Prague is full of creative people who have their own ways to represent their talents and gifts, however there’s an outstanding guy with absolutely original and non-repeatable approach to his life and art he creates through his works. Today it’s our pleasure to welcome Lubomir Kucin aka DeafMessAnger and his art of creating absolutely stunning hand-made notebooks that have a soul inside. Get yourself seated comfortably and enjoy the reading.
~ How you started? How the idea came? ~
It has been my work for the last 7 years. It started as a hobby. I started to cut stencils when I was 22 when I came back from the States, where I’ve spent 6 months. II met people that were doing political stencils and spread them around the city. It was there where I saw stencils on the walls for the first time and when I came back to Czech Republic I learned how to cut the stencils and I started to do street art then. Then when I moved to Prague I started to work as a therapist in the workshop that employed schizophrenic people. After work I would just stay in the studio and cut the stencils. And one day I made a notebook for myself – I decorated it with the stencil and thought it looked good and I made more notebooks just to learn how the stencil work on the paper. Before that I used it only on the wall. So when I made these first notebooks I started to think that it would be worth trying it in the shops – to see if people like them.
~ Was it in hospital? How was it as an experience? ~
No, it was a workshop where these people could learn how to do basic things (in this particular workshop it was a ceramic) that could help them to find at least part-time jobs in the future. I worked mostly with stabilized clients. It was a good experience, but then I realized that I could not devote myself completely, I liked it, but it was not fulfilling for me the way I think it should. But I loved to work with these people. Most of them have interesting life, interesting story, but often sad. It helped me to understand people with mental problems, to understand their fears, their needs and their joys.
~ And how was it going with the notebooks at that time? ~
There were two bookstores in Prague where I was already selling my postcards. They were different from those I make now. They were more like a collage and I didn’t use stencils for the postcards, only the stamps. When I made my first notebooks I brought them to the shop that was already selling my postcards and asked the shopkeeper if they could try to sell them. The very same day he called me and told me to bring more because one guy from Germany came to the shop and bought all of them (all four I brought in). That was really motivating. 4 notebooks – not 1000, but still I thought that if I can sell 4 maybe I can sell more. I cut more stencils and made more notebooks and found some other shops that could sell them and it really worked. That’s when I decided to quit my job. I wanted to really try if I could make my hobby as my work. I decided that I would go to big European cities like Berlin, London and offer my works in the shops there and it worked I started to create interesting network not only in Prague but abroad as well.
~ And you started to promote the notebooks by yourself? ~
Yes, I knew some shops in those cities and also my friends recommended me to go to the ones they knew were fitting my products. I was doing some researches and basically spent all days by walking into the shops holding a notebook in my hand and saying “This is what I make and I want to sell it here.” Of course it happened often that shops were not interested or they wouldn’t even want to see the notebooks. But that’s also the part of the thing and it’s not easy but I don’t think I would like it if that would be too easy and I found really cool shops that sell our products even now after many years.
~ Do you do you notebooks manually? ~
Most of our products are 100% handmade. But we also started to make smaller notebooks that are not hand-binded but are produced by the book-binding company. We get the blank notebook and then we finish it – adding old photographs, book pages, old newspapers etc. into them so they fit the concept of Deafmessanger products. For the first four years it was like this, I was doing everything starting from cutting the papers, making covering, stamping, etc. by myself and then I found out it is limiting my work, because there was too much manual work that could be made by someone else and it wouldn’t affect my work and its quality. So I went to one of the workshops that employ’s schizophrenic people and started cooperation with them. It is actually one of the workshops that belongs to the company I worked for before. Later on I asked my friend Vitakr to join me and help me with my work so I can focus more on making new designs and spraying – which is something I do till now. Every design you see sprayed on the notebook or postcard is sprayed by me.
