Lorraine Whelan is a visual artist & writer currently based in Ireland. She founded Precariat Press in March 2020, a project that focuses on publishing poetry in hand-printed, limited edition books.
@precariat.press / @lorraine.whelan.artist / http://lorrainewhelan.blogspot.ie/
I am a Canadian visual artist & writer based in Ireland. I studied post-secondary art at Central Tech Special Art Course in Toronto after high school and then later went to York University in Toronto, where I graduated with a BFA (Hons) in Fine Art, with a minor in English in 1986. I re-located to Ireland shortly after graduation and had my first solo exhibition in Dublin in 1989. Moving to Ireland was not totally random, as I am the 8th child of an Irish immigrant family, and my parents, along with half my older siblings, had already moved here.
As a visual artist I consider myself primarily a painter, though I use whatever materials I have a mind to, corresponding with whatever I happen to be working on. This has led me to printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, and artist books. I have been writing poetry for about 40 years, and art criticism for about 20 years. In the past five years I have started expanding my writing to include both fiction and creative non-fiction prose. My bookbinding interests first found their way into the making of unique and tiny edition artist books and this has led naturally to my desire to found my own press. I thought it was high time I published a collection of my poems and I was familiar with the concept of self-publishing through writing history. If Virginia Woolf could do it, so could I!
After brainstorming a name and image for a logo, with my husband, I officially founded Precariat Press in March 2020 and started the work of putting together a small collection for my first publication, a chapbook of poetry. This first publication was to be a limited edition with a hand printed lino block cover and hand bound. Home Sweet Home Goodbye was published by Precariat Press in October 2020.
How did you get into bookbinding? I find it so interpreting, I love watching people do it! Was it your interest in bookbinding & self-publishing that led you to start Precariat Press, or do you think this is something you would have wound up doing anyway?
As something that I was curious about, in 1993 I took a one day bookbinding workshop at the Women’s Art Resource Centre (WARC) in Toronto. It was an introductory workshop but everyone (maybe about 7 people?) went home with a little notebook in the medieval tacket binding style. Since then, I have many times adapted this style to make a variety of books to use as sketchbooks and notebooks for both myself and for gifts to friends. My curiosity about bookbinding was whetted by this workshop and I started looking into other methods and forms of bookbinding (for instance Japanese stab binding, accordion fold, kettle stitch, stick books, Belgian bookbinding, etc ). Some of these are now standard practice for me.
I started Precariat Press mainly because I wanted a venue to publish my poems! I was tired of only having a few poems published annually (in physical and online journals) and thought that since I have the know-how I could publish my work myself. I had already made several “artist books” in limited editions (10 each), which were solely image-based, but for a press publication I wanted to create a chapbook of poems, as opposed to visual images.
Because I am not getting any younger, I really felt the need to have at least one collection of my written work out there in the world, so I may have eventually started the press anyway. Then again, it may have remained a pipe dream, had I not been inspired by work done by American poet, Jim Trainer (https://www.jimtrainer.net/ ) I came across his work first in a magazine column, then found out he had a blog, and had made a vow to himself to publish a collection of work (poetry and prose) each year for ten years. I think I came across his poetry in year 4 of this personal pledge. He started his own press to do this, and when I looked into the history of self-publishing it was more interesting than the idea of “vanity”.
So how do you go about publishing Precariat Press? Like is it released monthly, or just a couple of years? And what’s your selection process like, do people pitch their work to you or do you approach different writers that like? How long does it take for you to actually gather content/design/print each publication? Are there any specific techniques you use?
Precariat Press is my publishing imprint, but I need to send documents to contracted printers to actually do the printing of text. So far I have only published one book, a poetry chapbook, Home Sweet Home Goodbye.
This chapbook took me about six months to do, from start to finish, as I needed to select & edit the poems, design the cover, which was a handpulled linoprint, and then bind each book individually. It was a limited edition of 50, as I wanted my first publication to be extra special. Future publications will probably NOT have handprinted covers in limited editions, though they would still have carefully considered cover designs and may be hand stitched.
I am busy preparing for a visual art solo exhibition next year, so I don’t see another publication coming out too soon, though I would like to publish something every second year at least.
Currently I only plan to invite people to publish with me, though that may change. I am aware of platforms, such as “Submittable” and “CuratorSpace” through which I might open Precariat Press up to a wider selection process.
I have plenty of experience as an artist & writer, including editing, bookbinding and design work. With my first publication I made a lino block design for the cover and printed it on a portable printing press. It was then bound by hand. Is this what you mean by “specific techniques”?
How come you don’t want to continue doing handprinted covers? Is it just too time consuming to do? What’s your solo exhibition going to be about? Do you get a varied response through these open call websites? Do you accept a variety of submissions, or do you follow certain themes/restrictions when selecting & editing?
