about ink

Ink is a design journal focused on the people and culture of print. I collaborate with Ink's co-creator Nick Mrozowski, designers, photographers, illustrators and other creatives from around the world to produce each issue from a different city.

It all started in September in Denver at the Society for News Design's annual workshop and exhibition. There, we designed the first issue, with help from a third editor, Carrie Hoover, with participation from workshop attendees. We printed and distributed our first issue of Ink at the end of the conference. We had so much fun we decided to take the show on the road; our next stop was Detroit.

From January 6-12, 2011, we worked out of the Detroit Media Partnership offices, where we edited and designed 36 pages celebrating design people and their stories. While producing the second issue, we visited some Detroit landmarks, invited local designers, writers, copy editors, and students to a hands-on mash-up session, and finished up with a launch party in The D.

My thesis project documents the contemporary role of the designer as editor. Around the world, designers are using the tools and methodologies of their profession to actively generate content, acting as producers, publishers and entrepreneurs.

By using Ink as a living experiment, my thesis reveals the nuances of the editorial process and showcases the construction of each issue through a series of paperback books called Transparent Ink.

I used the exhibition to dive deeper into the process by highlighting workshop results, displaying on-location found artifacts and even proof pages from the second issue. Additional video components and a bench for reading invited gallery visitors to sit down and digest the magazine and publication process.

issue one

The idea was two-fold; one, to give Nick and I the opportunity to work together and collaborate with other designers, and two, to make something different and innovative at SND Denver. We had no idea, what it would turn into.

The digital version of this styrofoam block-print illustration by Sam Hundley was the centerspread poster. Sam was the first illustrator I contacted, and his excitement for the project gave Nick and I hope that we really weren't crazy!

This feature quoted mom's trying to explain what their child-designer does. It's something any creative can relate too and was designed by guest designer Jeff Neumann of The Denver Post. Richard Câmara did the illustrations.

The content was inspired, but not dictated by the location. Some features, like the artist prints designed by Tom McKay of The Denver Post, above, came directly from the conference. The comic, below, about newspapers in the future came from The Lisbon Studio in Portugal.

The news design conference served as the on-location component for the first issue. Throughout the day, conference attendees could come in and look at pages, make their own classified ad, and work on Stink. We distributed the issue by hand to conference attendees (and some other hotel guests), early Sunday morning. But, because of the demand, issues can now also be purchased online.

issue two

Detroit was a mini-homecoming. Nick and I are both Michigan natives, so we were incredibly lucky to have the support of friends and family through the process of making the second issue. Detroit is also bursting at the seams with creative, inventive people. And we were fortunate to have a very gracious host and sponsor in the Detroit Media Partnership.

We deepened the content in the second issue by telling design stories about design people that our Detroit audience could relate to.

Collaborators Eric Mortensen and Jessica Jordan helped us explain how to make ink. We also featured the story of Ebonex, a Detroit company, that has made the pigment for bone black etching ink since the 1873.

Gina Reichert, above right, took us through the Power House, Juxtapoz houses and tells us about plans to build a skate park in her Detroit neighborhood. It was an incredible experience to see how she and husband Mitch Cope use a mix of art and sustainability to help improve their community. See more of their amazing work at powerhouseproject.com.

A hole cut in the first floor of the Swoon house, above left, looks down into the basement. Gina explained this was the perfect set-up for music performances because the audience could watch from above. Juxtapoz magazine helped Power House Productions-the organization Gina and Mitch run-bring in Swoon, RETNA, Monica Canilao, Richard Colman, Saelee Oh, and Ben Wolf to create artist houses in their neighborhood.

At the workshop we asked creatives to write or illustrate a fictional story from a 50-year-old newspaper headlines about the Detroit-inspired object they had brought. Of course the tools we provided were ink pens coupled with sumi ink.

Workshoppers also promoted themselves, their businesses and their own, wacky, personal agendas through hand-made classified ads. We provided triangles cut from 50-year-old paper found in the now empty Free Press building and then arranged them to create the silhouette of Michigan.

View the entire issue and behind the scenes photos on flickr.
Issue two | The Free Press building | Moran Street | Printing Ink


The aha moment happened when my big toe froze, while I was walking through the now empty Detroit Free Press Building in downtown Detroit.

