Blog Post

Reading got me into books. Books got me into design and illustration. A brief history of how this project came about.


I’ve been collecting old books and printed ephemera for several years. My favourite spot to look for books is Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s largest and oldest flea market. When I was in college, more often than not, I’d skip Tuesday morning classes to go there. I loved that ritual so much. It was always a thrill: exploring the city and the infinite archives of old stuff that all those people would bring together in a single place, all laid bare under the morning sun. I’d sometimes take the subway to Santa Apolónia and start at the bottom of the feira; sometimes, I walked or hopped on the 28 tram to Voz do Operário, crossing Alfama, and started at the top, next to São Vicente de Fora. Sometimes I’d go with friends but almost always by myself.

I would squat for endless minutes under the blazing sun while rummaging through piles of thousands of books labelled «everything 0,50€». I’d talk to the sellers about their areas of expertise, bargain for the prices, and learn about stuff. One time, I accidentally got drunk before noon when trying to get change for a 20€ bill, walking up and down the hills looking for a functioning ATM.

Feira da Ladra. August 2018.

I became familiar with the book cover work of some of the most significant mid-century Portuguese designers and illustrators during this time. The work of Sebastião Rodrigues, Paulo-Guilherme, Victor Palla, João da Câmara Leme, António Garcia, Tóssan, Bernardo Marques, etc., would pop up every week. I started checking who designed the covers, associating them with specific publishers, imprints and collections, and looking up information online.

At that time, I had grown interested in books and publishing, but from a young age, I had always loved reading—not just books, magazines, or newspapers: to this day, I can get lost in a pamphlet about plumbing or a dry, technical paper about something particular about which I know nothing. When I went to college, I started reading more and more and learning about literature and the history of the book and publishing.

I also began to fall in love with the visual side of books. Those covers were exciting, graphic, witty, and expressive. They were fun. It seemed impossible to me that there was a time, not so long ago, when book covers could be like that. The bland, mainstream, lowest common denominator advertising logic had taken over the contemporary Portuguese book cover landscape. Almost everything was photographic, generic, gloss-finished, and honestly, poorly designed. (A few exceptions burned bright — Tinta-da-China and Antígona are two examples of independent publishers who have militantly placed great care and emphasis on design). But these Ladra covers showed me the possibilities and richness of visual expression.

I started collecting them. I did more research. I combed through catalogues for the publishers and imprints and bought old industry periodicals to look through the ads that listed the books published in each collection. I went to the Hemeroteca, looking for old literature journals and magazines. I became particularly fascinated by the early numbers of Os Livros das Três Abelhas, an imprint that started publishing cheap paperback editions of contemporary works in the fifties.

sol-030-0024 | O Navio dentro da Cidade. The first Os Livros das Três Abelhas book I came across and bought. Cover by Victor Palla.

A drawn-out launch

As I started learning and practising design, I realised I should somehow publish my humble but growing collection. 20th-century Portuguese graphic design and illustration are still somewhat unknown to many folks, and I bet the internet would love to see these. I could maybe help fellow designers, researchers, and students.

My first attempt was a Tumblr. Then I started an Instagram account. Then I decided I needed an entire WordPress-hosted site to house the archive, so I learned PHP and began designing and building the site. That megalomaniac enterprise eventually became overwhelming and got pushed to the side. After that, I gave it another go with Webflow databases, but it got too complex to muster up the energy to launch.

An early version of the archive hosted on Tumblr.

And then I remembered Jekyll. I learned about it when I transferred my site to GitHub pages. After some research, I realised I could build a site with the organisation I wanted (the ability to browse by author, year, type, etc.) while keeping it simple and free. I’ve been building and designing the site on and off for the last several years. And here we are.

Soft Launch

The site has technically been live in some form since mid-2022. No one knew about it or had the link (except for a handful of people), but it was live.

In the meantime, I’ve kept collecting, researching, scanning and updating the site with new features. I kept squashing bugs. At the beginning of 2024, I redesigned some aspects of the site, notably the typography. And now it’s as ready as it will ever be to share with the people. It’s with great pride and excitement that I share this labour of love with you all.

Finally launching

Sol is launching mostly with book covers and small-format stuff by Portuguese graphic artists and, to a lesser extent, European ones. Book covers are the most manageable artifacts of which to produce quality images — just throw them in the scanner. More artifacts and more images of already published artifacts will be added as I manage to scan and process them — and as I incessantly hunt for more stuff.

I hope Sol can be a useful resource for anyone interested in graphic design, illustration, typography, visual culture, history, or any subject that connects and intersects with the collection.

Information about designers, publishers and design artifacts is often dispersed through various offline and online sources, places and languages. It’s a cliché, but I’ll be happy if this site can help one person with context on a piece of work or an author.

Likewise, I’d love it if anyone with any relevant information about any artifact shared it so we can incorporate it into the site. All contributions will be credited and greatly appreciated.

And that’s it. Have fun!

Related Artifacts [1]