Andreja Brulc's Blog

World Book Day 2021: X-Sketchbook Project

Posted in Uncategorized by andrejabrulc on 26/04/2021

Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

To commemorate this year’s World Book Day (24 April), I thought I would share some artworks from my X-Sketchbook Project. The sketchbook was made for the Experimental Typography course (2004–5) at the London College of Communication (LCC, University of the Arts).

The brief of the project was to pick up a letter and explore its negative and positive space. I seem to remember I had tremendous fun placing the letter X in all sort of settings of my “imaginary” world (above: The Map of London, Indian ink, paper cut-out) while exploring different methods and materials (below: World, Printing inks and paper collage).

Source: The visual diary of India

You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

The idea for the X-Sketchbook Project developed from my Indian Sketchbook, which I had been doing while travelling around India for three weeks during Christmas 2004, or more precisely, along the path of the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur), although our independent trip of Rajasthan, which had ended up in Mumbai, had covered much more, and off the beaten track, than the classic ‘triangle’ tourist trap. Among many things I had fallen in love with had been the tracery stonework of the Mughal architecture in Dehli (Red Fort), in Agra (Taj Mahal and Agra Fort) and in a ghosty town of Fatehpur Sikri, just south of Agra, as well as applied to many city palaces of Rajasthan and its fortified hill forts, which litter a very arid sandy landscape of this western Indian state that borders with Pakistan (below: The desert landscape of Jaipur, concertina, paper cut-out).

As someone who had spent a lot of time studying Gothic architecture on both BA and MA History of Art degrees, the tracery stonework of Mughal architecture had been extremely fascinating to explore in the visual diary. In fact, the Indian Sketchbook had been my very first travel sketchbook in which I had gone obsessed with collaging various textures and patterns. The trip to India (2004, 2008) and Mexico (2002, 2010) had had a profound impact on my process of work during the formative years of my becoming a graphic designer and illustrator from the mid-2000s onwards, and is best explained in the following statement from my website (About, Biography):

I have a strong interest in typography, layout and colour, and in mixed media, combining illustration with photography, drawing, silhouette and traditional craft techniques (hand-printing, stitching, embroidery, patchwork, knitting, and crocheting), as well as using various papers, textiles and industrial materials (sandpaper and scrim tape) for textures and patterns. 

One of the nicest memory of the Indian Sketchbook is in fact the making of it while on the go, on trains and buses, as well as at train and bus stations and other public spaces, while locals had been curiously overlooking my shoulders trying to find out what I had been up to. It had naturally felt a bit uncomfortable at times, but if I think about it now those occasions had been the only moments in my time in India in which I had been able to strike up a conversation with the locals independently of my Brit, and particularly with women. If one is not part of the same historical heritage as my Brit and not quite accustomed to such a rigid caste system as in India, – no doubt the legacy of the British Empire as consolidated through “a policy of divide and rule”, as recently pointed out in a very informative article ‘But what about the railways…? The myth of Britain’s gift to India by Shash Tharoor, published in The Guardian (8 Mar 2017), – then such human behaviour, which requires the social etiquette that ‘one speaks when one is spoken’, or what would translate into an Indian context of the social hierarchy as ‘do not mix outside your caste’, is quite a culture shock for an outsider in the 21st century.

Tracery: Architectural element of piercing in stone

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.
‘But which is the stone that supports the bridge?’ Kublai Khan asks.
‘The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,’ Marco answers, ‘but by the line of the arch that they form.’
Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: ‘Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.’
Polo answers: ‘Without stones, there is no arch.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

The Mughal tracery looks to me like a very delicate and intricate lacework in stone, as, to my eye, it appears even more elegant and graceful than what I have experienced through my European heritage. In architecture, tracery is used decoratively in windows or other openings, as well as for similar forms in relief, such as wall decorations (blind tracery), hence, the term is often figuratively used to describe any intricate line pattern. The term is applicable to the system of window decoration developed during the Gothic period of European architecture, as well as to the pierced marble screens, common in Mughal India (1526–1857), – as shown in the two images (left, top right and bottom left) used as covers for a mock-up travel magazine Kitbag, the final project for the Magazine and Publishing Design course at LCC, – and to the pierced cement windows of Persia, Turkey, and Egpyt. To what degree the stonework of the Mughal tracery has really influenced my X-Sketchbook Project is best seen in the artwork of Union Jack (below), made out of vegetable-based printing inks and using one of my favourite printing techniques, potato printing. 

