I’ve following the work of both Lena Corwin and Maria Vettese for a few years now. So when the two artists decided to team up to start a small press, it was truly exciting. It seems Lena’s great abilities for crafting sophisticated pattern and her eye for great design, mixed with Maria’s talent of simply gorgeous compositions and styling, make a perfect pair. I’ve posted about Lines & Shapes a couple times in the past but since then Lena and Maria have greatly expanded their output with a whole new series of books under the title of Other Books. I wanted to know more about the experience of this successful venture and also share some images from their latest books. Thanks so much to Lena and Maria for answering my questions below. Their shop will be open until Dec.8 so be sure to pick up a few books before the holidays- they make the perfect gift- and there are some holiday discounts in their shop!
How did you two decide to start working together publishing Lines & Shapes? And what was the motivation to create this ongoing series?
Lena: We share a love for visual expression in book form, and we really connected on that when we first met. I remember the excitement when we first discussed collaborating somehow– possibly starting a small press together. We were at a restaurant in Williamsburg. We continued discussions back and forth in email, and it was clear that we were both really passionate about making books. It has been a lot of work, but really rewarding creatively.
Maria: We love books! Our motivation was almost selfish in that way. We wanted to create something we would really enjoy and it’s pretty amazing that we have.
Since you live so far apart, Lena in Brooklyn and Maria in Portland ME, is most of your collaboration over the internet and phone or do you meet to work on the books?
Maria: We work in person on the books and do a lot of logistics work over email. I am finding it harder and harder to deal with email as the years go on so next year I hope we can spend even more time working together in person on Lines & Shapes. I know at least one book we’re doing where we’ll have plenty of time together. So exciting.
What are your individual roles in working together? Who does the curating, designing, production, and promotions?
Lena: We do everything together. We both curate, design, work on production, and promotion… Maria handles the shipping, which is a HUGE part of the job and I’m very appreciative of her work in that area! I handle the website.
What is the process like for finding the artists you are going to feature?
Maria: Well Lena and I are both artists so we keep folders on our computer and in our studio of artists we respond to. We also get submissions through the site and find quite a few people that way. It’s all about finding a balance for each book. It’s one of my favorite parts.
How do you decide on the themes for each book in the series?
Maria: We bat ideas back and forth. Most of the time it’s very organic and easy to figure out what we’re feeling at any given time.
You’ve branched out beyond Lines & Shapes and created a big handful of other books, including my favorite, Brooklyn Diary, which documents the daily lives of 21 artists living in Brooklyn. What new things have you learned about Brooklyn from working on this book? And will there be any follow-ups of other creative cities?
Lena: I loved working on Brooklyn Diary this year. Brooklyn seems to have an endless supply of creative people and places, so it was hard to not include more. I hope the book captures a moment and feeling in Brooklyn. Obviously the book is just a snippet of life here– there’s much more to Brooklyn. I also enjoyed making a fun, short video for the launch of the book, using scenes shot by photographer Thayer Allyson Gowdy as she wandered around Williamsburg. The video is very amateur, but I’m liking the trend of videos to promote books, either showing behind the scenes of the making of a book, or just adding another dimension to a creative process. I would love to do follow-ups of other cities… maybe San Francisco or Berlin?? We don’t know yet.
Lena, you’ve worked on books with big publishing houses, including the super popular Printing By Hand, which you authored. Did you find having that experience helped you with your own press? What are some of the challenges you faced that you never expected even with that experience?
Lena: Working with a big publishing house (STC, Abrams) was my first experience with publishing books. It definitely helped me when we started our own press, even though the process is so different. With Lines & Shapes, we go with our gut feelings and emotions about things, whereas in a big company you have to think about the masses and sales numbers. Publishing our own books has been such a pleasure, the only challenge is balancing the workload, since Maria and I both do other work beyond Lines & Shapes.
As professional artists, how has working on this independent press contributed positively and negatively to your career?
Maria: Lines & Shapes and Other Books has helped me see that anything is possible. We do things our way and we like it that way. This year at the NY Art Book Fair we had so many people trying to find our table and make sure they came by to see what we had going on. That felt so great. Lines & Shapes has only been positive … of course it’s a TON of work but it’s worth it.
What’s next for the press? What are the upcoming projects for 2011? And do you have any ultimate dream projects?
Maria: Next year will be similar to this year as we work through our transition and things change. Our Artist Series is still on hold. We hope to bring that back in 2012. We will do 1–2 books in our Journal Series and we have a really big and amazing book coming out from Other Books. Look for that in the Spring. I think our dream project would take us to Japan. Lines & Shapes books are really enjoyed there so I would love to go for a few weeks and create a book out of that experience. Lena and I have never traveled together. I imagine that would be really wonderful.
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© Julia Rothman 2007