Harmonographs: Drawings of the Future

Harmonographs: Drawings of the Future

Harmonographs: Drawings of the Future

My path to discovering the world of “harmonographs” is slightly convoluted. It all began when House Industries announced that it would be digitizing and selling selections from the Photo-Lettering, Inc. type collection. Now, besides the fact that this will allow digital designers such as myself to take advantage of the analog type of yesteryear, House plans to sell the fonts in a more affordable way—one headline at a time. Just like Photo-Lettering did back some decades ago, House will allow designers to specify headlines for typesetting and then order only the glyphs that are necessary for the job. This keeps the cost to the designer/client down, and will hopefully stimulate volume sales. It’s revolutionary. I can’t wait.

House 3009 Catalog Cover

House 3009 Catalog Cover

So how does this relate to harmonographs? Well, after hearing about House Industries’ plans, Grain Edit recently posted some photos of the Photo-Lettering, Inc. Alphabet Thesaurus, Volume 2. One page in the type specimen catalog includes these amazingly retro Spirograph-like images called “cosmographs.” I’d remembered seeing similar imagery gracing the cover of the House Industries “House 3009” type catalog, in all its Space-Age glory. Also, when I recently visited House for their Tag Sale, I picked up a 12″ vinyl LP called “Fantastica: Music from Outer Space by Russ Garcia.” It too features a cosmograph-like image on the cover, again evocative of that whole 1950s/1960s film-and-television sci-fi zeitgeist.

So, Google to the rescue, and I came across Cosmographs.com; not a terribly functional or attractive site, but fascinating nonetheless. I put two and two together and saw that the site credits Edward J. Lias, the same fellow mentioned on the Cosmographs page of the Photo-Lettering catalog (“Recorded by Edward Lias”). Looks like I am on to something, I thought. I tried his email address to no avail; my message bounced. A Whois lookup of his domain name leads only to his hosting provider. Dead end—sigh. Wikipedia time! I looked up information on Spirographs, those fun pen-and-ink toys I used to play with in school, and as Wikiing often allows, I eventually found the harmonograph, another variant of a pendulum-like line graph1 . Great, of course, but I wanted so badly just to be able to make them myself! Luckily, related links at the bottom sent me to subblue, an extraordinarily amazing site where one can actually create harmonographs (as well as guillochés, fractals, and mind-blowing M.C. Escher-esque graphics). The icing on the cake is that with a simple right-click and access to a PDF printer (I recommend CutePDF writer, by the way), the files can be saved, and voila. Vector harmonographs.

  1. UPDATE: After acquiring my own copy of the Alphabet Thesaurus, Volume 2, I learned a bit more about “Cosmographs.” Check my newer post for more information. []

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4 Responses to “Harmonographs: Drawings of the Future”

  1. Designer Tools June 30, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    You can create these cool line patterns yourself with the online Harmonograph


  2. Stephen Lias August 5, 2019 at 3:19 pm #

    Hi there. I’m Edward Lias’s son (the patent holder of the device that creates the cosmographs you discuss). I was fascinated to discover your post just today! We had a small version of dad’s pendulum drawing machine in our house when I was young, and it was always an unusual conversation starter! I’m sorry to say that my dad passed away just last week.

  3. Josh Korwin August 5, 2019 at 5:10 pm #

    Hi Stephen! I am so sorry to hear of your dad’s passing. I had the opportunity to speak with him once after I posted my articles about his work. I would love to hear more about him if you would ever be interested to share. Thank you so much for writing.


  1. Cosmographs update | three steps ahead — perspectives - June 28, 2009

    […] my recent post on harmonographs, I ponied up for a copy of the Photo-Lettering Alphabet Thesaurus, Volume 2. And now that I can […]

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