Barcelona Grafica and 25,000KM de Signes

Continuing on the trend started by Souvenirs Entomologiques, I have two more amazing books written in a language I don't speak. Although both Barcelona Grafica and 25,000km de Signes are written in Spanish they cover what is universally understood: signs.

Barcelona Grafica was written and photographed by designer America Sanchez. it is meticulously curated, showing the character of the city and groups of the same thing expressed differently. It's refreshing to see how many different ways "farmacia" is displayed and how shoes, glasses, or fish are communicated without words. As a designer with a passion for typography and lettering I am especially drawn to the "R" in "Rosamor" and the extent of authentic typographic inspiration the book provides. The city truly has a language all its own, you know, besides Catalan.

To put it simply, this book is a journey

The focus then shifts from the regional specificity of Barcelona Grafica to take a broader look that encompasses the whole world in 25000km de Signes. To put it simply, this book is a journey.  Carmen Revilla and Lluís Morón traveled the world documenting unique signs with different cameras. The result feels like a road trip. It is small, but dense, at 804 pages and 6.8 x 5.6 x 2.9 inches. The paper is almost a cardstock, which, combined with the size almost makes it seem like a book of postcards, and the thickness and matte of the pages heightens the quality of the book, adding a level of continuity to a book that spans the world. It is complete with illustrations on graph paper that shows how the author thinks, these range from hand signals depicting Italian communication, to ampersands, to drawings of fictional road signs. I also find the folio bits fascinating, leaving in the gridlines and crop marks, further feeling like a map, drilling in the journey experience.

Personally I enjoy the range of restroom signs, because those always have to be understood without writing. How do places differentiate between men and women? (and if it locks do they have to?) My favorites include the two hats, one with flowers, and the simplicity of red lips on one door, and a moustache on the other.


Zanerian Manual

A signature is like a firm handshake on paper, a lasting impression, and in the early to mid twentieth century penmanship was an art. The Zanerian Manual was written by Earl A. Lupfer, who, at the time worked at the Zanerian College: a school specializing in the pen arts and business writing. After several decades this book is still considered the bible to master penmen, especially in Engrossers Script or Roundhand.(formal script with shaded letters in both upper and lowercase) It also includes several fun alphabets after it's in-depth instruction into Roundhand.

Due to the popularity and demand for the book there is a reproduction available via John Neal Bookseller, but I was fortunate enough to find a vintage copy on alibris (snatched it up when I saw a copy for under $50.) It's a pretty useful site, I've used it to find vendors and I think in this case I was able to call the bookseller and have them describe the condition.

One of the things I love about this book (aside from it's smell) is the ephemera that came with it. the last several pages of the book were blank, intended for scrapbooking and the previous owner included some examples of lettering they liked. There is even a correspondence between the owner of the book and it's writer: Earl A. Lupfer. I wanted to post some pictures of my own penmanship practice but they don't compare to these penman. Those free flowing flourishes and flares. It really makes me appreciate the fame of John Hancock, immortalized in his signature.

Souvenirs Entomologiques

Pardon me for my use of the word serendipitous, but that's just due to the serendipitousness of this.

There was an antique store on the way to the farmers market that I had always been interested in, but I never got around to visiting. Then one day I went inside and it was incredible, I wandered the place and was floored when I saw these:

These are the original volumes of Souvenir Entomologiques, and they are stunning. The marbled covers and marble inside cover are a beutiful sea of colors. And the spines are so beautifully and intricately gilded. Someone put a lot of care into them, And I always have an appreciation for small caps done well. Whoever designed them knew these would get their own shelf and made them a statement.

It's hard to rationalize buying an entire book set in a language I don't speak, but I thought to myself maybe I could compare the stories and learn that way. There's something romantic to it, I think, to knowing solely Entomological French.

Fabre's Book of Insects

By observing nature and making experiments—nearly all my lessons have been learnt
— Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre

This book has had a huge impact on me, not necessarily the design, but the language and the way the author articulates his fascination. Fabre was an accomplished teacher, botanist, and chemist, and due to the poverty of his family he was mostly self taught. Darwin called him “an inimitable observer” because of the way he writes what he sees.

The entire book was written in first person, in a very intimate manner, as if the insects were characters, giving them personality and showing his wonder.

As soon as she has done her work the mother withdraws. I expected to see her return and show some tender feeling for the cradle of her family, but it evidently has no further interest for her. The mantis I fear, has no heart. She eats her husband, and deserts her children

Here it is in all it's beauty, resting in the grass with it's subject matter probably crawling beneath. 

There was something serendipitous to how i found the book. It was my first time in New York City (as an adult) and it was on the shelf in the corner in the rare and vintage books section at Strand. Just getting off that elevator and entering that floor has the smell of old books and I just feel so transported when the doors open. I sat there and took pictures of the section about Cicadas (my friend was really into cicadas at the time) and left. I put them into a .PDF for her and while reading it I realized how unique the language was. I had left the book on the shelf, but as soon as I got home I immediately bought a copy off etsy. 

This particular translation is the best one. It was originally written in french, in several volumes and they were called "Souvenirs Entomologiques." I believe there are other translations out there, but the one by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell has a poetry to it, making it closer to Fabre's original writing.

I was so inspired by his work that, when in a book design class, I chose his work as my text. I played around with a few ideas but eventually landed on the use of doilies to represent the delicateness and intimate nature of insects, and plants, leaves and flowers to show their surroundings and life. It was a very flawed piece, I designed every page thinking solely of the content of the page and not the flow of the book. Even so, I love every imperfection, it almost adds to the personal nature of his writing. The scanner dust even gives a texture, and feels right in the world of the glow worm. And the beautiful Pitch, the first typeface I've ever bought, looks great even after it's been nibbled on by caterpillars. 

Four years of hard work in the darkness, and a month of delight in the sun such is the Cicada’s life. We must not blame him for the noisy triumph of his song. For four years he has dug the earth with his feet, and then suddenly he is dressed in exquisite raiment, provided wings that rival the birds’, and bathed in heat and light! What cymbals can be loud enough to celebrate his happiness, so hardly earned and so very very short.
— Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre

Fleur Cowles and her Flair

I have a bad habit of collecting vintage books, it's a serious problem... and I love it. One of the collections I treasure most is every issue ever of Flair Magazine. I initially bought Flair Annual (center), and watched everything "Flair" on Ebay and less than a year later I got these collectible binders with the magazines enclosed.

This bold publication was an execution of the vision of the incredible Fleur Cowles, it only lasted a year because of the high price tag, which didn't even cover the cost of production. It had various different printing techniques, foldouts, and papers, and it was worth it. She lived a luxurious life and her magazine showcased her lifestyle. She wrote a memoir called "She Made Friends and Kept Them" which included a number of her famous friends. Below is a piece by Saul Steinberg

Below is a piece by Salvador Dali

As you can see what was really remarkable was the way she considered how the reader uses the book, the joy of turning the page, and in short sheets, how covering and revealing one part of a page changes it entirely. Look below, the way the the reader is invited to joyfully interact with the book. I also enjoy the limited use of color, as is visible here, it really draws the eye in.

everything had a personal touch and it was all her own, all the way back to a navy sheet with metallic writing in the first issue, introducing the reader to her "Flair."