Fruit Sticker Album: 20 Years of Collecting
An interview with Carl Middleton
What is the story behind the fruit sticker albums/when did you start producing them?
For about two years I rented desk space in an architect’s office (it was part of the Pullens Yard network, near Elephant and Castle in London). This was way back in 2002. Each year the offices would open their doors and allow the public in as part of an Open Studio event. I had made artist books and fanzines previously so decided to make something new for the event. I had always been fascinated by fruit stickers and had seen various situations where people had casually collected them. One inspiration came whilst visiting a printer in south London – I noticed a fridge door completely covered in fruit stickers. I thought these little stickers deserved a better place to reside – and so the idea for the Fruit Sticker Album was born.
I made the first fifty albums by hand, printing, folding, binding, trimming and individually numbering the albums. These sold out on the first day and I had to work through the night to produce the next day’s stock! They were so popular I have been making them ever since – next year will be my twenty year Fruit Sticker Album anniversary!
Why do you think people enjoy collecting fruit stickers?
A lot of parents purchase the albums hoping to encourage their children to eat more fruit – for siblings it helps as a vehicle for competitive, healthy eating. But some people (like me) are simply fascinated with the range of designs and details across these little, self-adhesive works of art. Adults buy them too – I think collecting (anything from keyrings to Toby jugs) is a normal human desire, we all secretly collect something, so why not Fruit Stickers?
I have been asked lots of questions about “how they work?” and “what the rules are?” – it’s quite simple really; buy a Fruit Sticker Album, buy fruit, eat fruit, put the sticker in the album, repeat – once the album is full, buy a new one! – Stick the stickers in any order, anywhere at any time of day (but not whilst driving or using heavy/industrial machinery).
How did you come up with the internal design for the album?
I needed to design each page to provide a simple framework to store the stickers (similar to a stamp collecting album). After a little research I found that the rectangular shape was ideal to accommodate a broad range of sticker shapes. There are some stickers which are massive and don’t fit, but most people put these in the inside cover or facing pages (after all, there are no rules, you can stick them anywhere!).
There are fifteen spaces per page and twenty pages in total in the an album – this provides 300 spaces (equivalent to about two months healthy eating, give or take…)
Can you give us an insight into how the albums are printed and bound?
The first albums were made from small sheets of paper (A4), printed, folded, bound with a hand stapler and finally trimmed to size. As orders increased I elected to work with a small printing company to help me in the production. I still only produce editions of 500 per colour of cover. I haven’t changed the design since the start of the project (there was only one cover colour available at the beginning) but wanted to research the most environmentally friendly papers and inks as part of the production. Now there are four different cover colour options: plum / apple (green) / lemon / orange. I only use plant based inks - it’s only printed in black, but it’s still good that you don’t need to clean the printing press with solvents at the end of each print run. The paper is all 100% recycled so has the smallest carbon footprint possible.
Once printed I hand number each edition, it takes quite a while but I think helps to reinforce the fact this is an ‘artist book’ after all.
Can you explain what the small numbers on the left hand page inside the album mean?
This is a secret, mystical formula, it took ages to research, develop and compose – I have been sworn to secrecy not to share its origin or meaning (sorry but it is too powerful and could be deadly if it got into the wrong hands).
How many Fruit sticker albums have you filled with stickers since you started producing them?
I have Fruit Sticker Albums absolutely everywhere! I often pop them between two books on a shelf and forget exactly where I have left them. I start one, then loose it and then start another. If I searched and found them all, I expect I must have at least ten completely full and twenty part filled. Maybe it is time to gather up my Fruit Sticker Album in a dedicated library?
Which fruit sticker do you think has the most interesting graphic design?
My most favourite design is a Mona Lisa fruit sticker (from a Mandarin) – I love the fact that it is the most recognisable piece of art, but it has been re-scaled and reshaped into a tiny oval with a flamboyant, decorative border. It also doesn’t have any text or numbers across the sticker to detract from the composition. I also love Fruit Stickers produced in only two colours (especially when printed slightly out of register [not lined up correctly]) it’s amazing what can be achieved with so little at such a tiny scale.
If you could design a fruit sticker for any type of fruit, which fruit would you choose?
This is quite a difficult (and could be controversial) question to answer – there are a lot of foods that are ‘fruits’ but often referred as vegetables: zucchini / cucumber / peas (surely too small for a sticker) / corn / olives / okra / eggplant / pumpkin / peppers etc. I think I would like to work with the tomato – the huge beef steak ones definitely deserve a sticker.