According to Britannica, “European tracery probably originated in Byzantine work, in which pierced marble screens and groups of two or three narrow, arched windows were placed close together under a single, large arch. After the Romanesque period, during which the tympanum (section of wall between the tops of the smaller arches and the great arch over the whole group) was pierced for decorative effect, tracery flourished. In plate tracery, found in early French and English Gothic work, the tympanum is pierced with a single circular or four-lobed opening. Later, the number and complexity of the piercings were increased, adding size and beauty to the entire unit. The climax of plate tracery appears in the magnificent windows of Chartres Cathedral (12th century) and in the rose window at Lincoln Cathedral (c. 1225), known as the Dean’s eye. After 1220 English designers began to conceive of the tympanum as a series of openings separated only by thin, stone, upright bars (bar tracery). In France, a developed type of bar tracery with cusped circles (having pointed bars of stone projecting in toward the centre of the circle) was executed in the apse chapels of Reims Cathedral (prior to 1230). From about 1240 on, bar tracery became common, and it quickly exhibited increased lightness and complexity. In contrast to earlier tracery, which had mouldings of only one size, French Rayonnant tracery used two moulding types, differing according to the size of the mullions, or ribs. Notable examples of French Rayonnant tracery can be seen in rose windows such as those of Notre-Dame de Paris (c. 1270). By the late 14th century in England, the Perpendicular style, which was based on a striving for verticality, replaced the flowing lines of curvilinear tracery with mullions that were straight and unbroken from bottom to top. At intervals, they were connected by horizontal bars running across the windows. The climax … was reached in windows such as those of King’s College Chapel at Cambridge (1446–1515).”

In Islamic architecture, tracery was, on the other hand, “generally constructed by filling the window area with a pierced sheet of cement and inserting pieces of coloured glass into the openings, a technique that yielded windows of jewel-like intensity and brilliance. Typical designs consisted of floral and leaf shapes that were arranged to give a sense of flow and growth. Fine examples are the jewelled windows in the 17th-century Mosque of Süleyman, in Istanbul. In the great Mughal palaces and tombs, large, pointed arch openings are filled with sheets of white marble pierced in elaborate patterns. The most delicate example of this tracery is the sarcophagi screen in the 17th-century Taj Mahal, at Agra, India.”

Visual Diaries: A source for inspiration for Book Covers

When a man rides a long time through wild regions he feels the desire for a city. Finally, he comes to Isidora, a city where the buildings have spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells, where perfect telescopes and violins are made, where the foreigner hesitating between two women always encounters a third, where cockfights degenerate into bloody brawls among the bettors. He was thinking of all these things when he desired a city. Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is the wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

My Indian Sketchbook is most strongly associated with the artwork for the book cover of The Nonexistent Knight (1959) by Italo Calvino (below), which I did for the Slovene translation, published at Beletrina Academic Press in 2014. I wrote extensively about it in another article, the article of which is accompanied by all visual material that inspired me along the way in the making of the cover.

Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

Some of the artworks from the X-Sketchbooks, shown below, were later on also incorporated into or reworked for various book cover designs, including that of The River Thames, used on the cover of The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillary (below), which was published by Myriad Editions (2010). The ‘river’ stands for both physical and symbolical: the River Thames and the Rainbow Serpent from Aboriginal mythology.

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

The meandering snake-like artwork of The River Thames was later on reworked into a ‘real’ Rainbow Snake (below, 2008), which was used on three book covers, a trilogy of Uroki polne lune (Eng. transl. The spells of the Full Moon) (2008–10) by Marjan Tomšič (below). In these three works, the author, the only Slovene representative of Latin American magic realism, deals with the folk tradition of Istria (mythological, folklore and fairy-tale motifs).

Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. “There is the blueprint,” they say.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living. And the mind refuses to accept more faces, more expressions: on every new face you encounter, it prints the old forms, for each one it finds the most suitable mask.
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972


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