"A reminder of what's possible with ink and paper": Draw Down Books shares five significant titles from its Bookshelf

The New Haven-based bookshop and publishers – famed for its curated selection of design books – turns to its own bookshelf to highlight five influential titles.

19 May 2020

Draw Down Books has played an integral part in the design publishing scene since it was founded back in 2012. Want the latest publications in graphic design, typography, photography or illustration? Draw Down is there to cater to your every need. Founded by Kathleen and Christopher Sleboda, the New Haven-based bookshop and independent publishers specialises in pretty much everything It’s Nice That loves in book or poster form. But instead of shining a light on the publisher’s latest titles, here, we ask Kathleen and Christopher to share five influential books from their own shelves, and tell us why they are meaningful to the pair who have dedicated their careers to beautiful books.

“Books are central to our practice,” explains Kathleen. “We’ve been designing and illustrating together for over a decade, and our shared love of books led us to start Draw Down in 2012,” adds Christopher. Over time, what started as a business selling other peoples’ works, developed into a publishing imprint in its own right, showcasing wonderful design from all over the world while deepening the small business’ interest in printed media. That being said, the five highlighted titles in this article are some of Draw Down’s favourite books from their library, with a particular emphasis on those that have a special relationship to the company’s own imprint.

The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom

This 454-page book was first published in 1973 and is considered one of the most influential illustrated art books on American popular culture. Christopher fondly remembers weekly trips with his father to their local public library when he was ten years old. The Art of Walt Disney was oversized, measuring in at 10.5 x 13.5 inches, and it required its own special shelf. The book featured a large three-dimensional Mickey Mouse, paintbrush in hand, adhered to the front cover. Mickey was painting a red line under the main title of the book, and this line was printed separately on a clear acetate wrap. Due to the large size and exceptional production, the book was non-circulating and each week, Christopher had to put in a special request to view it. The librarian would carefully carry the massive graphic tome to a table for viewing. The book was packed with richly coloured gatefolds, even opening with one on the title spread. The pages were dense with artwork, preliminary sketches, and behind-the-scenes production photographs, and the printed book’s ability to dazzle left a lasting impression. When we started Draw Down Books, we tracked down a copy of the first edition to act as a reminder of what’s possible with paper and ink.

Good & Plenty #3

As a piece of graphic design, it’s a thing of beauty. Released in September 1989 – photocopied, folded, and stapled in Zion, Illinois by Gabriel Rodriguez – Good and Plenty Fanzine issue 3 is the perfect hardcore fanzine. It is impressive as documentary evidence of a thriving music subculture in its prime. It offered an incredibly useful design that wholly encapsulated the spirit and style of a moment, a movement that was both simultaneously thriving and fleeting. In spread after spread, the margins overflow with an innocence and a sincerity that’s difficult to duplicate. G&P captured a quintessential moment of straight edge and youth crew, when New York hardcore burned at its brightest, in a moment now etched into hardcore history. This single issue serves as a time capsule with interviews and original photographs of the scene’s most iconic bands. We were so intent on preserving this work (and interested in the material and social history that provides its context) that Draw Down published the book Hardcore Fanzine: Good and Plenty, 1989-1992.

Hans-Peter Feldmann: Bilder / Pictures

This book of work by German conceptual artist Hans-Peter Feldmann was hugely influential on some of Draw Down’s earliest photography publications, including Haunted by Andy Reaser. Our copy is a reprint of the original title, first published in 1975. It collects all of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s published works produced between 1968 and 1974, compiling them into a single volume. The edition we have presents 37 booklets and postcards arranged in chronological order, for a total of 437 reproduced images. We love the straightforward and honest graphic design of this volume, and also feel an affinity with Feldmann’s impulse to collect, catalog, and publish.

Ivan Chermayeff publications

Many years ago, Ivan Chermayeff’s office sent us a package of publications that featured Ivan’s work. The majority were large and dense, filled with years and years of recognisable identity work and familiar trademarks. One book caught our attention: a small hardcover book (5.25 x 7 inches) clocking in at only 64 pages and published by the Tokyo-based Ginza Gurafikku Gyararī. The concise nature of the publication, the simplicity of the design, and the generous use of white space were all qualities we admired. And we were delighted that it was part of a series covering a diverse group of graphic designers. The book inspired us to seek out other titles in the series and collect them all. The compact format ultimately inspired Draw Down’s Series Mono-Petit, a project where we aim to release modest monographs of artists and designers. The first in the series was a book about the Los Angeles artist Cleon Peterson.

Pathfinder: A Way Through Swiss Graphics

This title came out three years after Benzin: Young Swiss Graphic Design (another favorite book), and it continued the first book’s project of showcasing work from a new generation of Swiss graphic designers. Pathfinder presented design projects using the conceptual device of an itinerary through the regions, landscape, and culture of Switzerland. But it was the framework and introductory visuals created by Happypets that made this book so special. Its playful and clever black and white investigations of graphic design within two and three-dimensional spaces were simultaneously bolstered and hindered by a landscape of digital tools and software icons. The result was not only a map through the geography of a country known for design, but a reckoning with new vistas informed by emerging technologies. The book spoke to a longing for more traditional, and less polished ways of making. Pathfinder resonates with a lot of the work we made during this period, much of it featured in the Draw Down publication Gluekit Made Photographs. We also have to mention the beautiful and tactile back cover of this book, which features an elaborate embroidery of the title and cover artwork, rendered in black thread.

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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