Kjell Aukrust: rural Norway in a nutshell

Kjell Aukrust: rural Norway in a nutshell

Kjell Aukrust was a legendary artist, humourist and illustrator. He is most famous for his wacky stories from a particular part of rural Norway, full of bizarre and hilarious people, inventions and creatures. They make little sense to people from other countries, the Danes certainly do not get it at all. I grew up with ...
14 Meters of Aztec Codice

14 Meters of Aztec Codice

The Codex Borbonicus (or Codex Cihuacoatl) is a divinatory almanac inscribed in a single 14.2m long sheet of bark paper. A masterpiece of Aztec style, the codice is believed to have been made after the arrival of the Spanish. Its first section is an intricate divinatory calendar, one of the few surviving. Each page represents one of the 20 trecena or 13-day periods, ...
Audubon's birds, up for grabs

Audubon’s birds, up for grabs

Audubon's birds have been released to Public Domain! John James Audubon's book Birds of America is usually listed among the rarest books in existence. The reason for this is that the French ornithologist used the laborious technique of hand-coloured etched and aquatint plates, which means that there only about 200 complete sets done. A set fetched £7.3m at auction ...
Maria Sibylla Merian: illustrating the natural world

Maria Sibylla Merian: illustrating the natural world

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717) was a remarkable woman in many ways. She was a very talented scientific illustrator and had a passion for insects. According to David Attenborough, she contributed immensely to taxonomy in entomology and the understanding of metamorphosis, and she was the first person who travelled on purely scientific grounds. Though she was ...
Medieval menagerie: the battle between knight and snail

Medieval menagerie: the battle between knight and snail

In a lot of medieval manuscripts, there are depictions of knights fighting snails. No one seems to know why this is. There are some theories, but so far nothing really conclusive. It might look like some sort of insider thing, maybe among scribes or illuminators. I love that sort of thing: mysteries in plain sight. Delightful ...
Colour guide anno 1692

Colour guide anno 1692

A dutch artist – known only as A. Boogert – created a book of colour in 1692. Describing the use of colour in painting, s/he created an 800-page book with instructions on how to create hues and tones. It blows my mind, actually. The work, the meticulousness, the systematics, and not least: a book like that would ...
Illuminating letter D

Illuminating letter D

As mentioned in a previous post, I have dragged out some old tools and materials and started gilding again. In my previous life as a bookbinder, I bought a very old gilder's cushion that actually sits on top of a drawer. I have not seen this anywhere else; it seems a well spent USD30. Supposedly, ...
Doppelgänger—©Wizards of the Coast

In memoriam: Quinton Hoover

I can't talk about inspirational art for very long until I brush the subject of Magic: the Gathering. I've been playing this geekery-heavy card game for almost twenty years now. In that period, a humonguous amount of fantasy art has been produced by a myriad of artists. It was this art that drew me to ...
Ruffen, my childhood sea dragon

Ruffen, my childhood sea dragon

Thore Hansen was one of my childhood heroes. His drawings were magic then, and they are still magic now. The best known of his children's books illustrations are the ones accompanying Thor Åge Bringsværd's stories about Ruffen. Ruffen is a "small" sea dragon, and the books tells the story of his adventures. This post was ...
Voynich manuscript – secret knowledge or brilliant hoax?

Voynich manuscript – secret knowledge or brilliant hoax?

Since we are on a roll with old books and manuscripts, I give you the  240-page Voynich manuscript. It is an unsolved enigma: a manuscript found in Italy; the paper has been dated to between 1404-1438. It contains text in an unknown script, unknown language, and illustrations of non-existing plants, constellations and humans apparently doing inexplicable ...
Ledger binding

Sofie’s book – bookbinding in the digital world

Back in the mist of time, I did my apprenticeship in hand bookbinding. There are basically two directions; two different apprenticeships: literature binder, or ledger binder. I am a literature binder (also called publishing or library binding). But back then it was considered essential to have a broad understanding. So part of the apprenticeship was ...
Beatriz Aurora

