Stuff From an Old Notebook — feat. 26 poets, artists & musicians and 1 three year old

I am very persnickety when it comes to placing my work in books however, when Steve Zmijewski from Two Key Customs requested one my of pieces for his Anthology Stuff From an Old Notebook — feat. 26 poets, artists & musicians and 1 three year old I was compelled to provide a big resounding \’YES\’.  I am extremely proud to be a part of this collection along with some of my friends who are equally strong scribes and artists, see for yourself in the Cast of Characters below. 

I would also like to include that Two Key Customs is a small company with a MASSIVE sized heart founded by Steve & his wife Lindsey. The cortex of the indie movement is one that is utterly steeped in not only a strong sense of DIY but also 9 out of 10 times is done — as a labour of love.  There is something extremely satisfying about holding a book that has been bound with human hands.  Similar to the concept of a gardner, the paper is the earth and the contents on the page houses the constant blooming seeds that consistently take a life of its own.  I recently read that seeds have to destroy themselves in order to sprout, creating a collection of this caliber demands it as there is always back and forth on: specific page weight, will the contents be in black and white or colour, how to organise the names… deciding who to include is the easy part.  When you go to the Etsy page and see this incredible artisanal compilation, I hope you will pause and seriously consider the purchase of it. 

RMMW: What do you want readers to take away from this very diverse collection? 

SZ: I’m known to often be a little long in my explanations or when answering things like this, that are important and matter to me. So let’s keep this first one short and sweet. Let yourself be heard. And finish what you start.

RMMW: What is the inspiration behind the Notebook series?

SZ: There’s a couple key elements at the core of this undertaking. Anyone who spends time within any of the countless ‘art’ categories can surely attest to the amount of material that accumulates. I definitely can. From the rough drafts, notes, incompletes, scraps, etc. When struggling, I like to revisit some of that. There’s something to be said about a stack of packed notebooks or loaded sketchbooks and that sort of thing. I love the look of handwritten poems on lined paper, even the sloppiest. So in a way, wiping the polish off a finished product to show its bones. Giving life to things that we maybe second guess or overlook. Pulling the cover off the individual process, really.

Another major point to it, and an overall goal for Two Key Customs, is building community. When sharing a poem on Instagram, you see #communityofpoets or #poetrycommunity used widespread. That’s great, but we aspire to create something a bit more tangible and meaningful than a hashtag. I wanted (and will always want) to work with good people and showcase the different angles of their art. And from these group offerings, we hope new friendships are made and new collaborations are spawned.

I guess it’s also meaningful to mention, the title of the collection, Shit from an Old Notebook, is borrowed from the title of a song by the band, Minutemen. It’s lyrics, 7-8 total lines, are perfectly focused and are often circling in my head. The music I love is regularly a motive power behind the things I set out to make.

RMMW: What was the Artist/Poet selection process like for you? 

Each person was hand-picked. I jotted down the names of everyone I was hoping to feature and basically did 3 levels of direct messaging.
I didn’t set out to ask an even amount or a specific amount of poets vs artists. This was kind of a long-held idea I had and I really just wanted to rely heavily on the friendships and close connections made over the years. I only requested something meaningful and in my message, provided the notebook/sketchbook premise. The rest was up to their interpretation. I never set a page limit. Just waited to see what was submitted and went at it from there.

My expectations were exceeded. And this thing became bigger and far-better than I had ever planned. So thanks to everyone involved for indulging the concept and trusting me with your art.

RMMW: What is Two Key Custom\’s origin story?

My wife and I married in November of 2014. For much of the year leading up to the big day, we slowly worked on making stuff for it. Invitations and all that. Signage. Wooden table numbers. Mix CDs and their slipcovers for favors. There was a bunch more, but you get the gist. We had fun with it. And she liked being my boss, taking on the role of Art Director. 
From there, we slapped a name on our efforts and went with it. A little side thing serving mostly ourselves and close friends and family when a special occasion or unique request came up.

Fun fact: the crossed keys in the Two Key logo were used on the invitations and across the other paper goods used for our wedding. We operated in that area for the last 4 years or so, in spurts. Pretty much until March 2019, the opening stages of quarantine here in NJ. Glen Binger (BingBangCo) reached out and asked if I wanted to team-up on a Covid inspired collab. I took that awesome opportunity, of working with someone that I admire and was a fan of, to give Two Key Customs new life, shifting focus to zine making, collabs, art and poetry. But still remaining a mostly homemade, handmade production.

