Xavier Fernandez about paper
What is your favorite paper and why?
Can’t really point out one name only. I usually like low-key papers the most. Thin newsprint, chipboard, recycled paper… I do appreciate and use more refined materials as well, but somehow I think that these modest papers turn into something very beautiful when used inventively and with good taste. I find it very appealing that as a designer one can choose for certain humble materials that are usually overlooked, and assign them a role of such importance in the design that they acquire a new ‘status’, making people appreciate them in a different way.
Could you give an example of a design you created where paper played a special or particularly functional role?
A book I designed recently, ‘A Tree Is Best Measured When It’s Down’. It documents an art project which is all about the cutting down of one tree and the usage of its wood after being chopped into pieces. For this I used a paper called ‘Casing II’ from PaperlinX, a light brown paper with two sides, one rough and one smooth. It’s a sort of kraft/wrapping paper, but without any visible pattern to it, and with a much more beautiful shade of brown than the one of kraft paper. The choice had to do mostly with the fact that everything in the project revolved around wood itself. The printing was done only in black and white, therefore colored paper seemed like a visually interesting addition. The rough, uneven features of the paper also match the working process undertaken by the artists for this work. Besides that, each copy of the book comes with one A4 sheet of sawdust paper, handmade by the artists using the remnants created while chopping the wood.
How important is the choice of paper in your designs? Do you spend a lot of time choosing the paper?
The physicality and materiality of my design work have always been extremely important for me. When I work on printed matter, my design goes always hand-in-hand with the paper choice; its color, weight and feel. Often the materials I choose influence my design from the very beginning of the process, so yes; I spend a big deal of time looking at options and choosing paper, and it’s always an enjoyable part of the process; one stage that often makes a difference regarding the design decisions that will follow afterwards.
Could you mention a designer whose paper choice appeals to you?
Karel Martens, Julia Born, Cornel Windlin; I think the way they choose paper is so relevant on their work that it becomes an integral part of the overall design. One almost can’t separate their design work from their material choices, the two become seamlessly part of each other. This is a quality that I highly appreciate when it comes to graphic designers.
Is there something missing in the current range of available paper?
Not really. I think that even now, when the offer on the paper market is decreasing by the year, there still is a huge amount of products to choose from.Sometimes I’m even overwhelmed by all the available possibilities when it comes to choosing paper for certain jobs.
What is your biggest frustration in the field of paper?
Right now I’m working on the reprint of a book I designed five years ago, and it has proved impossible to find back the paper I used for its cover, as it’s no longer produced. It’s a pity and also a sign of the direction that the paper business is heading to; very special and beautiful products no longer made due to economical reasons.
Is it difficult or easy for designers in your country to find information on paper, paper samples and/or paper collections?
Difficult. So far, the only way I could see full catalogues and collections was by visiting big printers, like robstolk in Amsterdam. They have always been extremely helpful and willing to sit down with me and show me different options for my projects, but whenever I’d do that I’d always feel somehow committed to bring in the print job for them to do; so that they would get compensated for their initial help. In that sense, your initiative with De Monsterkamer is a brilliant option in my opinion; there is no commitment whatsoever, as there are no interests in between any of the parts.
How do you see the future of paper?
Right now, I see many paper manufacturers going out of business due to a decreasing demand, and the ones that survive are offering less and less variety on their catalogues. I think in the future there will be a small amount of paper companies which will cope most of the market, and that their offer will decrease significantly. But I also want to believe that there will always be room for a more specialized product, that will probably become more expensive and will be required only for very specific fields within printed matter.
Interview by De Monsterkamer with Xavier Fernandez (†).