The artist behind Noisy Kids is creating a platform for self-expression beyond the confines of cyberspace.
Kati Yewell might as well have been born gripping a paint brush. The artist’s sketchbooks are filled with intricate portraits of her mom and friends that date back to her earliest memories, and her walls are covered with personal drawings and objects of her inspiration (photos, magazine covers, a cutout of Grace Coddington). It’s this hunger for exploring her thoughts visually that propels her forward as an artist and makes the idea of not creating totally absurd. Her new zine, Noisy Kids, which reads like a public journal, checkered with art from contributors and interviews with fellow creatives like Tavi Gevinson and Grace Miceli, celebrates the complicated beauty of youth and the power of uninhibited expression. The first issue is a love letter to girls everywhere, reminding them that they, too, can make an impact, wherever, whenever, and it’s safe to say that the second issue will follow suit. We caught up with Kati to talk about the process of making a zine completely from scratch, the importance of representing her generation in the face of condescension, and the constant desire for preservation.
Between painting, drawing, writing, collaging, and contributing to Rookie Magazine, it seems like you’re constantly creating. How do you keep up that level of commitment?
I guess I’m more of a visual thinker, so it’s not as much about dedication as it is needing to get the thoughts out of my head through drawing or writing so that I have a better understanding of what I’m doing emotionally. It’s always kind of been like that. [Contributing to] Rookie is great because they have a lot of leniency for what I do and what my assignments are. It’s more about the common events in my life and how I can express that.
In your editor’s letter for Noisy Kids, you talk about how being really sick in high school made you want to immortalize yourself in some way, which spurred the idea for the zine. Do you think this desire for preservation permeates all of your work?
Definitely. I think I’ve always had that feeling, even before I got sick. Just the desire to make sure that there’s a part of me that gets left behind even when I’m not here anymore. Recently, Keaton Henson, one of my favorite musicians, came out with a new album, and at the end of the song “The Pugilist,” he says, “Don’t forget me, don’t forget…I still have art in me yet.” I think that’s how I feel. It’s not so much about myself, that I want my name to stand—it’s more like I want to make sure that what I feel towards others remains, so even when I’m gone, there will be artwork that shows my love towards my mom or my love towards my friends, so that they know that’s how I care about them.
In another interview, you talk about how making art helps you remember things. Can you talk about this?
I feel like it’s a pro for me and also a con. There’s another Rookie artist called Olivia Bee, and she recently created a book of all her photography. I was reading her interview in the back and she kind of said the same thing. We both have this obsession with trying to capture our teen adolescence, and even though it’s great, I don’t feel as present in the moment. I become so much more focused on just capturing the moment that in the end, I kind of forget about the moment because I wasn’t fully there.
After you decided that you wanted to make Noisy Kids, how did you go about finding contributors?
There was a flyer that was released. When I created the first issue, I was in my first year of college, so it was a mixture of putting the flyer up on Instagram, talking to other fellow Rookie artists, and talking to the artists who were in my community. There were also a handful of artists who I’ve followed for quite a bit of time and find inspiring, and I emailed them myself and was just like, “Hey, I really love your work, and I was wondering if you’d like to contribute to my zine.” For the interviews, it was me hardcore hunting down the artists’ information and bothering them until they accepted the interview.
Who were you really excited to interview or discover when making the first issue? Did you have a freak out moment?
I was just surprised by people’s willingness to contribute. I kind of had this idea in the back of my head that a lot of people would be reluctant to join, and in fact, so many people were super excited about it even though I hadn’t even come out with my first issue yet. I love the support. All of the interviews were amazing. I guess each interviewee had their own strengths; like, it was really interesting to read about Grace Miceli’s relationship with internet culture, and also to hear more about Art Baby Gallery. And then with Tavi, I was just super excited to see her apartment because before I started working for Rookie, it was a huge part of my life during high school. It helped me figure myself out. So to meet Tavi and see her journals really gave me an idea of how she created Rookie and how much it helped manifest her thoughts and feelings. It was cool to see all of the pieces come together.
