By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Nov 11, 2010 at 5:04 AM

Operators of a short-lived but popular Downtown art gallery are collaborating once again, this time on a beautifully-crafted international art magazine.

Best friends Cassandra Smith and Jessica Steeber, both 27, are about to launch Fine Line, a well-designed, mostly writing-free magazine featuring the work of 14 artists from around the world.

The magazine's full color debut issue, themed "Welcome Home," is an immersive blend of sparse and poetic prose, drawing, painting, photography and collage that feels more akin to visiting a gallery than picking up a magazine.

With day jobs to worry about, pressure from their landlord over the swelling size of their openings and a sense they'd accomplished all they wanted to in their Downtown warehouse space, Smith and Steeber closed the doors to the Armoury Gallery in spring 2009 after a healthy year-long run.

"We just got tired of putting money into it and we felt like we had a good run," Smith said.

"We got out of it what we needed. It existed as this thing that we documented really well and it was exciting and then it was kind of like, 'We don't want to be art dealers the rest of our lives so let's move on before we get too disillusioned,'" Steeber added.

After kicking the idea around of starting a magazine for more than a year, the duo began working more intensely on the project in recent months, scouring the Internet for new artists and teaching themselves how to be publishers.

"We would work at either of our houses and just find artists, print out their work, lay it out on the floor and kind of stack them up and see if the artists wanted to work with us," Steeber said of the process, "The idea of 'Welcome Home' being the issue title was a launching point, with the experience that kind of surrounds the introductory page and the attempt to continue that feeling was kind of all we went off of."

Approaching the magazine with a curators touch, the friends found the format allowed them to land artists they couldn't have at the gallery.

"You can just send out an e-mail and it's like 'Sure,' and then they can just send back a file and it's done as opposed to the gallery where we had to pay for shipping and it would have cost us like $1,000 to get it done," said Smith, commenting on the comparative ease of attracting international artists the the magazine.

In total, artists from seven different countries are represented in the premiere issue.

The absence of the reviews and interviews typical of many arts magazines makes for a peaceful, contemplative reading experience, but sprung out of Steeber and Smith's disdain for writing and reading art criticisms.

"We had to narrow down to what are we good at? I don't really like reading reviews. I don't really like conducting interviews that much. There was all this stuff where it was like, 'This is an arts magazine but I'm not interested in any of these things, so how can we make it work for us?'" recalled Smith, "'We were finally like 'Oh, let's just not have any writing in it.'"

Steeber and Smith hope to make the magazine a quarterly, and will be selling the magazine locally for $10 while they seek national distribution.

Large prints of the magazine pages will be on display, and copies for sale, at the magazine's Nov. 19 launch party at Studio Deep End, 315 N. Plankinton Ave.