Drawing Closer: Four Hundred Years of Drawing from the RISD Museum

Drawing Closer, Four Hundred Years of Drawing at the RISD Museum is an open-access digital publication, created in conjunction with an upcoming eponymous exhibition. Both publication and exhibition are the work of former RISD Museum Prints, Drawings, and Photographs curator, Jamie Gabbarelli. (Due to COVID-19, the exhibition has been delayed until 2022, but we are releasing the publication on the project’s original timeline.) This publication was built with the museum’s Drupal Layout Builder-based digital publication platform, Ziggurat.

This publication, by content, is a traditional museum catalogue of Old Master drawings in the collection, many of which have been overlooked and under-studied. With high quality object photography and well-researched text, Drawing Closer’s sixty-seven entries by several authors offer a new and important resource to those interested in our drawing collection. Entry authors include not only drawing scholars, but also curators of Asian Art, Ancient Greek and Roman Art, and Decorative Arts. 

Landing Page for the Drawing Closer publication; several drawings laid out on a grid
Drawing Closer, Landing Page

The publication’s digital format allows us to play with and push the traditional museum catalogue into something both familiar and new. We wanted to lean into the interactivity and flexibility allowed by the digital space, while not sacrificing the reading experience. The publication contains all the elements of a typical print catalogue—chapters, figures, footnotes, catalogue references. But with the digital publication, these components become interactive. The book can be read linearly, but the guide, accessible on the left side of each page, allows for quick perusal of content both by chapter and by theme. Catalogue and figure images zoom on hover and open in a new window when clicked, giving the reader the opportunity to closely examine line-work and paper texture. Catalogue images with two sides are flippable with the click of a button. References to other catalogue entries open in a drawer to allow for side-by-side comparison to the current entry. Links connect the reader to relevant pages on the museum website or outside sources. Footnotes are hyperlinked for swift reference. And every page has an auto-generated Chicago and MLA citation ready for use.

entry page for Drawing Closer, showing a Hieronymous Bosch drawing of little monsters
Drawing Closer, catalogue entry page
Drawing Closer catalogue entry page, showing a Hieronymous Bosch drawing of little monsters, and text on the side, scrolled to reveal footnotes
Drawing Closer, catalogue entry page scrolled down

The digital space also allows for accessibility features, built into the Ziggurat platform. Type is easily resized with buttons in the header. Every image has alt text for screenreaders, written by a curator and adhering to industry best practices. And the interface is responsive, resizing for comfortable and attractive reading whether you are viewing on a phone or a large desktop.

browser window showing the guide drawer for Drawing Closer
Guide expands from left-hand side of the page.

The overall design likewise reflected a meeting of old and new. Our choice of display font, Prophet by Dinamo, is a contemporary sans serif. Its strict geometry is wholly modern, while its slightly chiseled curves hint at calligraphic forms. The recurring grid motif references the drawing grids used by Old Master artists. And the side-by-side format (large tablets, laptop, and desktop screens) mimics a traditional book, but behaves like a website with scrolling text and interactive elements like the guide and catalogue references.