MPub Alum Jazmin Welch on receiving credibility and experience with the MPub program

Jazmin Welch graduated in 2021 from SFU’s Master of Publishing program. She now owns and operates her own book design studio, fleck creative studio and design books for Arsenal Pulp Press. Jazmin spoke with us at SFU Publishing to share more about her experience with the program and the impact it has made on her career to this day.

 

Tell us about your background before applying to SFU’s Master of Publishing program.

I went to school for fashion communication at Ryerson University and I always knew I wanted to be in art or design. As someone who spent much of my youth drawing and painting, I applied for the fine arts program at the Ontario College of Art & Design University, but I decided that I would prefer to keep art as a hobby, and try to get into design instead.

At Ryerson I was learning about colour theory, typography, photography, web design, and all sorts of fun design skills.

When I graduated, I just started trying to pick up odd jobs as everyone does, and I thought I would get a quick job in graphic design but that was definitely not the case. There were just so many other graphic designers who were entering the job market. So I did other things like photography and anything I could get my hands on. I eventually got a job in a really tiny creative agency, and started working in project management and then switched around a little bit and worked as an account manager in corporate marketing working on our projects for some fortune 500 companies. I worked with a lot of freelancers to do our production work and that was slightly soul crushing because I was always wanting to be the creative person. Because of my typography experience in my undergrad, I was hoping I would end up doing editorial layout for magazines. So I saved up to eventually quit, and started my own business — I wasn’t 100% sure that it would be in the book world, but I knew I loved everything to do with paper and book design.

 

Why did you choose to apply for the master of publishing program?

While I was at my marketing job, I interviewed for a couple of design positions, but the feedback was always like, “We liked your portfolio, but we want to go with this other person who actually has book design experience.” No one would hire me on the basis of having design knowledge. And of course, I didn’t have much of a portfolio for book work yet. I knew I had to do something that would actually get my foot in the door. 

I was also going on LinkedIn to look at all the people who had jobs that I wanted, and looking at what their experience was. It pretty much came down to just the Ryerson University Certificate in Publishing or the SFU Master of Publishing. I wasn’t very interested in some of Ryerson’s classes so I moved from Ontario to BC for the Master of Publishing. It was always a dream of mine to end up in Vancouver, so it wasn’t a hard sell for me. 

The Master of Publishing program was good for me because I just felt like something solid needed to be put on my resume to actually get a job in book design. So that’s what landed me at SFU.

 

What was your most impactful experience in the SFU Publishing program?

Meeting a lot of people in the industry had the biggest impact. The idea of meeting CEOs of massive companies was so terrifying at first, but the professors and people in the industry that came to the school were all there for us, and were very easy to talk to. It made me realize that we’re all in this together.

The greatest thing was just meeting people and knowing that they are people that I could reach out to, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to make connections. Having the master’s degree on my resume became a huge bonus that also gave me the confidence to be able to reach out to people for work as well.

 

What was your biggest takeaway from the MPub?

Honestly, my biggest takeaway has been learning to think more critically about the industry, because I think publishing is such a traditional industry in the sense that so much of what we do is the way it’s always been done. I think the program did a good job of training us to think more broadly about societal and systemic issues happening in the industry. Of course, there are a lot of tangible skills — like learning how to do a profit and loss sheet — but I think the critical thinking piece is the most important element. It’s not something I’m necessarily acting on now in my business on a day-to-day level, but it is something that’s always running through my head — like, how can we change the way things are being done? How can we bring more inclusivity and diversity to the industry? 

The critical thinking component has impacted the way that I respond to the people around me and the type of work I take on. I wasn’t expecting the masters to actually touch on many of these things, but they did a good job of recognizing the destructive role that publishing has had on colonization in Canada. There are human issues and there are so many issues to address, no matter what part of the industry you’re in! I think that the critical thinking piece stayed with a lot of us when we left.

 

What skills did you gain from the MPub that you find yourself applying to your day to day work?

I think the biggest one for me was editorial. I came into the program with a fairly robust design understanding, so there were definitely a bunch of book design skills that I brushed up on and enhanced through the program that I do use on a day to day basis, but I really learned a lot about specific skills like editorial markup, which I now use. Publishing is a very traditional industry and things are done in quite a systematic, straightforward order, so learning all the steps in how things are done, and the phases of editorial has been really integral for my role as a designer and where I fit into the publishing process.

 

Do you have any professors that stood out and impacted your education?

I feel like John Maxwell was such a great resource for us to sit and talk through anything. His Text & Context class was the critical thinking piece that I mentioned, though all the professors incorporated it as well. I feel like it’s always the teachers with the hardest courses that I like the most because they’re really encouraging us to dive way deeper than we would on anything else. We had to write 1,000 word essays, which is so short, but so difficult to get right because we had tackle important issues with so little space while researching it well and creating a good summary. I think the beauty of the course was that we were trained for situations where we’d need to speak out about important issues — you can’t just get into a long rant about something, you have to make it accessible for a larger audience and be concise. So having someone like John who has an endless wealth of knowledge, but also encourages you to look for the answer to your own question was awesome. 

All the MPub professors were accessible and available and I knew they were always there for us. Anyone from the program could tell you how much they loved Jo-Anne who wasn’t a professor, but a manager for the program. She’s always there to help us with admin questions, but she’s also just a fantastic resource for pretty much everything. She’s the number one cheerleader for all the students. 

 

Tell me a little bit about your work with your fellow MPub grad Leanne Prain. What was it like to design her book?

Her book is coming out this spring, and it just arrived like the other day from the printer! It’s called The Creative Instigator’s Handbook and Leanne was so lovely to work with. We did the cover and layout together. and then the layout on the inside. 

It used to have an illustration only cover, but when the sales representative recommended that we add photos. So we revamped the cover and changed the book title. I’m very happy with where it landed! The whole book from front to back is so bright, fun and cheery with a lot of little icons within it’s pages as well. We’re trying to make all of our books more accessible, so Leanne wrote the alt text for all the images for us, which is a lot of work, but she was all hands on deck. I love this book. It’s such an exciting read for people that have any love of craft or art but want to use it for their own activism!

 

What kind of advice do you have for people thinking of pursuing the Master of Publishing degree?

My one piece of advice is that you’ll get out whatever you put in. And I think that’s always a tricky balance because everybody’s got their things going on outside of school. I worked the entire time that I was in the program, and of course many of us have bills to pay, but I think it’s important to put your all into projects, go to extra meetings, and use the extra library help. It’s also good to know that if you have a specific thing you’re passionate about, you can talk to your professors about adjusting certain projects to focus on what you specifically want to learn. 

For example, I had already done an undergrad in design, so in one design class I asked if I could research something else for one of the projects that I was interested in. My professor was happy to accommodate and I really enjoyed getting to learn something new!

Making connections is incredibly valuable as well so getting the most out of the program also involves meeting as many people as you can!

In a small program like this, you can really take advantage of so many learning opportunities. That would definitely be my biggest piece of advice — just know that you have control over what you get out of the program.

 

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