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Elizabeth Siematkowski

and the Buffalo Black Book

I first found out about Buffalo Black Book, Elizabeth’s publication through some friends back home in Buffalo, NY. I was immediately impressed by her style and dedication to craft. Elizabeth continually focuses on people and it’s evident throughout her whole creative process. Since the first issue, Buffalo Black Book continues to popular, selling in locations all over New York state and City.


Why did you choose Design/Visual Arts as a career?

There is something so special about creating something and sharing it with people. Seeing them hold something in their hands that came from your heart, I think that is really the closest we can get to one another.

Buffalo Black Book. Tell me about this project.

Buffalo Black Book started as a small handmade zine with a renegade essence. I was working at a university full time as a mental health clinician  and in the evenings I would stay up creating these little pocket sized “black books.”  Living in the Rust Belt city of Buffalo, NY I noticed people going to extraordinary lengths under extraordinary circumstances to be themselves. People are fascinating and to me the most fascinating are those, who despite all odds, constructs and barriers find ways to succeed by being brave enough to be who they are. So I started literally walking up to these such individuals and just flat out asking them, “How do you have the strength to live a life authentic to your being?” And for some reason they would tell me.  


I would stay up making countless zines until my hands would hurt and disperse them around the city at random with no information except an email (it’s the same email I use today). And for some reason people began to email me. Submitting poems, offering insights, artwork and tipping me off to people, happenings and fringe crews around the city defining, “off the beaten path.”


Each little black book would have a story and feature an individual—a bookshop owner on the west side befriending a burgeoning refugee population and learning how to tactfully ask the prostitutes to commandeer a different corner, a couple from Columbia fleeing narco-terrorism and singlehandedly overturning a longstanding gang by renovating a series of homes in a forgotten neighborhood, a slam poet who spit inclusivity and respect and gave illiterate kids a voice in a world of written word, a skateboarder who’s love for motion led him to CERN and a career as a particle physicist, an artist with no hands getting a full ride to Yale for his painting series about fish in the sea, a graffiti artist whose teacher wrote in his sketchbook “stop doodling this is not art” and thirty years later was contracted by the city to do several major murals making him among the most well known street artists in the northeast—these are just a few examples of the countless individuals I have met along this journey. Through these interviews and meetings I came to realize Buffalo Black Book was becoming something bigger than myself and something really special.

What have been some of your biggest strengths and struggles during your career so far?


Strengths include making it happen, creating the magazine, meeting incredible people, shooting beautiful photos out of sheer luck and light, people constantly showing up and coming through right when I feel like it’s all over or not going to happen. A few things I struggle with include paperwork, staying organized with the website and taking things too personally at times.

What I have come to learn about myself is, the more I do my own thing and operate from a place of what feels right versus what I think I should be doing, the better my work, receptivity and personal well being.  It’s hard to have unwavering trust in oneself especially when you are plowing into the unknown — it’s hard to keep the light glowing sometimes especially with constant rejection and setbacks. That said, when I do listen to my gut and trust myself and things do work out it makes it that much more rewarding.  

I also have conversations with the Black Book a lot — it’s its own being and movement so when I am stressed or depleted or not sure about something, I kind of look to the project to speak to me.  So it’s kind of like; not so much what would Elizabeth do but what would Buffalo Black Book do or say in a given instance.  The Black Book is scrappy, raw, lovely, and takes no prisoners. Sometimes I am a bit soft and have some people pleasing stuff I have to work through and if I am tired it’s like all bets are off.  So to gain clarity and strength I look to the work and it usually knows what to do.

Edited by Joshua Duttweiler

april 2017

graphic design


"I believe that dialogue creates empathy and ultimately empathy promotes inclusivity and change in a culture."  

A year later I left my job of four years and turned the handmade passion project into a quarterly print coffee table - 84 page magazine.     