Tell me about the process of creating the zine, from calling for submissions to actually getting it printed.
I had no idea what I was doing. It was difficult, and even though I was the one who brought all of the artists together and did all of the interviews, my best friend, Mia, edited nearly the entire zine. She also lived in Chicago when I was living there, so the actual editing process took about three days without sleep. She came over to my apartment one night, and then I went to her house another night, and we just stayed up and put it together. We used Photoshop because neither of us knew how to use Illustrator yet, which is apparently how you’re supposed to lay out a magazine. We made it 20 times more difficult for ourselves, but it ended up great. That was a trial period for us. We’re super excited for the second one because now both of us know how to use Illustrator.
You mention in the zine that highlighting young people’s ideas and talents is a response to older generations who are “quick to judge.” How do you think Noisy Kids helps bridge this gap?
I’ve always spoken to adults more than teens because for some reason, I’m interested in adults. The adults I have spoken to always condescend to my generation, and the views that they do have of us, I feel, are very stereotypical. I hoped that with the zine, people like my grandparents, who have a very one-sided view of my generation, would have better insight into how we think and how much more expressive we are than they believe us to be. And that we’re not just teens complaining about angst; we have real problems, just like them, and sometimes we have even more on our plate than the older generations because we have love, romance, drugs… experimenting and everything. We’re kind of in a whirlpool, and it’s hard to tackle these things at once.
Collaboration plays a huge role in your work. How do you think working with other artists has shaped your perspective?
Unlike a lot of my peers, I loved getting feedback about my artwork. I loved hearing people’s opinions because it helped me grow. Even if I didn’t want to hear it, I knew that, in the end, it would benefit my art. When I started collaborating, it was kind of the same idea. I wanted to get others’ insights, and I really loved the artists’ work and knew that if we collaborated, or if those two artists came together, then a bigger message could be brought to the surface.
You’re originally from Washington DC, but you moved to NYC earlier this year. What does it mean to be an artist in New York right now?
I just got here, but it’s kind of what I expected it to be. A lot of people told me coming in that you can’t trust what everyone says and people can be two-faced, and I’m a very gullible person, so that I did learn very quickly. I definitely can’t trust people as much as I want to, which is kind of sad. It gets me down sometimes, but I have a very strong and determined personality, so I think that helps. Whenever I do talk to artists who are trying to figure out the New York scene, I say, “You really just gotta trust yourself first. If you believe in who you are, and trust who you are going to become, then everything else is just background noise, and you will get what you want.” You just have to be optimistic and not let anything get to you, which is hard in New York. New York can really bring you down sometimes.
With the first issue under your belt, is there anything that you’d do differently this next time around?
For the first issue, I didn’t give myself enough time, which I’ve corrected this time around. I also want it to be a little more interactive this time. I don’t want it to just be a magazine you look at once and then put on your coffee table. We’re going to have a lot more personal notes from artists themselves. My friend Jenoris actually gave me the idea. She’s a really great writer, and she started posting these artworks to Instagram—letters to an anonymous friend typed on a typewriter. She was just writing it to herself but it’s in a letter format. I want to have more artists interact with that idea of writing letters to imaginary friends and saying what they feel. There are a couple artists I can’t announce yet, but I’m super excited to have them involved.
What’s next for Noisy Kids? Any other personal projects that you’re excited about?
I want to have an event for Noisy Kids in L.A., and I am determined to make it happen because so many of the people that purchased the zine and contributed to it are from L.A. or outside that area. Hopefully within the year, I’d also like to publish a book of all my personal artworks and writings. I’m a perfectionist though, so there are a lot of things that I want to have inside this book. I want it to be a diary of sorts, of all my work and random writing. I want it to be more personal than a white page with a nice print on it.
Kati’s taking submissions for the second issue of Noisy Kids through November 15th. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to submit!
Photos by Kati Yewell