This Week In Lego

As a parent, I feel it’s very important that my child understand and appreciate fully man’s dominion over the animal kingdom. So, over the weekend, I built this educational three-dimensional installation to help explain the concept to him:

Here’s how it works:

1. Wild animals— represented here as polar bear, elephant, and giraffe– are part of the scene, but demoted to the lowest plain, fenced in by man’s ingenuity and inanely distracted by a few plastic flowers placed in their midst.

2. Domestic animals— cat and dog– are one step closer to man’s likeness, and therefore get boosted up into ‘second place’, as it were, on the pedestal beside him.

3. At the top, exalted, and ruling over “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”, is man. Just to make it clear what his relationship is to the animals, he’s also a zoo keeper (as shown in rear view). If possible, I would have placed him in a leather overcoat, just to make the pecking order totally overt, but it seems that Lego doesn’t produce this piece.

In terms of my architectural influences, I would say I’m pretty close to Frank Lloyd Wright in terms of drawing inspiration from non-traditional forms such as pre-Columbian Mayan temples and Japanese concepts of space.

See also: Osama Bin Lego.

Showcase of Hideous Christmas Reggae Album Covers

Semi-loyal reader KG recently saved me from the terrifying drought in good new music releases by turning me onto Scratch Radio, a station that streams nonstop rocksteady and dub. One of my stock tiresome soapbox rants is the position that Jamaican music is the most unfairly maligned and buttonholed genre or nationality of music (next to, perhaps, early gay underground disco, but that’s a post for another day). It’s a case of one particular artist becoming so dwarfingly popular relative to every other artist that most people automatically think ‘Bob Marley!’, when in fact he’s just the tip of the iceberg (note the self-conscious authorial attempt to avoid referring to the variety of Jamaican music as a ‘rainbow’). It would be like if people failed to recognize any contribution to rock music besides that of, say, Elvis Presley. Or the Insane Clown Posse. You get my point.

The beauty of Scratch Radio is that, in terms of vocal selections, they generally eschew tired-out ‘Roots’ reggae in favor of tracks from the glorious rocksteady years (my friend once explained this preference by saying, “I liked it when they were singing about girls instead of Haile Selassie and Mount Zion’). However, as soon as November rolled into December, I suddenly had to beat a ragged retreat from Scratch Radio because they began playing the cheesiest holiday-themed reggae songs almost nonstop. Who knew that a tropic island had so many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of holiday covers? It makes a certain amount of sense, given that Jamaican artists have traditionally been willing to cover just about anything… but still.

Some album cover examples from this regrettable and surprisingly prolific trend:

Blegh. Having explicitly poked fun at candy cane lettering in the snarky article I recently wrote about type for Smashing Mag, I was delighted to see an instance of this crop up in the first example posted above.

Finally, two covers from this unfortunate genre that are kinda redeemable. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them good, exactly, but there are some likable things going on here:

See also: the incredibly entertaining 42 Reggae Album Cover Designs from’s blog. It includes such fantastic curiosities as Ugly Man’s Ugly Lover album, containing hit song ‘Computer’:

Discotheque Esperanto

Spotted this ad for Music Club Zlatý Strom (Golden Tree) on the metro recently while heading to the train station and, subsequently, to Berlin:

In this case, I have to say that the blurriness of the photo is only partly attributable to rush (it was a packed metro car, so I only had a moment of unmolested empty space between stops in which to snap it) and largely due to a spasm of self-conscious embarrassment I experienced while snapping it that some onlooker might think I was legitimately wowed by the looks of the place. What actually attracted me was the peculiar gigantism of the sales pitch (’60 different types of vodka! 70 different types of tequila! 40 different types of rum!), and the weird half-baked visual language of ‘cool, sexy times being had’: hazy, indistinct purple field, generic sexy woman silhouettes*, disco balls. Only the incongruity of the golden tree seal sets this apart from any number of other cheesy clubs, I would guess.

