“I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself," Marlene Dietrich, a wise woman with much authority herself, once quotably said.
In Whatever You Are, Be a Good One, Oakland, California-based illustrator Lisa Congdon whimsically hand-letters 100 such beautifully expressed thoughts from creative thinkers, including Leo Tolstoy, David Foster Wallace, Charlotte Brontë, John Keats, Marie Curie, and Abraham Lincoln (who's quoted in the book's title). The cheerfully illustrated quotes range from poetic ("If a thing loves it is infinite"—William Blake) to philosophical ("Wisdom begins in wonder"—Socrates) to encouraging ("Leap and the net will appear"—John Burroughs).
Congdon, who has illustrated for the likes of The Obama Campaign and Martha Stewart Living, is best known for her colorful paintings and collages. The book began when she realized she wanted to incorporate more hand-lettering into her work. To develop her own style, she decided she would hand-letter something—a letter of the alphabet, a poem, a word—every day for a year. She published the results daily on her blog, calling the project “365 Days of Hand Lettering.”
Once she had moved on from drawing individual letters and words, she realized that she loved lettering quotes. “That may have been because searching for beautiful or inspiring quotes from my artistic and literary heroes broke the monotony of the daily lettering process,” Congdon writes in the book’s introduction.
She also found that her blog readers couldn’t get enough of her hand-lettered quotes. “I got e-mail after e-mail about how different quotes and poems comforted them in times of darkness or reminded them to approach a challenge in a new way,” she writes. Soon, the project’s focus evolved into something grander than just hand-lettering—it became a celebration of the words of deep thinkers and a way of sharing those words with a larger community.
This anthology collects Congdon's 100 favorites. For the secular, powerful quotes can be an alternative to (if you will) prayer, by offering consolation or moral guidance. For avid readers, the book is more of a tasting menu of great authors’ grand thoughts—with levity provided by illustrated curlicues, bright green owls, psychedelic flowers, and hot air balloons.
To see 10 of Congdon’s illustrated quotes, from Franz Kafka on the joys of eating to Anaïs Nin on human connection, click the slide show above. For 90 more, Whatever You Are, Be A Good One is available here for $11.45, from Chronicle Books.