Wednesday 31 December 2014

View from the Top

Looking across to Flintshire and the Welsh hills from Caldy Hill.

Image Copyright M.Reed 2014

Thursday 4 December 2014


The Book of Tea  was written in 1906 was written in English by the Japanese writer Okakura Kakuzo. It reflects on tea and the relation between this important drink and elements of the aesthetic and cultural in Japanese life.

HERE is a beautiful 1919 version with illustrations.

Friday 28 November 2014

With all that Sea and Skies and Land May Lend

I have just completed a book with a friend of mine called Jonathan.

We had both read Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Dan Richards and Stanley Holloway during last year and over a meal last December set ourselves the target of writing and printing our own short illustrated book. 

I had already been writing a short personal essay on a circular walk that I had been doing for about 15 years and everything that I thought about and experienced on the walk. Prompted by my descriptions and the locations themselves, Jonathan went off and created about 15 pen and ink / watercolour illustrations for the essay.

The title of the essay is a line from the poem Careless by George Sterling (1869-1926), which was first published in the August 1921 edition of The Bookman. Sterling was an American poet and playwright who founded an artists colony in Carmel, on the Monterey peninsula in California. His friends called him the ‘uncrowned King of Bohemia’.

Below is the front cover, illustrated by Jonathan.

I designed the book and typeset the text using LATEX. A typical two-page spread is below. 

I have just had a short-run of the books digitally printed and bound by Imprint Digital in Devon. Some of the books will be given out this year as Xmas gifts, who knows, some may even be sold. 

Thursday 27 November 2014

Seven essential qualities of Open Source

Seven essential qualities of open source - HERE.




Early French Photography

A volume published for an exhibition held at the Alfred Stieglitz Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Nov. 17-Dec. 28, 1969 (HERE).

Thursday 20 November 2014



For more Animated Creativity see HERE.

Public Domain Review Essays

The Public Domain Review is an excellent website that specialises in long form pieces that are inspired by, and illustrated with, materials from long out of print and out of copyright books that are available online in the public domain - including materials from the Internet Archive. The site is reviewed (and praised) by the Guardian HERE.

They have just set up a publishing imprint to create physical books based on their essays and their first book is out - The Book of Selected Essays 2011-2013

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Norwegian Passport

The Norwegian design agency Neue has just finished designing a new passport and ID card for the Norwegian Government. The designs try and capture the essence of Norway.

Below an image of the inside of the passport normally and under UV light - when the Northern Lights appear.


Saturday 8 November 2014

Bickham's British Monarchy (1743)

The British monarchy: : or, A new chronographical description of all the dominions subject to the King of Great Britain. Comprehending the British Isles, the American Colonies, the electoral states, the African and Indian settlements. And enlarging more particularly on the respective counties of England and Wales. To which are added, alphabets in all hands made use of in this book. The whole illustrated with suitable maps and tables ... and engrav'd (1743) 


George Bickham





Thursday 30 October 2014

Cross Section of Walled City of Kowloon

One of the strangest illustrations I have ever seen is this Japanese cross-sectional image of the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.

A hi-resolution version is HERE.

Alphabets, numerals & devices of the Middle Ages (1843)


Saturday 18 October 2014

Venice 1904

The following collection of images is from Venice by the Australian artist Mortimer Menpes, 1904.

Friday 17 October 2014

February by Viktor Olgyai

From HERE.

From the volume:
Viktor Olgyai studied under William Unger in Vienna and under Theodore Alphonse in Paris. As he originally intended to devote himself entirely to the graphic arts, and only later took up oil-painting, his technical knowledge of etching is remarkable. He is pre-eminently a draughtsman, and though his plates are finely toned, the most notable thing about them is their sense of line. Some of his best works are contained in an album of ten plates entitle 'Winter,' and other notable ones are The Oak, The Mill and Way of Cypresses
Further information about the artist from the Imperial War Museum:
Victor Olgyai (1870-1929) was born in Igló in Hungary. He worked as a painter and designer, and taught at the Graphics Department of the College of Fine Arts in Budapest. He died in Salzburg, Austria.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Everyman Wins Stirling Prize!

