very familiar with Indian art and culture before working on this book, but I have always had a keen interest in Hindu Mythologies, miniature paintings, and intricate and ornate patterns. One of the major reasons I wanted to work on this project was to have a proper excuse to research and learn more about this fascinating culture, while getting paid!

What do you hope readers will take away from your illustrations?

That Kama Sutra is a rich and multifaceted book, it’s not only a great window into ancient Hindi’s bedrooms and their impressive flexibility, it also paints a vivid picture of people’s daily household lives which includes making parrots talk after breakfast and bidding on cricket-fights; their religious beliefs and rituals; regional stereotypes and prejudices; social-economic construct of the time as well as tips and advises on romantic relationships which many are still surprisingly relevant today.

I understand you got married recently–congratulations! Did your work on the Kama Sutra influence your nuptials?

Thank you so much! I think the book is a great reminder that it takes work to sustain a happy and fruitful marriage, both inside and outside the bedroom.


The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, Illustrated by Victo Ngai, translated from the Sanscrit by Sir Richard Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot. Available in a limited edition of 750 copies for $595 each through the Folio Society.


All images reproduced with permission from the Folio Society.