Get to Know the Artists Behind Cold Cube Press
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Artbooks matter. Collectible, beautiful, and, perhaps most importantly, they are accessible. As tangible vessels in which art is brought into homes, I grew up flipping through my dad's coffee table books, which chronicled artists like Frank Lloyd Wright, Matisse and Ansel Adams – it's what initially sparked my interest in the arts, and eventually led me to collect my own library of printed matter. In a much more DIY sense, artists have always had the ability to produce and publish a variety of different books, zines and comics, presenting unique visual language to the world through self-made printed materials.
Through independent publishers and collectives, artists can make a living from such work, tabling at book fairs, wholesaling to retail shops, and selling work themselves via social media. Artbooks have become a vehicle to show art outside the white-walled parameters of a gallery, giving fans and collectors a piece of their practice, handcrafted, one page at a time. Enter Cold Cube Press.
Based in Seattle, Cold Cube Press produces an impressive selection of books, comics, and zines with strong emphasis on quality and curation. Working with a large pool of different artists, the creative duo print and publish a variety of works and styles. I was lucky enough to get a behind the scenes look in their printing studio (#westcoaststudiotour) and talk with them about the book fair community, the challenges of growing a small business and why art books matter to them. Enjoy our conversation below.
Jessica Ross: Let's start with the basics. Who and what is Cold Cube Press?
It's a Risograph printing and publishing studio based in Seattle run by Aidan Fitzgerald and Michael Heck. We put out about ten books a year, including our annual Cold Cube Anthology, which showcases artists from all over the world. We publish work that exists in the liminal state between art and illustration, comics and poetry. Mostly, we want to publish work that is hard to classify. We are both artists ourselves, and view printing and publishing work as an element of our own art practice.
You travel quite a bit for the press, tabling at a variety of fairs across the country, so do you have a favorite one? What are some of the challenges and rewards of being on the road?
Tabling and traveling to book fairs is one of the best parts of running the press. We meet people at fairs that we know only on the internet. And half the time these days, they feel like big 'friend reunions'. We also spend a lot of time looking at other presses and artists, learning new techniques, and getting a lot of inspiration. Traveling to fairs is a huge source for finding new artists we want to work with. We've met most of our published artists at fairs or, at least, seen their work on Instagram, then met in real life. It's a great way to meet people who are pushing themselves to make their best work. I think there's a friendly competition amongst art book publishers, one that pushes us all to improve our skills and persists in this seemingly Sisyphean task of publishing art books. Picking a favorite fair is tough, but we'd probably say Seattle's Short Run or LA's Art Book Fair have been favorites.
You're working on the sixth edition of your Cold Cube Book now. How did this compendium come to be and how has it evolved over the years?
We just put out Cold Cube 05 in late May of this year, so it's still really fresh. We're already working on 06, which will be out at some point in 2020. The anthology was our first book published and, from that point on, we intended our anthologies to be a concise vision of what we want to publish: diverse work from a diverse group of artists. Ones we feel are pushing their work forward and making some of the best work out there today. Over the years, as we became better at printing and book design, we honed exactly the type of work we want to publish. Approaching each anthology like curators putting together a group show, we spend time sequencing each book so it flows well with printing concerns, like how many inks will we need, what kind of paper we want, etc. It's great to look back at older anthologies and the artists we've worked with for almost five years, and see how far they've come with their work in parallel with how far we've come as publishers.
How do you juggle your own practices between Cold Cube and printing jobs for other projects?
It's hard to keep up with our own projects, between putting together books and putting on shows in our gallery space. But we still try to make time for own work, and we usually fold that into our studio time; we bring our own projects to the studio and have little one-on-one critiques, talking not just about the content of the work but how it will be printed. Our shared history is in making zines and art books, so we get really excited about, not only the content of the work, but the execution of its printing as well. Sometimes, we'll start with a trim size or an ink palette and create work around those limitations, which feels a little backward, but our processes have pretty much entirely fused with Risograph printing, so it feels right.
What specifically about Riso, as opposed to screenprinting or letterpress, keeps you coming back?
A Risograph printer is like an all-in-one publishing machine. It's a high speed, high-efficiency printer, so it's perfect for making short-run books. We're both book lovers and designers, so while the aesthetic of the Riso is certainly appreciated, I think what we love about the Risograph, like most publishers, is the holistic and integrated approach to bookmaking. It is also a fairly new medium; screen printing and letterpress have been around for a bazillion years, so it feels a bit like we're out in the wild wild west, just figuring things out as we go.
How's the Seattle art scene? This is your chance to shout out fellow artists and creatives in your community that inspire you.
The Seattle art community is really tightly knit. It feels like a very small city, at times, because everybody seems to know everybody else, which makes it great to find collaborators and make connections. As for fellow artists that inspire us, we are endlessly enamored with the Short Run small press festival and the community it helps create in Seattle. We've had the pleasure to work with Elaine Lin over the years, and she's one of our favorite cartoonists. This may seem sacrilegious to some Seattleites, but we also love a lot of what is happening just down the road in Portland. Gotta give a shoutout to our family at fruit salad club and our weirdo-friend-artist, Momo, for holding it down in Oregon.
What would be your dream print job, like the holy grail of Riso jobs?
Yikes, that's a big question. We are both a publisher and a print shop, so I'll give you answers from both sides. The Holy Grail of publishing would be a massive anthology; a thicc book, 200+ pages, with artists and writers from all over the world, hardcover with signatures. Most importantly, it would be funded with a grant! And it would have a nice long timeline! With enough money to pay not only for production but for the artists and ourselves. We have reimbursed our contributors for the past two anthologies, and we're really proud of paying our artists, but damn, it's hard to scrape together a bunch of cash after printing a 500+ copy run of a big book. As I mentioned before, we are bookmakers and artists at heart, so a nice financial and temporal cushion is what we dream of. Don't we all?
Now, as far as print jobs, the dream would be to make a series of prints for a designer or studio – one that gets files into us on time – and everything is set up perfectly for the Riso. And they are willing to geek out about paper choices and color mixing – those are the things we geek out about! Pretty much, the holy grail of print jobs would be to print with somebody who has endless cash, an obsession with print media, and just wants to make some cool prints while letting us do what we do best. Bonus points if they are into Fast and Furious.