'Printed Pages' Is a Very Nice Magazine By 'It's Nice That'
We spoke to editor Owen Pritchard about the line between print and online, how to go about starting your own creative endeavour and how Britain's political climate is affecting its art.
Printed Pages is the physical counterpart of It's Nice That, the all-encompassing online platform looking to celebrate creativity in every form, from tradition to the far fringes of art. In its 12 issues the magazine has had covers featuring unaware sunbathers, the unconventional stars of YouTube series "Don't Hug Me, I'm Scared" photographed as fashion models and, this October, features the sons of legendary graphic designer John Morgan, eerily holding a skeleton.
Celebrating creativity from all over the world, the latest issue moves seamlessly from putty busts of unconventional-looking Olympians to a heartfelt tribute to architect Zaha Hadid. That freedom is something Printed Pages prizes – the ability to go from one medium to another without breaking the narrative, because "there are no boundaries", according to editor Owen Pritchard.
Below is a phone conversation I had with him earlier this week, edited for length.
VICE: Can you describe Printed Pages in one sentence?
Owen Pritchard: Printed Pages is a compendium of the most inspiring projects that have happened in the world over the last six months.
You feature so many different creative mediums in the magazine – how do you make sure the visual identity stays concise?
We do have a really broad church of disciplines, from graphic design to photography and art. On the website we've also got fashion, architecture and illustration. What we're trying to do with the magazine is provide a really rich view of what we've done online and give the content another lease of life – to be enjoyed at a different pace and in a tactile way. When we put together the magazine, we do month-by-month edits of what we feel is the strongest work that we've seen on the site. That's not always in terms of what's performed best, but what's most visually interesting, who's got an interesting take on the world. While addressing the broad scope of what we do, we provide a visual rhythm to make sure it's interesting and you don't end up with a section full of black and white portraiture. We make sure we mix in illustrations and other mediums. There are no boundaries: you've got an interview with Burger Records – [photographer] TJ Tambellini shooting those guys at a record shop – and then a few pages on you might have [graphic designer] Milton Glaser in his office in New York – and you go from perma-teen and perma-stoned record label founders to an octogenarian design legend.
We are hoping that, with such a cacophony of things in the issue, these things don't jar when they sit together, because the celebration of creativity runs through it.
How do you keep the balance between the internet side of It's Nice That and print?
It's a bi-annual magazine, so things move at very different speeds. But they're both a testament to the belief in what we do. We write about graphic design and photography every day on the site, and that moves at a certain speed. Sometimes the stories that we write just disappear into the digital ether – with Printed Pages it's this idea of pace; it's something to be enjoyed at a different speed, where the images, instead of being seen on screen, come to life again on the page.
There still seems to be a bit of tension between print and working with the internet, especially when it comes to art. But you featured the short film series "Don't Hug Me, I'm Scared", an internet phenomenon, on your previous cover.
The mission for what we do is our belief in the power of creativity. It's Nice That has been around for almost ten years now and it's built a very loyal and informed audience who are engaged with that world, but they're also working in studios as photographers, as photographers' assistants, they're working as graphic designers – there's an awareness about myriad things. I think if you consider "Don't Hug Me, I'm Scared" has been viewed over 130 million times on YouTube, they've got a massive global following – there's obviously an audience and an appetite for that. Although we've got these disciplines we write about, we've also got this lovely position where we can move between them. Not only are we writing about a music festival in Belgium, but we are also writing about videos that have amazing creative direction, for a design audience.
The really interesting things happen on the boundaries between fringe and already established disciplines, and we have this privilege where we can move between them, under the banner of celebrating creativity and looking for really interesting ideas. Fundamentally, what we do is about good ideas and how to get into the world.
What's the most exciting thing about creativity today?
I think it's the unknown. We get exposed to so many creative projects and it could be easy to take it for granted. But we don't ever get bored; we don't take what we're presented for granted. There's not a lot of cynicism in what we do. We carefully plan the content that we present, but the fact that it's celebratory and the fact that it's positive is important. People are reading more than ever. The internet is an intensively visual way of consuming, and the balance between images and text – gauging the tone and the length of articles – is hugely important to it. That provides us, as writers and creators, a whole wealth of opportunities to work on different projects, different articles. We are thinking about what our readers want to know and what they need to know, but in our own distinctive way.