Haha yes that is what I meant! If you was to handprint your next edition, would you use the same style/printing methods, or would you try and do it a bit differently? Do you aim for them to look like a series or have a bit of individuality? Do you have any other future plans for Precariat Press?
Yes, it is very time-consuming to do handprinted covers! The covers, in the case of the first publication from Precariat Press, were for my own first chapbook of poems and were art prints in a limited edition. While 50 is a tiny print run for a book, it is a large print run when doing everything by hand. Even small press print runs usually are in several hundred, in order to facilitate the writer to sell at readings, at bookshops, etc. With lockdowns being de rigour over the past year (and immediate future), there are no venues for readings to take place. I would hope that for future books a larger print run will be a necessity!
I haven’t thought too much about the open call system, I am just aware of it. For the moment I will only be inviting writers/artists in whose work I am interested.
The exhibition I am working towards is thematically about “home”. This is a general concept, especially poignant in these times as people are forced, for the safety of others, especially loved ones, to remove themselves from active engagement with people who are normally crucial to familial stability – the epitome of “home” within one’s heart. In this recent work I am exploring the universal themes of memory, place, identity and time, specifically through my personal memories and responses to the memory of my former homes in both Ireland and Canada over the past six decades.
For the next book, which is currently in the discussion phase, it is likely that the cover will be a monotone design, but will be reproduced mechanically/industrially so that the print run will be larger. I am likely to continue with hand stitching the binding as it is more archivally sound than metallic staples. As the second book from Precariat Press, it will have it’s own individuality, yet will have aspects in common with the first book. For instance, size and binding. So my future plans for Precariat Press are to continue with publishing small chapbooks of poetry and booklets that maybe of interest to other artists (for instance, DIY empowering manuals in artistic practice).
Would you not consider doing online readings, or is it something you prefer doing in person? I suppose if you’re reading to people in the same room, you get more of a personal connection with your audience. Do you handprint everything by yourself, or do you have people helping you out with it?
That sounds like such interesting work, I’d love to see it! Does your practise have a lot of similarities with your publishing work, or do you try and keep them separate from each other?
Yes, I have thought about online readings – I have enjoyed other authors having reading, interview, Q & A and other events online. For myself, though, I realised I did not want to do this, most especially for the video aspect. I did set up a SoundCloud platform and plan to record poetry from my chapbook, but I have just not had time to do it yet! There is a sound clip of me reading an older poem on the online Poetry Sound Library, https://poetrysoundlibrary.weebly.com/.
I have use of a portable press, for printing images, such as lino blocks. I did lino prints for the covers of my first chapbook, and yes, this is something I do alone.
I always think of my work (visual art and writing) as being related or intertwined. Thus for the chapbook, both the title and the cover design were based on my earliest existing piece of “art”. I met my grandparents for the first time when I was about 7 years old (my family had won a St Patrick’s Day contest to bring relatives over from Ireland to Toronto) and made them a goodbye card when they were going home. The card was found in my grandmother’s purse after her death nearly 15 years later and returned to me. You can see my artwork on my website or more regularly on facebook and instagram, but with regard to images of the current work that I am doing for the exhibition next year, use #memoryismyhomeland on both fb and insta for a more direct gathering of images.
Do you have any future plans for Precrariat Press? Is there anything that you’d love to do if covid weren’t around and you had unlimited access to time/money/space etc., like bucket list kinda thing?
There definitely is not a publication planned for this year, but I am in talks with with an author/artist for a small art-archaeology-diy publication for 2022. In 2023 I expect another chapbook of poetry and I’ll start making other decisions about the press once I have the exhibition behind me.
Hahahaha – well, if health, money, time and space were no object, the sky would be the limit! I would approach people whose work (written & visual) I admire and be able to offer them their hearts desire! Even though I am a fairly positive person, I do tend to a bit of realism though, so I will not use this platform to entertain total fantasy! But thank you for posing the possibility…
Haha totally understandable! I think sometimes you’ve got to be a bit realistic with your ideas and keep yourself grounded.
Your responses have been wonderful and I don’t think I’ve got any further questions! Is there anything else you’d like to mention about Precariat Press or even your own work? Anything you’d like to ask me?
I just thought I would like to mention why/how I chose the name Precariat Press. As I said earlier, it was through a brainstorming session with my husband (also an artist) that the name and logo were born. It was only a few years ago (maybe 5 or 6) that I first heard the word “precariat”, in reference to refugees, asylum seekers, and low-wage zero-hour workers – people who live day to day on the edge. I thought this word applied (and applies) to most artists that I know, including myself. The logo for the press is based on an early photographic image of immigrant construction workers having a lunch break on an I-beam overlooking NYC from an uncompleted Empire State Building.
It has been a pleasure participating in this interview.
Stay safe, keep well.