An Interview with Yvette Farkas, editor of Toronto Graffiti

Welcome to another installment of interviews with... okay, so the feature doesn't have a catchy name yet. I'll think of one eventually!

Today, I've tagged Yvette Farkas, the editor of Toronto Graffiti, a comprehensive collection of photos and interviews with the artists documenting the history of graffiti art in Toronto, Canada. This massive 500-page book took her ten years to put together, and it was entirely self-published.

I chatted with her about the process of putting such a huge project together, and what it was like self-publishing this labor of love.

A bio in her own words:

I grew up spending a lot of time in the fields of martial arts and medicine. TCM, Ayurveda and yoga, specifically. I currently work as a web and graphic designer for a charity by day, and teach yoga part-time. In between, I work on creative, positive projects like this book.

Toronto Graffiti is a massive compilation of interviews and photos about graffiti art in Toronto. What drew you to this project?

This was a selfish endeavour. You see, this is the kind of book I had always wanted to read. I was very curious about the artists who painted these incredible works of art on the walls and wondered what they were like. I kept waiting for a book like this to come out… hoping to find something like this in Tower Records or Pages or somewhere similar.  That did not happen.

Although I was shy, my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I decided to leap in and just go for it. I had already started photographing walls since the late 90’s, but by 2008 I started to actively pursue it full-time. This included doing interviews and much of the research for the other sections.

Ten years is a long time to be working on this. How did you keep yourself going? Didn’t you ever just want to give up?

The first seven or eight years were spent taking photos and checking out graff shows and hip hop events. Yes, there were many ups and downs. There were many long, long nights. Often, and for what seemed like the umpteenth time I thought “yes, this is why people pay a professional to do this” (A “professional” transcription service, graphic designer, legal clinic, fundraising coordinator, PR guru, web designer, research assistant, proofreader, general gopher etc.). But since I had no money, I couldn’t do that. Also, I didn’t want to entrust such a precious project to anyone else. It would have been a lot of back and forth, and I’m a bit of a controlling perfectionist.

I had a vision for the book, as did the artists who collaborated with me. It was our combined preferences that helped sort out the details.

Eventually, I did get help at various levels, which was great. My intense passion for the art, deep interest in the artists behind it, as well as the potential of this book inspired several people to come forward and offer their services for free. This was amazing and I will always be grateful to those individuals.  Some of those freebies included proofreading, translating, grant writing, editing, various levels of communication between people from around the world, getting the legal, health and safety sections written by top professionals, and PR training. One of the artists in particular came forward to really help out and co-produced several sections of the book.

How did you find resources and people to talk to for Toronto Graffiti?

Lots and lots of research. I had to cross-reference and quadruple-check everything. I asked the artists lots of questions, I asked their opinion, I asked the professionals for advice. I got contracts written up for clarity. I had processes set up to ensure privacy and safety.

There are many graffiti-related websites online. You have to go through them to weed out what is most relevant.  I emailed everyone I could find an email for. I called everyone I had a number for. This included hospitals, specialists, lawyers, colleges, schools, the government, (this included all 44 Toronto city councillors) social workers, youth agencies, the police (to ask them what their official stance on graffiti was) etc. The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

I took notes and memorized a lot right on the spot. I followed up with EVERYTHING, with EVERYONE and any little bit of info that was passed to me that could potentially lead to another piece of the puzzle. I showed up at every event my schedule allowed for. It was like following a trail of breadcrumbs. Getting copyright permission for over 1000 photos is no small feat, let me tell you! Tracking down original photographers is next to impossible at times.

This project is unique in that the subject matter is quite sensitive, and had to be both allowed and supported by the community. I was lucky enough to be granted permission and generously given support.

You have to really prepare when you talk with someone. No one likes to have their time wasted so you need to show up completely prepared and ready to go. The onus is always on you, not anyone else. You only get one chance so if you mess up, it’s not likely that person will give you another shot.

But of course, since I am genuinely very interested and have wanted to dig deeper and know more about these amazing artists, it was easy for me to think of questions because I had been thinking them for nearly 20 years.  Some people might think such an undertaking is a bit crazy--there may be some truth to that, but it’s a passion project, and very few people ever get an opportunity such as this. It was stressful at times, but truly an honour to be able to help put this book together. It’s just incredible, really. Sometimes I still can’t quite believe I got this shot.

The book is entirely self-published. What were some of the challenges you faced getting the book printed and distributed?

The best option besides getting the right publisher to pick it up would be P.O.D. (Print on Demand). Unfortunately, due to the size and orientation of the book, (landscape and nearly 500 pages) this was technically impossible.  (At least it is at this time. This will probably change in time as the machine’s capabilities expand.)

It meant I had to pay to order a minimum amount from a proper print shop.  This is expensive. I took odd jobs where I could and saved as much as possible from each of my paycheques to save up for the first print run. I also had several friends and family members come forward to give donations.  (Thank so much to all of you!) I also presold some copies to help raise money. Another friend made some beautiful jewellery to auction off to help raise some money.

You have to ensure that your files are set up in the proper format for the printer. You have to lay out your manuscript exactly as per the printer’s specs.  All your images have to be top notch quality to print properly; you have to educate yourself about things like “the gutter” and “pantone press” colours. It’s a huge learning curve.

If you are planning on selling your book, then you need to have four other things in place. If I had known this at the beginning… along with many other things, then I wouldn’t have had to backtrack so many times. It would have saved me a lot of headaches. So for you readers, DO remember these items and follow them in this order;

1. Copyright your work

2. Register it with the National Library of Canada

3. Ask for a block of ISBN’s. (From the National Library of Canada)

4. Purchase a barcode. (Make sure you get one from a proper company otherwise it may not scan.)

If I could have done P.O. D, then setting it up through something like Amazon would have been a cinch. But as I had to order a minimum, I then had to think about where I would store boxes and boxes of books. How would I deliver them? How would I pick up any leftovers? (I don’t drive and they’re pretty heavy.) I had to coordinate with the booksellers’ schedules as I worked not only during the day, but part of the evenings and weekends, too. Being able to connect with the right person at the right time was often challenging. You also have time restrictions. Books are taken on consignment, so I have to go back before the end of the consignment period to pick up any unsold copies. There are many other items to remember, but these are just some of the basic things you need to think about.  However, if you are self-publishing using the P.O.D option, then you won’t have to worry about these things as the printer will take care of all of this for you.

You need to be very, very organized. Get a great day timer and get into the habit of both memorizing and writing down appointments. Neatly, legibly and in pencil so you can erase it should it need altering. Get all pertinent information at once if possible. This will save you headaches when there is a sudden change in schedule, weather, or traffic!

What advice do you have for anyone seeking to self-publish their book?

If you love it and feel passionate about it, then definitely go for it. Share it with others, get the word out, but do yourself and your love justice. Go all the way and put 100% into it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and then ask for clarification if necessary.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will, so get over it. You will also change your mind about many things once you start seeing different ways of doing things. Date and keep all “different” versions of your project. But make sure you stay true to what feels right for you.  Don’t worry about timelines--take your time and just do your best. Edit, edit some more, sleep on it, put it away for a while then review it again with fresh eyes. Then ask people whose opinion you trust to give constructive feedback. Make sure you are covered in terms of the legal aspects. Pay people their dues and appreciate them if you work with others. Very important point.  Good luck and happy publishing!


Check out the book at:

Buy the book here:

EDIT Nov. 25/11:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.