Beatriz Aurora: The art of the resistance

Beatriz Aurora calls her drawings "painted stories", and her subjects definitely have a lot to tell. The Chilean artist had to exile to Spain during the 70s. She knew she couldn't go back to Chile, but there were other places in Latin America that could use her art, so from Spain she travelled to Nicaragua, then to El Salvador and finally ...
watercolour doodles

Watercolours I

I bought a watercolour set to replace my measly pocket one. This one, in contrast, has 45 colours, as opposed to 12. I was never a painter, but playing is good. I have tried some "realistic" stuff that turned out far from just that. Nevermind; doodles are good too. There seems to be no doubt ...
W. B. Gould: artist and convict

W. B. Gould: artist and convict

William Buelow Gould (1801 – 1853) was an English artist convicted for stealing a coat and was sentenced to seven years of labour in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). He constantly got into trouble, also in the penal colonies, and was regularly punished for offences such as drunkenness, petty theft and forgery. His talent, however, got him assigned as a house ...
WPA posters – art in the depression

WPA posters – art in the depression

During an extended period of the depression in USA (between 1935-1942), the US federal government supported artists by commissioning artwork for non-federal places and activities. Early on in the project, posters were painted by hand, each individually created. Later on, they were printed with silk screen. According to the US library of congress, "over two ...
Early utopian imagery, memories of no places

Early utopian imagery, memories of no places

Yisela Utopias. The no-places. I’ve always been attracted by them. The first utopia ever written could have been Plato’s Republic. Or the Genesis. However, the first one I discovered was Thomas More’s Utopia. I still can’t believe it was written 498 years ago, in 1516. Utopia is a strange book. Most scholars agree it’s a satire, a criticism ...
Fritz Kahn: the human as industrial palace

Fritz Kahn: the human as industrial palace

(I was horrified to discover that Wikipedia does not have an entry on Fritz Kahn in English. I was utterly unaware of how deep into obscurity this multitalented man had fallen. Update: my pigheaded ability to pester strangers have resulted in an solid entry on Kahn on Wikipedia. Many thanks to Yngvadottir ). Fritz Kahn (1888-1968) ...
Hackers and painters

Hackers and painters

Paul Graham has a background in computer science and art. He wrote on the connection between the two in the essay Hackers and painters. It begins: When I finished grad school in computer science I went to art school to study painting. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be ...
Doodles, creativity, alphabets and cognitive noise

Doodles, creativity, alphabets and cognitive noise

‘…qualities like quiveriness and vulnerability come to mind when I think of creativity… creativity requires a sense of smell, a palate to taste the scents that make brilliance. All life feeds upon the random. Creativity is the haute cuisine.’ -Douglas Hofstadter ...
Ernst Haeckel: art and science through the microscope

Ernst Haeckel: art and science through the microscope

Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919) was what we call a renaissance man. He was a professor, biologist, philosopher, physician, naturalist and artist. His contribution to biology, evolutionary theory and art is still mind-boggling; we owe a great deal of biological understanding and terminology to him. He was a great promoter of Darwin's theory of evolution, ...
1854: geographical distribution of indigenous vegetations

David Rumsey collection: mapping history I

David Rumsey's gigantic collection of historical and modern maps, schematics, timelines, data visualisations, diagrams, history, time, sciences, religion is a never-ending source of wonder and inspirations. It is a bit of a trap, as I can spend days wandering around in the magical world of visualisations of history, science, culture, religion. Looking at the older ...
Wilton dipthych

The colour blue – the devil, the virgin and the red dyers’ bribes

Today, blue is probably the most popular colour around. We associate good things with it, it represents all sorts of positive things: air, sea, freshness, calm, and a few not so; feeling blue, blue monday. At least in this day and age, blue get a good deal of attention. But it was not always so. Prehistory ...
Guerrilla communication, street talk

Guerrilla communication, street talk

Guerrilla communication is a form of streetart, or simply a sense of humour that uses objects around us and makes us see a little differently. Here are some examples I have collected over the years. You might have to look close to see it... Certain forms of graffiti and scribbling on walls have been described ...