~ How did you learn the whole process and technology? ~
In the beginning as I was learning myself I would go to the paper shop and just buy the pile of paper, take it home and experiment with binding. If you take a look at my old notebooks and the ones that are produced now you will see the difference. They were chaotic, but wait – they are still chaotic and its what makes the notebooks so specific and that’s how you recognize them and that’s what makes them different from other products on the market. Later on I stopped going to the paper shop and just asked one printing company if they could order some paper for me so I would always have the stock of paper for my work. I also started to go to the flea markets more often – to buy old photographs, old letters and postcards. And I would take home old books – the ones I found lying on the pavement next to the garbage bin or even inside. Now when some people know what we need for our work it happens sometimes that I get old books or even old photographs from them. I love how this work is. I’ve got two emails recently when somebody (who I have never met before but who knew our work) asked if we want old pictures and newspapers, because they want us to use them for our work. That’s awesome!
~ It’s probably hard to do all the things alone, who helps you with marketing issues? ~
Last 1,5 years my girlfriend takes care of communication with shops from abroad, because I really don’t have time to do that, while I am busy with new notebooks design and all the production process. I think that for each task there should be a professional person, I think my girlfriend is way better than me when it comes to distribution and communication with our partners. We have that “personal” approach to partners, it’s not only about supplies and notebook distribution, you’ve got to have a personal contact, to stay in touch. For example in some shops our notebooks were sold-out for some time and they wouldn’t realize there is something missing in the shelves. In this case it’s important to remind about yourself. It takes a lot of time to establish this relationship; it takes even more efforts to keep this connection. When I come to Berlin or New York, I like to visit shops where our notebooks are being sold; I talk to owners not only about the business but also about other more casual things. Of course you can’t do it with everyone. Now we have over 50 shops selling our products so it is impossible to be in personal contact with everyone. But it’s nice to have this relationship with a few of them. It makes that connection more personal and I would say definitely more valuable.
~ How many hours do you work? ~
I work quite a few, somewhere between 8 and 14 hours a day, every week. I really work hard, but at the same time I have certain benefits that I can relax after busy days – I take one month off every year. It’s always in the winter time and I go traveling for that one month, so that I can gain my power back and to relax after all those months of work.
~ How did you find the studio? ~
The studio we have now for over two years was recommended to me by a friend of mine. He has the studio in the same building and called me when he heard that this place is vacant. It’s a great place in the nice part of the city and I’m so happy that there are other studios in this buildings. It’s nice to have a coffee or talk with other people working here.
~ What about your nickname, how did it come up? ~
DeafMessAnger of course has a story. I’d been screaming in the hard core bands for over 5 years and I became hard of hearing. So no! I’m not deaf, but only hard of hearing. But when you don’t hear good people sometimes ask you „Are you deaf? “. So I decided that it could be part of my nick name. “Mess” – I’m quite a messy person and my products are kinda messy as well. And “Anger” is the last word. I think sometimes I’m just angry about something.
~ What makes you angry? ~
Unfortunately many things make me angry. I think I’m a really positive person but still sometimes you face something that reminds you that the world is not perfect. Right now I hate seeing all this racism in the Czech Republic. All these hate talks against immigrants, Muslims and especially Romas. It makes me angry and sad to hear things like: „They are taking the tax money, they take the benefits that we „Czechs“ can’t take, they steal it from us. And often you hear about some big money being stolen – I’m speaking about big money, millions of Euros that were stolen and not by Romas, but white people – often politicians or people that have close connections to the government. People often speak about Romas as people that they meet everyday – they have to face every day, they have to tolerate every day. I know personally a couple of people that have often their mouths full of anger against Romas and you know they don’t meet these people. They just hear the stories, they just repeat all this racist bullshit people say about them and they just blindly believe it. It’s so easy to point your finger at someone and say that your life is miserable because of these people, but the truth is that these people have nothing to do with you having hard times with your life. But it just makes them feel better that they have someone to blame and these people have always someone to blame. Some of the politicians don’t hesitate and lobby for their votes by claiming the Romas issue to be really important which it is, but they are often offering solutions that make you feel of „final solution“ of Hitler. Of course they don’t speak about gas chambers – but they dare to say that they will send Romas to their land and that the government should help Romas to move away from the country to their holy land. There is no holy land for them. They just want to get rid of them so they don’t have to deal with them. Also I can see it on Facebook often – people speaking about Islam – being openly outrageous about it, but they hardly ever met a Muslim. They probably don’t even know that the guy who is selling them gyros is Muslim. It’s that fear of unknown that makes people talk and think like this. I hate double standards. It’s ok when white person takes unemployment benefits when there is no work, but it’s not ok for the Roma to do it. Of course there are Romas that take these benefits even though they could work – but there are white people that could work but they do the same. The good example of double standard is the way we treat animals. Sometimes you watch Animal Planet channel, and the crew of specialists travels miles away from the city to rescue a duck that trapped somewhere in the fence. And they show how they really care about the animals. And people watching this on the TV feel for the animal so much – they wish it to be rescued or to be saved. At the same time millions of birds and other animals are being kept in horrible conditions not even seeing a sun light and then are killed to become a food for us. Millions of ducks being killed and we think about that one being rescued. But we can rescue so many of these animals by simply not eating them.
