How the OWL Lab’s Jillian Musielak found her unique identity as an artist

Written in October 2020

One by one, OWL Lab manager and Technology Coordinator Jillian Musielak fills in squares on a spreadsheet. After filling in each square, she diligently takes screenshots, ultimately putting them into Adobe Premiere Pro to make an animation. Although this is an unusual way to use the program, she has been making videos in this unconventional manner all throughout her life.  

Born in Archer Heights to Polish and Lithuanian immigrants, Musielak has felt different ever since she moved to the suburbs of Oak Lawn when she was nine.

As a child, she adored movies. Some of her favorites were, “Three Amigos,” and, “La Bamba,” but she always had a unique attraction to the productions that were just as unique as her. 

“I started to watch shows, like on WTTW, where they had some shows that were like experimental animation and experimental video,” she said. “I kind of sought out things that were different, I think because I felt different once we moved to the suburbs.”

Her interest in videos grew throughout her primary education, where she would choose to make video book reports instead of written presentations. Since she did not know much about video editing at the time, Musielak had to get creative to produce her work. 

“I knew that if I had a tv console that had a VCR built into it, I could connect another VCR to that TV console and edit two videos at once,” she explained. “Looking back at it now, how did I figure that out? It was like this innate ability that I had.”

Out of High School, however, Musielak was not sure about what she wanted to do as a career. She dropped out of school various times before her feelings of estrangement brought her to New York, just wanting to be somewhere else.

In the Big Apple, Musielak met people in creative fields who encouraged her to become an artist. Since she was from Chicago, they pointed her towards The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

After some introductory classes at Moraine Valley Community College, Musielak was accepted into SAIC with a full scholarship.

“It was so validating, almost like I guess this is what I should be doing,” she said. “For the first time I was kind of being rewarded for being me in this way.”

At SAIC, Musielak finished both her undergraduate and MFA in film and video. Although she had gotten a job working at SAIC’s Video Data Bank, Musielak’s imposter syndrome continued to haunt her and push her to create videos like no one else.

“I wanted to use materials that I could easily get my hands on,” she said. “I was thoroughly intimidated by the media cage, by having to go there and ask questions where people may think of me as I’m stupid, so I never checked anything out.” 

Musielak’s time at SAIC also gave her a new perspective regarding art as a career.  She struggled with the idea that while making art, the end products of her work are vague. Making art just to make art without seeing how it could clearly impact someone else was unfulfilling for Musielak, who then redirected her focus towards the commercial side of video. 

This realization resulted in Musielak pursuing a job at Loyola University Chicago’s OWL Lab. Here, she can use her unique perspectives in video and life to directly influence students.  Dealing with unconformity her entire life, she aims to build an environment where students are not discouraged from asking questions and instead are empowered to think outside the box while learning how to use production materials. 

“I felt like I didn’t have as much experience with a lot of equipment, especially going back to school after three years,” said Jessica Douglas, a graduate student and frequent user of the lab. “She explains equipment well but also checks in on you to see how your day is going.”  “It’s not about having the innate ability to use a camera,” Musielak said. “It’s about teaching yourself to feel comfortable having these things as an extension of yourself.”