My love for printed, tangible publications runs deep - especially those that are published independently. From the DIY photocopied black and white zines to more polished and refined magazines, I love it all.
After meeting online and bonding over similar tastes in film and art, Caroline Knowles and Tricia Gilbride became friends and formed Women Artists, which began first as a website and later a magazine. Since 2011, their mission has been to support women artists by sharing their work both online and through print.
I discovered Women Artists on Instagram about a year ago and followed them right away. A small magazine profiling women working in the visual arts? Yes, please. I hoped to find some way to connect with them in the future, and sure enough, I did.
Fast forward to a few months ago, while researching stores Austin, Texas in preparation for our annual Indie Fest retreat, I discovered that half of Women Artists was based in town. Caroline and I met up for coffee during my stay in Austin to chat, and she and Tricia (over email from Queens, New York) were kind enough to answer my questions.
This is maybe an unusual first question, but do you remember the first piece of art you were affected by? Was there one defining moment with a particular piece of art that got you hooked?
Caroline: Yes! Le Chemin de Fer (The Railroad) by Manet at the National Gallery in Washington DC during my second year of college and then I was quickly introduced to the work of Berthe Morisot by association. My first art history class at university was “Women and Art” which convinced me to make it my major.
Tricia: Diane Arbus was the first artist who I felt like I attached to on my own. I went to an exhibit at The Museum of Fine Arts Houston when I was learning to use an SLR.
How did the initial idea for Women Artists come about?
Caroline: Women Artists started right after I graduated from college and I moved back to my hometown for a year. I’m such a project-orientated person and need one going on to stay sane. This was around the time Tumblr was really getting off the ground and there was a gap in the representation of women’s art, so I started one. For the first two years it was just an online blog, sharing favorite historical and contemporary art, until we printed our first volume of interviews in 2013.
Was there a specific inspiration behind starting the magazine?
Caroline: Both Tricia and I are big zine people - we’d collaborated in the past on a few. The idea of starting a zine for Women Artists originally came from a previous collaborator as a way to get the project out into the physical world to connect at events and with art spaces. After I self-published the first issue (a very time consuming DIY zine endeavor), Tricia came on board for our second issue and we switched to a professional printer so we could concentrate on fresh content and good design.
Tricia: We’ve been making zines in some form together about as long as Women Artists has been around, so it made sense to combine them. We were roommates for a year, and one of the first things we did together, before we had even moved furniture into the house, was make a zine called 40 Cats Drinking 40s, which was inspired by my kitten investigating our beer bottles while we sat on the living room floor. Initially, we were just making copies at Kinkos and compiling them ourselves, but the goal has always been to upgrade with every issue.
How did you evolve from a zine printed at Kinkos to a professionally printed publication?
Caroline: While we both love handmade zines, it’s unfortunately both time and cost prohibitive for larger runs. We decided to switch to an on-demand printer to keep our print costs low and allow us to print copies as we need them (versus one large run of 2,000 copies). So far we’ve been fairly lucky - our trial and error has mostly just been figuring out design software!
How do you choose artists to feature?
Tricia: On Tumblr, we’ve always just posted stuff we get excited about and think is worth sharing, which is probably why we’ve been able to do this for years! The blog is still very much stream-of-consciousness, but with our print publications, we think a lot more about representing the spectrum of women in art.
Caroline: Most of our interviews and features come from contributor emails. We strive for a mix of mediums as well as being inclusive with the artists we feature. We want everyone identifying as women to see themselves reflected in every issue which is especially a big goal with our upcoming issue.
Throughout your friendship and this project, you both have almost always lived in different cities. How do you work together and collaborate from afar? What does that process look like?
Tricia: Phone calls are very effective. It’s really easy to tell yourself you’ll reply to an email later, but if you’re having a conversation, you can’t put it off. Those conversations tend to be focused on the big picture, like which artists we’re featuring and what each issue is missing. When we’re actually putting the issue together, our roles are more divided, so that’s easy to do separately - I focus on editing the text, and Carly focuses on the layout. On the rare occasions we do see each other, we don’t really talk business. We just hang out.
As far as getting the magazine into people’s hands - did you sell them in your Big Cartel shop first, or try to stock them in physical retail locations?
Caroline: We started exclusively online but have grown and now stock in physical locations. When we first started, we hadn’t worked with shops before and figuring out how to stock with shops has been a process! With our fourth issue, we’re concentrating primarily on wholesale accounts / physical shops because it gives us more time to focus on the content rather than worrying about having to distribute it online ourselves.
You have a good amount of stockists across the country. Do you spend a lot of time reaching out to shops, or do you wait for them to come to you?
Tricia: It’s a mix. Some places, like Myth & Symbol where I used to work, we had a pre-existing relationship with. Some places we just felt like Women Artists would be a good fit, so we reached out. Other shops we found out about because they contacted us, which is always exciting, because you learn about new places.
Caroline: We’ve been super fortunate to have a lot of really cool shops to reach out to us. Social media tools like Instagram definitely have helped us get in touch with stockists too.
How do you find and work with stockists for your magazine?
Caroline: We use our Instagram now in place of the Tumblr and share work by women artists we love, as well as cool projects female friends are working on, and customers enjoying the zine. A lot of our stockists have found us by word of mouth through mutual friends and followers. We also reach out to shops we think would be a good fit.
Our favorite stockists carry work by other creative women and are approachable, positive spaces. Being organized and on top of the details is always a plus too!
You both hold down full-time jobs outside of running Women Artists. How do you balance those two roles in your lives? Any secret time management skills?
Tricia: Panicking is the main way I waste time, so figuring out ways to pursue your interests that don’t activate the normal stressors in your life is key. I work in online media, which is very fast-paced, so working on a publication on an annual schedule feels like a luxury.
Caroline: Eek, I wish I had tips and tricks. Doing zine work and other creative endeavors means making sacrifices in other areas of my life. Eventually I’d love to have a more flexible day job schedule that lets me balance everything.
Watch Women Artists’ Instagram for the release of their fourth issue. In the meantime, grab issue three from their shop to check out their interviews with Terri Chiao of Chiazzo and Tara-Lyn Morrison of Good Night Day. If you’re itching to collect more zines and publications, check out Print’s Not Dead, our latest curated Shop Indie guide.