J.H. Boot: master of stylisation


I posted about stylisation before, and I’d like to show where I got my inspiration. So without further ado, some of the ‘plates’ from J.H. Boot’s book on how to take some natural object and turn it into something of mathematically precise art.

It still amazes me that Boot did not just take the time to draw studies ‘after nature’ as he calls them, but also to show off his skills by adding lots of ornaments to pages about ornaments. He left as little paper unused as he could.

From the book’s (Dutch) text, it’s clear that ornamentations like these were used in interior design. Wall paneling, tables, stained glass… Must’ve been some exhausting houses to have lived in!


There is grandeur in this view of life – visualising Darwin


If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I had to have to give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else. It is not just a wonderful scientific idea; it is a dangerous idea. it overthrows, or at least unsettles, some of the deepest beliefs and yearnings in the human psyche.

– Daniel Dennett

Darwin. We all know his basic idea, it seems utterly obvious now, to the point of why bother with Charles? I thought the same: he made the idea very very public and very obvious, but that was back in 1859. We have come a long way since then. Hurrah for genetics.

But. Some years ago, I read his Voyage of the Beagle. It is great fun. He writes well with delightful english understatement, but his enthusiasm, awe and wonder is obvious and contagious. He is sometimes like a five-year-old in a toy shop. Think Sir David Attenborough of the 1830-ish. I get really interested in the little frog he tried to rescue (and nearly killed twice) and the fox he knocked over the head with his geology hammer (and in doing that, contributed a tiny amount to the extinction of a species). Continue reading

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 things.

Voynich manuscript


No one has been able to decipher it. This is not for lack of trying. Cryptographers, linguists, codebreakers, statisticians, computer experts in all sorts of fields have tried; professional and amateurs alike. It seems to conform roughly to european language structures, but is inconsistent. Some believe the whole thing to be nonsense, the scribbling of a mad person. Or a personal secret language. The illustrations are fantastical, and the objects depicted does not correspond to anything we know. The book seems to consist of six sections, each dealing with a subject.

Continue reading

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 three ledgers. They are all leather spine-and-corners, all materials of archival quality. They should hold out well for a few hundred years.

Ledger binding

Ledger binding

Ledger binding differ considerably from literature binding, library binding and publishing binding. These are books that will be written in, so the mechanism of the spine is constructed in such a way that you can write all the way into the margin. It will lie flat when opened, and this is not only due to the sheer weight: the binding is constructed from the bottom to make this work.

As opposed to traditional literature binding, the block is sewed extremely hard into tightly woven linen bands. I can still remember how much my fingers hurt. Continue reading


The most boring day in history


April 18, 1930

On what should have been the news bulletin on good friday 1930, the BBC presenter said: “Good evening. Today is good friday. There is no news.” then proceeded to play piano music.

April 11, 1954

However. Computer programmer William Tunstall-Pedoe from Cambridge fed 300 million facts about events into a programme called True Knowledge. Sunday 11th of April, 1954, was apparently truly the dullest day in history.




Prehistoric Art: The Upper Paleolithic Revolution


The Upper Paleolithic or Late Stone Age begins and ends with a revolution. The first one is what can be considered the ‘official’ appearance of art, some 50,000 years ago. The second, the invention of agriculture, 40,000 years later.

Venus of Hohlen FelsThe earliest sample of Paleolithic art is the shells with holes and chipped edge modifications from Ksar Akil. These flakes show regular teeth distributed at frequent intervals, and are believed to have been used as pendants or beads.

However, a deeply fascinating example of early art is the beautiful German Venus of Hohle Fels (image). Made with ivory and mammoth tusk,  this Cro-Magnon beauty  is the oldest undisputed example of human figurative prehistoric art yet discovered. Also worth mentioning, from the same region and around the same time, the fascinating lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, the oldest known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world.

We might never know how our very early ancestors chose to express their thoughts, feelings and fears, as there is no physical evidence of the things they created, apart from their beautiful yet relatively simple flint artifacts. What we do know, however, is that 50,000 years ago climate changes – mainly temperature drops – generated a mark increase in the diversity of materials they could use.

A curious fact: Flint becomes brittle at low temperatures, rendering it useless as a tool. It’s believed timber might have also been scarce. And so the experimenting began, and clay, bone, antler, stone and ivory became the stars of the Upper Palaeolithic.