Archive for the ‘thinking out loud’ Category



Friday, May 28th, 2010

I’ve been interested in maps since forever. When I was younger I had maps of The World, Europe, the US, and various archipelagos and islands pinned to my wall in Pasadena, Texas, reminding me every day that there was a big ol’ world out there beyond southeastern Texas. At some point I went through my grandmother’s collection of National Geographics and stole as many maps from that magazine as I could. Years later, when I was in high school, my grandmother mailed to me a box of the ones I apparently missed. Being a nerd, I was into Dungeons & Dragons, of course, and I only played “dungeon master” merely so I could create the myths and especially draw the detailed maps of fictional worlds that the players were forced to explore.
Later on, in my San Francisco apartment, I had USGS survey maps of various national parks (Yosemite Valley and the Grand Canyon most memorably), a bus map of Paris, and an old map of the New York City Subway.

The NYC Subway map holds a special place both in my heart and my own special version of hell. I spent a summer in NYC in 1985 when I was 17 years old, and I spent a good deal of time trying to decipher that map. If you’ve ever seen the NYC Subway map, imagine plunking a nice kid from Texas/Arkansas down in the middle of Manhattan and giving him that map, a few tokens, and a nice “have fun!”
I ended up spending two years of college in New York, so eventually it all came pretty naturally. I also spent a year of college (and then another year afterward) in Paris, where the system is much simpler and the Paris Métro map reflects that. Still, I was always very aware of the frequent visitor to the city, standing out in a crowd of New Yorkers, staring at that map — either on the wall of the station or on the platform of the train — looking like they were lost or soon would be.
Now, fast forward a couple of years to, say, 2010. I’m working on this series of big books about transportation for HarperCollins called Everything Goes. I’m writing about and drawing as many different types of vehicles as I can cram into three books. And while it looks like I’m not going to be able to get many references to maps in as I’d originally hoped, I have spent a good deal of time reading about and looking at transit maps. It was during this research that I found (just chanced upon actually) a book called Paris Underground: The Maps, Stations and Design of the Métro (Amazon link here) by Mark Ovenden. The book includes maps of the Métro since its inception in 1900, as well as photographs of the stations and the various printed ephemera, like tickets and brochures, that have been used by the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) over the years. It’s really a terrific book. The cover of that book lists Ovenden as the author of another book called Transit Maps of the World (Amazon link), which I of course promptly ordered. This book is just as good, with both historical and current maps of dozens of subway systems from all over. Paris and New York, of course, but also Hamburg, Mexico City, Montreal, Osaka, and even good ol’ Philadelphia.

These maps do the same thing for me as the maps I had on my wall when I was twelve. I love following the routes and seeing the names of the stops and imagining what one sees when one emerges from underground at that point. When I loved in Paris, it was a cheap thrill to take the Métro to some unknown station and explore the neighborhood it served, then find my way home again. This daydreaming, I suppose, is a virtual version of the same.

Me in the Métro, 2004

Me in the Paris Métro, 2004.

This all came about today because The New York Times published an article this morning about a new edition of the aforementioned subway map that will be introduced next week. Each time a city updated its transit maps, various controversies ensue as certain elements are simplified or removed, others are added or enlarged, and the process of trying to please everyone including locals as well as tourists ends up making everyone unhappy. In this case, Manhattan, being the busiest and most congested borough of the city, has been enlarged (engorged actually, it’s really fat) while Staten Island, with its sole tendril of a line running from St. George to Tottenville, has been stuffed into a small box and shrunk down in size. I’m sure the residents of Staten Island are insulted, even though, really, the move makes sense. The NYTimes story has a terrific (but too small!) interactive feature detailing ways in which the map has changed from the current edition to the new one. Go see that here.
Poking around the Googles this morning led me to a couple of other interesting places as well.

The Metro Transit Authority (MTA) which is the agency that oversees the subway and bus system of NY has a maps section of their site that’s pretty slick.

The Paris RATP’s site has the Métro map available for PDF download here and a smaller “wallet size” edition here. (watch it, the links open the PDF maps).

My new favorite time-waster: An interactive map of the Paris Métro.

If you know of any more interesting sites and resources, leave a comment!

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

My little movie “Playground” got featured on a terrific blog called PlayGroundology. It’s all about, yes, playgrounds. LIke it you will.

