Preview Chicago’s Sixth Annual Printers’ Ball


In another sign that the publishing-industry narrative could use a rewrite, Chicago’s sixth annual Printers’ Ball — one of the country’s most wide-ranging free literary showcases and a venerable celebration of all things print — is embracing its inner HTML this weekend, taking the theme “Print ❤ Digital” (their emoticon) for this Friday’s gala. Like Amazon’s announcement last week that e-book sales had surpassed those of hardcovers for the first time over a three-month period, the turn is less of a death knell for the tactile, and more of an honest (and exciting) reflection of the mixed space in which publishing and printmaking now live. After the jump: exclusive previews and behind-the-scenes videos.

Organized by Poetry magazine and Columbia College’s Center for Book & Paper Arts, Printers’ Ball welcomes hundreds of literary and art publications. Representatives range from small-press indies (Proximity, MAKE: A Literary Magazine) to big-timer favorites (McSweeney’s and The Believer, Stop Smiling). The confluence of visual art and publishing is actually as marked as that between digital and print. Take a look at some standout samples below.

Veterans of the gig-poster and book-illustration worlds, Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi (aka Sonnenzimmer) have done recent work for Yeasayer, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and Joe Meno, to name just a few. The conceptual screen-printed gem above, designed for Printers’ Ball, gets to the heart of the analog-meets-digital matter. Drop the code at the top of the poster into a HTML page, and it renders the design. The bottom portion was made by layering photographs that had been smeared across a copy machine.

A behind-the-scenes video of Sonnenzimmer at work

Twenty artists from the Chicago Printers Guild collaborated with a separate writer (including Audrey Niffenegger and Ed Roberson, among others), with each pair producing a broadside to be included in a 50-edition art book. All copies go to either the artists or global art organizations, so in keeping with the theme, PB is digitizing the collection, which can be viewed online after the unveiling. Enjoy these sneak peek images.

One of the great things about Printers’ Ball is the swag. Busy Beaver Button Co. (famous customers include Sleater-Kinney and Slayer) will be handing out their custom-made wares. If the Ball reminds us anything, it’s that “print” is often way too narrowly defined. Each button in the series is created using inked letterpress test prints.

Pushing print and visual media into the realm of jaw-in-your-lap craftsmanship, Wurlington Bros. Press constructed these “Build Your Own City” models of the Chicago skyline and Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion entirely from cut-up postcards. If you’re feeling ambitious, materials and instructions for your own personal replication can be ordered from their website.