This month I’m so excited to introduce you to Erin Klassen of the indie publishing house With/out Pretend. I had the pleasure of meeting Erin at my workshop “Queer and Trans-Inclusivity for Entreprenuers” and quickly realized that I had seen her before at the launch of “You Care Too Much” — a book that thinks about alternative forms of self-care in the face of capitalism’s emphasis on bubble baths, yoga, and pedicures (all of which are totes valid!). After the workshop Erin friendship-propositioned me and asked if I would share a story at the re-launch of Portraits, on the topic of unresolved feelings. The launch is happening tomorrow (details further down!) so I thought this would be a perfect time for you to learn more about Erin! 

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Photo credit: Angela Lewis

Floral Manifesto: On the Bossy List you describe how you started With/out Pretend as a way to publish your own projects, collaborate with other bad-ass artists and writers, and make space for important stories and diverse voices. Tell me more about what led you to create with/out pretend?

Erin Klassen: If I’m really honest, With/out Pretend started as a way for me to make work without having to confront my fear of rejection. Doesn’t it feel like the “industry” is a kind of labyrinth? I had spent a decade since graduating University trying to shed my feelings of self-doubt around what it means to be a writer, or a maker of things, and I knew I had to do something to start — take the first step towards creating something and putting it into the world. My first project was a little picture-book zine called Things I Do When I Feel Blue. I had the foresight to know it would be the first project of many, so I came up with “With/out Pretend” as an umbrella for my self-published projects. Less than a year later, I decided I wanted to publish other people’s work too, and that’s when I registered as a business and started calling myself an indie publisher. We have a long way to grow, but I’m excited for future projects, starting with another collection in November 2017!

FM: Why does it feel important for you to publish the work of “women, including those who identify as femme, queer, trans, and persons of colour”?

EK: Right now, it’s most interesting to me to publish writing and art created by women, including women from marginalized groups, because I find the themes and conversations in their work varied, interesting and important. As I’m still fairly new to the publishing world, I’m only able to work on 2 or 3 titles per year, so it’s important to me to choose projects I feel passionately about. The artists I am working with are teaching me so much about being a better artist and also about being a better human, and I’m ready and willing to learn as much as I can from them. I hope our company’s approach to collaboration and openness will be useful to these artists in return.

“I believe our truths are often fictions, and our dreams are often ways of re-imagining truths.”

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Photo credit: Angela Lewis

FM: Where did the name “with/out pretend” come from?

EK: I was inspired by a lyric from a Wye Oak song called “Civilian.” The line is “I am nothing without pretend.” I believe our truths are often fictions, and our dreams are often ways of re-imagining truths, so the slash between with and out reflects the tension between what we feel to be true today, and what we might change our minds about tomorrow.

FM: I love that your slogan is “feelings can be art.” Can you say more about why you chose that tagline?

EK: In 2016 when I started writing “Portraits” this was the first sentence I wrote down. I see it almost as a defense of what I wanted to create — art that was based on feelings that weren’t going to make people feel comfortable, or an expression of big feelings that would expose the fact that I was the least “chill” human alive, something that made me feel really vulnerable. It’s become the tagline for the work we do at With/out Pretend, and it serves as a constant reminder to me that it’s ok to be myself, feel my feelings, and take up some space through art.

“I was starting to feel like ‘self care’ was something else I was failing at, and then I thought, well isn’t figuring out what you need, to feel whole, to feel good, to feel like ‘you’ a question you keep asking yourself, for a lifetime?”

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FM: What prompted you to put together the collection “You Care Too Much”?

EK: Bath bombs, pedicures, Netflix and take-out. These are all things so many of us qualify as self care. And those things can feel good – healing, even, if only briefly. But I wondered, what is the difference between the sell of self care – those lady-centric quick fixes in listicles and hashtagged throughout our Instagram feeds – and the art, the honesty, the mess of discovering how to truly take care of ourselves in sustainable ways? Quite frankly, I was starting to feel like “self care” was something else I was failing at, and then I thought, well isn’t figuring out what you need, to feel whole, to feel good, to feel like “you” a question you keep asking yourself, for a lifetime? I wanted to pose this theory to artists and writers and thinkers I admired, and I wanted to see what came from that asking. I’m really proud that we produced something very different from a typical self help book, but I hope the collection can help others ask that same question of themselves.