I have been going to the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool for 35 years. 
It is a key part of the cultural life of Liverpool. 
It was recently re-built from scratch and it is superb.
Tonight it won the RIBA Stirling award.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

There are 26 sheep and 10 goats on a ship. How old is the captain?

The ex Cambridge University physicist and educator Sanjoy Mahajan (of Streetfighting Mathematics renown), has been busy with an outfit called Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) which is here

Mahajan has continued his interests in teaching maths and physics without rote learning methods - building on the pioneering work of Louis Benezet (1935), Etta Berman (1935) and Harold Fawcett (1938) also re-counted in Flener (2001) HERE

His latest at the CCR is the following PDF - Maths, Methods & Tools. 

Earlier proposals and great references are HERE

It's great to see that he is still going strong and bringing our attention to the shortcomings of rote learning.

Thursday 9 October 2014

La Tour St. Jacques

Eugène Béjot (1867 – 1931) was a French artist who specialised in drawing and etching.

Below - from Paris: a sketch book (1912)


Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2014


Copyright M.G. Reed 2014

Postcards from Google Earth

Here is a great site. A collection of wierd images from Google Earth - collected by the Brooklyn based artist Clement Valla. 

From the INFO:

I collect Google Earth images. I discovered strange moments where the illusion of a seamless representation of the Earth’s surface seems to break down. At first, I thought they were glitches, or errors in the algorithm, but looking closer I realized the situation was actually more interesting — these images are not glitches. They are the absolute logical result of the system. They are an edge condition—an anomaly within the system, a nonstandard, an outlier, even, but not an error. These jarring moments expose how Google Earth works, focusing our attention on the software. They reveal a new model of representation: not through indexical photographs but through automated data collection from a myriad of different sources constantly updated and endlessly combined to create a seamless illusion; Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Four Hedges - Claire Leighton

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989) was an English artist who created in the 1930's a number of beautiful illustrated books. The image below is from her book Four Hedges - A Gardener's Chronicle published in 1935. A facsimile edition is still available HERE.

Image from the incomparable


Costume for the Shibaraku interlude - Totoya Hokkei c 1850


Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Photocopier in Art

The American author and artist Pati Hill (1921-2014) died recently. After writing a number of novels she became interested in the visual arts and focused on the IBM photocopier as an artistic device (later persuading IBM to lend her one). 

An obituary in the New York Times HERE and article in Paris Review HERE.

Below a detail from one of her famous installations from 1978 that comprised of 34 Black and White photocopies of a dead swan she had found.

Image from HERE - where in 2016 there will be a retrospective of her art.

Her book on Photocopying art Letters To Jill  was published in 1979 (HERE). 


Saturday 20 September 2014

The Dimensions of a Hand

From the 1528 volume of human figure proportion by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Full scan of the volume HERE.

For more studies by Durer of hands in various gestures see HERE.

For an article on what Durer was up to in his books of human proportion see HERE.

Monday 15 September 2014

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is the high point of Byzantine architecture. The current structure was completed in 532, it remained the largest cathedral in the world for 1,000 years. 

Image from HERE

Basho's Haiku

An interesting piece HERE by the poet Mark McGuiness, on a book that was published in 1990 by Toshiharu Oseko that translates line by line, and word by word, what the Haiku of the famous Japanese poet Basho mean.

A review of the book from the Independent is HERE.

Image from HERE.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Keep It Simple (Stupid)

KISS is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid, a design principle developed by the US Navy in the 1960's. "The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided".  

Keep It Simple is also the title of a book by Hartmut Esslinger published in 2013. Esslinger founded Frog design and was the creator of Apple Computers design strategy. The book describes Esslinger's work with Apple, during which time they were transformed from a Silicon Valley start-up to a global player in consumer electronics. 

The book is available HERE.

A vision of Fujiyama

Original Image from HERE

Friday 12 September 2014

Man O' War

Great images HERE by Aaron Ansarov of Portugese Man O' War.

Image Copyright Aaron Ansarov.

