• Katherine Qiao

SELF-PRODUCTION

ESSAY


​Description: This was a reflection on my forays into university book publication. The chill of the computer lab creeps upon me slowly, a spider extending legs invisible to the glancing eye. The clock hits 8, 9 in the evening, and then 12, 2, 3 in the morning. Soon, it is around 5 am and though I shiver under the wraps of my thin jacket, I do not avert my eyes from the computer screen. Too many tabs litter the display. My fingers flick back and forth on the touchpad to grab at one image after another, dragging it onto the Adobe InDesign window. It takes a few minutes to arrange Alana Meisner’s poem Tantrum in front of Jackie White’s waterfall photograph with a gray textbox of 85% transparency (or opacity in more technical terms). I toggle with the textbox position and font color until the words shall I scream or shall I cry? of Alana’s first few lines stand out well against the hue of Jackie’s Niagara Falls’ airy-light blue. Then I check back again in the top corner under the Master Pages tab to make sure the page number is still visible on every page of Blueprint Club’s magazine. The software can be finicky, like a child, with layer arrangement sometimes.

Finally, I am satisfied with that spread’s layout. I sit back from the Mac to take a deep breath, stretching out on my chair. Suddenly I’m aware that I am the only human in the lab, with just the wind of air-conditioning as company. The exhilaration of seeing my graphic design work gradually come together pumps through my brain, the only thing keeping me functioning at this hour.


I came into college looking mainly to enrich my academic skills, mainly the quantitative kind that objectively will give me the best chance of finding a stable job in a distinguished career field after graduation. Things like statistics, data analysis, calculus (though not as applicable to real-life scenarios, triple integrals still were good problem-solving exercises), and research-based report writing were the greatest points on my radar to improve before I would get thrown out into the “adult world”. I had a long history of artistic hobbies, ranging from pencil sketching, calligraphy, acrylic, and all the way to traditional Chinese ink painting, up until senior year of high school. But my goal was to develop the existing strengths of mine that were most directly reasonable for me to capitalize a future on. Art in any form was never a large aspect in any of my visions. I didn’t expect it to follow me to the extent that it matters to me now.



Somber Pop

The cover of the arts & literary journal is smooth, almost feathery, and cool to the touch. Depicting an electric blue audio spectrum zig-zag line pattern on a black background, it feels weighty, heavy in my hands in the most satisfying way as I flip through the book’s pages. A poem by Haley Winkle, a girl majoring in creative writing who lived not five doors down from my dorm room, and later went from a name in a published book to someone I got to know personally. A comic book strip by Michelle Sheng, Haley’s roommate and an art & design-turned computer science major. A math homework assignment that became a creative narrative piece by some kid who took Calculus 3 on a whim.


Students like me made this book that was real, professional, and finished. The thought blew me away. People my age were putting their creativity to the level of being evaluated, and liked enough that their products were made into something that would stay for years. Suddenly, all my pre-existing artistic experience and collections of works seemed like mere child’s play compared to these pieces who had made a permanent mark in the world.


Lloyd Hall Scholars Program was an arts & writing learning community, a residential program where all members entered based on interest in anything creative, regardless of major and professional aspirations. I was drawn to it immediately on the mindset that, although I vehemently denied any aspirations of it on the professional level, I didn’t want my artistic sense to die out completely. Somber Pop was the name of LHSP’s 2015-2016 creative journal. LHSP’s Arts & Literary Journal Club, or as fondly nicknamed, Lit Journal, was the powerhouse for producing the magazine that adopted a new theme, and with it, a new title, each year.


I had no initial concrete idea on exactly how I wanted my artistic sense to “stay alive” in college. But in that moment, holding the copy of Somber Pop given to me on the first day of living in LHSP, publication became the body where art for me made its new home in. At the face of a new creative challenge, a new level of “finished-ness” that I had never had to encounter before, I began to yearn for that sense of feeling that accomplished about art.


Publication is being able to say, I made that, with absolute pride, no traces of insecurity about your work’s quality.



Xylem

I didn’t really understand Xylem’s cover art. Shapes half-resembling pentagons, half-resembling plant cells under a microscope in various green hues litter about the front and back in a sort of elongated triangle formation. Specks of magenta and red spots speckle the nature-like theme. Against a white background, “xylem” is simply written. The cover feels slightly more plastic, the book thinner and flimsier. But it is still polished, in its own amazing way.


I flip through; inside is simply designed. There’s no fancy styling or layout. All titles and author names are deliberately lowercased in the same font as the magazine title. Each work, mainly written pieces, is given its own page; because there is nothing like layout to distract the eye, the words stand out for themselves.


The simplicity struck me as beautiful: this publication prided itself on focus on the works alone. Every single contributor in this magazine was serious about their pieces, and were proud to display it. I come to the middle of Xylem, where the few artworks are conglomerated together in the sole couple of color pages.


Publication is being serious about your talents, because no one who publishes is playing around.


Seeing “at my fingertips by katherine qiao”, my very first published artwork, on the thick white page amongst heartfelt poetry and whimsical photography, made me realize that I was one of them. Even though I was pursuing other more traditionally deemed “academic” goals, I still had just as much right to call myself a creative. It was okay to spend time on something that wasn’t “directly applicable” to future career aspirations, because I too was serious about art.



Dear Friends

The smooth featheriness of LHSP’s 2016-2017 journal cover feels familiar under my fingers that run across the front. I sit in a chair, a copy in my lap, waiting for the journal release party to begin.


