Lee and Roosa, BUM
This week we visit Helsinki to hear from architect Lee Marable and Finnish ceramicist Roosa Melentjeff, the people behind beautifully illustrated arts and culture magazine BUM.
Produced using a risograph duplicator, BUM gives voice to young designers and critics. Its intricate print and production techniques are immediately appealing, but the writing and ideas in each themed issue are vital too.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
Lee: This morning I’m in my apartment in Helsinki. I’ve made some coffee, had breakfast and just finished today’s Wordle (yes, really). I work from home and have become totally addicted to podcasts over the last few years. I’m trying to slowly ween myself off them and back on to music, and maybe, eventually, silence, which is much better for actually thinking…
I’ll start my work day soon by packaging up any BUM orders that have come in over the weekend and take them to the post office. At the moment the ground is covered in a thick layer of ice, so the 10 minute walk to the post office usually becomes 15-20 with a few almost-falls.
Roosa: I struggle getting up early, so I do anything to get that extra five minutes in bed. But eventually when I have to get up, which does get a little bit easier once the winter passes, it’s straight to making coffee and heating up some oat milk with it.
Describe your desk and your work space.
Lee: My desk is a 70mm x 2600mm piece of OSB balanced on a couple of white cupboards and a metal trestle leg. I used to use the OSB board as a table for outdoor markets, but it’s found a second life these last few years as big and hardy desk top. Aside from the occasional splinter, it does a good job.
On the desk I have a monitor, my Macbook, a mouse and keyboard, assorted hard drives, lots of different kinds of tape, rulers, pencils, paintbrushes, glues, a stapler, felt pens and some drum sticks. Oh, and two pot plants. When the time comes to compile a new issue of BUM, we clear this desk off and line up all the loose pages in stacks along its length, making it a key part of our very lo-fi production line.
There is also a round table with a turquoise top. We use this for all kinds of things, but it makes a particularly wonderful background for photographs.
Roosa: My work desk is a long square wooden one with downwards tapering legs. I scavenged it from Aalto Business School when that part of the university was relocating. I actually got a lot of furniture from there; my 140cm diameter solid wood dinner table is also from there, and finally after a few years of consideration, I painted it blue.
Which magazine do you first remember?
Lee: Does The Beano count as a magazine? If not, I remember getting a magazine which was called Bugs, as a kid in the 90s. Each issue came with some 3D glasses and had a three-dimensional insect depicted across the centre fold. I vaguely remember that issues also came with some glow-in-the-dark-plastic insect parts which you could collect and assemble week by week. Kid’s magazine covers in the 90s generally had a lot of plastic stuck to them.
Roosa: My older brother is eight years older than me, so when I was somewhere around seven to nine years old, I’d sometimes sneak into his room to look at his CD’s and comic books. I think he had Lucky Luke, Asterix… but they’re not really magazines.
I think my Mom wanted me and my younger sister to get into horses like she had been as a kid and ordered us this magazine about horses (in Finnish it was called ‘Horse-mad’, Hevoshullu). I wasn’t too fussed about the content, but I guess I did learn to draw horses pretty well from the images.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
We are big fans of Wobby, which is a fantastic risograph-printed magazine from the Netherlands, published by Marjolein Schalk in Tilburg. We are very inspired by magazines which have an independent or DIY spirit, there is a great zine in Helsinki called Salarakas which we love.
Describe BUM in three words.
We have joked that BUM stands for ‘Basically Unknown Magazine’ or ‘Biannual Utopian Manifesto (Published Quarterly)’. So maybe those are good three-word summaries.
For the English reader, the name of your magazine is deceptive; what does the name mean to you?
In reality, BUM is simply a working title that stuck, but we occasionally have fun trying to make acronyms from it (see a couple above). We’d love to hear some good suggestions, perhaps one of them will stick. We like that people have their own reactions to it. One of our early contributors said they liked the name of the magazine because they were between jobs at the time and felt like a ‘bum’ (in the colloquial American sense), we hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s fine by us.
You print BUM using a risograph duplicator, which is notorious for giving a rough and ready finish, yet you achieve really good standards of registration and colour. How?
The short answer would be that we achieve good standards of registration and colour by working with risograph print-houses run by really talented and conscientious people. The first four editions of BUM were printed by Anna and Johanna at Jemini Press in Stockholm and the most recent two editions were printed by Claire Guyot at Riso On The Moon in Toulouse.
Without going into too much detail about the workings of risograph duplicators, they basically print soy-based inks one at a time using masters wrapped around print drums. Most risograph duplicators have one drum, so printing multiple colours involves feeding the paper into the machine as many times as there are different inks.
This is labour intensive and also makes it difficult to get extremely accurate registration. Riso On The Moon have a risograph duplicator with two drums, so the machine is capable of printing two colours with a single paper feed. This increases efficiency and accuracy a lot.
We’ve found that colour consistency depends largely on how the artworks are prepared prior to printing, so we work really hard with the contributors and in pre-press to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible, using the experience we’ve gained to tweak the ink percentages and try to anticipate any problems.
We also compile and cut the magazines by hand, which is rather laborious, but essential to getting a good result. The magazine contains large gatefold spreads and smaller ‘nub’ pages which can’t really be achieved any other way than carefully by hand.
Because of the large amount of hand-work involved, we only produce the magazine in a limited run of 150 copies per edition—perhaps one day we will move to a more efficient printing method and increase volume, but at the moment we are still total riso-freaks, so don’t expect us to change any time soon!
How do you discover your writers?
We find our contributors via a thematic open call, which we publicise through our website, social media and by word of mouth. We try to pick themes which are related to moral or ethical concepts, but in a very loose manner to allow a lot of scope for contributor interpretation. We usually go for a long walk when it is time to pick a new theme and discuss different ideas as we move. We probably end up with two or three good options (and several bad ones) after that and then narrow them further by making mind maps of as many different interpretations and connections as possible.
We always publish these mind maps on our website along with the open calls as a starting point, but we really love it when proposals offer an angle that we haven’t even considered. It’s always really exciting for us to read a new set of proposals and start thinking about how certain pieces might develop and fit together to form the final magazine.
Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication.
It’s potentially bad advice, but if you want to do it, just do it.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
On Thursday we will go to the (re)opening party of The Temporary Bookshelf, a not-for-profit, peer to peer bookshop based in Helsinki. The project is run by Hikari Nishida (who we met through her contribution to BUM Edition 1) and is moving to a new home in Helsinki’s Cable Factory, a large former industrial building which is now a cultural hub.