Sunday, 6:00pm
1 January 2017

Faithful dress

Looking Good: A visual guide to a nun’s habit

By GraphicDesign& and Veronica Bennett. Illustrations by Ryan Todd. GraphicDesign&, £17.50

The latest publication from Graphicdesign& is an illustrated spotters’ guide to nuns’ habits.
Review by Sarah Snaith

Looking Good: A visual guide to a nun’s habit is full of interesting facts for a curious mind, writes Sarah Snaith.

The book is a collaboration between publishers Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright of GraphicDesign&, theologian Veronica Bennett and illustrator Ryan Todd that uses graphic design and illustration ‘to record this specialist visual language and make it accessible to a wider audience.’ In the introduction Wright and Roberts note that ‘Religious institutes have been using colour, shape and symbol to communicate their identity for hundreds of years.’ However they write that ‘Looking Good is not about the Catholic faith, but rather uses graphic design to present a resilient visual identity at a time when it appears to be in decline – and women’s religious dress … is under renewed scrutiny.’

Spread showing how to use the book. 
Top: Spread showing the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, founded in 1884 by Father Andreas Amrhein.

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Spread explaining the rosary, the most common of which has five decades made up of ten bead sections. 

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The book was conceived as a ‘spotter’s guide’ and the resulting manual can be used to identify different Catholic institutes by their attire, all depicted by Todd whose illustrations appear to draw on Gerd Arntz’s work for Otto Neurath’s Isotype system. The book begins with instructions on how it should be used before launching into five colour-coded sections: the Franciscan, Carmelite, Augustinian and Benedictine families, followed by a selection of smaller families such as the Order of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sister Ministers of the Sick of St Camillus, among others. Beyond a formulaic investigation of each family, their unique characteristics are also explored with details such as older monks and nuns from the Benedictine family use the sign language they learned in their training in times when strict silence is observed and the Daughters of St Paul have developed interactive apps iMass and Rosary that simulate saying the rosary with the Paulines.

Spread showing the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul founded in 1633.

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From the outset, GraphicDesign& has aimed to expose graphic design’s relationships with other fields, while tackling publishing projects that were too risky, niche or eccentric for mainstream publishers. Looking Good is preceeded by Graphic Designers Surveyed (GD& Social Science), Golden Meaning (GD& Mathematics) and Page 1: Great Expectations (GD& Literature), all of which had an appeal with graphic design audiences and beyond. This GraphicDesign& Religion title risks moving away further from the publishers’ core audience, though it remains fascinating in its thorough investigation of the subject matter.

Spread showing the Poor Clare Colettines, established in 1410 by a young Franciscan hermit, Colette, later St Colette of Corbie.

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Spread showing the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel founded in 1868.

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Sarah Snaith, design writer, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.

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