Tomi Lahdesmaki is an Associate Creative Director at the design studio Code and Theory. Living in Hackney, London, he founded Forage Press in 2013 as an online synthesis of music and graphic design that has since attracted the talents of hundreds of artists, musicians and designers.
How did you get into design? What’s your story?
Even since I could crawl I’ve been expressing myself through some form of drawing. From super heroes to space crafts, most of my youth was spent traveling to worlds of the imagination through the pen and pencil. So I always knew I was going to spend my life doing something visually creative, although graphic design is something I stumbled-upon by chance or accident.
I was never really good at anything to do with traditional schooling, but I kept on trying (failing), knowing that this was something I had to do. On the last day of registration for classes at my local community college, the second year after failing philosophy, I came upon a leaflet advertising a graphic design course the school was offering. I knew that the subject matter was something creative because my mother had worked in advertising as a graphic designer, so I thought ‘what the heck’ and the rest is history. I completely fell in love with graphic design and illustration, later enrolling and completing a BFA in graphic design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
For our readers who are not familiar with the project of Forage Press, tell us what it’s about. How did you come up with this idea?
Forage Press was started about 3 years ago inspired by my own personal passion for creating images and work on the side of music. I wanted a place where I could post and share these, something more than just a portfolio site, and I wanted to be able to open it up to others. Working in the creative industry, I have observed that people are very passionate about the music they follow. People spend most of the day with headphones blaring and I felt like there was a passion there that could be harvested.
The relationship between visual and audio mediums goes all the way back to the beginnings of published music. Whether it’s album cover art or band tee shirts, there has always been visual work supporting, expanding, contributing and completing the listening experience. Forage Press embraces this relationship.
For this project we’ve invited various unique creatives around the world to produce a visual article inspired by the music they love. Contributors are free to choose any music that inspires them, and in turn create a series of images that expresses, interprets or tells the story of their chosen music. Each visual article is made up of imagery exclusively created for Forage Press. To date, we’ve published over 150 articles, amounting to over 700 original images produced specifically for the site. The inspiration for our contributors is real.
Bearing in mind that you also have a full-time job as an associate creative director at Code and Theory, how do you combine your current projects with Forage Press? Is there someone else on the team or is it just you?
Balancing a full time job at a design studio and running a fairly large side project certainly is time consuming and often a bit overwhelming, but fortunately I have a lot of creative people around me and I’ve always been able to find support if needed. My wife, Katie Freathy, especially has always been a massive supporter of the project, from being an all round sounding board for ideas, to designing a zine and now designing and coding a new website that we’re looking forward to launching soon. The team also consists of Jesper Bröring who helps out on the tech side of things and we recently welcomed Emma Tucker who runs the official Forage Press blog ‘Format’ and who’s slated to be a chief editor for some exciting new stuff coming up.
What’s influenced the look and feel of Forage Press?
I always wanted the brand and the visual design to be very neutral. I knew that the visual output of contributors could go anywhere, so I wanted to make sure that the brand of the project would never clash or take away from that content.
The branding itself was a large motivation for myself when creating the project. I have always been fascinated by the branding process and I find it extremely inspiring when independent and honest companies are able to create a truly desirable and aspirational world through their brand, one that people can truly believe in. This is something that I continue to work on through Forage Press. From every email I send, to all the various design pieces including our edition of Readymag, every form of communication makes up our ‘brand’ and everything we produce is something that the followers of the project should be able to believe in and trust.
I try to create a design which won’t intrude on the content.
How do you gather material and choose your contributors? What are you favorite posts on Forage Press so far?
A large part of the project is the collection, curatorship and communication that goes into harvesting content. Part of this process starts from scouring the web every day for interesting creatives that showcase work where their personality and passion is evident. I intentionally seek out aesthetics different from my own so there’s variety, and put a lot of effort into finding people whom I feel would enjoy the opportunity to have fun with the brief and the experiment. There are certainly creatives to whom the open canvas is not appealing and the project theme does not interest them but I try to identify creatives whose work exhibits the freedom and experimentation that Forage Press itself stands for.
I cannot choose any favorites. If a creative truly pours their heart and soul into their creation, that’s all I can ask for and there are more than a few in our collection where this is evident.
