Print by Design: Inside the LA Art Book Fair

April 23, 2019
- Extracurriculars

The second weekend in April marked the start of one of our favorite events—and no, we are not referring to Coachella. We’re talking about Printed Matter’s 2019 LA Art Book Fair.

As the west coast’s version of the NY Art Book Fair, LA’s Fair brings together 390 exhibitors from 31 countries to celebrate the art publishing community. Book-lovers, design aficionados, a few Funkhaus creatives, and art enthusiasts took to The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA to relish in the limited edition books and prints, intriguing zines, and the many other products that encapsulate creativity at its finest. We took a moment to chat with Rick and Mackenzie, two members of the Funkhaus design team, to hear more about the event and get the download on their design inklings.

What were some of the coolest things you saw at the LA Art Book Fair? Any fun finds?

Mackenzie: Exploring the zine room was by far my favorite part. Zines leave the door wide open for the artist or designer to create whatever they’d like however they’d like. I bought a zine from a design studio based in Germany, and he has a whole series of zines where he only uses found photos and text from Wikipedia, but crafts it into a well-designed zine that I would want sitting on my coffee table. I think the power of design really shines at events like this because there were truly things that I was tempted to buy that I had no idea what they were or what the content was inside, but the way it looked made me want to spend money on it—whether that be the visual design of it, the phrase or words on the front, the print quality or techniques, or the paper type. It’s crazy how quickly those things can influence me to purchase.

Rick: Every way you turned was something interesting you’d never seen before. It’s staggering to see the amount of creative output from all levels of design. Yes, the primary medium is printed material, but it’s easy to overlook the amount of work that goes into creating every page. Thierry and Noel from Grilli Type told me the LA and NY Art Book Fair’s are the most important graphic design events in the world for them, and seeing the amount of effort they, and others, put into displaying their work, I believe it.

Echoing what Mackenzie said, I went into the show not having a specific thing I was looking for and just let my eye travel. The friend I was with discovered a fantastic zine from a publisher in the Netherlands (Roma Publications) that presented the iconic Tupac and Biggie photo shoots that Dana Lixenberg shot for Vibe in the mid 90’s and the various ways they’ve been appropriated since. Had to buy that!

Another incredible piece I bought upstairs in the ‘photo book’ area was a three volume book from Berlin publisher Drittel Books exhaustively detailing the ‘Golden Record’ that flew on NASA’s Voyager mission. Made by Martin Eberle’s and titled, ‘Voyager – The Grand Tour’; even as a space and NASA enthusiast I had no idea this 300 copy book even existed and was floored to just happen upon it. Signed no less!

“There’s something different about being able to take something home with you after you leave that you can’t really achieve when it comes to the digital space.”

The Fair is a true celebration of the printed medium—one that can oftentimes be overlooked in the digital age. What do you think print brings to the table that digital doesn’t? How do the two work together?

Mackenzie: I think print is romanticized because it is something you can hold and feel, which automatically makes it more human. It’s also something that you have to be careful with because it can be ruined with carelessness, because there’s no undo button, so it feels special and more rare. There’s something different about being able to take something home with you after you leave that you can’t really achieve when it comes to the digital space. I also think that because we sit in front of screens all day there’s satisfaction in seeing design on paper and in books as opposed to bright screens.

Rick: I think the reverence print has from the graphic design community will always be there. It’s the foundation of the art form. It’s so much more accessible and freeing to work in than digital in a lot of ways. It’s easier to be impactful with print and there’s something powerful about committing to putting ink on paper.

Yes, there are a lot of avenues to display singular design work digitally, but it quickly becomes complicated. Websites are complex design systems that increasingly need high level programming talent. But a zine? You can make that with anything. It captures the zeitgeist with a permanence that the digital world doesn’t really seem interested in doing. What I was most struck by was how the DIY aspects of ‘zine culture’ are so strong. It’s giving a voice to a growing social discord and the resistance is demanding to be heard! That’s what the printing press have always been about The amount of activism I saw in the zine hall was so rad. There’s just something so subversive and punk-rock to a flyer or poster or zine that you just can’t quite capture with a post on social media.

However I don’t think it’s about print vs digital. Because so much is ‘desktop published’ these days, it’s really just designing for a different medium. Yes the techniques are different, and the commercial magazine and newspaper industries are changing, but I don’t think the type of work on display at the Art Book Fair is in faced with the same challenges. If anything the ease at which creative ideas can now be shared and discovered might actually help the print design world.

From zines to antique prints, how do the many iterations of print reflect back on/directly influence the design world today?

Mackenzie: Design trends are constantly fluctuating, but at the end of the day whether you’re designing print, digital, or motion—you’re following similar rules, most of which were rooted in print design. In both worlds you’re taking into consideration legibility, grids, type layout, and visual hierarchy. I think print design is something that will always be relevant to look back on and take notes from, even though the way we are thinking about and displaying design is changing with new mediums.

Rick: Well I know at Funkhaus a lot of the work we do is influenced by print design. My first design job was at a magazine and the principles of ample use of white space, of good typesetting, font choice and respect for the presentation of photography is in all the work I do. You only have to take a look around the Funkhaus studio and see the books pilled up on Mackenzie’s desk!

An interesting project we’ve been experimenting with recently is celebrating the digital design work Funkhaus is doing with a limited run of posters that recent Art Center graduate Jack Burnside has been designing for us. Like all art forms, one influences the other and vice-versa.