So Proud of Plumb Introduction by Publisher Jen Bilik

The Plumb team reviewing first manufacturing samples in the observation tower of the De Young Museum, during a field trip to see the David Hockney exhibit.

When I founded Knock Knock in 2002, I considered myself an artist, not a businessperson, and I thought we would be able to create any type of product we wanted. In the eleven-some years since, I’ve learned how hard it is to bring diverse offerings to the marketplace, because the very brand that you’ve created and love starts to have a life and identity of its own, and there’s only so far you can push it. There are also manufacturing, sales, and distribution challenges, but I won’t bore you.

At Knock Knock, most of us are enthusiasts and aficionados. We are interested in so many different things beyond bold colors and multiple choice and wit. We like art and music and serious thought and a well-designed chair and pretty pretty flowers, but we can’t incorporate some of those things into our Knock Knock creativity because the brand boundaries already exist. We’ve learned that to climb into new realms, we sometimes need to go in an entirely different direction, starting anew with a fresh concept. We had also wanted to create a line of blank books for a long time, but we didn’t have an idea that moved us. You can’t out-Moleskine Moleskine, so, apart from a few small attempts, we bided our time. And then the Plumb concept came along.

I was introduced to the work of Tucker Nichols through a mutual friend, someone who had been working on developing notebooks with Tucker for another project. The Knock Knock management team fell in love with the notebooks. They were sumptuously beautiful, contemporary, thoughtful, and exactly what we hadn’t realized we needed. When that other project fell through, our friend was kind enough to make the introduction. My first conversation with Tucker was (I’m not exaggerating) thrilling—he wasn’t interested in doing just his own notebooks, presented to the world as standalones, but instead sought to explore what other artists might do when presented with the opportunity to envision notebooks, sketchbooks, and journals from scratch, from form to function to aesthetic. I was excited by Tucker’s intelligence and his ability to bridge different worlds of thought and practice. The concept resonated immediately.

We’ve spent the last eighteen months creating Plumb. First the nuts and bolts and agreements and such. Then coming up with the name, the brand, the look, the feel. Deciding on and inviting our chosen artists to participate. The Plumb team was five: me; Tucker; Craig Hetzer, Knock Knock’s publisher; and Brett MacFadden and Scott Thorpe of the aptly named design firm MacFadden & Thorpe. Our first artists were three: Tucker; Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara of Sumi Ink Club; and Katherine Bradford. Despite some inevitable stresses and stumbles, we’ve worked together extraordinarily well, with a success that I know is not guaranteed among cross-disciplinary collaborators who each have strong perspectives. We made something twenty million times better together than we could have apart.

The first time I met Katherine Bradford in person, at an opening for a group show of which she was part. It happened to be Tucker’s NYC gallery, ZieherSmith. We sent along this video hello to Tucker.

When it came time to work with the artists, Tucker and Brett and Scott took over and collaborated with them directly, sharing concepts along the way with Craig and me. At these meetings we’d invariably fall in love with what we were seeing, then start discussing and questioning every detail. It’s a cliché, and from a Jew no less, but these product development meetings were like Christmas, and Craig and I always chirped like excited kids as Tucker, Scott, and Brett led us through the latest phase of product development.

There have been so many distinct stages in this process, but now it’s here. This thing that was once called “Artist Journal Project” (AJP for short, of course). This thing that once consisted only of contracts and theoretical discussions. This thing that lived first as flat computer sketches. This thing that bridges three very different artists and working styles. This thing that is now stuff you can hold in your hands and use.

What we’ve managed to create is one of the projects that I’m personally most proud of in my career. Believe it or not, we already have the next Plumb release, Fall 2014, in the can, and that season is every bit as amazing as this inaugural one, so I have my fingers, toes, and eyes crossed that people out there will love Plumb as much as we do.

—Jen Bilik