In 1998, the Free Press moved into The Detroit News building, after entering a joint-operating agreement with The Detroit News to cut costs. The Free Press building has been vacant for 13 years, yet wandering through the Detroit relic gave me a sense of what it must feel like to walk through the Titanic. The most interesting floor had offices that looked like abandoned sets from Mad Men. Wood paneling, orange carpet, and textured curtains were frozen in time. It was close to 15 degrees outside, and the unoccupied building was not heated. There were holes in the wall where people had found or tried to find copper piping to steal. Even with self-heaters in my boots-the kind you use for skiing and snowboarding-the warmth eventually wore off.

In the Mad Men office, there were newspapers from The Detroit Times dated 1950, a file filled with documents and letters-some of them labeled confidential-and a stack of index cards, below, with headlines printed on them from the same time period. The headline cards were hilarious: "Study says all men fear all women." Faded over the decades, the cards were historical artifacts. And that was the moment my co-editor Nick Mrozowski and I knew we needed to use the cards in the creative workshop we were hosting.

The workshop is one part of design magazine, Ink's unique production methodology. Nick and I produce each issue if Ink during a multiple-day, on-site exercise in a select city, involving members of the local design and creative community. This R&D process meant we had a limited number of 14-hour days to produce a 32-page design publication. The planning of the workshop took time away from the actual design and execution of the printed magazine, so it was the main cause of stress during production week of the second issue in Detroit.

Dan Austin, a walking encyclopedia of Detroit's architectural history, served as our guide through the marble-stripped building. Dan works at the Free Press and wrote Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City's Majestic Ruins. He organized the on-site excursion-with approval from the current owner-that proved to be one of our most important moments in Detroit.

We had sent out a vague description of what the potential creative workshop would be a week prior and posted the description on AIGA Detroit and other social-media networks. The post instructed attendees to bring an object that reminded them of Detroit, and we figured the details would work themselves out later. Whatever we said must have worked because 40 people signed up.

Skill levels varied severely among, copy-editors, artists and journalism students, so Nick and I panicked. We didn't want anyone to feel isolated or uncomfortable. So we panicked and kept panicking until we discovered the headline cards in the historic Free Press building.

Those artifacts of newspaper past saved Ink's workshop. The life-juice of Ink relies on the engagement and energy found in those defining on-location moments. Because without those headline cards, there would be no workshop, and without the workshop, there would be no Rachel Keast, and without Rachel, there would be no cover art.

We asked our workshop attendees to create the missing story from the headline cards. We also asked them to include their Detroit-inspired object by either writing or illustrating it in black sumi ink. Results varied. One attendee submitted an illustration of a gun shooting out a railroad nail instead of a bullet. Another attendee wrote a story about a boy whose tongue became stuck to a metal wrench due to frigid Michigan weather.

Rachel-one of the workshop participants-was shy at first, but the object she brought to the workshop was a beautifully stylized print made from a metal intaglio plate. Nick and I didn't exactly know what that meant, but we thought her print exhibited a rugged panache. We asked to look through her portfolio over lunch the next day.

The snow forced my station wagon to move about 20 mph through Corktown, Rachel's neighborhood in Detroit. And as we inched our way to Mexican Village, another city neighborhood, for lunch, she told us about her decision to move into the city from the suburbs. This is not the norm for typical young professionals in Michigan, but Rachel is part of a growing community of artists who are starting to invest in Detroit. The majority of the homes in her historic neighborhood are not vacant or even for sale. The community she lives in might not be growing larger, but it is growing tighter and the people are more devoted to the area.

As one of only three parties at the restaurant, we took the opportunity to spread Rachel's, below, work over our long picnic-like table, making sure to avoid any potential bean and rice catastrophes. Rachel brought with her more examples of her prints made from intaglio plates. Because we had expressed an interest in the process the day before she brought the acid-etched plate with her.

