Phenakistoscopes (1832)

phenakistoscope disksthe letter The phenakistoscope, an early animation toy, was invented by the Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau in 1832.

a hand-held phenakistoscope

a hand-held, mirror-dependent, phenakistoscope (with interior window openings)

Plateau’s invention, which was also known as the “phantascope,” was simple yet effective. The surface of a circular disk was divided into several wedges of equal size—each of which contained one frame of a simple animation loop.

An axis, introduced through a small hole at the center of the circle, allowed the disk to be attached to a handle and spun rather quickly (like a pinwheel). And rectangular notches cut in the outside edge (or inner area) of the disk provided window-like gaps through which the viewer could watch the resultant animation.

a phenakistoscope set

a phenakistoscope set (click to enlarge)

Traditionally, the side of the disk that bore the artwork would be placed facing a mirror, and the reflection of the spinning images is what was viewed. The handsome phenakistoscope set shown here (at right) came complete with a pedestal base, a modest selection of animation wheels, and a built-in mirror.

a hand-held phenakistoscope

a hand-held phenakistoscope (click to enlarge)

Some later designs incorporated a separate disk for the viewing slits. This second circle was permanently affixed to the spinning axis just a short distance away from where the artwork was mounted—thus eliminating the need for a reflective surface.

Other devices soon followed on the heels of Plateau’s phenakistoscope. Just a little later in 1832, Simon von Stampfer of Austria designed the stroboscopic disk (or “stroboscope”). This was, essentially, the same invention as the phenakistoscope. But the zoetrope and the praxinoscope, which would follow in 1834 and 1877 respectively, were going to be a little different. 

Watch the serpents on this phenakistoscope disk come to life (no audio):


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Fernando Krahn (1935-2010)

We were saddened when we learned (just last week) that the Chilean-born illustrator Fernando Krahn passed away in Barcelona on February 18, 2010.

Fernando Krahn

Krahn illustrated quite a few children’s books and cartoons during his career, but we remember him best for just two of those projects—a pair of quasi-steampunk adventure books for young readers written by Jan Wahl: The Furious Flycycle (1968) and SOS Bobomobile!: Or the Further Adventures of Melvin Spitznagle and Professor Mickimecki (1973).

What is so special about The Furious Flycycle illustrations? Krahn sometimes employed a distinctive “wood-like” style of drawing. This was most pronounced in the Flycycle book, where the pen marks are predominantly vertical and the pictures almost seem to have been drawn upon the side of a barn (or a narrow-slatted fence). One can not help but notice an abundance of grain-like marks in these images. And most of the illustrations are framed within playfully rounded or oval borders that, although quite simple, add greatly to the book’s overall design.

Professor Mickimecki arrives in town (one of Krahn's illustrations for The Furious Flycycle)

Professor Mickimecki arrives in town (click to enlarge)

The Flycycle drawings are thoughtful and meticulous without being obsessive. And they are fun. There are plenty of subtle mechanical details present for particularly curious eyes to explore … but we are all immediately drawn to the cast of pudgy-headed children and long-faced (and rather jowly) adults, whose old-fashioned apparel and technologically retro lives are, in a word, charming.

Krahn simplified his illustration style for the Bobomobile sequel; most of the “wood grain” and fancy borders disappeared. But the presence of familiar characters and the offer of a fresh adventure—complete with a new selection of invented gizmos—still makes this second volume a rather good read. 

camera iconPlease Note: The image of Fernando Krahn that appears above is from a photo gallery of cartoonists that was compiled by Christopher Wheeler.



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Crow Quill Pens

crow quill nibs, holders, and pens

the letter A crow quill nib is a small metal pen tip that can be used for making very detailed drawings with ink on paper.

a crow quill nib

a crow quill nib (click to enlarge)

One end of the nib is simply a hollow cylinder. The other end, which is pointed, has a thin slit cut through it—running all the way from the tip to an oval-shaped opening punched out of the metal. When a crow quill pen is dipped in an inkwell (or filled manually), the liquid pools within the open area on the underside of the nib, thus forming a reservoir.

The two halves of the cloven nib fit together tightly when at rest, but will spread apart when the tip is pressed against a surface. As more pressure is applied, the further apart the halves will spread. And, as that distance increases, so too will the downward flow of ink and the width of the resultant line or mark.

In time, these nibs wear out; the tips become damaged or the metal grows too pliable for detailed work. But, with care and simple cleaning, a good tip can last for quite a while.

an assortment of crow quill nib holders

an assortment of crow quill nib holders (click to enlarge)

Crow quill pen holders come in a few different styles and are typically made of wood or plastic. All of them have either a hole or deep circular indentation into which a nib can be gently pushed (by hand) until it is held firmly in place.

The assembled pens are designed to be dipped into inkwells, but some bottles of ink come with droppers built into their caps (or tiny nozzles on top) so the nibs can be filled more precisely—with just one drop of ink at a time. 

All photos in this post © 2011 • Crow Quill Studio


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