Monday 8 September 2014

The Beauty of Code

Recently it has become quite trendy to argue that learning how to write computer code is an important part of a broad education. I understand the aspiration, but the reality is that learning to write in a computing language is quite demanding and on the whole is only worth it if there is a substantial problem you need to solve. 

I used to write C code to solve problems in image and data analysis and for Monte Carlo simulations. I developed my own programming style, influenced largely by the Numerical Recipes books. 

When you have a problem to solve and you solve it by writing code it can be a very satisfying experience. The focused concentration required to balance the logical constraints of the computing language (essentially mathematical logic) and the needs of the problem counts for me as an example of really creative work. 

One of the best essays I have ever read on writing computer code has just been published by Vikram Chandra on The Paris Review (HERE). It is an extract from his book Geek Sublime.

This essay does not pre-suppose that you have programmed anything, yet somehow communicates something of the flavour of the activity.

Image copyright M.G. Reed 2014

Thursday 4 September 2014

New Phylum found off coast of Australia.

Immediately below the level of Kingdom in the hierarchical classification of all of life on Earth is the level of Phylum. The whole of the Animal kingdom has 35 Phyla and all plant life 12. So the whole of Earths biodiversity is captured by less than 50 Phyla.

Until now. 

A recently published paper in PLoS One (HERE) describes two species within a new Phylum of organisms that were dredged up near Australia in 1986. 


A new genus, Dendrogramma, with two new species of multicellular, non-bilaterian, mesogleal animals with some bilateral aspects, D. enigmatica and D. discoides, are described from the south-east Australian bathyal (400 and 1000 metres depth). A new family, Dendrogrammatidae, is established for Dendrogramma. These mushroom-shaped organisms cannot be referred to either of the two phyla Ctenophora or Cnidaria at present, because they lack any specialised characters of these taxa. Resolving the phylogenetic position of Dendrogramma depends much on how the basal metazoan lineages (Ctenophora, Porifera, Placozoa, Cnidaria, and Bilateria) are related to each other, a question still under debate. At least Dendrogramma must have branched off before Bilateria and is possibly related to Ctenophora and/or Cnidaria. Dendrogramma, therefore, is referred to Metazoa incertae sedis. The specimens were fixed in neutral formaldehyde and stored in 80% ethanol and are not suitable for molecular analysis. We recommend, therefore, that attempts be made to secure new material for further study. Finally similarities between Dendrogramma and a group of Ediacaran (Vendian) medusoids are discussed.


Just J, Kristensen RM, Olesen J (2014) Dendrogramma, New Genus, with Two New Non-Bilaterian Species from the Marine Bathyal of Southeastern Australia (Animalia, Metazoa incertae sedis) – with Similarities to Some Medusoids from the Precambrian Ediacara. PLoS ONE 9(9): e102976. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102976

Below - one of the sketches from the paper coloured in for fun.


Monday 1 September 2014

Central Teaching Lab - University of Liverpool

Image Copyright M.G. Reed 2014

Sunday 31 August 2014

Tuesday 26 August 2014

The Treasure in the Forest

W.A. Dwiggins was an American commercial artist, calligrapher, type designer and book illustrator. 

A two page spread from The Treasure in the Forest H.G. Wells 1936 Press of the Wooly Whale, Boston. Image from HERE.

The essay / prose poem by Wells was published in The Stolen Bacillus and other Incidents - eBook version HERE

Monday 25 August 2014

Seisho yoroku 1898

Bonsai from a catalogue of an exhibition Seisho yoroku that was organized by Kurokawa Shinzaburo and others in March 1897.

Sunday 24 August 2014

A Poem about Sugar

The Japanese Zen master Kokan Shiren (1278–1347) inspired the development of the Japanese rock garden and Bonasai with his short essay; Rhymeprose on a Miniature Landscape Garden.
Kokan was also a renowned calligrapher. The image below is a Poem about Sugar from the mid 1300's. 

 For more on this poem see HERE.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Josef Albers - A Retrospective

Josef Albers was a German born artist (HERE).

Below is a two-page spread from an extensive retrospective of his work from 1988, which is of course available in its entirety on the Internet Archive.

