Steps towards going plastics-free

If I were a contestant on Shark Tank, I'd be laughed off the show. A print magazine? ha! An encyclopedia?! ha! ha! From the perspective of the Sharks, there's nothing to invest in when it comes to UPPERCASE. There's no big franchise, or opportunity to scale because it all comes down to me. My direction, my aesthetics, my decisions.

Many choices I've made over the years have affected the profit potential of my company. There isn't any advertising. I don't do sponsored content. UPPERCASE isn't available in big box stores like Barnes & Noble. I haven't raised subscription prices in 10 years of existence, despite costs going up everywhere else. I use 100% post-consumer recycled paper on the interior pages, which is significantly more expensive. I spend $1.20 per subscription or renewal to plant a tree. I give away Creative Boost subscriptions and complimentary cartons to non-profits. This is my business and these are my choices.

And now I'm looking at a decision that will cost me roughly $4,500 more per issue—getting UPPERCASE plastics-free.

But UPPERCASE is a paper magazine, where's the plastic?

Well, the subscriber copies are mailed in a polybag. Although technically recyclable, it is quite unlikely that the small amount of plastic received by a subscriber is actually recycled either because facilities don't exist, or the relatively tiny amount of plastic for a polybag makes it impossible to deal with in the recycling process. The polybag system is quick and automated, but there aren't any non-plastic eco-alternatives. So I will have to purchase mailers and then pay for the additional manual labour required to pack the magazines into the envelopes.

I've been researching various options: 100% recycled, reusable and recyclable plastic polybags (but still plastic), biodegradable mailers made from compostable corn and wheat straw (but made in China), and various kraft envelopes. It looks like a simple kraft envelope, which is made in North America from 100% recycled material and is also completely recyclable and compostable will be my choice. I'll try it out on the next issue to see how well it works.

Previously, books and magazines sent to our old fulfillment warehouses had to be shrinkwrapped to protect them from dirty hands and indifference. Hopefully, the new fulfillment warehouse will be nicer to our inventory. I am looking into alternative solutions to protect books in storage and transit.

There's also the matter of gloss lamination on the cover of my Encyclopedia series and Little U. The lamination enhances the longevity of the books so I'd like to keep something similar. I'm investigating what bio-degradable options there are. Thankfully, my books and magazines don't end up in landfills because readers treat them with respect. ❤ 

To be honest, I've been feeling very anxious and depressed about the state of the world and our environment. If we're to make a dent in this problem, I believe that more individuals and companies need to get uncomfortable now, rise to the challenge and be willing to spend more. Getting UPPERCASE plastics-free is something that I can do—I'm willing to pay the cost and see it as an investment in our collective future. 

Since this is where my brain space is these days, I thought I'd share behind the scenes of the latest decision I'm making! Perhaps you can make some positive changes in your own daily life.

I think there's one thing that the Sharks couldn't laugh about, and that's my DETERMINATION.

And I hope this is another reason why you'll decide to invest in my business and subscribe, renew or purchase a gift subscription.

Thank you.

Integrity Rainbows (B-School registration is open now!)

B-School registration is open today and will remain open until March 1 at 6pm EST. Registration happens only once a year! (But once you've registered, you can take B-School every year or as often as you like. I'll be taking it for a third time this year and each time I learn something new.)

Registration includes instant access to some training videos:

#1. Start The Right Business Program

Marie calls herself a multi-passionate entrepreneur. Sometimes you have so many ideas that you're not sure where to start. This program will show you "step-by-step, how to strategically and intelligently vet your ideas to see which will have the best chance of success." It is really great to start of B-School with this sort of focus.

#2. The Follow-Through Formula Productivity Program

Marie talks you through some habits and techniques to help you succeed in B-School and in your own business and life. Following through is the only way to get things done!

If you register through my link, I will receive an affiliate commission. And you'll get some bonuses from me, too!


  • A complimentary one-year subscription/renewal to UPPERCASE magazine.

  • A pair of Everyday notebooks to jot down your B-School a-ha moments.

  • Access to a private UPPERCASE + B-School community and discussion board.

  • Online conference call with Janine to ask questions and share your progress with the encouraging UPPERCASE B-School community.

