Thinking in Icons

Icons have become such a ubiquitous way of life for most of us, that we don’t often think about them. And the point is, we shouldn’t, unless they misguide us or leave us confused. In Felix Sockwell’s new book, Thinking in Icons, he walks readers through the process of designing icons and the subtle nuances that can make or break the design.

“Icons affect our daily lives, similar to typography. It’s something we don’t take much notice of until it’s wrong,” Sockwell says. “For instance, in Penn Station—a place where millions of commuters pass through—there’s an icon in the main hall that denotes ‘gift shops,’ showing a pipe, a gift (with ribbon), and a book. It makes no sense to most people. And no one sells pipes–you can’t even smoke outside in many New York City public spaces–but that icon has been there forever, and it probably always will be. I find strange pleasure pointing out odd things like this to people. It’s one of the reasons I’m no longer married.”

He’s also fascinated by the evolution of some icons, such as the “share” icon. “It started out clunky, within a box and with rounded edges. Now it’s a 3D arrow, and it’s quite effective,” he notes. “A lot of mistakes turn into good, useable icons. My book is an honest conversation about how icons are used, designed, conceived and understood. Designing icons isn’t a sexy or even known practice within the profession. Most designers take it upon themselves to either use an old system or tweak things to feel new or proprietary. I’m more interested in the bigger steps and mistakes that lead to workable solutions.”

And he shares it all in the book, admitting in the introduction, “Ninety percent of the work shown within these pages is completely fake—drawn up in the sidebars of actual assignments. Some of them are redrafted explorations, staged buffoonery cloaked in optimism.” Even so, you get a front row seat into the thought process, and the many considerations that go into a simple mark. To see two projects featured in the book, click here.

 

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Andrea D’Aquino on Illustrating Alice in Wonderland

Andrea D’Aquino’s illustrative ramblings run the gamut from watercolor to collage to everything in between, and it’s perhaps because of this cataclysmic range that she was chosen to illustrate this fantastic tale of two worlds for Rockport Publishers for its Classics Reimagined series. We go down the Rabbit Hole with D’Aquino, as she talks about the challenges of reinterpreting this classic through her eyes.

Is this a story you’ve always wanted to illustrate?

 It’s my favorite book, but by no means had I ever considered illustrating it, nor would it ever have entered my mind. The idea to tackle such a classic text, would’ve struck me as almost preposterous after artists from Dali’ to Disney, to Tim Burton—to the definitive Tenniel illustrations—have already been imprinted onto such a wide swath of our collective minds. How would I follow up on such a thing?

But, when I was asked to illustrate it, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I know a great opportunity when it hits me over the head! I did really worry for a week or two, wondering how I would ever approach it, and make it fresh. It’s full of classic scenes that so many of us have preconceived images. Read the rest of the interview here.

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Sharp, Sharper, Sharpiest: Timothy Goodman

Timothy Goodman is the author of Sharpie Art Workshop, a creative exploration of drawing anywhere, any time, on any surface using a Sharpie™ marker.

Co-designed by Dan Blackman, Goodman shares EZ exercises and steps that can bring out the creative artist in anyone.

The book includes the work of 22 talented artists and designers, especially women, a deliberate choice that Goodman explains: “I highlighted more women because I am inspired by creative risk taking among women around the world.” Goodman believes that for too long, talented women are overlooked and undervalued at creative conferences, award shows, and blogs. His book is a response to this.

Goodman says communication artists should  “approach creativity as a practice, not a profession,” a philosophy he brings to his classes at  the School of Visual Arts in New York. “Personally, I never wanted to be a professional. I wanted to make stuff I love. Some stuff you get paid to make and some stuff you make for yourself, but all of it is a useful exercise in creativity.” Read the rest of the article, here.

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Goodman doing a mural for the Ace Hotel in New York.

Adult Coloring Books Relieve Stress

Oommm.  Relax with a … coloring book? Yes. Coloring books for adults are the new rage in publishing here in the United States, but in other countries, such as France, they’ve been more popular than cookbooks in recent years.

Why, you ask? As many people can attest, coloring is therapeutic—it’s a way for adults to unwind and feel creative at the same time. In addition to its emotional benefits, coloring is also good exercise for your brain, providing stimulating eye/hand coordination. Anyone can get in on the action. Read rest of article here.

Botanicals artwork by Lisa Congdon; Mid-Century Modern Animals by Jenn Ski; Carnival by Sarah Walsh.
Botanicals artwork by Lisa Congdon; Mid-Century Modern Animals by Jenn Ski; Carnival by Sarah Walsh.

Five Exercises That Will Turn Anyone Into an Artist

Whitney Sherman is an award-winning illustrator and director of the MFA in Illustration Practice at Maryland Institute College of Art. She is also author of Playing with Sketches, 50 creative exercises for designers and artists (Rockport Publishers).

We asked Sherman for advice on how to get over the drawing hurdle many of us are afraid to jump. She also offers up five drawing exercises from her book to help anyone get started.

Why do you think it’s so hard for people to get started drawing?

For non-artists, I think that the culture of drawing is not extended or continued with or for them beyond early childhood. Grade schools and high schools, for the most part, value math and science over the arts, which gets cut out when budgetary pressures arise. What is then neglected is the haptic qualities of “making,” which can contribute to retention of learning as well as foster communication. If a non-artist is only shown an example of classical or academic drawing, they will be thwarted by not having those skills. If encouraged to make native marks [draw in their own way] and be respected for that, most people would grow up with less doubt on their ability to draw and would enjoy the process, which is a very important part of drawing!

For creative people who are working in artforms that do not regularly encourage drawing, some of the reasons are the same – recognizing and celebrating native marks, but I think it goes a bit farther to include practice. Creatively leaning people continue drawing beyond childhood for longer than most, yet their particular area of creative focus as an adult may have not required the use of drawing, and so it is left behind, unpracticed. In both cases, having permission [from a teacher, from ones self] to draw as one does, to appreciate that and practice it will foster comfort and confidence with drawing. Read the rest of the interview here.

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The Coloring Book Grows Up

Searching for novel gifts for creative colleagues? Looking for a fun activity to kick off your next staff meeting? Miss playing with crayons? This adult coloring book collection is for you.

As a kid, I loved getting a new box of crayons and trying out each color to see how it looked on paper. Coloring books allowed me to magically transform a black and white page into a vibrant concoction of my own design. Eventually, I lost interest in images of animated characters and moved on. But I never lost the desire to color and create with my hands.

The act of coloring has proven to be a great stress reliever for many people. It’s an escape from our hectic lives and forces us to focus on what’s right in front of us by using our imagination to arrange colors in a pleasing way. Fortunately, a new crop of coloring books aimed at adults has flooded the marketplace recently. Read rest of article here.

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Handlettering Gymnastics

I’ve become obsessed with handlettering lately. It’s more prevalent than ever, appearing in advertisements, packaging, signage and more. With incredible detail and draughtsmanship at its finest, these artists are in high demand, giving each project a one-of-a-kind look.

The five artists featured here are forging new ground in the lettering category using a variety of materials and techniques to achieve stunning and sometimes surprising results. Read the rest here.

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