In July, when I was in London, I stopped by NoBrow headquarters for a tour of their store and production facilities (and for a small shopping spree!) The space was great and there were so many amazing things to look at (I could have stayed there for days!) And even though Sam Arthur, one half of the NoBrow team, was having a very very bad week, filled with headaches (he was on the telephone dealing with finding a stolen van in Belgium, filled with freshly printed NoBrow books, when I first arrived), he kindly let me in, gave me photographic freedom to shoot anything I wanted in the space, and made the time to chat with me, enthusiastically, about NoBrow and the product they create.
This month Cheap & Plastique conducted a proper interview, via email, with Mister Arthur.
C & P: How did you decide to start NoBrow? Was it because of your love for the medium of illustration?
Sam/NoBrow: We started Nobrow because we love illustration and because we love beautiful books.
C & P: Had you been involved in any other similar projects/ventures prior to NoBrow?
Sam/NoBrow: Before we started Nobrow – Alex was an editorial illustrator and I worked as a director (mainly commercials and music videos), we had worked together on various animated projects, and although the end product wasn’t printed there was a similarity in terms of working with visual narratives.
C & P: Are you planning to expand NoBrow in the future or start any additional endeavors?
Sam/NoBrow: We are always searching for new projects to publish, doing more books and expanding into new markets is always going to be a challenge. We are going to be working with Consortium Book Distributors in the US starting in 2012 so our books will be more widely available in the US and Canada. We are also working on some translations of our books for the French market too.
C & P: NoBrow has existed since 2008. And you have had the shop and gallery for a little over a year and 1/2. Have things changed for NoBrow since the shop was opened? Are a lot more people aware of the NoBrow brand now?
Sam/NoBrow: We have had lots of opportunities pop up as a result of people coming into our shop, which is great. The idea that someone who didn’t know of us could stumble upon our shop and love our books is quite a romantic notion! However our shop/gallery was always intended to be a showcase for our products and the artists that we work with and in that way it has been really successful.
The amazing shop
C & P: Do you only sell NoBrow products in the shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We stock all of our own products, even some that aren’t available online, but we also stock products that are from producers and brands that we love and are ourselves inspired by.
C & P: Who is in the office on a daily basis?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex and I are always in the office unless we are away on business, and then we also have 3 full time staff members and that includes whoever is working in the shop.
C & P: How often is someone printing in the basement?
Sam/NoBrow: We don’t have the resources to be printing 24/7 unfortunately, but we usually have a new print edition every 6 weeks on average.
Silkscreening studio in the basement of the building
C & P: Do the illustrators silkscreen their own pieces, does NoBrow print the publications, or is it a collaboration?
Sam/NoBrow: We always print the editions – otherwise it wouldn’t be a Nobrow Small Press edition.
C & P: Are there other publishers in London doing something similar to what NoBrow is doing? Do you ever collaborate with other independent publishers?
Sam/NoBrow: Not that I know of – we work with lots of collectives and small presses but not so much with other publishers. We love publishers like Bongoût and Le Dernier Cri who operate in Europe, but there isn’t anyone quite as well established as these guys in the UK.
C & P: How about elsewhere in Europe? I saw the work of a Berlin based group called Bongoût at last years New York Art Book Fair who were selling similar wares (collectible silkscreened art books/objects). Do you know of them?
Sam/NoBrow: See above answer!
C & P: Do you sell NoBrow product anywhere in the USA?
Sam/NoBrow: We sell in places like Secret Headquarters in LA, Desert Island in Brooklyn and quite a few other cool independent comic books stores – next year we’ll be distributed by Consortium Book Distribution in US and Canada so it will be much easier for stores to get hold of our books.
C & P: Have you done any art fairs (like the Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair in London, where I first saw your work) in other cities?
Sam/NoBrow: We’ve done lots of shows and fairs all over the world (well mainly in North America and Europe) for example in the last 12 months we’ve been involved in shows and festivals in Angouleme, France, Toronto, Canada, Helsinki, Finland and we’ll be doing something in Madrid, Spain in November and also be at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Arts Festival in December.
