Ever thought about starting your own publishing house? Talk about pipe dreams…Well look and learn from the boys and girls at Duke Press. It can be done and the launch night last Thursday showcased some the most exciting illustration talent around. In the suitably stark surroundings of Dalston’s Oto Cafe, beautiful hand bound books were strewn across shelves and confirmed that independent publishing is alive and well. This pretty unique outfit provides opportunities for really exciting emerging talents.
Duke Press is an independent publishing collective based in London that was founded by Jess Wilson and Ryan Todd as a platform for creative publishing, with the aim to distribute small, hand-made and numbered editions. As well as providing a showcase for their own work, it’s given them a vehicle with which to invite fellow artists from around the world they admire and want to collaborate with. When Jess and Ryan were asked what Duke Press is about, they said simply “eclecticism” and it is apparent in the individuality of their output.
The books were unique in every aspect, not just in the illustrator’s personal style, but also down to the printing methods, and even the paper. The inside cover is marked by hand, telling me I’m looking at number 24 of 60; these are one of a kind little beauties! In the hand stitched YO! Ville – YO! Fest, individual sheets of coloured textured paper are inserted amongst the pages, and a miniature comic sits in the centre fold as an unexpected gift for the reader. Small touches, but ones that could never be replicated in a mass produced book.
Talking to the artists, it is clear that they relished their time working with Duke; they were given complete freedom to explore their ideas. Freelance illustrator Anthony Sheret tells me “The whole experience was so creative. So much of the work I do is commercial, producing stuff for other artists, but with this I was the artist. It was a complete labour of love.”
Standards are exceptionally high which explains why production takes so long. In Anthony’s case I find out it took over a year between being approached by Duke Press to finding the right inspiration to make his book. The Idea for Kyoto Parade came to him while traveling round Japan. When in Kyoto, he happened upon an old Japanese Stationers and was struck by ‘the ephemeral, delicate quality’ of the supplies. It is a quality that he has managed to transfer to the book itself.
There appears to be very little hidden agenda behind Duke Press, as Jess confirms. “It’s just about promoting people we like and sharing ideas. That’s it…sharing!” Ryan adds “We certainly aren’t making a profit from it. Any money goes straight back in. It’s a platform for whatever we want to do, at the moment it’s books, but we would be really interested in doing publishing projects, like taking over a magazine, there’s no limitations”. With the corporate publishers on their financial knees at the moment, it’s going to be up to the Duke Presses of this world to keep our love of books alive and well. And if their eight pearls of published works are anything to go by, that won’t be difficult…
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