The Magic of Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center

Portland, Oregon, has long been heralded as one of the best locations in America for artists, authors, and other creatives to find inspiration and community. Indeed, the city’s reputation has made it a hub for creative-minded folks looking for opportunities to hone their crafts and, more importantly, showcase and distribute their work to the public. For authors and artists who don’t have access to publishing technology or spaces to create, print, and publish their work, there are distinct barriers to doing what they love. However, there is an incredible nonprofit organization right here in Portland that seeks to break down these barriers and make publishing affordable and accessible to all.
Founded twenty-one years ago in a partnership between writer, publisher, bookseller, activist, and Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and printmaker Rebecca Gilbert, the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) is a nonprofit community center that is dedicated to making the process of publishing accessible and affordable to all. According to their mission statement, the IPRC seeks to provide “affordable access to space, tools, and resources for creating independently published media and artwork, and to build community and identity through the creation of written and visual art.”
One of the IPRC’s goals is to increase the accessibility of both print and visual publishing materials in order to promote diversity and equity in Portland and beyond through the creating and sharing of art. The center describes their goal this way:

By gathering such a diverse group of people under one roof, the IPRC nourishes an expansive and productive community, and is an incubator for the independent creative spirit that makes Portland unique. The IPRC fills the community need for low-cost access to otherwise expensive space, equipment, and materials, and supports artists to create quality, innovative, and experimental work that couldn’t be made elsewhere.

So just what kind of equipment does the IPRC have? The center’s main studio (currently open by appointment only due to COVID-19 safety precautions) offers an open workspace where patrons can work on individual projects and chat with other community members. The space is home to a digital lab containing iMac computers, which have access to creative software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign; black-and-white and color photocopiers (adorably named Blanche and Stella); paper-cutting equipment, including manual and electric paper cutters; paper finishing tools and staplers; button-making tools; and a Bind-Fast 5 perfect book binding machine. Haven’t used these tools before? Either a volunteer or the studio manager will provide you with training before your first use.
Outside of the main studio, the IPRC also offers other specialized studios for different types of printing. The Berlin Family Letterpress Studio is home to a number of letterpresses, a lead type collection, and even offers a galley rental. If screen printing is more your style, you might want to check out the WeMake Screen Printing Studio, which allows members to learn and practice screen printing fundamentals, and offers all the necessary materials that are needed to make a project come to life. Finally, the IPRC Risograph Studio is home to three Risograph printers and thirteen color drums. For each of these specialty printing studios, members are required to complete introductory workshops on how to use the equipment before being allowed to access and use the technology.
The IPRC also offers workshops and classes on a variety of other subjects, including creative writing (both fiction and nonfiction), poetry, chapbooks, zines, and even bookkeeping. The center keeps an updated calendar on their website with information about upcoming workshops and events. Other programs offered by the IPRC include a year-long certificate program that combines creative writing workshops with instruction in design, book arts, and print production; a BIPOC Artist & Writer Residency which provides authors with time and space to create, as well as a stipend of three thousand dollars; and summer youth camps that offer five weeks of creative writing, printmaking, and comic workshops for youth ages five to eighteen.
Interested in using some of the IPRC’s many tools and resources for your creative projects? Learn about membership opportunities and non-member access to studios on their website. You can also donate to this incredible organization to help keep it running so that the Portland community can retain access to these incredible resources. See their wishlist on their website, and support local artists by shopping the wonderful artwork created at the IPRC’s studios.

The Artist’s Book

Have you ever admired a particularly finely bound book? Perhaps you noticed the quality of paper, letterpressed text, or a foil-stamped embossment on a deluxe edition. Though the book is primarily discussed as a vehicle for ideas, it is still a three-dimensional object with material qualities to consider. The artist’s book as a contemporary art form experiments with the physical form of the book to accomplish the same goal as a more traditional book: to communicate ideas.

Body of Inquiry by Casey Gardner

Body of Inquiry by Casey Gardner. 2011. Triptych with interior codex. Image copyright Abecedarian Gallery.

Artists’ books come from a tradition of illuminated manuscripts, livres d’artistes, fine press books, ephemera, and early twentieth-century artistic experimentations with the book. A contemporary investigation would be hard-pressed to find a singular definition for artists’ books, but we could generalize that they are a category of artworks which use the forms or ideas of the material book as a preliminary structure. Since artists’ books are subject to a variety of whims and artistic media, they can take on a multitude of formats.

Tree Structures by Elizabeth Holster

Tree Structures by Elizabeth Holster. 2011. Accordion with handmade paper/collage. Image copyright Abecedarian Gallery.

Artists’ books can employ a broad range of structures and bindings, from long-stitched to perfect-bound to accordions. The entire historical and contemporary materiality of books is part of the subject matter and influences an artist’s choice in materials. Artistic commentary can be made through these material choices; however, there is often a focused concept for an artist’s book. Binding, engineering, enclosures, paper, typography, and printing techniques are all technical elements to be specifically considered in relation to the concept in the creation of an artist’s book.

Pathways by Macy Chadwick

Pathways by Macy Chadwick. 2010. Machine-stitched Kimodesk film. Image copyright Abecedarian Gallery.

Recently, we posted about some experimental printed books that fit outside of the box of regular paperbacks: books that are meticulously die-cut and 3D printed. To clarify the production differences between artists’ books and our familiar paperback, it would be best to place them on a spectrum. At one end is the commercially printed book: the kind of book Ooligan Press creates and sells. Hundreds or thousands of copies can be printed, trimmed, and sold, simply by delivering digital files. The books considered in our previous post fall in the middle of the spectrum. These have artistic and meticulous printing requirements, but are still produced by high-tech methodologies. At the other end of this material book spectrum lie artists’ books. These are much smaller editions, often printed in runs of less than one hundred, since they are produced from start to finish by hand. Of course, this variability is at the discretion of the needs and skills of the artist, but I believe it is safe to say that these small edition sizes make them a rarer commodity than a mass-produced book.

Book Bundles a&b by Margaret Suchland

Book Bundles a&b by Margaret Suchland. 2007. Miniature book coptic-bound with handmade paper and eighteenth-century ephemera. Image copyright Abecedarian Gallery.

There are many ways to explore historical and contemporary artists’ books, and an institutional collection is often an extremely good place to start. In Portland, a point of interest is the Special Collection at Reed College. Other resources include community centers which have workshops, outreach, and exhibitions, like the San Francisco Center for the Book and Atelier 6000. Community galleries and print shops are also places to meet artists working in the medium, like Em Space and the IPRC in Portland.

While artists’ books will not become part of the Ooligan catalog in any foreseeable future, there are ways in which artists’ books and Ooligan might collide. First, an appreciation of and investigation into experimental forms of the book can provide new ways of approaching book design. Second, there is a large community of shops, artists, and small publishers working in this medium both in Portland and beyond, and we are excited to announce that Ooligan intends to be another small part of the this print community. We are in the process of getting our own Chandler & Price platen press back up and running as a resource for Ooligan Press and the book publishing program. Expect newly letterpressed things from Oolies in the near future!