The plate, top right, felt good and sturdy in my hands. There was an unexplainable honesty to the inanimate object that mirrored so many of our experiences in Detroit. It was real, tactile and almost industrial. The smoke stack etched into the plate was somewhat cliché of Detroit, but perfect at the same time. It was something Rachel put ink onto to produce an artistic statement, and in the end, it felt right going on the cover of Ink. Nick and I tried a few of her other pieces, but scanning the original silver-colored plate produced a beautiful, turquoise-toned digital image. The unique texture was perfect for the newsprint that would run through the presses two days later.

The deadline. It came. It went. And then Nick and I started to work on the cover an hour and a half later. We can't lie and say we had everything under control. We can't avoid the truth, because it's all on video.

"Can I drive now," Nick asked, frustrated that he didn't have direct control over the mouse. I said no, adding a smile to diminish any hostilities.

"You don't get to make all of the decisions just because you are sitting there," he pushed back, not ready to give up.

I explained that we were doing it together, since I had typed in all of his suggestions, except for the last one, which I had insisted on deleting.

"But you're winning over there," he said just loud enough for me to hear.

Collaboration is what makes Ink possible. The workshop and on-location elements breathe life and purpose into the project, but the practice of collaboration is essential to the execution of the final publication. The paper is built on-location in a week, but the legwork begins off-site about two to three months prior. We have to plan with our host and sell advertising. There is also distribution to deal with, building a budget, and contacting contributors. One of us cannot do it all.

While we need collaboration skills to produce each issue, they do not appear automatically. During the nine years Nick and I have known each other as friends and colleagues, we learned how to work with each other, and to push each other's buttons. A mutual understanding of our individual design styles, work habits and dynamics makes it possible to create Ink in a week.

For the Detroit issue, we met in East Lansing, Mich., for two days at the end of December, before production week, so we could have an intensive work session. Nick and I quickly can delegate responsibilities in person and together we hold each other accountable to focus on the task at hand. In general, for us, workflow runs smoother sans e-mail. We worked out of coffee shops, bagel joints, and anywhere that had free Wi-Fi, since some of our contributors were based off-location.

Andrea Levy, one of those contributors, is a celebrated newspaper illustrator and designer for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Plain Dealer is located about three hours outside of Detroit and is repeatedly recognized by The Society for News Design (our distribution partner) for its excellence in visual journalism, so were thrilled when Andrea agreed to use her distinctive style to illustrate our center spread poster, above, and share her process. She sent us her final illustration while Nick and I were working in East Lansing, which made the approval process immediate instead of waiting for e-mails to be passed back and forth. Working at the same location might seem like a small thing, but because the project requires tight deadlines, we needed to cut lag-time whenever possible.

It took us about an hour to design the cover. This put us two and a half hours past deadline by the time it was finally sent to the plant with the rest of the pages. Because we also are the editors, designing the cover included writing all of the teasers, making a final decision about the placement and language of our tagline-Design people. Design stories.-and a lengthy discussion about whether to write the cost of the magazine as "$10" or "10 bucks." I argued bucks referenced deer since, we were printing in Michigan, and Nick insisted it was humorous for the audience. I guess he was right. I won.


I divided my thesis show into two parts, the process wall and the celebration area. The process wall contained artifacts, conversations and documentation books from the first and second issue. The celebration area included an Ink-branded newspaper box that distributed the second issue, and a bench to read it on.

This video showing the second issue coming off the press sat below typographic posters based on the fonts used in Ink. These sat on wallpaper I made from the first issue.

The small type

Ink is an independent design journal, produced at least two times per year by Nick Mrozowski and Krissi Xenakis. Our collaborators generously donate their time and work on a volunteer basis to create the stories and images included in each issue. Each issue is produced during a multiple day on-site exercise in a different city, involving members of the local design and creative community. We pursue strategic partnerships, donations and sell advertising in order to cover the costs of printing and distributing each issue, as well as the costs associated with production (travel, marketing and promotion, postage, and other expenses). Copies of the Winter issue were distributed in our host city of Detroit at the launch party on January 13th, and throughout North America to The Society for News Design members and Stack Magazine subscribers. We are pursuing other avenues of distributing internationally. The Detroit News, Free Press and Detroit Media Partnership generously donated facilities, support and printing for the Winter issue. Please visit inkthestudio.com for more information.