“As an artist, you’re both puzzle maker and solver, so you can constantly bend the rules and the boundaries of what you’re making and then try to solve whatever you’ve put into play.”
Tucker Nichols is a contributing artist to Plumb as well as its cofounder and creative director. In fact, it was Tucker’s notebook designs for another project that launched thoughts of Plumb. Tucker is unique as an artist in many ways, but one of his most distinguishing characteristics is his voracious curiosity—in this case, not just about the design of notebooks, but also about the business of manufacturing and selling them.
Tucker sees himself as a bridge builder for Plumb, bringing fine artists to the world of consumer goods in a way that’s both respectful of their work and commercially viable. He is a well-known figure among the creative communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he likes to make connections in generous and surprising ways.
As an artist, Tucker is best known for his smartly funny drawings, large-scale gallery installations, and on-site murals. He also creates conceptual projects such as How We Saved the Post Office and Anonymous Postcard, and has published a few books. Tucker possesses keen intelligence and a desire to collaborate in meaningful ways, both of which he brought to Plumb:
“There are a ton of notebooks out in the world and many of them look very nice, but none of them quite fit the bill for me. So I was intrigued by the idea of designing notebooks that actually fit how I want to work, and by collaborating with other artists who also have preferences about notebooks. I thought we could solve some problems that people might not even realize they have with notebooks. For me this project is the right amount of problem to solve, and I get to solve it by thinking, making, and working with other people.
The other piece that drew me in was the team. We artists tend to work in pretty small, experimental spheres. But MacFadden & Thorpe and Knock Knock know to make things really well and then get them into stores, which is an experience most artists don’t usually get to have.
I think there’s a perception that if something is commercially successful, it’s an artistic failure involving some toxic compromise. I don’t know where that comes from, but I think it’s ridiculous. But at the same time it’s important not to take the easy way out by just slapping an image on the front of a book and calling it an artist-designed notebook. We’re bringing the artist so deep into the form of the things we make that they’re a part of the actual product. Hopefully that makes a difference.”
Tucker’s interest in the world beyond fine art is consistent with his diversity as an artist, from his conceptual drawings for the New York Times to installations to painting to writing:
“Art runs such a large gamut. There are so many people working in so many different styles, and there’s no question that certain aesthetics have a broader appeal than others. But I love art of all kinds—conceptual art, minimalist art, crazy confusing art, things that are offensive. Most of what I see out there doesn’t move me, but the stuff that does can come from any style.”
Like many artists, Tucker is deeply invested in process. As we created Plumb, Tucker continually emphasized the importance of having both the right boundaries and optimal freedom within those boundaries, the two key components of experimentation:
“The best thing about working with any type of process is transformation: something in one form turns into something else. And you can’t really predict how you’re going to react to the new form. You just have to have faith that there’s something in the first form that had enough energy to mysteriously continue into the new form, and you yourself—the maker—won’t really even understand what happened. With my Plumb notebooks, I couldn’t know how they were working until I actually held them in my hands. I had faith from having done similar projects, but I still couldn’t really predict how the result would feel—which ones would really engage us and make us want to draw and write in them. So that’s where the fun is, the most exciting part for me about working with any process outside of my drawing table.”
Tucker is an enthusiastic omnivore, a trait that carries the danger of saying yes to too many things, but he’s developed the ability to balance activities so they enhance one another. He tries to intersperse solo projects with collaborative and commercial ones, complemented by time with his wife and daughter. His studio in the Marin Headlands is his sanctuary:
“I can have total control in my studio with my own work. If something isn’t working, I just get rid of it. And then I make something else, and I keep making more until I get something right. Some days that doesn’t happen, but usually out of a big pile there’s one or two I’m happy with. In my studio, I have a big stack of papers—different textures, colors, shapes. That variety really helps me. It’s freeing to grab a piece of paper and jump into working on it. And if it doesn’t work out, then I just crumple it up and throw it in the bin.”
Further exploration on Tucker Nichols:
- Tucker’s website
- Crabtree, a recently published children’s book by Tucker and his brother, Jon
- New York Times column on a recent show of Tucker’s, by Leanne Shapton
- Interview by Dave Eggers
- Anonymous Postcard project
- How We Saved the Post Office project
- Official Notice project for SFMOMA
- Three videos about Tucker: rollerblading around a studio space, “Rocks and Plants,” and “Blow-Up.”