  • The opportunity to pitch your ideas or business concept to be published in issue 40 of UPPERCASE magazine (3 profiles available)

  • Access to creative entrepreneur productivity e-course to be released by Janine Vangool / UPPERCASE

Need more information about B-School? Take a tour of the program here to see what's included in the course. If you have questions about payment plans, refunds and if B-School is right for you, please visit this page. And to read about my B-School experience and why I'm an affiliate, please visit my dedicated page. Thanks!

Entrepreneurship Q+A with Janine Vangool

Earlier this month, I was contacted by Catrina Auger, a fourth-year student at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. She's working on her Bachelor of Design and is taking a class called Creative Practice and Change. Catrina writes, "We are learning about how to better our selves for our possible future entrepreneurship. For the assignment that I am currently working on, our task is to interview entrepreneurs that we believe are great role models. UPPERCASE has been a large source of inspiration for myself during the past four years—my mother and I share a subscription and just adore all of the work you create."

Here's our conversation:


How did you know that you were ready to take on and start your own business? 

After graduating from the Alberta College of Art in 1995, I had a “real” job working for a design company in Calgary for about 9 months. Just long enough to realize that that particular firm was not a good fit for me! I had a few freelance opportunities and left that day job to pursue my own path. I wasn’t particularly ready to start my own business, but I was ready to leave an environment where I wasn’t valued or treated respectfully. I’ve been my own boss ever since.

Do you feel that freelancing gave you enough experience to create your own business?

I was fortunate that my first freelance contract was a long-term one, and one that introduced me to lots of really nice people who continued to hire me for other projects. So my first business, Vangool Design + Typography, started off immediately with my first freelance gig.

Did you have any prior knowledge of business before starting? Such as taking a course in business and or finance.

Zero training! It was learn by doing, trial and error.

When did you realize and or discover what type of business you wanted to create?

I had always thought I’d have my own design firm—I just didn’t imagine it would happen so soon. I was only 22 or 23 when I started my company. I thought I’d work for someone else (my dream job was to work for a publisher like Chronicle Books) for a few years to gain experience before setting off on my own. I loved having my own design firm (company of one!) and I had excellent clients in the arts, culture and publishing fields. I was fortunate to work with nice people and good companies.

I did freelance for a dozen years before starting to yearn for different challenges. In 2005, I opened a space downtown called UPPERCASE gallery, books & papergoods in Art Central. It was a 3-storey complex with artist studios, galleries and creative companies. I continued to do freelance design from that space, but the front-facing and public aspect was that of a gallery and bookstore. It was a fun and exciting challenge to fill the retail aspect and I began to design and make products to sell. I dabbled in greeting card designs that were available wholesale across Canada, handmade notebooks, sewn objects, vintage type packages, workshops… I tried lots of things.

In 2007, I organized a funny gallery show about William Shatner featuring 76 illustrations of him. To accompany the show, I published my first book. A hardcover tome featuring the artwork plus commentary. Through that project, I realized my dream of becoming a publisher. From then, I experimented with other ways to publish books and, eventually, UPPERCASE magazine.

By 2010, UPPERCASE magazine was a year old and I had a baby, too. So I decided to close up the gallery and retail, officially retire from design for clients, and focus solely on publishing. (And being a mom, too!)

What are some key points that you believe a future entrepreneur should make sure to complete before starting their own business?

I don’t know if there’s anything that you need to “complete” necessarily, but creative entrepreneurs should have organizations skills, be good with scheduling and have a disciplined work ethic. You can be creative with the work that you do, but having structure to how you do the work is important.

Having your husband help and support you and your business, do you feel that it would be better for a new entrepreneur to have family and or friends to help them start off?

My husband has always been encouraging of my many ventures and helped out a great deal back in the gallery days, but it hasn’t been until just a couple years ago that he officially began working within UPPERCASE, handling customer support. In the earlier days of the magazine, his contribution was looking after our son during the day so that I could go to the studio to concentrate on getting things done. It is definitely nice to have a support system and encouragement, but not a requirement. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Through all of the projects that you have worked on, how do you find time for all of them? Are there any time management strategies that you use?

In publishing a quarterly magazine, I have to be very disciplined when it comes to timelines and schedules. My readers expect each issue to arrive at a certain time. Being committed to that schedule is one of the reasons I think UPPERCASE magazine is still around 9 years later. My readers can trust that I will deliver.

