The Independents

The Independents

 Within the past few months, Austin has seen a proliferation of notable publications emerge from its creative community. Two of these, SYNONYM Journal and Pastelegram, aim to reimagine the intersection of arts, culture and the print medium while offering readers ancillary content and commentary via their websites. A third, Transgressor, sets out to explore new digital territory, guided by a boundary-pushing outlook on traditional societal norms.

Synonym Journal
Amelia Giller and Leigh Patterson met the first day of their Plan II Honors World Literature class as freshmen at UT. Bound by a mutual appreciation for the written word, the two formed a fast friendship, becoming roommates and creative co-conspirators on the campus literary journal. When Patterson moved to New York to launch her career in publishing after graduating in 2010, she and Giller slowly hatched their creative plans via gchats and cross-country visits between Austin and Brooklyn. The initial idea for SYNONYM Journal, their joint literary magazine and resulting labor of love, emerged from a shared need for a creative outlet. Entering the workforce was not without its challenges, but rather than ignore their mild dissatisfaction, Giller, an animator and designer, and Patterson, a (now) web designer and creative consultant, chose to take inspiration from those dayjob “lulls.” It wasn’t until Patterson moved back to Austin earlier this year that the framework for SYNONYM became more apparent. The theme of their first issue? Ennui.
“It’s just a fancy type of boredom, more complex. I’ve always been the type of person who wants to have a lot of personal projects going. I was just in a period where nothing was interesting and I had no ideas and was just in this dry spell. We both keep up with design, style, art—especially online and in blogs. But it got to a point where everything was starting to look the same, and it wasn’t fun in the way that it used to be. We were both ready for something new but weren’t sure what. So I think all of that encapsulates the idea of ennui, the feeling of it,” notes Patterson. The title, SYNONYM, alludes both to their admittedly very similar design aesthetic and to the underlying fact that the magazine itself is a series of synonyms. Creative writing, photographs, interviews—each artistic contribution responds to a pre-determined theme. To Giller and Patterson, this inaugural issue has been much more than a tangible artifact of a passing feeling. It has proven to be a valuable exercise in self-discovery and creative progression.
Greeting the requisite late nights and early mornings with a refreshing sense of excitement, they found the process to be surprisingly natural and all but tedious. As the two young women wisely express in the issue’s Editor’s Letter: “Boredom is the time before something else; this is our means of trying to pay attention in the interim.” Readers can look forward to the next issue to be released Spring 2013.

Pastelegram is another locally-founded (and funded) print publication that developed in reaction to a seeming excess of content, albeit in a different way. The seed was planted when Ariel Evans, an Art History PhD student at UT and Pastelegram’s Editor, was struck by the way one of her courses was dedicated solely to analyzing the 1940s-era art magazine, View. “The whole class was about that one magazine and going into the archive and researching, seeing how much you could get out of all that ephemera—really closely examining the texts and how they were presented and published. [The idea for Pastelegram] came together at that moment,” she says.
Translating the methodology of maintaining a narrow, academic focus, she structured Pastelegram so that each issue primarily showcases the work of a single artist. The featured artist also plays a role in the publication’s overarching thematic message, functioning as a guest editor of additional outside material as well. Evans hopes that Pastelegram inspires a departure from the more traditional norms of scholarly art criticism by giving readers the opportunity to develop an individual understanding of the work rather than surrender to a spoon-fed analysis.
“It’s a novel way to approach an artwork. Instead of laying the interpretation on really quickly and frontloading the work with extensive text about what it means, I want to let the audience spend some time with the artwork and then time with the materials that an art critic or historian would look at before trying to develop an interpretation.” But she hasn’t embarked on the editorial journey alone. The publication is sponsored by Austin-based arts organization and nonprofit Big Medium, and she actually first worked with a few of Pastelegram’s staffers when they were editorial team members together at the now-shuttered Houston-based Art Lies. Naturally, surrounding herself with talented friends is a tactic she relied on when selecting the artists for the first two issues of the magazine as well.
“Your friends will forgive you when you’re trying to figure things out. [Barry Stone and Ricky Yanas] both did an amazing job. I just happen to be friends with artists who are really great and talented, interesting and thoughtful.” The third issue (Winter 2013) will depart from the local realm, inviting Swedish artist Johan Zetterquist to explore the concept of utopianism.

New bi-annual digital publication Transgressor is “a celebration of outsider philosophies and cultural trespassers.” In other words, it is a gathering place for creative looks at the lesser-seen fringes of society, and it takes place entirely online. The original idea for a web-based magazine began over two years ago when Transgressor Editor Diana Welch was approached by longtime friend and Monofonus Press founder, Morgan Coy, about the possibility of creating an entirely new type of magazine built for digital consumption.
“We worked together for a long time trying to come up with something that we felt filled a gap—both editorially and experientially. Morgan was really into the idea of creating something that felt like an object, and I wanted to offer a sense of stillness in the flashy, frenetic world of the Internet.” Together they enlisted the help of friends and local creatives, like designer Ryan Rhodes, to design, build and arrange the unique collection of image-driven narratives.
For Welch, a communications consultant and writer by trade, developing a platform for others to share their stories was likely intuitive. However, as the project itself is meant to grapple with boundaries, she and Morgan chose to invert traditional magazine structure by having “the words act as an accompaniment” to the primary visual components. And, similar to Pastelegram, a guest editor casts their discerning eye on each issue of Transgressor. For Issue No. 2 it will be the LA-based writer Caroline McCloskey, and for No. 3 it will be architect Igor Siddiqui. Perhaps Transgressor’s most important message comes from Welch herself: “There is power in being different. Go freak people out.”


Amelia Giller (left) and Leigh Patterson (right) met the first day of their Plan II Honors World Lit class at UT. They are pictured with a stack of their first issue of synonym, a journal and literary magazine they are co-editing.
Ariel Evans, a PhD student in Art History at UT is the editor of Pastelegram, which showcases the work of a single artist with each issue.
Diana Welch, pictured in her studio built by her husband Jesse Hartman of Shift Design Build, is the editor of recently launched bi-annual digital publication, Transgressor.