Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Books Between Art and Science or Science and Art

Book exterior. Image source: Folia Water

A friend introduced me to this excellent project which aims to provide clean and safe drinking water to parts of the world that don't have access; the product is a book which contains advice and whose pages can be torn out to use as filters.

Book interior. Image source: Folia Water

According to the makers one page can filter water for up to a month and the entire book can filter water for a year.

Book as filter. Image source: Folia Water

I love the aesthetic of the book - the bound and embossed cover, the orange perforated pages with silver text. As this is a prototype, I wonder if the finished product would look dramatically different?

It is interesting that this book started as a scientific project, when it could have so easily been an art project - it's great to see how the two fields converge.

An example of the opposite - an artist whose work becomes scientific - could be Jamie Sholvin in his excellent project 'Various Arrangements' who used a mathematical formula to design covers for unreleased volumes of the iconic Fontana Modern Masters Book series.

Exhibition detail. Image source: Wire Frame

The project started when the artist noticed that ten forthcoming books were advertised but never released, so he created a loose formula to determine how the finished covers might look. 

Formula detail. Image source: Fontana Redux 

His 2012 exhibition at the Haunch of Venison exhibited his playful experiment and the book covers he has designed.


Wednesday, 17 February 2016


As I have only recently got back from holiday and I am still in the holiday spirit, it has inspired me to take a look at maps and guidebooks. As I have learnt from my holiday, the wisdom of others, in planning and mapping an area is a great help when you find yourself in an unfamiliar place. I have gathered together a selection of early examples of mapping as a way of tracing its history. 


Claudius Ptolemy was a Greek scholar who lived in around 150 AD. Utilising the resources of the great library of Alexandria in Egypt he compiled a description of the world based on the writings of Greek astronomers, mathematicians and geographical writers of earlier centuries. The resulting book, the Geographia (also known as the Cosmographia) contained instructions on how to construct maps using projections to 'flatten' the image of the Earth and co-ordinates to place geographical features and towns. It is not known whether he actually drew any maps. The book never seems to have been well known in the western Roman empire and its text was completely lost following the Empire's fall late in the fifth century. There was some, but not much, knowledge of it in the eastern Empire. When a text, illustrated with maps, was brought to Rome shortly after 1400 and was translated into Latin, it caused a sensation. It paved the way for an entirely new, scientific, method of mapping and the text was much copied. This map comes from a copy of the Geographia that was created in northern Italy in about 1480. It looks very different from the form of the British Isles to be found on medieval world maps, on sea charts and on home-grown maps. The strange sharp rightward turn of Scotland is to be found on all Ptolemaic maps but was to disappear from the 'revised' or 'modern' Ptolemaic maps that were soon to appear. This map has, however, already been 'revised' in one significant way: it is drawn on a projection first thought up by Donus Nicolaus Germanus, a German monk who worked in Italy in the late 1400s. It closely resembles the first printed atlases of Ptolemaic maps. (


Cristoforo Buondelmonti (1386 - c. 1430) was an Italian monk who traveled around greece. In 1414 he left his home city of Florence to travel the Aegean Islands. The Liber Insular Archipelagi (1420) above is one of the results of that. It contains a collection of geographical information, charts and sailing directions. 


The first work to represent the first modern atlas was De Summa totius Orbis (1524–26) by the 16th-century Italian cartographer by Pietro Coppo. It contained a collection of systematic woodcut maps of uniform size.


The word atlas dates from 1636, first in reference to the English translation of Atlas, sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi (1585) by Flemish geographer Gerhardus Mercator, who might have been the first to use this word in this way. A picture of the Titan Atlas holding up the world appeared on the frontispiece of this and other early map collections. (


Lastly I am going to end in the beginnings of a mapping system that we are more familiar with today. The Ordinance Survery. 

The name Ordnance Survey hints at how it all began. Britain’s mapping agency has its roots in military strategy: Mapping the Scottish Highlands following rebellion in 1745. Later, as the French Revolution rumbled on the other side of the English Channel, there were real fears the bloodshed may sweep across to our shores. So the government ordered its defence ministry of the time – the Board of Ordnance – to begin a survey of England’s vulnerable southern coasts. Until then, maps had lacked the detail required for moving troops and planning campaigns. (

The original draftsman's drawings for the area around St. Columb Major in Cornwall, made in 1810.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

GUEST POST. Stepping away from Practices of Print: from Book to App (Zoë Aubugeau-Williams)

Minilab is a new digital production company created to deliver the most beautiful experiences in visual storytelling, learning and play that children can get their hands on.  Starting out as the digital R&D of Nobrow and Flying Eye Books, Minilab was set up as a new company in January of 2015 by Nobrow-co-founder Alex Spiro and digital creative James Wilson. At Minilab, we adopt the same basic values of great design of the highest quality that our sister companies are founded upon. We work with teams of talented animators and developers along with expert academics and the best illustrators in the world to ensure that we create the very best digital products for children that parents can rely on. We’ve recently released our first app, Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System.

