If you’ve ever thought about getting a tattoo inspired by your favorite book, but you weren’t sure if you wanted to make a lifetime commitment, look no further than Litographs. Its line of temporary tattoos features designs inspired by 30-plus works of literature, including Beowulf, Moby Dick, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
As a promotion for the tattoos, the company is sponsoring an attempt to create the world’s longest tattoo chain, composed of quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. With the launch of a Kickstarter project on July 22, 2014, Litographs began signing people up to join the chain, and it’s drawn so much interest that there’s now a waiting list.
Participants pay $5 to receive two tattoos of a quote from one of the books. They decide where on their body to affix the tattoo (arms are popular) and take a picture of it. Then they send the picture to the Litographs team, which posts it on the website in the correct order for the book. So far, the company has distributed more than 5,000 tattoos, with roughly one sentence from one of the books on each. Ideally, when the project is over, you’ll be able to read both books in their entirety just from looking at a parade of arms, hands, legs, and foreheads.
This kind of outside-the-box thinking extends to the rest of the company’s initiatives too. Along with tattoos, Litographs offers T-shirts, posters, and tote bags featuring artwork inspired by literature. The unique selling point is that the artwork is composed of the text of the book. “We work closely with professional artists to create a new visual experience for classic and contemporary works alike. From a distance, the artwork illustrates a theme, character, or setting from each book’s descriptive pages. Move closer and the text becomes fully legible,” according to the website. Basically, it’s pointillism using the alphabet instead of dots.
“At the time of our launch with posters, we didn’t know if t-shirts and totes were possible with our all-over printing process,” says Jack Neary, Litographs’ head of community. “We’ve been fortunate to work with a local printer who’s grown alongside us and helped us tweak and improve our dye-sublimated t-shirts. The process is essentially a heat transfer that takes the ink from transfer sheets and dyes the fabric rather than printing on top of it.” View the T-shirt creation process here.
Neary says each design is intended to “act as a conversation starter around that book and literacy more broadly.” Litographs’ mission (beyond selling its products) is to celebrate the relationship between readers and authors and their books, which is evident in projects such as the tattoo chain and its book club. The company’s name is a nod to the lithography printing method and to the literature that fuels its product line. The freelance artists who created the design for each book “care just as much as we do about the books they’re illustrating,” says Neary. “Nowadays, Benjy Brooke is our Creative Director and handles the bulk of the illustrations.”
Litographs adds two to four new book designs to its collection each month, whether that means releasing a redesign for a classic such as The Great Gatsby or an entirely new design for a contemporary book such as Outlander. The company started with public-domain titles, but soon branched out to others. “Licensing varies by title and can sometimes take a significant amount of time so our release schedule is subject to change, but if this year’s ratio is any indication, we’ll be adding a lot more contemporary works in 2016,” says Neary.
A Connection With Independent Bookstores
In fall 2015, Litographs launched a book club that features recommendations from four independent booksellers. Each season, the company will ask booksellers to recommend any type of book by handwriting a paragraph about it that will be featured on the website. Participants choose one of the four books to read, and Litographs mails them a free, limited-edition tattoo or laptop decal with a design based on that book. “Though our book club is digital, we love the idea of you chatting with other readers in the real world when they see your gift,” the website notes. Participants buy or borrow a copy of the book and get reading. (Litographs partnered with Harvard Book Store to offer a 20% discount on all book club selections to readers who could conveniently purchase them there.)
Litographs notes that there are no meetings, and there is no pressure to finish any book: “Our hope is simply that you will find one new book per season that you would really love to read, and if you love it, that you will write your own recommendation and help encourage other readers to give it a shot as well.”
Neary says, “We’re always looking for ways to provide our community with unique experiences related to the books they’re reading. This particular project grew out of the realization that even on a small team of book lovers, we were all reading different kinds of books at different speeds. The one thing we could all agree on was that it would be nice to be able to read more, but even when we found the time, it was daunting to choose that next book out of the vast collection of works we hadn’t yet read.”
The Litographs Book Club is not about reading “more”; it’s about reading “thoughtfully” by trusting the recommendations of people who work with books all day (and, some may infer, not an algorithm). The Huffington Post called the book club an “anti-Amazon” counterattack because the new Amazon brick-and-mortar store “features books … promoted with a card displaying a glowing user review from the site—a digital comment turned into a facsimile of that hallmark of the indie bookstore, the shelf talker (a typically handwritten personal recommendation from a bookstore employee).” The Litographs Book Club uses the idea of a shelf talker in digital form and asks participants to create their own versions for its website. “This structure retains the influence of personal taste and enthusiasm,” the article states.
Spreading Book Love
Litographs donates one new book to a community in need for each poster, T-shirt, and tote bag it sells, and one book for every five tattoos sold. Its partner is the International Book Bank (IBB), which provides new books to charities in developing countries. Danny Fein, Litographs’ founder, served on IBB’s board of directors, and he has a personal investment in its mission, says Neary. Fein and his team especially liked IBB’s strategy of sending sets of textbooks to classrooms so students can learn together. “[W]e see Litographs as a way to share the power of books with more people,” the website states. “We’re committed to promoting literacy all over the world. …”
Neary says Litographs will continue to build up its collection of titles. “In 2015 we’ve already released more licensed titles than the previous three years combined. Our goal is to make every book available as a Litograph,” he says.