PlayGroundology screenshot

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I love Amazon. Wait, I mean I hate Amazon.
A friend of mine told me that she read all the reviews of Brownie & Pearl Step Out on Amazon and that it was both good and bad. Not being someone who is good at ignoring the press, I had to do the same. I laughed, I cried. Here is a selection of quotes, gleefully taken out of context.

…the book is well made with great drawings.
Eron

The print and illustrations are vivid with girl-like colors.
Tony

Judging a book by it’s cover I would say this book has a lot of potential. The illustrations are fun and colorful.
Shania

Nice cartoons, simple phrases.
Dave

…few, simple words and some beautiful fun illustrations.
Karen

Too much for the eye.
P.

The pictures are cute…
egghead

…a really fun book that’s well-illustrated. It is visually appealing, with vibrant illustrations.
David

…the big, bright illustrations by Brian Biggs are digital images that, fortunately, don’t look digital…
M.

The illustrations by Brian Biggs are the best part of this book. Brightly colored with attention to detail, including a flower on Pearl’s head and a hat on the bird in the tree, they will capture the attention of young children. I wonder how many kids will comment on Brownie mismatched socks, which are very chic.
Annie

The pictures are fun for small kids to look at, though.
Terri

The illustrations by Biggs are bright, cartoon, and friendly.
Timothy

Brownie’s huge head conveys expressions that will entertain young children.
Stephen

It does not have a lot of words which is perfect to me who has to read books over and over to my daughter. Illustrations are cute.
G.

The illustrations, by Brian Biggs, have me torn. They’re cute and have some fun details (Brownie’s mis-matched socks, for example), but there’s a certain lack of colorfulness in half of them, with mint green, pink and brown the primary colors. It’s not bad, it’s just not a color set that appeals to me outside of ice cream.
Anna

The story contains bold and vibrant imaginative images of illustrator Brian Biggs, the art work is superbly done to ignite the imaginations of all.
Terry

Girls will like the colors and the kitty.
C.

Nice, big, semi interesting illustrations.
B.

The bold, solid colors in the illustrations are able to grab children’s attention.
A.

the sentences are so simple and the pictures are bright and colorful–very girly in a very fun way!
Anne

And here’s the best one:

This is without a doubt a little girl’s book, a book dominated by cuteness an by the color pink. The book’s spine is trimmed in a flowery pink design. Brownie and Pearl wear pink flowers on their heads and Brownie carries a present wrapped in pink. On the book’s pages you’ll see pink tulips in a window box, pink balloons, pink straws, pink curtains, Brownie’s pink collar, pink hair bands, pink sweaters, and even lots of pink ice cream. It’s all very reminiscent of a Strawberry Shortcake story.

I guess he noticed the pink. This one continues:

The digital graphics done by Brian Biggs are a mix of realistic and cartoonish. Pearl looks more like a stuffed animal than a real cat, but maybe it’s the vague approximation of a cat that adds to the cuteness and charm of the character. Contrasting with the elementary drawings is the picture of the brownstone bedecked with balloons that’s notable for its detail.
Spudman

“Vague approximation of a cat?” I just love that. I’ll never look at Charlie “vague approximation of a boy” Brown or Mickey “vague approximation of a mouse” Mouse the same way again.

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

rubber stamps

I used to use rubber stamps all the time. There was a terrific little shop near where I worked near San Francisco that did custom stamps. So I’d hand-letter my address and use it for envelopes and business cards. However since living in Philadelphia (for more than ten years) I’ve never got around to it.
I recently moved into a studio where I hope and plan to work for a long time. In addition, I need to send stuff out more than I once did (posters and things), so I finally got some new stamps made. I use these for lots of stuff. I can stamp cards, the backs of promo materials, your upper arm, any kind of correspondence, and so on.
Now here’s the kicker. This place I found fairly randomly, Simonstamps, got this order from me on Tuesday. Two days ago. They produced and shipped it yesterday, and I just received it. Two days! And the most expensive stamp here was $12. All together the order for these nine stamps was around $70. Need I say I recommend Simonstamps?
I ordered the “Traditional Wood Handle Rubber Stamps.”

Thursday, November 12th, 2009


Get a good look. I’m shaving today for a good cause.
See, last month I ran a few miles for brain cancer and raised $750. Now I’m doing something much more difficult. Just as I did last year, I’ve signed up to grow a dorky mustache for a month. This has its benefits, of course, as I’m raising money for schools in doing so. Please visit my Mustaches for Kids: Donors Choose page and do what you can do.
Here’s info about M4K Philly.
So today I shave the mess that is my pretty face and will photograph the slow growth each day for a month. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I totally forgot about this. I wrapped up work on the Roscoe Riley series last Spring and book seven was just published a couple of weeks ago. So now you can get the whole series and read it as you would Harry Potter. Kind of.
Seven Roscoe Rileys
Also, since it’s Friday and I have lots of other work I should be doing, I decided to procrastinate spend some time making this little movie to commemorate the completion of the series.