We put out The Covid Collab (TKC 001) in early May 2019. From that, UK writer and collage maker, Aqeel Parvez (ap.writer), asked to collab. We released Hope, Sticks and Hollow Bones (TKC 002) in July 2019.

Promptly after that, I began the groundwork for Shit from an Old Notebook (TKC 003). Happy to say that is out and available now!

RMMW:  Do you hope to produce more anthologies? 

The quick answer is, definitely, yes.

Perhaps a bit spaced, though. Notebook was quite time consuming, as you could imagine. 26 poets, artists & musicians + 1 three year old. 64 pages. I put a lot thought and energy and detail into each page. Wanted to make sure I gave proper attention and did justice to each submission. I’m incredibly proud of the finished product and would definitely like to do a Part 2, maybe toward the end of this new year. 
And if/when the time comes, I’d be thrilled if you were willing to jump in again, of course.  (RMMW: I am so there Steve — just let me know when and what you will require!)

In all honesty, I just want continue making things with others. Nothing forced, but as the impulse arises or an idea presents itself. I really enjoyed preparing our 2 collabs. And zoning in on a theme, even a broader one (as was with TKC 002), helped force me to sift through some of my own madness and optimism.
I look forward to the chance of more collaborative releases, as an individual and as the printer, in the near future.

But more immediate than those two, my hope is to work with and produce some strong chapbooks for others. I’d like to see Two Key become not just a house for me or things that include me, but something like a cabin for others to share in and use as a means to deliver a small collection of their own personal significance.

Sooo, if you’re out there reading this and have something, or want to collab, reach out!

RMMW: To date, what is your favourite item to sell on your Etsy store? 

SZ: The shop currently has a handful of my favorite mashup designs, a couple special ones, and of course, our 3 TKC releases.

The most popular item, to date, has been the Punk Rock Snoopy.
Get Well End Well and Resting Next to Them are two designs that haven’t moved much, but are truly near and dear to my heart. One of these days I’ll get around to adding a few more fun mashups in there.

RMMW: What type of personalised paper products do you create? 

SZ: It’s a crowded arena, but we lean towards invitations and event signage for special occasions. Weddings, showers, save-the-dates, thank yous and anything in between. Birthday parties, especially themed or for kids because it allows us to get a little extra creative. Seating cards. Stickers or tags for bottles and party favors. Menu cards. Welcome signs. The list goes on. We appreciate the importance of a life event and are happy to create something unique just for it.
I’ve been making concert flyers and event posters for a long time. Prior to Two Key’s existence. Those are usually the most fun to me. I think we’re open to most genuine requests and would do our best to meet the need.

RMMW: What is your favourite paper weight and ink to use? And why? 

: Hahaha! Putting me on the spot with a question like this, that I don’t really have an industry type answer for. We have to work within our means. So nothing too fancy, if I’m being completely truthful. 
I have two HP printers in the basement that I beat up. Most of the time we’re at odds. As far as ink goes, it’s what corresponds with them. If time allows, which it usually doesn’t, and I can find discounted ink online, I’ll grab it, but usually I’m taking a trip to OfficeMax or Staples.

Speaking of, I like Staples brand cover stock. I think its 67lb. I’ve been using that for a while, for drawing and various print design and as the name implies, now covers for each TKC release.  
For the collabs (TKC 001 and 002), the interior pages were printed on standard paper. Looking back now, I wish I went a weight higher, but those were a bit more urgent in content and I’m proud of the work regardless. For Notebook, I stepped up the interior pages to a really nice 32lb that I’ll probably (hope/try) to use for all main interior pages in future releases moving forward.

RMMW: Two Key Customs is where art collides with the written word, which is your favourite to create?
Over the last several years, my more imperative focus, from a personal standpoint, has been the written word. My go-to has been writing out my thoughts and emotion in some sort of poetic, lyrical form. That generally seems to be the most therapeutic for me. But that’s not to say it’s my favorite. Drawing was a first love and is still just as important. I draw and play with watercolor fairly often. And I’m usually messing around with a digital design of some sort at intervals throughout the days.

I guess my favorite is whatever I happen to be working on at that moment.
Or when the two go hand in hand and actually collide, which is essentially the current approach of Two Key, as your question states… Sorry. Just my long way to say I really don’t have an answer.

For more info on Steve & Two Key Customs you can follow on Facebook and Instagram… Also, I would like to invite you all to read my interview with Steve here!

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