C & P: The colors used in printing your publications have a unique look and feel about them and act as a common thread between all of the NoBrow library, making a group of NoBrow books look like a cohesive collection, despite the illustrator’s style. Is there a specific reason for your choice of colors? Was this color palette chosen because of any other publications/publishing houses that you admire? How are these super saturated, intense colors accomplished in both the silkscreen process and with the larger runs on the printing press?
Sam/NoBrow: We use a spot colour printing process with many of our large edition books that are printed with offset litho as opposed to silkscreen. The process is similar in that the colours we use are premixed and overprinted rather than made up of CMYK which is the more conventional way of printing things.
Sam showing me the difference between the screenprint version and the offset version of The Bento Bestiary book by Ben Newman
C & P: How do you decide whether to print a limited edition of hand silkscreened books in house versus a run of 3000-5000 at a press?
Sam/NoBrow: We can take more of a risk with the hand made books as we are only printing 50 or 100 copies – also it may be something that can only be done with silkscreen. With the large edition stuff we can do more complicated bindings as we are using industrial production methods.
C & P: Could you talk about the process of working with an illustrator on a book? Does it vary from artist to artist?
Sam/NoBrow: It varies quite a bit from artist to artist and project to project. Sometimes we have seen something that is already finished and we work with the artist to adapt it to a book for us – other times we are approaching an artist with a project in mind, in which case we are all starting form scratch. Some artists like to have some direction or an editor to bounce ideas off, where as others are much more likely to bury themselves away. Everyone works in a different way and we try to find the best system for each project in order to get the greatest end product: a beautiful book!
C & P: What is the most involved/complex project you have ever undertaken in NoBrow’s print shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We did a really cool concertina book with artists Jock Mooney and Alisdair Brotherston – the complicated thing was getting the maximum length from the paper stock. This meant printing in two sections on one sheet and sticking them together – and then folding them. Sounds simple it was real brain teaser!
C & P: How do you find the illustrators/comics that you publish? Are most of the NoBrow stable friends and/or acquaintences? People who have submitted work through your website? Or people that you have scouted out at schools and in other publications? Are they mostly British illustrators?
Sam/NoBrow: Again – this is probably our most commonly asked question – it’s different for every single artist. We have met some people via friends but these people are in the minority, for the most part we have approached people when we have seen their work and have loved it. Generally this is because we have seen their work online or in a book or magazine or even on some food packaging! Often people send us examples of their work or links to their websites and we always try to check these out even though we don’t always have much time. It’s important for us to always be looking at new things.
C & P: How many illustrators do you work with on a regular basis?
Sam/NoBrow: It’s not an official thing, sometimes people ask if we represent artists/illustrators and we don’t. However there are at least 20 illustrators that I can think of that we have worked with more than a few times. Hopefully this number will increase as we go into the future.
C & P: Whose collection of vintage Japanese toy monsters is displayed throughout the store and office? When did you begin collecting these? Do you have a favorite?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex is an avid collector of Kaiju Japanese monster toys – it’s his collection and he’s been collecting for at least 10 years. I love anything Godzilla!
Japanese monster collection
C & P: What is your favorite thing to do in the neighborhood?
Sam/NoBrow: I love a pint in The Griffin over the road from our office and lunch at the Hoxton Grill is always a treat! If I want to go somewhere a bit more colourful – DreamBagsAndJaguarShoes on Kingsland Road is a great night out.
C & P: Are there any other galleries that you frequent in Shoreditch? Elsewhere in London? What are your favorites?
Sam/NoBrow: I’m always a sucker for The Tate Modern – it has to be the best art gallery in the world. In Shoreditch – Seventeen Gallery, 17 Kingsland Road, always has interesting stuff and there are loads of galleries on Redchurch Street and also Leonard Street that have great shows.
Ben Newman and Sam Arthur sitting at the conference table in the office
More cool stuff in the office
House of Gold: An exhibition of work by Butter was hanging in the NoBrow gallery when I was there in July. The NoBrow gallery is currently showing an exhibit of works by the artist, Ben Newman, who I met during my visit. Ben seemed super nice and is a fabulous illustrator/artist, go check out his work if you happen to be in London!
Work from House of Gold exhibition
A few of my photographs of Sam Arthur and the NoBrow space will be in this month’s issue of Form Magazine, available at the end of October.