Below is one of a long series of abstract works with similar titles, this one is called Homage to the Square (1963):

Monday 18 August 2014

Pictorial Knowledge - page spreads

All text copyright M.G. Reed 2014

Friday 15 August 2014

Pictorial Knowledge (2014)


This is my latest book project. 100 two-page spreads based around images from the Internet Archive.


In the late 1930's the British science fiction writer H.G. Wells described his vision of what he called a World Brain or World Encyclopaedia. He imagined that in the near future, scholars would have easy access to a complete catalogue of the World's knowledge;
The phrase `Permanent World Encyclopaedia' conveys the gist of these ideas. As the core of such an institution would be a world synthesis of bibliography and documentation with the indexed archives of the world. A great number of workers would be engaged perpetually in perfecting this index of human knowledge and keeping it up to date.
Until the late 1980's, the closest thing a scholar could get to an indexed archive of the world was one of the huge collections of material that had been amassed in the Library of  Congress, British Library or other National archive. These are immense repositories. The Library of Congress has 32 million books within a total of 150 million items and the British Library has a similar number of items. When archives get this vast they can be quantified more easily by the number of miles of shelving they have than the number of items; more than 800 miles in the Library of Congress.

Archives only reveal their secrets to those people who can physically get to them and learn how to penetrate the arcane rituals that seem to accumulate around such institutes. The experience of studying archive material first hand is lucidly described by the French historian Arlette Farge in her essay The Allure of the Archives (published in 1989 and recently translated into English). This book describes the author's experience of using the French national archives to understand daily life in the 1780's;     
The archivist, speaking very quietly, takes out a volume from behind him, and, with his fingertips, traces the printed lines of numbers preceded by capital letters. Then, softly, he leads the young man to the long row where the indexes are kept. He takes down six or seven volumes, picking them out without hesitation. He opens them up, points to the long columns of numbers, closes them, puts down the books, picks up others, explains, and returns to his desk to consult a set of file cards tightly squeezed into a beige shoe box. 
Locating documents by looking up numbers in large index tables is difficult and slow for human beings, but it is precisely what computers and the internet are good at. Now, more than six decades after H.G. Wells' first imagined it, the World Brain is beginning to become a reality.

Prompted by the widespread adoption of internet technology, major archives and libraries around the world are now digitising their book collections and making them available to a wider public. Perhaps 20 or 30 million books have already been scanned and digitised. The type of raw material that Arlette Farge describes - the traces of daily life tied up in tickets, receipts, court records and records of scientific expeditions and experiments - largely remain in physical archives, untouched by digitising machines.

On the basis of wholesale book scanning one organisation, the Internet Archive, has started to provide an interface to what may become a World Encyclopaedia. They have a mission of  providing universal access to all knowledge, and with some effort it is possible to find all sorts of gems. 

When I was growing up there was no Internet Archive (or Google or Wikipedia or the Internet). In order to learn about something you didn't understand, you needed to use an encyclopedia, by which I mean a set of bound volumes of printed papers. The most comprehensive encyclopedia that was generally available was the Encyclopedia Britannica, which prided itself on the quality and accuracy of its entries. Unfortunately, a full set of Britannica volumes was both expensive and difficult to navigate -- on average those families who owned the full set only opened the volumes once or twice a year.

We were the proud owners of a battered set of Newnes Pictorial Knowledge.  What the Pictorial Knowledge lacked in gravitas and authority versus the Encyclopedia Britannica, it made up for in pictures. The editors had decided that their intended audience of young readers would respond better to pictorial information than text and they had filled their volumes with illustrated entries. I would happily spend hours flicking through these volumes at random. To learn how a tennis  ball was made. Or look at a colour cut away of an early passenger aircraft. Or the latest in mechanical looms.

On the basis of this form of self-guided pictorial education, I can still remember how to use a straw filled pit to slow cook a meal, the deep sea explorations of the Bathyscaphe Trieste and how pioneering engineers had laid telegraph cables on the ocean floor. Some of my most vivid memories from the Pictorial Knowledge are the photos and text that described the Bell  X1 experimental planes flown by Chuck Yeager. The X1 looked like a bullet with wings and, perhaps appropriately, it became airborne by being dropped from the bomb bay of a modified B29 bomber. Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X1 in October 1947.