FM: I’ve noticed that all three of the books you’ve published have been collaborations – whether it’s a collection of responses to the idea of self-care, the back-and-forth collaboration between author artists in Portraits, or the interplay of the author’s words and an illustrator’s interpretations, as in Things I Do When I Feel Blue. Why does collaboration play such a big role at with/out pretend? Or was this something that has kind of happened unconsciously?

EK: I’m most inspired to start projects when it’s an idea that includes other people, and I do my best work when I’m collaborating with talented women, because I’m motivated to earn/keep their trust. I’ve learned so much from the talented folks I’ve worked with, and we’ve only published three books so far!

FM: Speaking of collaborations, on August 16th you’re re-launching Portraits and you’ve asked a bunch of women to share stories of their unresolved feelings. What led you to come up with this idea?

EK: The event is meant to be a celebration of the book, and I wrote Portraits after interviewing women within my extended social circle. For the book, I started with real stories and turned them into art as a way of re-imagining (and maybe even exorcising) the unresolved feelings those stories represented.  The event will feature women storytellers sharing their own feelings in their own voices, and I hope the connection back to the spirit of the book is clear for attendees. I believe that so many of our feelings are universal, and we’re stronger when we share them with one another.

“I believe that so many of our feelings are universal, and we’re stronger when we share them with one another.”

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FM: What inspired you to re-launched Portraits?

EK: Well, I wrote a new introduction for this edition of Portraits, where I try to answer this question. Here’s how that introduction starts: “When we first released Portraits in June 2016, we did so fairly quietly, almost as if we didn’t want too many people to find out. We printed 200 copies and sold out shortly after launch. Instead of feeling excited and confident enough to print more, I felt relieved that it was over. I thought, I shouldn’t push my luck. This is a book about women’s feelings, after all, what could be more redundant or self-indulgent? The same feelings that inspired the book in the first place were also a source of deep shame, as they had been my whole life.”

So although that’s still true in some ways, and it still feels challenging to put this work out there, I am also immensely proud of this project and the spirit of collaboration and connectedness that runs throughout it. The new edition features awesome new artwork by Louise Reimer and great art direction and design from Kait Souch, so I was even able to add more collaborators to the mix! It feels nerve-racking but really great to be giving this book another day in the sun.

“I’m happy to be one of the people who can create some space, waves my hands in the air, encourages folks to take a risk, and hopefully supports them through the not always straightforward process of making.”

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FM: Have you encountered any conflicts between the work that you do and your feminist politics? Have you been able to overcome those challenges and if so, how?

EK: Confidence, opportunity and support are the three things holding back so many talented women. We need to lift each other up. There are so many old systems and old ways of thinking we have to push through and work around—as women and as makers of things. That’s why I’ll never have an exclusivity clause for the artists I work with, or ask them to give me ownership of their work. It’s hard enough out there without extra red tape or unnecessary competition. I believe there’s enough demand for thoughtful, accessible work that we shouldn’t need to feel threatened by each other.

I feel privileged to have the time and resources and ability to build this company as a personal project, because I have the luxury of focusing on these values, and I can measure success in ways aside from profit. I realize that this luxury isn’t possible for many, so I’m happy to be one of the people who can create some space, waves my hands in the air, encourages folks to take a risk, and hopefully supports them through the not always straightforward process of making.

FM: What does being a boss/bossy mean to you? How do you define being a boss?

EK: Being a boss means believing that you have something of value to offer others, and having confidence in yourself. It’s not easy, and there are going to be a lot of days filled with self-doubt, but bosses bounce back, learn from their mistakes and start again. No regrets.

FM: And because this is also a fashion blog, are there any outfits that make you feel in your bossy power? 

EK: Funny, I feel most like myself when I’m naked! Or almost naked! I recently had the amazing experience of being on the Fortnight blog and the process of having my photo taken by Angela Lewis, while wearing the most gorgeous handmade lingerie, was a TOP LIFE EXPERIENCE. I don’t always love my body, and it was a big win for my self esteem to feel beautiful and powerful just as I am.

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Photo credit: Angela Lewis

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This post was written by Margeaux

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