Life in a two-chamber book printing plant

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Fransee works full time as a social worker with the Oakland Unified School District and part time as a psychotherapist in a clinic in San Francisco. Gonzalez works in tech customer support, commuting from Oakland to Mountain View four days a week. And then, on their free nights and weekends, they both run Floss editions, printing and publishing their own art books as well as the production of other artists, selling their products at zinefests and fairs.

“We work eight hours a day, then we come home and do another six to eight hours,” says Gonzalez, noting that Fransee’s days are often longer than hers. “It’s like a second job. We feel compelled to do so.

Last year Floss Editions made just over $ 29,000 in sales and spent just over $ 23,000 on ink, paper, round-trip travel to fairs, filing fees, and blank shirts and bags. This net of approximately $ 6,000 will remain in their Floss bank account to fund future projects; Gonzalez estimates that it costs them between $ 1,500 and $ 3,000 to make each book, which they print in editions of around 200.

Detail of numbers 1 to 3 collected from “Wild” by Cristian Castelo, printed by Floss Editions, with a silkscreen printed cover by Sun Night Editions. (Graham Holoch / KQED)

“I was actually impressed when we looked at what Floss did in 2019,” says Fransee, “it was a lot more than I thought. “

They are able to back Floss on that profit margin because, like many artists in the Bay Area, their creative work is not their primary source of income. Fransee earns $ 62,000 a year in his OUSD job, and Aaron has what he describes as “a regular tech salary,” which means he earns six figures. They pay their rent of $ 2,700 per month out of their own personal finances, subsidizing Floss’ studio space in their two-bedroom home.

The line between home and studio is blurred. Half of their garage is reserved for printing materials and a room is reserved for Fransee’s illustration and painting. Gonzalez has his own computer workstation next to the kitchen. A stack of perfectly-bound, drying books lives in the dining room, weighted down with dumbbells. Unfolded spreads wait in piles on the table, next to plastic bottles of archival glue. The living room also serves as a snack area. Finished books line their shelves.

“When you come home, all of these things are coming out all the time. It almost feels like you never really quit work, ”says Gonzalez. But for now, that’s exactly what they want.

The dining room table, where Meg hand-ties all of their publications. (Graham Holoch / KQED)

“We never reimburse ourselves”

The couple launched Floss in 2016, when they bought their first Risograph printer on Craigslist for $ 500. The Riso, popular with artists and fanzine makers, is essentially an automated screen printing machine that looks like a photocopier. The machine quickly pushes the colored ink through a rotating drum covered with a stencil as sheets of paper pass through it. The prints exit the Riso and land in the receiving tray with a blow, up to 150 pages per minute. Floss now has two Riso: one that prints two colors at a time (this one cost them $ 2,000), the other, a back-up machine in case something goes wrong, prints one color at a time (purchased for $ 1,300).

Last year alone, Floss published 10 books (Fransee and Gonzalez say they would have done more, but they were also busy getting married) and attended nine fairs, some as far as Tokyo and Austin. They estimate that about 30% of their production is their own work – Fransee draws and paints, Gonzalez does designs in Illustrator – and the rest is the result of partnerships with other artists, many of whom have never worked in the industry. burning or creating books before.

“I think a lot of what drives us is spreading this work,” Gonzalez says of taking intangible or unique works of art and turning them into multiples.

A “to do” list of Floss editions in their dining room / binding. (Graham Holoch / KQED)

One of their 2019 publications is 2 soft, a flash collection by tattoo artist Theodore Giordano. The 13 x 11 inch Perfect Bound Book has screen-printed covers by Night diving press and pages filled with precisely printed illustrations in fluorescent orange and pink, aqua, yellow, black, mint, and sunflower (a warm yellow). These pages have gone through the Riso at least four times, but the inscription is tight.

After Gonzalez finished printing and Fransee hand-bound a publication, they shared each edition with the artist. “I don’t think we were ever intentional with the 50-50 finances, it just felt fairer to us,” Fransee says. This allows Floss to cover their material costs and usually get money out a bit early, which comes back to the bank account for future projects. Artists keep 100% of the sales of their own half of the edition.

This division and their affordable price structure – most of Floss’ publications cost between $ 10 and $ 15, while Giordano’s book is the most expensive at $ 65 – might not be possible if they relied on the company for cover more than their own expenses.

“Work is something that we obviously don’t take into account at all,” says Gonzales. “We never reimburse ourselves. »Fransee estimates that it takes 15 minutes to fold and bind each book. For an edition of 200, that’s 50 hours of work. Their day jobs limit the amount of time they can spend flossing and, therefore, the number of pounds they can create in any given year.

But Gonzalez, who never saw himself as an artist until he started working for Floss, also sees it another way. “I think that not having the constraints of having to make money with it allowed us to take more risks,” he says. “We can take risks on projects that might not succeed because we personally think they are worth putting into the world. “

Meg, Aaron and their cat Gracie in their living room / staging area. (Graham Holoch / KQED)

The realities of risk

Both agree that things would be very different if flossing were their main source of income. “Growing up with immigrant parents, they made it a priority for me to acquire skills for traditional work rather than creativity,” says Gonzalez. “You asked this question, ‘Do we think work allows us to floss? And I think financially, very concretely, yes. But I think internally I would feel a kind of guilt if I didn’t work.



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