Aimlessly leafing through encyclopedias, books and dictionaries is an old fashioned way to learn new things. The brilliant American sociologist Robert K. Merton was casually flicking through volume nine of the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 1940's when he stumbled upon the word serendipity. His discovery of the word led him to write a book on the role that serendipity plays in scientific discovery. Modern familiarity with the concept tracks back to Merton's (serendipitous) discovery of the word, which had been coined in 1754 by the English gentleman Horace Walpole in a letter to his friend Horace Mann;
This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called the three Princes of Serendip: as their Highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were were not in quest of...
I still enjoy flicking through encyclopedias at random; both physical and virtual. Although necessarily different from my readings of  Newnes Pictorial Knowledge, my self-guided journey through the Internet Archive is driven by the same desire to explore. The book is structured as a collection of two-page spreads. The images were often selected because of the visual impact they had on me as I searched. Each two-page spread matches the image with a deliberately non-encyclopaedic entry; a short comment, reflection or connection. I have begun to think of these two-page spreads as postcards from the archive.

Arlette Farge ends her book with a comment on what we should do with archives; We cannot bring back to life those whom we find cast ashore in the archives. But this is not a reason to make them suffer a second death. This book aims to help save the ideas, images and people we find in the Internet Archive from a second death, and in the process help readers to make their own discoveries of things that they were not in quest of


Farge, A. (2013). The Allure of the Archives. Yale University Press.
Finch, P., Shepherd, W. & Dover, C. (Eds).  (1951). Pictorial Knowledge. G. Newnes, London.
Merton, R.K. & Barber, E. (2003). The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science. Princeton University Press.
H. G. Wells (1938). World Brain. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd.

Cover Idea Below. Copyright M.G. Reed 2014

Sunday 10 August 2014

The long and tangled story of the bagpipe

Although today bagpipes are most often associated with Scotland (and to a lesser extent with the Uilleann pipes of Ireland) they have a long and tangled history going back thousands of years. 

This illustrated volume, The Story of the Bagpipe, is from 1911 and is available in the Internet Archive.

Below a German bagpiper from 1514.


Wednesday 6 August 2014

Accidental Renaissance Paintings

A great piece here from the Guardian on accidental Renaissance composition in news pictures. 

The following is a treated version of the Ukranian Parliament image shown in the piece.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Gassendi by Mellan 1637

A detail from an engraving of the scholar, priest and astronomer Pierre Gassendi by his collaborator the engraver and artist Claude Mellan. From the Met collection.

Image © 2000–2014 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Primum Non Nocere — Above All, Do No Harm!

This motto is often used to describe the moral obligations of medics (though it isn't the Hippocratic Oath).

The earliest solid reference found so far for the motto is from 1879:
The maxim that our first duty is to do no harm — primum non nocere — is not intended to reduce us to the rank of simple spectators; it is to stimulate us to attain greater accuracy in diagnosis, greater skill in treatment, and quicker perception of indications.
Stimson LA. On abdominal drainage of adherent portions of ovarian cysts as a substitute for completed ovariotomy. Am J Med Sci. 1879;78: pp. 88-100.

For a full history of the motto see; Cedric M. Smith, ‘Origin and Uses of Primum Non Nocere — Above All, Do No Harm!’, The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology,  Vol. 45 (4), (2005), pp. 371–377.

Friday 18 July 2014

Y Rhiw

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Old Postcards

A huge collection of old postcards HERE.

San Francisco below.

Château de Blérancourt. Bastille day 1989.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Reconstruction of the Worlds largest flying bird

A great piece here in the Guardian about the reconstruction of the worlds largest flying bird from fossilised remains.

The paper includes the following clear illustration, complete with scale-bar.


Skeletal reconstruction of P sandersi with a California condor (lower left) and royal albatross (lower right) for scale. Illustration: Liz Bradford/PNAS  

Full paper HERE.