Ink, Paper & Magic—An interview with Pinball Publishing founders Laura and Austin Whipple

Written by Chloe Miller

Housed in the cheerful yellow building on the corner of SE 10th and Grant is Pinball Publishing, a design, print and manufacturing facility, and home to Scout Books. Scout Books are customizable, pocket-sized notebooks that have taken on an array of forms – you’ve probably seen the 33 Books series at your favorite wine bar or bottle shop, or picked up a pack of blanks for your own doodles and grocery lists. Pinball also has an editorial design branch called Good Ink, and is home to Outpost, which produces custom screen printed wooden signage.

We’re excited to be taking a field trip to visit the Pinball team on Thursday, June 19. We’ll tour their facility, learn about what they produce and see our custom WeMake Scout Books being bound. Our summer workshop will start at the Commons Brewery for a quick tour and beverage, and then continue around the corner to Pinball. Participants will contribute a drawing which will be part of a collaborative cover on the books we take home!

Date: Thursday, June 19

Time: 6 to 9 p.m.

Registration begins at 5:30 at the Commons, located at 1810 SE 10th

Place: 1003 SE Grant Street

Cost: $20, includes custom Scout Book

Registration is open now, and space for this workshop is very limited.

How did Pinball get started?

Pinball Publishing grew out of our desire to be involved in our own design projects from conception to final printed manifestation. We were editing and designing a Literary Journal called “eye-rhyme” in the early 00s and wanted to print it ourselves. This desire to make our projects happen led to the investment in letterpress equipment, which then led to the commitment to leasing a commercial storefront on SE Clinton Street where Pinball was born. We’ve recognized this pattern of combining excitement and tangible commitments in our evolution as company. We call it the Project Practice. Pinball is really a series of ongoing projects, all rooted in the pairing of design and manufacturing.

What are your educational/creative backgrounds? When did you get involved in print?

Austin has a BA in Graphic Design from PSU, and I have a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Willamette University. I took graphic arts classes and journalism in junior high, and that was the extent of my “formal print training” until I took a letterpress class after college. Austin took on many print projects during high school and college, and taught himself screen printing, letterpress printing, and eventually offset printing, while studying graphic design. We got involved in print together when we bought our first two letterpresses and paper cutter, and started making projects.

Where did the idea for Scout Books come from?

Scout Books are pocket sized books and notebooks made with 100% recycled papers, vegetable based inks by the talented Scout Books team. We have a retail line and also offer customization through our “make your own” ordering process.

The original idea for Scout Books came during a research and development session in the winter of 2009. We were prototyping and testing print items that could work well with our equipment and take advantage of our favorite papers. We had been avid fans of chipboard since day one of Pinball Publishing. We knew that notebooks were experiencing a renewed popularity with the rise of Moleskine and other brands. We thought the world might like an option that was easy to customize and 100% recycled. As a business model, we knew from first hand experience that offering infinite variety with print formats, ink and paper options could lead to manufacturing headaches. So we wanted to have a fixed format to offer that was tested, flexible in application and efficient. We wanted guidelines.

Photo credit: Hannah Snow

We started sharing the initial samples (designed by our staff) with our friends and clients, and the business of Scout Books began by word of mouth. We added a dedicated website in 2010, and growth has been gradual over the past five years. At this point the business of Scout Books has overtaken our shop, and we now focus 90% of our time on Scout Books, and the other 10% on our custom sign business, Outpost and a few custom projects. Finding our focus was the best thing we could have done as a print based business.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a photographer for the National Geographic, and also a travel agent. Austin wanted to be a veterinarian. In some ways, we do get to those activities in our adult lives, which is funny and great. I typically book all the travel for the Scout Books team, have recently taken a bigger role in the photography needs for the business, and we have nine animals at home (3 chickens, 3 cats, 2 goats, and a new dog).

Why is Portland a good fit for your business?

Portland has a wonderful quality of life, and offers us infinite inspiration from the creative community. We have many talented friends and clients rooted here, and their successes have fueled our success and vice-versa. We’ve been assisted with grants, training opportunities, and loans over the years by many of the institutions in Portland, such as RACC, Literary Arts, Mercy Corps Northwest, The PDC, SBDC, and local banks like Albina. All of these resources have contributed to our ability to grow and thrive.

How do Scout Books facilitate making?

In my opinion, the best part about Scout Books is that people can “make their own” either through designing the artwork and content and having Scout Book manufacture the project for them, or by using our DIY line and customizing it with stamps, screen printing, letterpress or other methods.

Here are links to Case Studies showing all the amazing ways our clients use the Scout Book format.

Scout Books are fundamentally tools for encouraging and capturing creativity and ideas. It’s important to draw, write, sketch, and doodle with a pen or pencil on actual paper. Scout Books are the perfect companion to the creative process.

People say “print is dead”, what are your thoughts on this?

We don’t think that print is dead, but it’s certainly an industry in transition. We feel fortunate to have grown each year, and work hard to find new ways to make print relevant in a changing world. I think printing companies that are successful in today’s marketplace have been creative and nimble, and found ways to use the internet to their advantage.

Our goal with Scout Books was to augment the digital world with physical objects of lasting quality and usefulness. We created a simple ordering process that gives easy access into our Portland, OR based manufacturing. We print, bind and ship Scout Books using all American-made, 100% recycled papers and soy-based inks to our friends and clients worldwide.

The tangibility and beauty of print ensures its continued relevance, but its role and importance has shifted dramatically.

What do you make in your “free” time?

Right now, Austin’s building a wood working studio in our back yard, he’s also making dandelion wine, rose petal wine, and wild start bread. I’m growing a garden, making preserves, pickling, and taking photographs. We have two daughters, ages 5 and 8, and with them, we love to make messes.

Thanks for your time, Laura and Austin! Looking forward to visiting you later this month. Join us for an evening of paper, ink and magic!

Date: Thursday, June 19

Time: 6 to 9 p.m.

Registration begins at 5:30 at the Commons, located at 1810 SE 10th

Place: 1003 SE Grant Street

Cost: $20, includes custom Scout Book

Registration is now open.