I shot it with my iPhone clamped to a tripod. This works quite well and I’m afraid I’m seeing the end of my affinity for using tape-based video cameras. Anyone want a barely-used HiDef Sony HV20?

The music was made in Ableton Live with the Synplant synthesizer, which I can’t get enough of.

Seven Roscoe Rileys from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Photographer Jon Barkat dropped by the studio last night with his guitar. By chance, I happen to have some things in to which we can plug his guitar and record what he plays. Also by chance, I had one of my ukuleles at the studio and a new microphone into which I could record it. So we started noodling around, recording said noodling into Ableton Live, and made us a little song.
090918: ukulele & guitar by dance robot dance
So as you listen, you can hear me on the ukulele picking notes, then thumping on the uke like drums, then at about :32, strumming a simple little C-F chord change. At :50 Jon kicks in with his guitar, then at 1:06 it’s Jon again with the same guitar but playing a bass line.
Things get repetitive around 2:20 so Jon suggested adding drama. Listen and see if you can identify the dramatic elements.
Normally, I’m known to not stray far beyond music of the electronic synthesizer variety so this was a departure. Hope you like.

Friday, September 4th, 2009

I’ve been working on this book for Little Golden Books called “I’m a T-Rex,” you know. I spent a considerable amount of time on Wednesday working on one of the spreads, finishing it late Wednesday evening. Thursday morning I come in to the studio and want to open it to save the TIFFs and whatnot, and the file won’t open. I got an error saying something like “there was a problem reading layer data. read composite date instead?” I figure, you know, sure why not. So when I click “read composite data” it tells me that the file isn’t compatible with my version of Photoshop. Hm. Ok. Well, that’s dumb.
What this means in real-life terms is that the file got corrupted. What it also means in real life terms is I’ve got six hours of work in front of me that I already did if I don’t find a can-opener that will open this can.
Searching around the internets I found an open-source plug-in thingy called, melodically, Photoshop File (PSD) Extract/Recover Tool. I downloaded it, installed it, followed the directions, and it proceeded of course to crash Photoshop and make me restart. I’m an optimist, so I opened Photoshop and tried it again. The fourth time (!!) it didn’t crash, and instead opened a nice dialog box asking me if I want separate layers (this file had sixteen of them) or a flattened version. I tried flattened first (I figure I might as well get a workable 600ppi T-Rex, even if I would maybe later have to go in and surgically extract the layers). What I got was a nice big empty file. Well, see, I’m an optimist (did you know this about me?), so I tried it again this time asking for individual layers. I got excited when layer one, a shadow of the T-Rex on the ground, opened all fine. Yay! But then, this is where it got fun, I tried the other major layers (I have lots and lots of small texture layers that would be as easy to redo as going through this process) and got just the loveliest abstract colorful images. Here, I saved them and posted them for you.
trex_screwup1

trex_screwup2

trex_screwup3

trex_screwup52

The funny and amazing thing is that the colors and textures have absolutely nothing to do with the base layer/image that I lost. Photoshop completely made this up! I saved these (obviously) and don’t be surprised if they get used in the future. Maybe as album covers for my electronic music projects. Who knows?

Update: using a lower-res-but-high-enough-to-use layout test file that was also corrupted, I rescued a composite version of the T-Rex that I’d plopped on top of a background Wednesday night before closing up. This is not ideal, as it has no layers and is just big enough for the book (I like my files big enough to stick on a bus), but at least I have a usable image at 300ppi. See, optimism is a good thing. Here’s that original image from where these abstracts were born.

click the T-Rex to see it bigger

click the T-Rex to see it bigger

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Disney buys Marvel

Only makes sense if you’ve heard the news.

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

My sister found these books today at a yard sale. She says she got them because she thought maybe I could use the help. Maybe she’s right. In any case I love these books. The best of all, of course, is Ed Emberley’s Drawing Books. They actually did me a lot of good when I was just starting out (when I was like seven). The best one here is the Hoofed Animals one. For those times when you need to draw mountain goats, giraffes and zebras.
yard sale find
yard sale find
yard sale find
I have several more pictures up on Flickr here.

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