At present I am a one person, show, I am fortunate enough to have a student intern to help me with events, our Newsletter and a bit of the social media demands. As far as the publishing process I do all of the distribution.  So I am constantly going to the UPS store mailing out online orders, I know all of the employees by name, and they even sell the magazine in their Buffalo, NY location (so much love for them!).  In terms of the shops I just cold called all of the magazine carriers in NYC and drove down with all of my inventory and banged down doors asking them to give it a chance and some shelf space. At present the magazine is carried in all seven Iconic Magazine locations in NYC, McNally Jackson in SoHo and Spoonbill Books in Brooklyn. In Buffalo, NY it is sold at several locations including our second issue back cover advertiser Half and Half Boutique. Other shops include RO (featured in Vogue this past holiday season for best boutique to shop for gifts), Ms Eye Candy Boutique, Trend-Up, You and Me Boutique, The Dress Shop and Talking Leaves.   


For the actual printing, it was through a true miracle I was able to find a shop in the Western NY location and they have been so supportive and critical in the success and delivery of the magazine. The first time I met with them I showed them an example of a magazine I loved and said, “can you create this here?” and they said “yes.”  So then I said, “okay so how was this created?” And that is when they told me about Adobe InDesign. I spent the entire summer reading marketing books, YouTubing Adobe tutorials, interviewing people and staging photo shoots with my sister’s borrowed Canon Rebel camera.  


I did not necessarily have the skill set, but I had a dream, the drive and a vision. So I just found an example of a dream product and worked backward figuring out how they did it.  


The Black Book at its core is a torch carrier for humanity. It’s about bringing people, far and wide, together through candid conversation and stigma busting to create real and hopefully meaningful dialogue. I believe that dialogue creates empathy and ultimately empathy promotes inclusivity and change in a culture.  

What's in your margins?

"With small print run magazines once they are sold out that is it. Everything is optimized this way; content, environmental responsibility and readership."

What are some trends in your field that you wish you could bring back, and which ones would you rather forget?


What I love about magazines like Buffalo Black Book, the quarterlies, bi-annuals, annuals, small print run, minimal to null advertisers, etc. is the limited exclusive aspect. With small print run magazines once they are sold out that is it. Everything is optimized this way; content, environmental responsibility and readership. I also love the culture and beautiful attention to detail. For instance, we use black mailers, send personalized notes, have inserts tailored according to each issue. People love extra little things and touches and that is what these magazines gift people. Certainly, they cost more than the traditional newsstand magazines but for me it’s worth it for all of those reasons.


I think I would rather forget the waste that the industry has historically brought and the clutter. It is hard to justify print given the environmental cost alone. That is why I truly believe in doing it in a responsible way. Being strategic about how many issues to print and making each issue a work of art to be cherished and held for all of time. Producing something that has staying power, just like the individuals featured. To that end, I am in love with so many of the major magazines and newspapers and feel they are very important in a lot of ways to our culture, identity and freedom. That said, it just seems to me, there are ways of being more mindful in the printing process, where even small changes would have immense environmental implications.

Who are some designers/artists that you feel have impacted your own practice?


The first time I was introduced to zine culture was through my cousin in Brooklyn, we went to Spoonbill Books and I was like oh my gosh what are these magical magazines with no ads, stunning photos and really different content that I have never been exposed to or read about anywhere. It was like my wildest dreams had come true. If you had told me that day that seven years later I would have a magazine on shelves there I would have been like you are insane. I mean wow. I absolutely love The Plant, Wilder, Apartamento, Acid Mag, Bare Journal, Lone Wolf, White Lies and Tidal Magazine they are all so uniquely beautiful.

Two of my  greatest life mentors are the owners of a coffee shop I worked for all through graduate school called Orange Cat Coffee Co. It is one of the  first vegan establishment in Western New York and these two individuals are the embodiment of being true to yourself and just dominating life. Coffee culture is very much an art in it’s own right.  What I admire most about the two owners is their commitment to the environment, their lifestyle, beliefs and doing things their way and as a result being pioneers in both the coffee industry and veganism.  

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