Tim Sumner on relaunching his paper bag archive project as a zine series and the project’s future
For Tim Sumner, quitting wasn’t an option when the Kickstarter campaign for his book failed to meet its goal. To Have and To Hold, and his archive of paper bags, has instead taken on a new life in the form of a beautifully curated zine series. With each entry dedicated to a specific source, the zine’s inaugural issue pays homage to the paper bags collected from book shops. To find out more, we spoke to Tim about the shifting nature of the project, as well as the launch and growing impact of its Instagram account @paper_bag_archive.
PT First of all, where did the name ‘To Have & To Hold’ come from?
TS To Have & To Hold came from a student project, originally a large format book that I created. Of course, the name responds to the notion of collecting ‘To Have’ and the bags themselves are created with a purpose ‘To Hold.’
PT I know it’s probably not an easy topic to talk about, but how did you initially feel about the Kickstarter for the book not succeeding?
TS The Kickstarter experience was a baptism of fire – I had no clue of what to do or say but I took a punt and put up a large sum of 30K. Do I regret that? Never. I knew it would take that amount to create the large tome I was after, it was due to be over 500 pages and that of course comes at a cost when you're printing 1000+ books. When it didn’t succeed I was pretty deflated, I was almost convinced that if I had the project out there and publicised it, it would have reached its goal as you see happening so many times with other designers doing the same. After it ended, I started the Instagram account @paper_bag_archive (I should have maybe started this initially) and this has been a great success and shows that people love the archive and want to see more from it.
Don’t be afraid of failure.
PT Why do you think the account has been a success since you launched it?
TS I think the Instagram’s success is down to nostalgia, everybody loves a walk down memory lane and that is what the Paper Bag Archive brings in buckets. With almost every bag that is posted, usually it is paired with somebody’s own personal experience of that shop or cultural establishment, gallery, museum etc… it’s nice to know it goes beyond just the aesthetics of the bags which are beautiful in their own right.
PT What advice would you give to someone facing a similar situation with their own creative project?
TS If you’re debating about using Kickstarter to fund your own project I would say 100% go for it, don’t be afraid of failure, in the words of Del Boy – “he who dares wins!” and when the project didn’t succeed I took a step back and then approached it in a different way, and turned it into a series of zines.
PT When the idea of the zine format arrived, what criteria helped you narrow down the featured bags?
TS To be honest, most of the bags that are in the archive go into the zines, although a few don’t make it mainly due to having a rigid format of 72-pages and sticking to it – towards the end of the design process there is a little battle of pagination of what to keep and what I want to be in there and working that out but I don’t ever just put a bag in to make the numbers up.
PT The cover itself has a lovely paper-bag-inspired feature – how long did this take to develop, from a production standpoint?
TS The cover idea went through several iterations to develop, at one point it was going to just be a short cover and not wrap around the book to create the paper bag holding effect. In regards to the serrated edge, I was going to just use pinking shears or a die-cutting tool and do it myself (I’m glad I didn’t), I knew what I wanted to create but I wanted to keep costs down. In the end, I sent the idea to the printer and they came back with the most detailed serrated die-cut that we could achieve and that was that, pretty much that – the best ideas tend to be the most simple.
PT Issue One focuses on book shops, what themes do you have in mind for future issues?
TS Yes, issue one was on book shops, it felt like that was the perfect introduction to the publication and the next issue (issue two) will be on museum bags, I am now in the process of designing that, selecting stocks and getting writers involved in the project. After issue two, I have plans to create issues on department stores, supermarkets, royal monarchy, airline sick bags, bakers/butchers, heritage, and cathedrals – the archive is pretty extensive so there could be a fair few. I guess it depends on the want to see more issues beyond say issue two.
The archive is pretty extensive so there could be a fair few.
PT Where do you actually accumulate the paper bags from?
TS The bags come from my own travels, donations from friends and followers on Instagram or occasionally from eBay.
PT And what do you think makes one worthy of being in the collection?
TS Nowadays I am quite fussy, the archive is that vast now it has to stand out in one way or another whether it’s the type, colour or just something strange for example… a word search on an airline sickbag – why, nobody knows.
PT Paper bags can be incredibly fragile, how do you store them all and keep them safe?
TS They are all stored in plastic containers, I should really upgrade to something more organised perhaps – if anybody has any recommendations out there!
I see the future of the Paper Bag Archive in many different ways.
PT Similarly, do you have a process for photographing/scanning them?
TS It’s a pretty bog standard process, I just use a desktop Epson scanner but scan them in at super-high resolution. After that they are re-touched but I never try to make them look in better condition than they are. I think the ones that are all folded up and look like they have taken a battering.
PT Have any of the designs from the paper bags influenced type, layout or colour choices in your own work?
TS For sure, mainly when creating bespoke type, there is such a myriad of different styles in the archive it’s pretty much endless.
PT Where do you see the future of the Paper Bag Archive?
TS I see the future of the Paper Bag Archive in many different ways – first and foremost would be the continuation of the zines being released with issue two in October then the launch of the website (paperbagarchive.com) with a scope to stock prints of some of the well-known bags and then who knows maybe an exhibition hopefully in the works – that would be nice.