How It Works


Yes, it’s all happening this month… Unlike other work that’s surfaced recently the cover art for issue 41 of How It Works magazine was completed less than a month ago. Headlines obscure much of the artwork but the picture is also run full-page inside, something I wasn’t expecting. How It Works has major newsstand distribution so people in the UK may see this on shelves in newsagents and supermarkets throughout December.

The theme is the Industrial Revolution but the brief was for something similar to a couple of my recent steampunk illustrations, with a request for a colour scheme like that used for the Bookman Histories cover. The main visual requirement was the train looming out of the picture. I thought this wouldn’t be a problem, I have the old Dover Publications’ Transportation book which features many copyright-free engravings of trains, in addition to other books and source material downloaded from the Internet Archive. One of these would be sure to have a decent front elevation of a steam locomotive, right? Wrong. When you start looking for pictures of locomotives you quickly find that 99% of them show the machines from the side or from an angle, as on the Bookman cover. I downloaded three entire books of over 500-pages each from the Internet Archive, fantastic volumes in themselves, especially Modern Locomotive Construction (1892) which contains meticulous descriptions of every last part of a steam locomotive, down to the smallest screw. But none of their drawings were usable.

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Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids


Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids aren’t as vast as Thomas Cole’s dream construction—for size you need Kircher’s Tower of Babel—but they’re still eccentric inasmuch as they don’t correspond to any group of Egyptian structures. One of the great things about the etchings in Kircher’s books is the way their detail gives a sense of veracity to their depictions. Go slightly further back in time and you’ll find scenes that are just as eccentric but much more crudely rendered; go forward a few years and too much was known about ancient ruins to ever depict them this way again. The illustration is the frontispiece to Kircher’s Sphinx Mystagoga (1676) which can be seen in full at the University of Heidelberg. The details in Kircher’s illustrations benefit from the high-resolution scans.

Steve in the comments to yesterday’s post mentions another painting featuring an impossible view of architecture through the ages (pyramids included), The Professor’s Dream (1848) by Charles Robert Cockerell. BLDGBLOG ran a post about Cockrell’s paintings a couple of years ago.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Athanasius Kircher’s Tower of Babel
China Monumentis by Athanasius Kircher

The art of Thomas Cole, 1801–1848


The Titan’s Goblet (1833).

Thomas Cole’s Titan’s Goblet isn’t featured at the Google Art Project, unfortunately, but the following paintings are, and all benefit from being able to explore their details. Cole’s colossal vessel predates Surrealism by a century, and is one of many paintings which always has me mentally labelling him as the American John Martin (1789–1854). Having thought of him for years as an American artist–not least because he founded the Hudson River School–it’s a surprise to learn he was born in Bolton, a town not far from Manchester, with his parents emigrating to the US when he was 17. John Martin also grew up in the north of England so there’s another similarity, although the more important comparison concerns their use of painting to convey the spectacularly vast and unreal scenes common to the imaginative side of Romantic art. The Titan’s Goblet is unusual in not having any particular symbolic or moral significance, unlike the pictures below, it’s Magritte-like in its careful depiction of the impossible. The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, on the other hand, could be exhibited beside Francis Danby’s The Deluge (1840) for a “before and after” effect. Like Martin, Cole enjoyed painting architecture of an exaggerated scale. The Architect’s Dream features an Egyptian temple of stupendous size, while the pyramid looming in the background is closer to William Hope Hodgson’s seven-mile-high Last Redoubt than any structure on the Nile plain.

Of equal interest are Cole’s two well-known series: The Course of Empire (1833–36) and The Voyage of Life (1842), both of which I’d love to see at Art Project size.


Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1828).


The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge (1829).


