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Alumna gets creative with MASD workshop in publication design

Blair Knobel ’03

Last updated October 18, 2023

By Furman News

Twenty years after graduating, Blair Knobel ’03 found herself back in the Roe Art Building studio where she had spent so many hours as a student. This time, she was the instructor.

For three days in October, Knobel led a publication workshop for a group of Master of Arts in Strategic Design (MASD) students, sharing insights from her accomplished creative career. The students left with guidance in the fine points of designing a print magazine – and a few new pieces to add to their portfolios.

Mixing media

After earning her B.A. in studio art, Knobel pursued an interest in photography before finding her literary calling. After two years with a book publisher in New York City, she returned to Greenville, South Carolina, and eventually helped launch the local lifestyle magazine TOWN. She led the editorial production there for about a decade before founding her own creative content and publishing agency, Knobel Media, last year.

Originally seeking clients to create custom publications, she soon launched her own creative venture: Vessel, a magazine dedicated to collecting the distinctive stories of the South.

“I was missing writing, and I was missing working in the ways I was working at TOWN, because I love the collaborative creative process,” Knobel said.

Publishing online allowed Knobel to once again share her words, but it didn’t scratch every creative itch.

“The Substack platform is excellent for writing,” she said. “It’s not necessarily for the creative act of packaging content, which is both visual and literary, bringing those two worlds together. I knew I needed more room to stretch and bring this into another medium.”

So, after a year of Substack editions, Vessel will launch in December as a print quarterly. The publication will be sold online and at independent shops throughout the Southeast. The website will be launching this month.

A curveball

Students in the Master of Arts in Strategic Design program work on a project in a publication design workshop led by writer and publisher Blair Knobel ’03. / Credit: Blair Knobel

Knobel began planning the issue in June 2023, and when she was approached later that summer to lead the MASD workshop in the fall, she was inspired to throw “kind of a curveball,” she said.

She provided the raw materials – text and image files – of one of the features slated for Vessel’s next issue, a profile of Nashville singer-songwriter Phillip Lammonds by Greenville-based author and writing teacher Scott Gould. They had just under 24 hours to create a six- to eight-page layout using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, tools – and deadline pressure – familiar to many professional designers.

“We wanted students to have the opportunity to create a feature magazine spread for their portfolios during the workshop,” said Marta Lanier, director of the MASD program.

“I didn’t give them a lot of direction, because I was curious to see how they interpreted the assignment,” Knobel said.

“Blair told us to take it and run with it,” said Megan Neil ’21 M’24, who is planning a career in graphic design or art direction. “We were all given the same thing, and everybody’s designs looked completely different. Afterward, we all talked about what was working and what wasn’t working. We got some good feedback.”

Making it flow

Knobel also challenged the students to create their own magazine concepts complete with cover design and sample article, said Neil, who pitched a plant-themed publication named Vert.

“I learned a lot about how to make it flow,” she said. “When you’re trying to fit a bunch of pictures and text on a page, it can be really overwhelming,” she said. “Adding image captions and pull quotes as entry points for the reader are things I had never really thought about.”

“The students walked away with a great foundation in creating the articles,” said Lanier. “Outside experts and professionals are a huge part of the MASD program. Students need this interaction to better understand industry standards, learn new skills and begin to build their own networks.”

Knobel’s professional network might be growing as well.

“The talent that I saw was inspiring,” she said. “These students are going to be in the professional world very soon, and frankly, I think I could feasibly hire some of them right now.”

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