~ How did you come up with idea to travel to other cities where you can sell your notebooks? ~
First it was a good excuse to travel around, because I really like to travel. Than I thought how cool it would be to have our notebooks sold in some of these amazing places out of this country. Now we have over 50 shops worldwide selling our products. It makes me feel good to know that people can buy what we make in cities like NYC, Reykjavik in Iceland, Tokyo or even in Beirut in Lebanon.
~ Who are your customers in general? ~
Its hard to say. I know about teenagers having our notebook as well as people that are over 50. I don’t think I can really answer this question because I think everybody can be our customer – no matter what age they are in, what is their job, etc.
~ Your style reminds graffiti. Have even done graffiti? ~
I have sprayed stencils on the walls in the past. Now I make only posters that I sometimes paste on the walls in Prague. I wish I would do more.
~ The way you send messages through your notebooks reminds us Banksy style. ~
Oh yeah, he is a super smart guy, he doesn’t always have to put some writing in his drawings and stencils but the message is so clear. He can make people laugh, he can make people cry, he is just amazing. But I wouldn’t say my work is similar to his work. It’s just the use of stencils that makes you think it’s similar. Same technique – different meanings.
~ How did you become vegan? ~
I’ve been a vegan for 15 years. First two years I was a vegetarian, and then I became a vegan. I don’t like the idea of killing animals and how they are treated. In my opinion, now in Prague it’s really easy to be a vegan. Its easy in other big cities as well and not just big cities. Now you can find many restaurants that serve vegan and vegetarian food. 15 years ago it was absolutely different – it was hard to get anything vegan in the restaurants, but now it’s more and more easy and people don’t look at you as you are a weirdo because you don’t eat meat. It’s more and more common to meet people that chose to eat non-animal products for many different reasons.
~ How do you think, in the fast growing world where everything is switching to electronic way, will the paper products be still demanded? ~
I am very positive about it because even if I am using stupid smart phones (smiles), I am still buying books. Even if materials are pushed to electronic devices, social networks, still people need something real, not looking at the screen, but something that is material that one can feel. I recently read an article about an illustrator who creates covers for the books and his opinion was the same, that now one has to compete not only with similar artistic people, but also with electronic instruments and this makes him create more competitive and high-quality works and he said he was not afraid that people would just stop buying books. Of course there are more and more people using Kindle or read on their phones, but almost everyone tells you that it can’t replace real books. Some books you still want to have in your bookshelf, not just in your gadget. And it’s different to look at your notes you have in your phone and to look at pages in your notebook. The notebook you can keep under your pillow, in the secret box under the bed and when you open it you can really see your life as it was when you wrote it. You can glue plane ticket to your notebook and it will make you think of the destination you went to. I don’t think you have the same feelings when you see your flight itinerary on your computer.
Did you participate with other people, maybe any events?
Yeah, we did cooperation with Tibetan people that live in exile in the Northern India. I found their workshop in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. A workshop that makes their own paper and they also make notebooks. I went to that workshops for a couple of times and talked to the people running it and soon they started to make notebooks for us. It’s been over 4 years since we started to work with them and they do an awesome work which meets our work.
I am thinking about cooperation with photographers who mainly do documentary photos. Making stencils from their photos to use it for the covers of the notebook – then put some of their photographs in the notebook and by doing so we want to share the story that these pictures tell us.
~ Photography by McRitchie ~
Contact DeafMessAnger | Handmade Notebooks