The Architect’s Dream (1840).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
John Martin’s musical afterlife
Albert Bierstadt in Yosemite
Danby’s Deluge
John Martin: Heaven & Hell
Darkness visible
Two American paintings
The apocalyptic art of Francis Danby

On self-imitation


Or where Angry Robot leads, HarperCollins follows… The Law of Divine Compensation by Marianne Williamson is published today in the US by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, and if the cover looks similar to Mike Shevdon‘s recent edition of Sixty-One Nails it’s because I designed both of them. Harper’s contacted me earlier this year asking if I could adapt the Sixty-One Nails design for their new Marianne Williamson title. I was a bit unsure about accepting this at first but Ms Williamson isn’t a novelist so the books wouldn’t be appearing on the same shelves; I also said I’d prefer to create new decorative elements so there was enough difference between the new design and the earlier one. In the end the design was pared back considerably during the usual to and fro between art department and marketing people. Harper’s previous titles in this series have quasi-Victorian border designs on plain backgrounds so there needed to be some continuity. I haven’t seen a copy of the book itself yet but the last I heard the design was going to be given a foil treatment on textured paper.


It’s always an odd feeling being asked to imitate something you’ve done before. The new work often lacks the sense of accomplishment and exploration you felt earlier because you know exactly how it’s going to end up. When I started work on Mike Shevdon’s covers all I had in mind was that basic frame shape; everything else was improvised. I still prefer those earlier designs, I like the way all the details came together, and the way they look against a black background. Mike told me recently that someone picked up one of the books in a shop to look at the cover then bought the book; that’s exactly the kind of thing a cover designer (and author!) likes to hear.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Book talk
The Courts of the Feyre

The poster art of Vic Fair


The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).

This weekend’s viewing was The Man Who Fell to Earth on Blu-ray, highly recommended for anyone who likes the film, Anthony Richmond’s photography looks better than ever. I’ve had this for a while on DVD and what’s notable about the old and new formats is that both UK editions use Vic Fair’s poster design as the cover art. It often seems a hit-or-miss affair whether the original poster gets used for home release. This tends to happen more with older films that have acquired an artistic reputation; the recent UK release of The Conformist by Arrow Films prints four different poster designs on the inlay, with the box enclosure having a clear window that allows one or other of the designs to be facing out. A great idea which makes owning the physical copy a little more worthwhile.

I’d known the poster for Nic Roeg’s film for years but until this weekend I’d never thought to find out who was responsible for the artwork. Vic Fair was a prolific artist for UK film releases during the 1970s and 1980s so this is a small selection of his work. Apparently he was so pleased with the Roeg poster that he signed it. As is often the case with film posters, there’s no record of the designers for these examples so we don’t know who was responsible for the type layouts.


Countess Dracula (1972).

The Countess Dracula art looks surprisingly similar to some of the promotional art that Roger Dean produced around this time for UK studios, Hammer included. A few examples appear in his Views book but it’s a side of his work that’s seldom seen or discussed. I recall being impressed by the Vampire Circus poster in the past (although the big cats look a little silly). One of the better Hammers of the 70s, with a cast including cult cutie John Moulder-Brown.


Vampire Circus (1972).


The Hireling (1973).

As with many posters of the 1970s, The Hireling is a great example of an approach that marketing departments would never allow today.


Castaway (1987).

Another Nic Roeg film, and another subtle design, possibly too subtle as I don’t recall seeing it used anywhere. First time I saw this was on the cover of a soundtrack album a few years back when I was putting together Jon Hassell’s website. There’s a piece of his music used in the film so we were trying to trace all the relevant cover art.

There’s more about Vic Fair and his contemporaries in British Film Posters: An Illustrated History by Sim Branaghan & Steve Chibnall, a book I think I ought to buy. If anything it may spare me the temptation to start collecting film posters again.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Petulia film posters
Lucifer Rising posters
Wild Salomés
Druillet’s vampires
Bob Peak revisited
Alice in Acidland
Salomé posters
Polish posters: Freedom on the Fence
Kaleidoscope: the switched-on thriller
The Robing of The Birds
Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009
Dallamano’s Dorian Gray
Czech film posters
The poster art of Richard Amsel
Bollywood posters
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
The poster art of Bob Peak
A premonition of Premonition
Metropolis posters
Film noir posters