Although I love the internet and the convenience of accessing information easily online, I still have a great love for printed books of many kinds. I’ve put together this quick review of three books that have taught me a great deal about graphic design, illustration, website development and visual communication in general. These books are ones that I still sometimes turn to in search of inspiration and solutions to problems, and can provide a solid foundation of skills for those who are just beginning to learn about visual communication disciplines.
Manipulating Space: Basic design and layout studies for graphic communication, by Jack Larkin.
This small book was part of the curriculum when I was a graphic design student at the University of Tasmania during the late 1980s. I’ve kept it all this time because it explains fantastic design principles in a very easy to understand manner, and despite its age the concepts within have great relevance to the challenges we face right now when developing effective visual strategies to be applied across a range of channels, from print to web.
Most of our efforts to communicate visually involve the effective arrangement of shapes within a pictorial space. It doesn’t really matter whether that space is as small as a postage stamp, as big as a billboard, or as fluid and dynamic as an iPhone screen — the same basic principles and ways of seeing apply to just about everything, and our ability to effectively manipulate these visual spaces will determine the success or failure of our work.
The book in itself is very low key in design and presentation. It’s simple black and white throughout, and a number of the illustrations to the text are hand-drawn. There is nothing flashy or pretentious about it at all, but it’s packed with very solid and reliable information. Initially produced for students of graphic design, it is also the kind of book that can help anyone needing to get a better handle on the basic principles of visual communication.
Larkin explains that the book is not intended to be a definitive work, but rather a tool to equip students with enough basic knowledge to approach a range of design problems with confidence. “The intention is not to lay down a set of rules, but to establish a basic set of values that will enable you to analyse and assess your own placement of shapes within a given space.”
Manipulating Space is divided into ten chapters that cover the topics of visual scale, stability; dynamics; texture; colour; composition; third dimension; typography; concept and layout. Each chapter is accompanied by many examples and exercises to clarify the information and to ensure that the principles are understood. This is a great book to add to your collection.
Title: Manipulating Space: Basic design and layout studies for graphic communication.
Author: Jack Larkin.
Published: 1988 by Thomas Nelson Australia.
ISBN: 0 17 007340 8.
Addendum: After highlighting the educational value of this book, I am sad to report that it seems to have become hard to find now. A quick search on Google failed to find any copies for sale, but I managed to track down a library copy here. If I find any further leads I’ll be sure to update this post and post a link to the appropriate place.
Drawing lessons from the great masters: 100 great drawings analyzed/Figure drawing fundamentals defined, by Robert Beverly Hale.
I have always had a fascination for classical, academic drawing, and I believe that my interests in drawing and illustration have been hugely beneficial to my other visuals skills such as design and layout. Drawing has taught me to study and analyse intensely, and this is a practice that I can also apply to other related disciplines.
This is simply a wonderful book, and by far the very best that I have ever known on realistic figure drawing. First published in 1964, it has understandably stood the test of time, with Random House marking the book’s recent 45th anniversary edition with the following synopsis:
A book whose sales have not diminished but rather increased dramatically since its publication 45 years ago, this bestselling classic is the ultimate manual of drawing taught by the late Robert Beverly Hale, who’s famed lectures and classes at New York City’s Art Student League captivated artists and art educators from around the world.
Faithfully producing and methodically analyzing 100 master drawings—including works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rodin, Goya, and Rembrandt among others—Hale shows how these artists tackled basic problems such as line, light and planes, mass, position and thrust, and anatomy. With detailed analytical captions and diagrams, every lesson is clearly delineated and illustrated. Throughout, also, is commentary that sheds light on the creative process of drawing and offers deep insight into the unsurpassed achievements of the masters.
This beautiful sheet of studies by Michelangelo, completed as studies for his painting of the Libyan Sybil in the Sistine Chapel, is just one of the many drawings that are expertly analysed and explained by Robert Bervely Hale.
Sitting down with this book is like have a conversation with the author himself. He writes so clearly and plainly, and adds a touch of warm humour coupled with consistent, gentle encouragement to persist without getting discouraged.
Drawing like this is a demanding discipline, and it’s easy to be daunted by the brilliance of these old masters. But as Beverly Hale explains, “there is no royal road to drawing. It is practice, practice all the way”. Sound advice for any visual discipline.
Title: Drawing lessons from the great masters. 100 great drawings analysed/Figure drawing fundamentals defined.
Author: Robert Berverly Hale.
Published: 1964 by Watson-Guptill Publications.
ISBN: 0 8230 1400 2.
Build your own website the right way using HTML & CSS, by Ian Lloyd
I chanced upon this book in 2006 and it revolutionised my understanding of websites and how they are built. Now into its third edition, the beauty of this book is its concentration upon fundamental concepts and, as the title says, it teaches you how to do things the right way.
Even though we now use the internet extensively every day, it is easy to forget that this is a comparatively new medium. Web evolution has happened at tremendous speed, but back in the dim, dark ages, when web pages were first being built, early developers began to use tricks and hacks to get the kinds of web pages that they wanted.
This caused many people to start adopting bad practices right from the start of their website development endeavours, and resulted in a huge number of websites being built very badly. Inflexible pages, slow download and display times, and terrible problems with updates, modifications and maintenance were common problems with such websites. Yet there are a disturbing number of people who are still using these techniques today and building websites that are well below modern standards.
Ian Lloyd avoids all of these old bad habits and sets you off on the right path to building your own website from scratch. His lessons are detailed yet easy to follow, and it’s wonderful to follow along and watch the sample website taking shape right there in your own browser window.
Most of the technology that you will require to complete the lessons is already built into your computer as standard software, and it’s astounding to discover the power of simple text editing programs like Notepad (Windows) and Text Edit (Mac OS X).
These tools and tutorials allow you to build a fully functioning website and Lloyd’s book is a brilliant foundation for novices who are keen to get started in the world of website design and development.
Title: Build your own website the right way using HTML & CSS.
Author: Ian Lloyd.
ISBN: 0 9752402 9 3.
In my career as a graphic artist and designer I have found it important to explore as many skills and production techniques as possible, ranging from print to web. The three books above have been part of my reference library for many years and I highly recommend them to anyone who needs to understand the basic concepts of a range of visual disciplines and communication techniques.