What makes an image striking?
You could ask that to everyone on the team here and everyone would have a different opinion. Sometimes it can be as simple as if it made you laugh or the colours slapped you in the face and grabbed your attention. There's a degree of craft and skill involved – someone pushing the boundaries of what you thought might be possible, or subverting a trope or an idea that might be common in the practice that they do. It's on a case-by-case basis. Our cover image, I think, is quite poetic in what it says, but you get to page four and there's a fluoro-coloured painting by Ana Benaroya of an alien topless on the phone. Both of these things have an immense visual impact, but are doing very different things.
Is everyone in the team interested in something different, visually?
I'm looking around the room now and everybody comes from different backgrounds – I trained as an architect and worked in architecture publications for six or so years before I joined It's Nice That. Jenny, our news editor, is from a product design background. Becky is from a writing background... everyone's got their own aesthetic sensibilities. I know there's things I really like that other people just don't get, and it's about getting over those prejudices – good prejudices – and having a discussion on why do we think it's good or why do we think it's striking. There are certain things that we see and everyone's like "YES," but then there's other times where it's a slower burn and sometimes we will disagree.
You mentioned the cover. Without wanting to sound ominous, it looks like a good reflection of the times we're in. Was that intentional?
I don't want to read too much into it – I know what it means to me and it says in the lede that the magazine was put together in an unprecedented period of uncertainty, not for us as a business, but globally – we went through Brexit and we've got what's happening in the United States at the moment. There's an awareness of what that image might say, but it's for the readers to take away and read themselves – it's up to the individual. The air of ambiguity, but also the presence of the cover, was something that we're really happy with.
Do you think that the current political climate in the UK is going to affect Britain's creative output?
Yes. Any idea is a product of its sociopolitical and economic context, and you see time and time again throughout history that creativity thrives with adversity. The other thing is, who knows what's going to happen in the next six months, and will that reflect itself in our next issue? We don't know. I firmly believe that people will still be inspired to create, be that as protest, as a distraction – as a solution, even. I'm not sure how easy it's going to be, but there's definitely a place for it. And who knows, as people become more disillusioned with what they see around them they're going to be turning and seeing new ways of communicating ideas. I'm positive, in a hugely cautious way.
What does the future hold?
I think, with this issue, we really found our feet – we've got the design how we want it, we've got the rhythm and structure there. Now we're getting more and more ambitious with the commissions that we have so all the features that we've got in the issue were conceived in house and made in house. What we're finding is a confidence with doing that – but we want to get more voices, and we're looking to get different points of view and commissioning out more, and more words, as the writers in house have more ideas about what might be possible online and in print. Our ambition is scaling up and, because of the width of what we cover, anything's possible.
What would be your advice for anyone looking to start their own creative endeavour?
Find something that excites you and that you truly believe in – something that will keep you interested. Of course, there's a lot of business details you have to take into account, but I think you'll know if you really want to do it because it'll be a no-brainer. If you have to ask yourself, 'Do I want to do this?' you probably know the answer. Also, be realistic. Know what you want to achieve with it. Is everyone going to change the world, or are you speaking to a small audience who are going to understand it? Be true to yourself, I suppose. That makes me sound like a hippie.
Do you have a favourite story in this issue?
I think there are two that I really like, not to give you a politician's answer. The Wilfrid Wood sculptures of the heads of the most interesting people at the Rio Olympics – I was really proud we commissioned that. All credit due to Ali Hanson. Just knowing we can find the creative angle on the Olympics that isn't the branding or the advertising, showing the plasticine busts of the strangest people, from Mo Farah to Adam Peaty's nan. I think that shows we can react quickly.
The John Morgan interview, as well, shows a different side to us – a really atmospheric and tight photoshoot that works so much better in print, coupled with a really interesting interview that isn't a throwaway read. It's John Morgan asking the interviewer questions, discussing the wider creative world and how you might construct an article.
Finally, what do you hope people take away from this issue?
I'd hope they're inspired to make new things and send them to us.
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