Scripps student shines a light on young artists with Sunbow Zine

A female young adult smiles at the camera in front of a graphite wall.
Ella Bailey SC ’25 founded Sunbow Zine, an internationally distributed publication of art and literature. (Courtesy: Charlie Salkever)

As everything shut down in the spring of 2020, Ella Bailey SC 25 unleashed her creativity with her close friend Rachel Sontheimer to create Sunbow Zine. 

By June, Sunbow had a website and Instagram account featuring young artists’ work from all over the world. Different from a magazine, a zine is a small-scale, self-published booklet. Just a few months later, Sunbow released its first print issue containing 62 pages full of original art. The non-profit zine, which Bailey distributed internationally, offered a haven for young artists to have their work promoted and understood.

“We hadn’t really seen a publication that was specifically for queer people and women and non-binary people, and all of that,” Bailey said. “Just fostering a space that was specifically for that group of people has been very empowering, I think, for ourselves and for the artists that are featured as well.”

Bailey, who has a background in portraiture photography and journalistic writing, started the zine from a desire to lean into her creative side during her gap year. She had been a part of a few literary zines before, but as founder and editor-in-chief of Sunbow she wanted to do something less rigid and more organic. With its boundless structure, covering topics like climate change, mental health and poetry, Sunbow intentionally creates a space dedicated to young women and queer artists looking to express themselves freely. 

When she searched Instagram for potential contributors, Bailey focused on inclusivity, reaching out to artists and writers internationally. While online, she connected with Katie Remaklus SC 24. 

Remaklus had just learned that Scripps would be online and was feeling disappointed. She fell back on painting, a medium that helped her cope throughout the pandemic. When she heard about Sunbow, she thought it was the perfect opportunity to feel connected during a virtual school year and share her “female-focused” art.

“I just needed an outlet and something to keep me busy at first,” Remaklus said. “It turned into being a very nice community to always go to. It kept me motivated and kept me inspired to keep doing artwork.”

Bailey found that establishing Sunbow created a community outside the walls of quarantine that eventually spanned internationally. Now, Sunbow has a collection of regular contributors internationally – like graphic artist Phoebe Unwin and fashion writer Rana Rastegari, both of whom are from the United Kingdom.

Unwin had just entered her first year at Loughborough University in England and was looking for a zine to share her work. Similarly to Remaklus, she found Sunbow on Instagram. After she reached out to Bailey, Unwin became a regular contributor, creating promotional art on Instagram, submitting illustrations and even designing the cover of their second issue. 

“As much as it was online, it really felt like a collaborative effort,” Unwin said. “Ella was really kind enough to send me a copy of the issue in the mail. Just holding it in my hand after we had worked on it for a good few months — it was really cool to see.”

While an international zine may sound elegant, it was a lot of work behind the scenes. Together, Bailey and her team leafed through hundreds of submissions they received via Instagram and their website. After choosing a select few, they divided them up for content for their Instagram, website and print issue. Next came the editing and layout, a time-consuming process where Bailey collaborated with other team members to design and organize the pages.

Finally, after getting copies of the zine printed at a private publisher, the zines arrived at Bailey’s doorstep, where she then mailed each individual copy to subscribers. 

Teamwork is essential to producing the final product Bailey ships out. Not only does distributing the immense amount of work make the process more efficient, it also includes more perspectives.

“It’s just interesting to see all of the different ways that our team members take the messages of Sunbow,” Bailey said. “It’s so cool to work with them to create the final products that are then published.”

Sunbow has grown considerably since they printed their first issue. They currently have a small team of around 10 members AND nearly 5,000 followers on their Instagram. Also, a few of their TikToks have gone viral, with one reaching upwards of 245,000 views

Bailey dedicates much of their growth to social media. With a continuous cycle of new art and content, Bailey, who manages the account, looks to both maintain and expand their base. She wants to attract young artists, and she knows social media is the space to find them.

“Rachel and I were like, ‘this is really where we need to focus our efforts,’” Bailey said. “Early on, Rachel and I would spend hours just sitting on Instagram, interacting with accounts, finding artists and then slowly it built up. People have just come together very organically.”

While she couldn’t have expected this growth, she said she’s looking forward to seeing where it goes. For Bailey, that process starts at the 5Cs.

Currently, she’s working on a webzine that highlights a few submissions Sunbow received over the summer. Differently from previous website posts that were individual pieces of art or poems, this webzine will be in the same layout of a print edition, combining several mediums into one. 

Bailey also hopes to include more team members and contributors from the 5Cs, possibly eventually planning an event that highlights artists and musicians. In the meantime, Bailey’s focused on letting the zine expand freely in order to mirror the freeform communities it’s dedicated to.

“My hope is that it will just continue to grow,” Bailey said. “It’s really been so overwhelming in a positive way to see the reach that it has gained in the past year. It’s just also been really fun to constantly find new ways to transform Sunbow and just let it evolve in ways that are organic.”

Sunbow will be meeting at Scripps College starting in early October. 5C students interested in joining can apply here.

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