 Professor Astro Cat first appeared in the book Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, by illustrator Ben Newman and quantum physicist Dr Dominic Walliman. Professor Astro Cat and his friends act as a conduit to spread scientific fact in a fun way that children can enjoy. He wants to make learning fun because when done with love and humour, learning is easy.

It has become one of the best-selling books on the Flying Eye Books list, selling 90,00 copies worldwide, having been translated into 13 different languages! With Minilab’s intention to create beautiful, educational, digital content for children and with this proven track record behind it, Professor Astro Cat became the obvious candidate for this new project. James has a background in animation and had previously collaborated with Ben on the creation of animated GIFs of Professor Astro Cat, so it was definitely his first choice for a project too.

One of the earliest stipulations of the digital Astro Cat project was that, even if we were going to be covering similar educational content, the app should not be a straightforward conversion of the book. Astro Cat’s world and mission has been reimagined to create a brand new digital experience. There are plenty of ebooks and enhanced digital books out there that stick to the tropes and practices of print. The end result tends to look and feel like a glorified PDF, which is something that we really weren’t interested in. We thought that if we were going to develop a digital experience that started life as a book, we should offer something that a book can’t.

 When designing layout for a book, there is usually only one destination size. For example, in the book, the whole Solar System is shown across a double-page spread.
With an app, the design of the layout needs to be flexible enough to work across a whole range of devices ranging from squarer tablets to wider aspects found in smartphones and smaller devices. With the Solar System in the app, we get to see the planets up close whilst giving the user the understanding that there is more content ‘offstage’. The zoom function is a great example of playing to the strength of the format.

The app was built using Unity 3D, a powerful C# based platform that can run both 3D and 2D animations. Having the facility to use simple 3D models for the planets makes light work of conveying the planets spinning on their axes whilst maintaining the 2D flat aesthetic of Ben’s artwork. This adds another level of information to the illustrations in the book.

Breaking the page was very important. The digital app needs an anchor for all the information to move away and come back to. While a book is a more linear experience in which you physically go back and reference things, if you choose to. It was very interesting to adapt this because you have to design in a very different way. You need to think about what the viewer can’t yet see and how to take them there without the viewer feeling instructed.

Books are what we know and love. They can be wonderfully rich and accessible sources of information, entertainment and inspiration. With a Nobrow/Flying Eye Book we go as far as we can to to offer something that readers can’t get anywhere else.  In the Astro Cat book, we’ve presented educational content within a fully illustrated context, demonstrating the power of visuals to illuminate text in print. With mobile devices taking up ever-increasing amounts of eye-time and the devices themselves becoming more and more ubiquitous, the digital revolution is not letting up. Children are both drawn to and adept at this new technology and we want to make that screen time matter. It follows that with our digital offering we should be offering experiences that users can’t get anywhere else. Animation can add an extra element of life to visuals; animating Astro was a great way of expressing his character through motion. But digital experiences really come into their own when there are things a user can affect - making passive consumption OF MEDIA, active. So there’s lots to uncover, prod, swipe, read and also… play. By playing to the strengths of the digital format, we have allowed children to explore their own personalized, beautiful and educational adventure through space.

Zoë Aubugeau-Williams

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

→ in the gutter

At PAGES book fair in Leeds, March 5-6, we will be presenting GUTTER - our curatorial experiment, which is an investigation into the contextual presence of book as an object and as art object, as well as an investigation into a curated event as a paradigmatic structure. (do come and see for yourself what this sentence actually means!)

As a result, gutter is something I could not help but notice as we were selecting  entries for prescriptions medical humanities and book arts exhibition, due at Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in April later this year.

Here are a few of the artists and their works I have noted down for their use of gutter space.

Wounds by Ruth Shaw-Williams documents some of her mother's many scars left by years of surgery. Ruth is interested in the visual articulation of that which has been hidden.  This involves the archiving of past hurts, coupled with documentation of the point at which they re-surface.

Ashely Fitzgerald considers the idea of the book as if it was a body that came to life with the spine of the book as the back bone and the pages as layers of flesh. The work G.B.S.  addresses her experience with a viral infection called Guillane-Barre Syndrome.

When speaking about gutter it is only appropriate to talk about guts and on innards: a collaborative project between Amanda Couch, Andrew Hladky, Mindy Lee and Richard Nash, which explores the changing conceptualisations of guts and digestion, their impact on the creative process and the role they play in constructing and destabilising our sense of self. The book is very appropriately spilling out of it's encasement with more parts being added to it as the project develops.

Derek's Story by Josie Valley is based on a narrative provided by Derek Cummings. Josie has created a visual response that is empathetic to his expressions of the multimodal experience of chronic illness in contemporary society.