IMG_3716Ryan Smith wearing a shop apron from the now defunct Ho Sun Hing Printing that was located in Chinatown for 104 years

Q&A: Ryan Smith, Brick Press (Vancouver)

by Ryan Ming

Ryan Smith, Founder and Operator of Brick Press, presents on do-it-yourself publishing practices that are based on salvaging equipment from closing print shops at 1pm on Sunday, October 5 as part of the 2014 Vancouver Art/Book Fair. His participation in VA/BF is supported by The Keefer Bar.

Two years ago, in the summer of 2012, I met Smith at his installation project Ryry’s Bodega. In this very small space Smith combined the consumerist sensibilities and aesthetics of an urban convenience store, replete with buckets of Costco candy, disposable lighters, zines and a functioning Risograph printer that he used to produce all manner of printed materials from live music event handbills to whatever passing customers requested a facsimile of. Fast forward two years , and I caught up with Smith to learn more about his practice of sourcing affordable print production/binding machinery and his publishing operation Brick Press.

Project Space: How did you come up with the name Brick Press?

Ryan Smith: I came up with the name Brick Press in 2012. I’d already amassed a small collection of printing equipment and needed a name to publish work under. At that time I was manning my conceptual installation Ryry’s Bodega—an appropriation of a convenience/copy shop. I also was (and still am) working at Foundation restaurant and that’s where I came up with the idea for the name Brick Press. I re-appropriated my logo from the bottom of a veggie bacon box—it is the packaging company’s logo, a stack of cardboard boxes. It also looks like a 3D brick cube. I also associate bricks with graffiti—something I spent many years doing.

PS: How did it all start?

RS: Brick Press started during the aforementioned Ryry’s installation. My interest in self-publishing began many years previous with my friend Adam. We made zines at Kinko’s and we travelled with and traded them. After encountering Publication Studio in Portland in 2011, I saw the potential of collecting similar machines and making real “books.” I then started (and still do) collecting various publishing machines on eBay, Craigslist and WireBids. In small steps I managed to acquire printers, binding machines, collators and a guillotine stack paper cutter—all of the basic machines needed to publish books from start to finish. I now work with my girlfriend Kelin on artist books and commercial printing with my cousin Jordan. We have many exciting plans together.


Installation view of Ryry’s Bodega, 2012

PS: What do you think makes Brick Press different than other art publishers?

RS: Not much besides me being me. That’s personal and different. Really though, it’s all of the other art publishers that I constantly look up to and take inspiration from. Publication Studio and many graffiti writers being my first influences. I guess the materials I acquire (machines/paper) are all a bit different. I buy a lot of uncommon, unserviceable, discontinued machines and paper stocks. I service all of the machines I operate myself too. But yeah, I’d like to say that we’re not trying to be different, but rather to complement other art publishers. We also do some public speaking on independent publishing. Recently Brick Press led a one-hour talk on publishing in Garry Neill Kennedy and Cathy Busby’s independent publishing class at the University of British Columbia, and we are speaking at this year’s VA/BF.


Two of Brick Press’ publications: Roots and Leaves by Richard Marxism and Proposals For A New Career by Patrick Cruz

PS: How many publications has Brick Press produced?

RS: Unofficially, a lot. Close to 100? Probably… I’ve had a keen interest in printed material and, for that matter, physical material for many years. Officially as Brick Press we have published five: Proposals for a New Career by Patrick Cruz, Roots and Leaves by Richard Marxism, LTD. EDTN. PRINCE by Adam Shiu-Yang Shaw, Away (a group video exhibition catalogue) and lastly a book I’m currently co-publishing with 221A: The Part Of No Part by Dan Starling. The first three titles mentioned were published by myself and Dave Pullmer, in cooporation with Sunset Terrace, during a publishing residency in Sunset Terrace’s gallery space (2028 Clark Drive). In addition to all of this, Brick Press has printed books and other materials for many clients including Catriona Jefferies, UBC Belkin Gallery, Model, Sunset Terrace, Nü Sensae and others.


A wall full of examples of materials printed by Brick Press

PS: How big are the runs per edition?

RS: We focus on working with artists making books in small runs. Editions of 50 or 100. We may increase these edition numbers as demand grows, but will still stay small, keeping each exsisting copy of each book very special.

PS: What kind of feedback/reception have you had?

RS: Brick Press has received overwhelming support and the response has been amazing. It’s really, really good. It makes us enjoy what we do a lot. Working with many local artists has spread our reach and we plan to expand our vision infinitely. There are many interesting artists and subjects worldwide we hope to cover.


Ryan Smith and Kelin Kaardal and one of their workhorse Risograph machines

PS: Where did you get your Risograph? Since they are discontinued, how do you find parts, ink, troubleshoot problems, etc?

RS: All of the machines I operate are from eBay, the street, Craigslist or WireBids (an online auction for closed-down print shops). The one I’m using now was given to me by Kurtis Wilson (thanks Kurtis!!). I research the deep web to find forums and message boards to troubleshoot problems and download service manuals. The internet is the #1 tool for just about everything, including parts and ink. I also amass broken equipment to salvage parts from.


A heavy duty guillotine/paper cutter

PS: Could you elaborate a little more on the project you’re doing with 221A that you’re finishing up as we speak?

RS: Brick Press is co-publishing a book with 221A and Dan Starling. It’s called: The Part Of No Part. The book is a catalogue of sorts, concluding and documenting a series of exhibitions that took place in 2012 and 2013 at 221A, curated by Dan Starling. It features works by a number of selected artists. It’s 146 pages, perfect bound, full colour with photos, text and essays—it’s very exciting. The cover is a custom-designed font by Dan Starling in Federal Blue Riso ink printed on 80lb Crest, Antique Grey cover stock. The publication will be launched along with essay readings on July 17, 2014 at 221A.

PS: What can you tell me about the climate of Vancouver’s artist publishing community from your viewpoint?

RS: It’s great. There are many amazing artists self-publishing their works as well as some amazing bookstores and galleries that support what I think is a fantastic community of artist publishers. Artspeak, Publication Studio, Or Gallery, Unit/Pitt Projects, Charles H. Scott Gallery and READ Books, Project Space, Belkin Gallery, Presentation House and The Western Front, just to name a few, contribute greatly to local and non-local art book publishing and publishers.

PS: Do you have any favourite local artists, publishers or resources that you recommend ?

RS: Patrick Cruz, Sunset Terrace, Alex Heilbron, Justin Gradin—there are really too many others to name. The institutions I mentioned previously, as well as GNG Printing/my pal Luc. Everything else I haven’t already mentioned is a trade secret. Haha.

PS: Where do you envision Brick Press heading in the future? One thing I learned at Print Ready’s Print Waste event a month ago, was that zines can come in all sorts of formats (for example, a zine that turns into a paper airplane or zines that serve as vehicles for other sorts of media products like stickers or cassette tapes). Would Brick Press produce artisan graphic products like buttons, tote bags, etc?

RS: We like buttons and tote bags, but our focus is and always will be publications. However, the term publication may take many physical forms—which we will continue to experiment with and produce.

PS: Where can people purchase Brick Press publications?

RS: We sell our books at the Or Gallery, located at 555 Hamilton St., and Unit/Pitt Projects, located at 236 E. Pender St. Also, you can follow Brick Press on Instagram (@brickpress) and on Tumblr, as we are building a website and online store. They’ll be online soon—keep your eyes peeled.

Images: Photos by Ryan Ming


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