Seán O’Sullivan owns Badly Made Books, a stationery, design and printing shop/workshop at 1, Friar Street, Cork.
The shop opened on April 19 this year. The business itself has been going for about two and a half years. It was more of a workshop than a shop originally. I started the business in my bedroom in Dublin, then I moved to Little Island in Cork, where my uncle gave me a back room in a warehouse.
After two years, we were able to move here, into the city. I wanted some road frontage and windows.
I was born in Dublin, moved back to Glanmire in Cork when I was ten, then went back to Dublin to study industrial design at the National College of Art and Design. After that, I headed off to Germany for a few years, I lived in Berlin for a while.
On my return, I decided I wanted to work again in design but I wasn’t sure what form that would take. I had been drawing in my spare time when I was working in bars in Berlin so I set out to become an illustrator and wrote a book called Other Seas.
I realised I didn’t know anything about the production of books or how to distribute a book. I started to find out how books were made... I did that through making a lot of mistakes. The books I was making, in their blank form, as notebooks, were quite popular and helped to keep the dream of publishing art books alive. Now the two are starting to work more in tandem.
I cross over a few different disciplines — publishing, printing, stationery, design but I am are very much open to interesting ideas — if it is paper-based, it is possible.
I never thought I would be a stationery seller but it has been a fun process. I enjoy the making of it, and how it works. I love the fact that every page of the books I make opens out flat because in what is called ‘perfect’ binding, the pages can often get buckled towards the centre — you know when you have to break the spine to get into it.
I only realised that after I started printing, that my ‘badly made’ books, which I never said were perfect, actually do open better.
It’s an interesting one. People do have a fetish for notebooks — they come in here and just say ‘I love notebooks’. I don’t need to say anything else after that. All my life, and especially in art college, where it was reinforced, I kept a notebook. Nothing can replace the tactile quality of drawing.
You can express yourself, clear things out of your head. There is something I can express in drawing that I can’t with words, which means I always carry a notebook, or a couple of them.
For a young business, looking into the future, it should be sustainable. I chose to make books out of recycled paper and to go down paths that result in as little carbon footprint as possible. I’m not sure if it’s out of respect for the environment as much as my respect for industry, and wanting to keep that alive.
I find the name funny, it’s easy to remember and kind of provocative. It starts a debate. A lady told me over the weekend that she understood why I was describing the books as rubbish because they were made of recycled material but that she hated driving past my shop and seeing the sign. Then the next person said they loved it.
There is a lot of fun with it. It also ties me into having to do as good a job as possible. If you make a badly made book and it is actually badly made… There is also a certain amount of leeway that things aren’t perfect — it doesn’t need to be wrapped in plastic and all that.
We need to prioritise the minimisation of waste or tolerate a spelling mistake so we don’t use more materials. It’s about using everything. I call my books A5 but they are slightly smaller than that standard size because I can make them with a minimal amount of trim, rather than making them from a bigger sheet of paper.
Definitely. As the whole enterprise progresses, I feel I’m getting closer to what I originally envisioned it to be, and that was to be a publisher of interesting books. That has only started to happen through the blank notebooks that people have to make interesting themselves. I love the design process.
I’ve found recently, that as I’ve become more comfortable with the printing, I’ve started doing things like story boarders, planners, different sizes as well. I’m really enjoying seeing where this kind of format can go.