Indeed, as soon as I arrived in Berlin, I passed Club Matrix, which exhibits the same, lame purple-clad associations:

What is it with purple, anyway? I guess the thinking is that sheer black would be too dull, and red would look too hellish and infernal. There’s a sort of international visual esperanto of cheeseball Euro-disco-trashiness emerging here.

* Although it should be noted that this ad is incredibly chaste compared to the web site and online advertising for the Zlaty Strom, which I looked up as soon as I got back to Prague. All vague, atmospheric promises are tossed aside in favor of a much more graphic and concrete approach suggesting an outright brothel.


In addition to the big blog shakeup last week, I also launched a sorely-overdue update of my design portfolio site, Please take a gander.

The previous version was so outdated that the last time I updated it, I think I fell off my dinosaur and broke my stone underpants. It still had samples of my student work from 2002-03, which was embarrassing whenever my current design students would stumble across it and you could see the thought bubble appear over their heads: Hey, how come this guy is teaching us if he still has student work in his portfolio? Not good. Anyway, that’s all behind me now.

This time around, I used a CMS platform called Cargo that I found really handy and easy to work with. How times have changed: I put together most of this site in about 24 hours…. whereas the last time I put together a portfolio site (in early 2005), it took me most of three weeks.

Vintage jazz covers, part four

Here’s the final installment of those classic jazz covers, another round of photo-based designs. There’s a lot to like here, but my favorite thing has to be the woodcut pelican overprinted on top of photo for Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars (whoever they were).

Also, it’s a shame that Jack Jones’ “I’ve Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” contains too many words to qualify for TK’s First and Probably Only 6-word Memoir Contest.

Legs round-up

Last night, I met with the publisher to show my second round of cover ideas for Bruno Jasienski’s The Legs of Izolda Morgan. After the debacle of the first rejected round of ideas, imagine my relief when the publisher basically said, “I like them all… I can’t decide.” He wound up handing them over to his wife, who— without any hints from me—independently picked the same one that I was leaning towards as her favorite. So, that settled it.

See if you can guess which one was the winner. None of these are presented as ‘finished’– the idea is to go as far as you need to to demonstrate concept and then move on to the next idea– so they’re in various states of haggardness in terms of missing details. The beige background color is meant to be a loose approximation of the rough, uncoated off-white paper we’re talking about printing it on.

Since it’s boring to just number or letter them, I’ll name them after various members of Fleetwood Mac

Stevie Nicks direction:

Peter Green direction:

Bob Welch direction:

Mick Fleetwood direction:

John McVie direction:

Christine McVie direction:

Lindsey Buckingham direction:

And, just for posterity’s sake, here’s the main rejected design from round 1:

While I’m generally OK with not using this direction, what really galls me about its rejection is the fact that the publisher kept getting stuck on its resemblance to this stupid poster for the Barbara Striesand movie Funny Girl:

Damn you, Barbara Streisand.

Anyway, I’m happy with the direction that we wound up picking, and relieved to finally be able to move past the sketch stage. What do you think?

Vintage jazz covers, part three

The first two posts covered the illustration-based covers; these next two posts show the ones designed around photos.

In this batch, I especially love the irradiated glow around Errol Gardner, and the Victorian-era swashes around his initials. I suppose the latter design idea probably stemmed from the fact that he happens to have a dashing Anglocentric name, and that they wouldn’t have thought to add this effect for, say, a Thelonious Monk record.

Also: it occurs to me that I’ve been an ignoramus in terms of presenting these as being all ’78’s’ in the last two posts– some of them are 45s or LPs and clearly say so right on the cover. So, nevermind about that part…

Jazz 78s, part one

Back in 2003, I took an advanced typography class where we had to do a sort of self-generated thesis project. I wound up looking at typography associated with different genres of Jamaican music, which actually held together as a topic more coherently than I’d dared hope. One of my classmates, Lora Santiago, did something around the crates of old 78s that her dad had collected. I immediately her asked for the images, and still love to just put them on as a slideshow from time to time…