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• • • • • • on letters, words, books and graphic design • • • • • •

Bruna SF zwarte beertjes abstract

Dick Bruna designed over 2000 covers for the Zwarte Beertjes series, pocket books that brought famous international detective series to a dutch public. Well known are the covers he did for the Saint and James Bond series or Maigret and other Simenon books. The color schemes and simple iconography Bruna used set a style that made the Beertjes famous. Slightly different and more abstract are these covers for some Science Fiction titles. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: book design,

Fontstructing in the seventies Rob Ligtelijn


I found this book in a charity shop some time ago. The choice of colour, the bold, clear approach and the letterforms make it an iconographic example of seventies design. The lettering could have been designed in FontStruct, but the book is definitely too old for that. It looks like some sixties modular type I have seen before, maybe influenced by bauhaus typography. Searching on the web and in my specimen books didn’t bring up a match, so I decided to ask the designer of the book cover. If I was able to trace him…

The colophon mentioned no year of publication, but a postcard and a pocket calendar I found inside the book, suggested it was bought before 1975. And it did credit the cover design to one Rob Ligtelijn. Some googling led to the Facebook profile of a mister Ligtelijn who had been studying graphic design in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The first reply to my inquiry came from Chicago: Rob was traveling but had checked his e-mail on his iPhone. And he did remember the title of the book. Viva communication technology!

Two weeks later, Rob being back in Utrecht, this was his story.

“It sure was a surprise to be remembered about something I made that long ago! This must be from the early seventies. In those days I often started designing a cover from a typographic angle, especially when the content or title were hard to capture in one image. Occasionally I drew my own letters by hand – never a complete alphabet, just the ones I needed – and for every new job I started a new design.

This manual approach is obvious in the ‘spotvogels’ cover: the vertical line inside the letters has the same width all over. In a font it would have followed the type size. That would have made the image less calm and even.

What you have here is only the hard cover. The dust jacket is missing. I remember it had the text on the same spot, but there was a shadow, dropping 45 degrees to the bottom left, which sort of lifted the title up.

The drawing was done with a ruler and compasses, using pen and ink. Later we had those Rotring pens that prefered to leak when the job was almost finished. After that I used cutting film. Red transparent Letraset film was pasted onto paper. Those paper sheets had a millimetre pattern, printed in light blue ink that was invisible to the repro camera. Working on a light table, I applied close fitting colour fields – like the drop shadow I mentioned before –  to the back of the paper in mirror view. This way, occasional shrinking by moisture or heat was equal on both ‘plates’. Mirroring was no problem when handling originals on the camera.

Finaly I discovered masking film, made by Ulano. A clear transparent film, strong and dimensionally stable, with a red top coating that was easy to cut and peal off. At last easy correcting was possible! Wonderful material, albeit overhauled by new technologies.

I realize now I kept no work from that period. From book design my career shifted to art direction, over editorial work into publishing. The last years before retiring, I conceived magazines for different editors; the editorial concept or formula if you like. All related jobs, but I left the actual designing a long time ago. These questions and reading Spinsels make my hands itch again, though…”

Keep us posted, Rob, and thanks.

Harper Lee – Spaar de Spotvogels (To kill a Mockingbird)
Amsterdam Boek -Miljoenenreeks 1
Cover: Rob Ligtelijn

Filed under: book design, , ,

One more muse… Jan Bons




Another poetry collection from the Muze-series, this one was designed and illustrated by Jan Bons in 1958. Bons is a Dutch graphic designer, famous for the posters he made for the IDFA film festival or theatre de Appel, both in Amsterdam. He uses paper cut and collage technique a lot. Watching the excellent documentary by Lex Reitsma on his life and method of designing can only make today’s designers jealous of the freedom this man worked in, both practical and mental. Google him on images and you will become a happier person, guaranteed.



