Susana Carvalho about paper
What is your favorite paper and why?
We like papers which “take a firm stand”, and are very clear in what they do: “One belongs here or there – there is no middle”, as El Lissitzky says. Most importantly, paper should be honest: not pretending to be something it’s not. We like cheap paper, readily available and effortless over precious, exclusive paper. We think it is beautiful to see how a standard paper can be used and printed in an unexpected way. We also prefer these kind of materials because we appreciate the humble, democratic, and usable sides of a publication: they are objects to use and carry around, not to enshrine in a bookshelf.
To single out a remarkable paper, we like Fly a lot, from Papierfabrik Schleipen in Germany. It is a wonderful, calandered archival grade natural paper with low bulk (1.2) and a very even grain. It has a very “honest” quality to it. It prints, feels and smells fantastic, it even sounds great. Theoretically it is available in an enormous range of grammages and three tints of white (And we think you can get two other tints to order). Unfortunately, the Dutch distributor carries only a very small subset of this, because this, if any paper, would be our desert island.
Could you give an example of a design you created where paper played a special or particularly functional role?
“Typographic Matchmaking in the City” is a publication about a cross-cultural typography public in public space, with collaborators from the Netherlands and Arab world. It uses paper as an aid to navigation, helping to structure the publication according to its content: essays, photography, each team’s work diary and results. It is the publication we designed that uses most different sorts of paper, but they all have a specific function.
Another publication we designed that uses paper in a prominent way is our self-published “Dear Reader”. It’s a collection of texts that are important to us, but it is also a specimen of the typefaces we designed. We showcase the typefaces in different environments: different content, different papers, different layouts.
How important is the choice of paper in your designs? Do you spend a lot of time choosing the paper?
“Any book that deserves to be made at all deserves to be made well”, we forget who said this. We see publications as holistic objects where materials and binding are as important as editing and design. We do spend a lot of time choosing paper and we always try to make as manu dummies as we think we need, but we are not too precious about paper, either.
Could you mention a designer whose paper choice appeals to you?
Karel Martens, also for his use of “simple” materials, and German typographer Bernd Kuchenbeiser (www.kuchenbeiser.de), whose choice of materials is like a sublime music all by itself.
Is there something missing in the current range of available paper?
Did we mention not getting all the qualities of Fly easily? The situation is still tenable, but it will become worse as fewer sorts of paper become available and more mills close down.
What is your biggest frustration in the field of paper?
The strange deals paper distributers have with different printers and mills. It is all too confusing at times for designers. We found this out when we were designing the main collection for Octavo publicaties, we spent hours on the phone with printers trying to understand why their prices for paper differed so much.
Is it difficult or easy for designers in your country to find information on paper, paper samples and/or paper collections?
In the Netherlands it is all mostly easy and so is in Germany even though we never really got a REAL paper collection from a paper distributer, like they used to have.
In Portugal on the other hand not as many paper qualities are available and the complications between distributers and printers are even bigger. A printer had once to order paper for a book we printed from the distributer in Spain because the Portuguese distributer had a deal with a different printer…
How do you see the future of paper?
We will end up with fewer paper sorts, and of course the first things we will lose is the edge cases. That will revert once the mass market for the paperback detective novel kind of book is subsumed by digital media, but by the time that we will only want to make or have truly outstanding book objects, we fear many mills will have closed, and much knowledge will get lost.
We do hope that more innovative papers with different uses will appear. We’re curious about what is happening in the digital printing field, but also what can be done with paper in fashion, product design, and new media.