For the past two years or so Craig Coulthard was regularly making ink drawings of t-shirts containing words and varied ornament, combining over 230 of them as a handmade book, An Intrusion of Insubstantial Messages. The book is available as a limited 1st edition of ten signed copies. Each book is hardback, entirely handmade and hand-stitched, with unique marbling and different coloured covers and inserts, and in each case is a piece of art in their own right. Craig spoke with The Fountain about how the book came to be and what constitutes an insubstantial message.

TF: You have published a book of your artworks over the years, how exciting?  

This book is a collection of ink drawings that I have been making over the last two years or so – all of them are the same size (A3 originally) and layout; a drawing of a tshirt with text, and some decoration around the t-shirt. I’ve scanned and printed over 240 of the drawings and made them into a hand-made book, in an edition of ten.

TF: What inspired you to create this book of insubstantial messages? 

They began as a way for me to turn collected sayings, or heard snippets into something physical, rather than just a note on my phone. I’d read or hear something that I liked, or wanted to follow up in some way, but that I didn’t have the time right then to investigate. So the first drawings were done during the lunchtimes of my job, on post-it notes with a sharpie – I’d take them home and scale them up to A3 with indian ink and a brush. When time was short, they allowed me to feel that I was still making art – combining note taking with actual making. Over time they became artworks in their own right, and a suitable depository for ideas and poetic snippets or online gobbledegook – they became ‘the thing’ instead of a precursor to the thing. They come from a wide range of sources, from overheard conversations, university training handouts, toilet graffiti, imaginary legalese and interview quotes, to literary catchphrases, advertising failures, academic jargon and social media disputes.

TF: And what makes an insubstantial message as opposed to a substantial one? 

The phrase ‘an intrusion of insubstantial messages’ came from a book I was reading, it might have been Bad New Days by Hal Foster. You’re big into books – I tend to fold down the corner of a page which contains something interesting, with the intention of returning to it – instead of doing that now, I make a t-shirt drawing – ‘an intrusion…’ was one of those. I guess it sums up rather nicely the barrage of word information that I see and wrestle with day to day, as most of us do – most of which is insubstantial as it has little effect on a person, or has only a one-dimensional effect. I guess in some way I am trying to take control of the messages that I am faced with, curating the intrusion as best I can.

The drawings are an attempt to turn some of the insubstantial into the substantial – what it takes to do so is difficult to describe….my partner often offers me suggestions; “that would make a good t-shirt”, and I often have to turn the suggestions down as they don’t quite work – she wants to know why, and sometimes I can explain, other times I can’t. I guess a lot of the time it’s to do with phrasing and rhythm, and other times its avoiding cliché. They have to conjure up a feeling of excitement in me, or tickle my imagination, or contain some intrigue. They have to feel like a bit of a magic spell, or an incantation, or an unreleased album title, or instructions for life. Often different t-shirts contain conflicting messages – they aren’t slogan’s that I would wear on a t-shirt personally necessarily. Treating them all in the same manner, as worthy of being on a t-shirt, allows me to equalise the messages a bit, or handle ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture in the same way. 

TF: What is your print run and distribution like with this title? 

The print run is only ten – unless there is a lot of demand in which case I might make a second edition – as they are entirely handmade, they take a lot of time to make, and that is reflected in the cost (£150 – includes delivery and an original A3 ink drawing…) and print size. I am still making new drawings and trying to catch up on all the phrases I’ve stockpiled, so there will be a ‘volume 2’ probably in a years time. Distribution is limited to coming direct from me – if anyone is interested they should visit my website, have a look at the books, then get in touch with me.

TF: And what are your future plans beyond this book, what more can we look forward to? 

So, more t-shirt drawings is what I am spending most of my time making, along with completing a series of paintings based on statistics garnered from Hansard, and turned into graphs, which I then make into paintings of rugs….it’s a complicated process….

For more on Craig Coulthard and the book click here.