De Muze vertelt
Poetry collected by J.C. Brandt Corstius and Han G. Hoekstra
CPNB – 1958
Illustrations and typography by Jan Bons
Book format: 135 x 215 mm

Filed under: book design, , ,

Painting Art books


Two books on painting. The one above dates from 1936 but was passed on to me by my good friend and colleague PD last year. The title would translate as Beauty in the Art of Painting. It is part of a series of small common interest booklets published by Bosch & Keuning in Baar, Holland between 1934 and 1940. A well documented catalogue of the Libellen Serie can be consulted here.
Black and one spot colour on a yellow leather embossed paper. I like the narrow slab serif letter a lot, despite – or probably due to – its irregularities. The E closes too much, the lower right serif of the R is a bit out of center and the upper left one on the N feels almost assymetric. The serifs on the S and C are a bit clumsy. But the recent Helvetica jubilee made us all remember how boring a too polished or even design can become.

Below is a French title which – contrary to what the front cover suggests – dates from 1964. The dictionary entry, edition 1973, is a mock-up that helps to legitimize the neologism the author proposes in the title of the book. Tableauistes are not only painters but all players dealing with paintings (tableaux in French): art collectors, gallery keepers, art sellers (and maybe art frauds?). The book is set in metal Bodoni, sizes 30, 11 and 8, the hors textes (the picture inserts on the yellow paper) are printed in offset. Funny that the newspaper cuts that document the text are referred to as ‘collages’. That is French allure for you…
I am particularly charmed by the use of colour on this cover: in contrast with the classic choice of type, this yellow, orange and pink are definitely a wink.





De Schoonheid in de Schilderkunst, Herman Hana
Libellen-Serie Nr. 139
Bosch & Keuning, Baarn, 1936
Book format  170 x 190 mm (w x h)

L’Envers de la Peinture –
1. mœrs & coutumes des tableauistes
, Robert Lebel
Editions du Rocher, Monaco, 1964
Book format  185 x 225 mm (w x h)
Design: Jean Latour

Filed under: book design, ,

School Journal 1962 Almanach Pestalozzi


School started again, so I thought it appropriate to dig up this small pocket diary. Cloth-bound with 2 colour stamping: a handsome piece of work.


I guess some people find this blog often nostalgic. It might look that way, but what I show is not about nostalgia but about roots. My visual roots, the begining of my imagination, of my relationship with the world around me and the origins of my professional life.

I was born in 1963 in a middle class family. Try to imagine  a world with no screens except for a black and white television with 4 channels on: one flemmish and one french speaking Belgian and – with some luck – two Dutch broadcasts. On school days we had one hour of childrens tv. For movies one had to go to the cinema. All other visual information we got came through printed material. Books and magazines were the main source of information about the world beyond our physical reach. Not too bad: they were fairly affordable, portable and durable.



The great thing about this particular school journal is that it is full of entertaining stuff: science, geography, history, but also games, puzzles and riddles. It has morning exercises. It shows art, from prehistoric cave paintings to modern sculpture. For a pupil in 1962 this was a treasure room. I would have killed for it. Can you imagine a school journal today to be the coolest thing around?





Most surprising are the colour pages: those are used to show state of the art design. Plastics! Ceramic tiles! Le Corbusier wallpaper! This is a book for for kids from 12 to 18 in the year 1962. That is emancipation for you.




Almanach Pestalozzi 1962
Agenda de poche des écoliers Belges
Office de Publicité SA Bruxelles
Licence Pro Juventute Zurich
Book format: 100 x 150 mm

Filed under: book design, , ,

De Muze en de seizoenen Jenny Dalenoord


Did you know there are people amongst us who get a happy feeling when the summer ends and the leaves start to fall? For those romantic souls this book cover must be a special treat. It is another Dutch book week gift, cover design and illustrations by Jenny Dalenoord in 1953.




Jenny Dalenoord is one of the leading ladies in post-war children book illustration in the Netherlands. I found a nice movie of a visit she paid to KrisKras, a book store in Amsterdam in 2005. Jenny was 87 then, but shining. I will show some covers she did in a future post. Below are some details from this Muse and the seasons book. Look at the wonderful play between positive and negative form.


De Muze en de seizoenen
Poetry collected by Clara Eggink
CPNB – 1953
Cover and illustrations by Jenny Dalenoord
Book format: 135 x 215 mm


Filed under: book design, , ,

Wizard of Oz power type!