I joined the LHSP’s Arts & Literary Journal Club that year, after that first captivation with Somber Pop. Suddenly, I was on the other side of the table, the producer of a publication rather than the contributor hopeful. It was with peers just like me that I debated back and forth about why Ilma Bilic’s piece of Photoshopped cutouts of octopus’s legs, a girl’s shadowy face, and cigarettes for fingers should most definitely be included in the journal, and why we only wanted stanzas 3, 5, 8, and 10 of Emily Miu’s haiku series, and could we not ask her if we could take that great liberty of selectivity? The scale of hard yes, soft yes, happy maybe (there were so many maybes), soft no, and hard no, and other intermediary benchmarks became a language that only the seven of us club members spoke fluently.


I grew to love the feeling of producing others’ works, to be that evaluator who judged what made a work attractive to an audience, because I was that audience. An audience with the power to make my evaluation known, and grant works I considered worthy a place of permanence. Moreover, by being a producer of publication, I nourished the power of the viewer to learn about what I as the artist could do better to please that audience. It did no less than improve my individual artistic sense.


Publication is connecting the viewer and the creator, because they are halves of one whole tool that make creative products reality. If you get to know the opposite side, you make yourself all the more enriched of knowing what it takes to make accomplished art that both you and everyone else love.


More people file into the room, each grabbing a copy of the LHSP journal, titled Dear Friends this year, on their way to food and their seats. I smile in gratitude and thanks as I see my friends gradually gather around me, and others pass by, all saying “Congrats” and “Dude, what you did is freaking amazing.”


I brush my fingers against the book again. Somewhere along my movement, my real-life fingers will align with the fingers depicted in my drawing, the chosen artwork for the journal’s front and back covers. During the debate Lit Journal Club had on cover art, I’d remained silent as my fellow club members picked mine out of all the available artwork. Internally though, I was overwhelmed with joy. My art was going places, and publication brought me that opportunity to create on new levels.


In publication, you learn about analysis; it’s analysis of works, and works are representations of the creators behind them. This means you’re analyzing people, and who says that isn’t a skill I need in the professional landscape? My goal in college was to learn applicable skills; publication taught me that I can make this goal reality from both sides of my personality, quantitative and creative.



Blueprint

5-by-8 aspect ratio was the standard size of the book. The cover was thick, and fairly unflappable. My first Blueprint Literary Magazine, 2016, depicts halves of colorful chairs set onto a grayscale brick wall. Out of a sudden fear that I wouldn’t have enough art involvement after LHSP’s course ran out (residential communities only lasted two years at maximum) one day, I entered Blueprint Literary Magazine Club as its layout design consultant.


Unlike Xylem’s simplistic and pretty style, Blueprint was made entirely of color. Every single page was tailored to the works we collected, individually created in InDesign with a new theme every year. That made the magazine a large-scale artwork in itself. To me, that represented the most in-depth of level of publication I’d seen so far. It was production of creative works within a cumulative creative work. For the first magazine, I taught InDesign to the other members, all of whom were engineers unfamiliar with the creative software. With a small five-person team cranking out 90 pages that collected 120 or so art, photographs, poems, and stories in the late hours of the night of Duderstadt (or rather, very early morning) in the span of 2 weeks, making Issue 5 was the most labor-intensive endeavor I had ever gone through, academic or not.


The cover of Issue 6, my second Blueprint magazine, is a luminescent depiction of the tunnel under Niagara Falls. Shadows of green, yellow, and blue transparent rain ponchos hiding eager tourists swarmed the tunnel entrance. A blinding light at the other end makes the wet and pebble-like texture of the tunnel walls shine like glistening diamonds. In thick Bodoni 72 font, “blueprint” is written in white on the top-right corner. That year, I taught the new members InDesign, as well as helped manage club activities in a leadership position. I once believed that art was primarily an endeavor to take on alone; now I know that there are many personalities that if combined well, can make successful, expressive art.


Publication is collaborative art, a fusing of minds and ideas that sometimes aren’t as easily transferrable as academic skills can be, because creative inspiration is not as tangible and objective. If you can achieve this, you deepen your understanding and ability to articulate to others the reason you do art, the root of your work’s inspiration.


I can’t wait to write my editor’s note at the front of the magazine next year as Blueprint’s Editor-in-Chief.


FIN

Doing publication taught me tenacity, teamwork, how to work under pressure, how to teach others new skills through effective communication, and most of all, the satisfaction of achieving that level of finality. One day I may be working in an office, because I do enjoy quantitative and analytical activities; my aspirations to put those skills to good use are still strong. But I know now that it is okay for me to also invest this much time into art, even though I could be doing so many other endeavors more “productive” by normal standards. In using publication as a vessel for the soul of my creative endeavors, I have gained much from keeping my artistic sense alive in congruence with my academic interests, staying true to ventures that I truly enjoy.


Creativity does not discriminate between fields of skillsets; it transcends boundaries. My time spent in art is time not wasted, because I will always carry what I’ve gained from inside the studio (whether that is a messy art gallery to a chilly computer lab) to the rest of my world, proudly and with finality.


My phone screen lights up with its 7 am silent alarm. The computer lab has no windows, but a tiny voice in the back of my mind tells me that it is light outside, and birds are chirping their cheerful songs. I ignore it, though out of slight guilt, as I scroll through the 92 pages once more, looking for tiny mistakes to correct. I check the second page, where all of Blueprint’s members’ names are listed. I smile at the sight of mine in thin Avenir Light font. Last of all, I scroll up to the cover. Once we finish it, it will be sent to the publisher, and hard copies will arrive two weeks after. I expect to run my fingers on the unflappable smooth feel of the cover once I have it in my hands, and trace the outline of the blueprint text, feeling no less than content.


I close the many tabs of images and documents until I am left with the InDesign window. The large image of the cover art stares back at me, as do the thumbnails of all the other magazine pages. Before I close that tab too, finally make the screen clean after many hours of labor in that chilly computer lab, I think with the greatest satisfaction:


I made that.


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