Your FPD01 mag is one of our most beloved, mostly thanks to its bare design. You use Arial in only two sizes to emphasize the content. This minimalism is captivating. Tell us a bit about the process of working on this mag.
I’m flattered FPD01 is so beloved, and grateful to have had an additional platform to reach people. Much like the brand of the project, I try to create a design which won’t intrude on the content. It’s a delicate balancing act as I love graphic design and always seek to produce work that is energetic and expressive, so with this project and with the content created with Readymag I exercised restraint. For FPD01 the featured content was a collection of articles that only used a black and white color scheme. This color scheme was fairly easy to work with as the branding for Forage Press itself is also black and white.
One of the things that Readymag offered that was particularly helpful for the content was the easy system for embedding SoundCloud links. This feature is a key component of Forage Press as we want readers to be able to listen to the music while viewing the imagery. Also, I usually create my designs using other applications, so it was nice that I could design directly in the Readymag interface. It was easy to use and I had fun with it.
The idea of combining audio and visual creativity seems to be logically belonging to web and devices, but still you decided to make the printed version of Forage Press. How does it differ from your online content?
As a graphic designer I think I will always have a soft spot for printed materials. Part of creating a physical magazine was to satisfy and validate the project through that medium. Print work continues to have some resilience and no matter how creative we get with digital content, there will always be a part of the audience that prefers to obtain a physical copy of the thing they love. Now this I don’t think takes anything away from digital content, as we will continue to discover and create in so many new ways online. However this discovery that digital mediums provide will also continue to contribute to people acquiring new and unique artifacts for their physical collections.
The music industry is great example of this. As mp3s and streaming services continue to close down record shops and music fans do most of their browsing online, certain bands are focusing efforts on producing special and limited edition physical copies of their music as well as various bits of merchandise. This phenomenon I believe has put a greater focus on the physical copy. Instead of a boring jewel case CD, dedicated fans can obtain a beautifully produced piece for their personal collection. All the while the rest of the casual fans continue to browse, purchase and listen using the fastest way possible.
We will always live in a physical world with physical things.
I believe that the digital and physical world should continue to embrace the opportunities that they give each other. We will always live in a physical world with physical things. The digital world won’t change this but rather will enhance it.
Any printed and online publications you learn from and inspire?
I love what Unit Editions are doing. They’re an independent publishing business set up by the London based graphic design studio Spin. Known for their premium modern design aesthetic, Spin realized that with their knowledge and passion for graphic design they could produce their own design books. Their releases are a mix of contemporary design as well as celebrating masters of the past, all packaged together with Spin’s wonderful design sensibility.
Online, I really love the blog but does it float. The curators behind the blog bring together an amazing collection of visual inspiration ranging from art and design to strange scientific imagery.
What are your all-time favorite album covers?
Number one that always comes to mind is Massive Attack’s “100th Window”. Created by Tom Hingston Studio, the cover features a molded glass mannequin shot with a bullet, resulting in an explosion captured on camera.
I absolutely love the process and thinking behind this cover. The initial idea and vision the creatives had, and then to see it through and have the guts to produce it in real life instead of opting for graphically representing it or illustrating the image is inspirational. In the end, the image for the cover is extremely powerful and striking, a result that could of only been achieved through a proper execution of the initial vision.
Another favorite is “Celestial Lineage” by Wolves in the Throne Room. It’s pretty cliché to feature a cryptic logo and photo of a forest on the cover of your black metal album, however this album does it damn well with beautifully haunting images and a classic hand drawn logo.
Is there anything new or different that you’d like to try or explore in the near future?
We’re actually gearing up to launch a Kickstarter project to raise funds for a book about the Forage Press. This book would be limited edition piece that would feature some of the highlights from the last few years. Along with the traditional articles, the book would also feature some special written content by a few Forage Press alumni, as well as an interview with the legendary experimental design studios HORT (based in Germany) and Moross (from the UK). These two studios represent the creative spirit that Forage Press was inspired by, so we decided to seek out and find out in turn what inspires them.
We are also sketching out some initial thoughts around a real digital/physical magazine about music culture. It’s a great concept, but that’s all I’m willing to say at this point in time.