A cheap pocket edition in glossy orange ink on a fake leather embossed paper. To read any word other than ‘Wizard’ or ‘Oz’ one must constantly tilt the book in his hands to minimize the light reflection. — Hey man, what are you wining about? It’s the Wizard! The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

L. Frank Baum – The Wizard of Oz
Award Book Inc., New York –  date?
Book format: 105 x 180 mm

The colophon says:
Specially selected immortal literature
handsomely designed with luxurious
leatherette finish covers

Filed under: book design, type & typography

De Muze en het Meisje Dutch gift


This beautiful little book cost me a few euros in a bookstore in the Hague, but to the first owner it was completely free. A gift, presented during the dutch book week in 1957.

Each year the CPNB (Stichting Collectieve Propaganda voor het Nederlandse Boek or foundation for the Collective Promotion of Dutch Books) publishes a book (or books) around a varying theme, that booksellers then can present to their customers as a gift. They do this since 1930. From the late fourties to the early sixties a side series was produced four young readers, carrying de Muzethe Muse – in its title.

This one, the Muse and the Girl, was designed and illustrated by Jan van Keulen, who designed de Groene Amsterdammer as early as 1945 and taught graphic design and typography at the Academy of the Hague in the sixties. Take some time to look at the archive the NAGO website dedicated to his work.




The details below might help to explain what I meant when talking about spot colour printing and manual colour separation on the spinsels page of this blog. The density of the yellow and red and their overlaps with the greyish blue-green can not be achieved in CMYK printing. The power of solid colour on paper amazes me every time. On top of that, the black plate was first slightly embossed in the paper, which gives it an extra tactile dimension. This little book is very precious to me.



De Muze en het Meisje – 1957
Poetry collected by Ad den Besten and Bert Voeten
Design and illustrations Jan van Keulen
Book format: 135 x 215 mm

Filed under: book design, ,

Colourful Bindings Alexis Keunen


This colourful lot is part of the Livre du Mois collection, published for a subscribers-only book club in the early fifties. Many of the  Books of the Month were printed in Liège, and the ones shown here were all designed by Alexis Keunen (1922-1990), a surrealist painter from the same city. This could explain the – now slightly retro –  avantgarde look of those years.






Each book was presented in a red cardboard casing and dust protected by a transparent film, both of which did not survive the next half century too well. The materials used all look a bit more classy than they are, but the designs are still fresh, and charm there is plenty.

The covers shown:
A.J. Cronin – Sous le Regard des Etoiles
– Editions Albin Michel, april 1952
Ludwig Bemelmans – Cochon d’Eddie!
– Editions Robert Laffont, december 1950
Arturo D. Hernandez – Sangama
– Editions Albin Michel, july 1952
Betty Mac Donald – N’importe qui peut faire n’importe quoi
– Editions Robert Laffont, hors série 1950
Jaques Robert – Les Dents Longues
– Editions René Julliard, hors série 1951
James A. Michener – Pacifique Sud
– Flammarion Editeur, march 1952
Vasco Pratolini – Chronique des Pauvres Amants
– Editions Albin Michel, november 1950
Elisabeth Barbier – Serres paradis
– Editions René Julliard, september 1950
Claude Farrère – La Sonate Tragique
– Editions Ernest Flammarion, june 1950

Le Club du Livre du Mois
book format: 200 x 135 mm
design: Alexis Keunen

Filed under: book design, ,

Tabloid! Dick Bruna


Striking but unconventional. Four shouting elements – an extra bold slab serif title, a strangely cropped up-close picture, the blurb text in red and a classical vignette – all together on the front cover of a book and yet kept perfectly in balance. This is the work of a master. Dick Bruna, forever famous as the father of ‘Nijntje’ or ‘Miffy’ in English, designed hundreds of book covers for ‘Zwarte Beertjes’, a Dutch pocket book series that published mainly thrillers and sci-fi. This is a hard cover book, the linnen embossing making the tabloid-like approach even more surprising.

Jack Lynn – De Professor
A.W. Bruna & Zoon
, Utrecht 1972
Cover design Dick Bruna

I will show some paperback covers from my growing Bruna collection in future posts. For more info on Dick Bruna you can look here and here.

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