Over time—and 36 issues in—I have developed systems of organization that help me through the cycle of publishing. I don’t need to reinvent things time and again, I do things a certain way that works for me. I’ve also become a better editor and curator. So as I’ve honed my skills, I’ve create more time to explore additional projects like publishing more books in addition to the magazine.

With running your own business, is it hard to juggle your work and your personal life?

I don’t see it as a juggle. My business is part of my life, it is very personal to me. My family sees how UPPERCASE supports us and benefits us. My schedule is flexible in some of the day-to-day aspects, so I can spend time at home with my child or we can go on trips together. It’s integrated with our lives. There’s balance.

After having a period of time where the popularity of the magazine was low, and having to make the hard decision to lay off a team member; how did you accomplish to recover and grow your brand to where it is today?

It wasn’t that the popularity of the magazine was low, actually, but that having numerous employees was costing a lot of money. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to harness the time and investment of the team to grow the company large enough to keep up with their salaries. I thought more people would equal more productivity would equal more growth. It turns out that equation was wrong. 

It was an excruciating decision to lay people off, but it had reached a point where I wouldn’t be able to pay all the bills. During that time, I had invested in the first business training I’d ever had—I enrolled in Marie Forleo’s B-School. It’s an 8-week course that teaches marketing and connects you to your ideal customers and business model. The course gave me some practical and applicable skills while validating a lot of things I had been feeling I should be doing in my business but hadn’t been due to the burden of employee management and salaries. Because of that course, I had the courage to reboot my company, lay people off (which was unfortunate but necessary) and start with a fresh approach. Within months, I was out of the financial hole and my business was profitable again.

Full disclosure: this year I applied to be a B-School affiliate and was accepted! It was such a life and business-changing course that I want to help promote it. This year’s course starts in March and I’m sharing my experiences about it in my newsletter and on my blog.

Living in the digital age, did you find it necessary to market yourself and your brand through social media and the internet?

Yes, it is necessary to market oneself through social media. That’s just how it is. But having solid products and skills are the first order of business! I concentrate on making nice things and keeping my customers happy—and then positive testimonials from my readers is the best, natural form of promotion.

When starting your business, were there any goals that you set for yourself and your brand to achieve? Was there a point in the last nine years where you felt that UPPERCASE met and or surpassed your creative goals? 

I’ve set measurable goals over the years. When I launched the magazine, it was to reach 1,000 subscribers. Then it was to get to 3,000… 4,000. My subscriber base is at around 5,000 now, so I’m aiming for 6,000! I don’t necessarily have to reach that next milestone, but it is motivating to have a destination in mind. And I’ve always got multiple projects on the go. In the last two years, in addition to the magazine, I’ve published 3 books as part of the UPPERCASE Encylopedia of Inspiration. The reception for that project was great and I loved putting those books together. So I’m doing it again! The next 4 volumes of the Encyclopedia are in the works.

I’m also launching another magazine this year. Little U is the offspring of UPPERCASE, a smaller and cuter version for the young at heart. It will be published in April.

With having nearly 500 new subscriptions after partnering with Tree Era, do you find that it is necessary to keep up with public issues in order to keep growing and updating your business?

One of the benefits of having a financially stable business is that I can invest some funds into things that matter to me. So in addition to monthly donations to Unicef and Doctors without Borders, I am partnering with Calgary-based TreeEra. For every new subscription or renewal this year, a tree will be planted. So far, the equivalent of 477 trees have been purchased since the start of the year! I’m also factoring a donation to Unicef as part of my planning for Little U. Being a socially conscious human—and by extension business owner—is important to me. And I think it is important to my customers, too.

Catrina  sent me this lovely thank you note in the mail, a customized drawing of a vintage sign! Thanks, Catrina!

Catrina sent me this lovely thank you note in the mail, a customized drawing of a vintage sign! Thanks, Catrina!

When you're supposed to say yes...

Thank you for the incredible response to my reader survey last week—your comments and opinions were incredibly helpful. With thousands of participants, not only did it provide good data about who my readers are, but also what they think and feel.

Wondering what it was all about? Respondents from the United States were asked, "Do you think having UPPERCASE available at Barnes & Noble is a good idea? Why or why not?" 

As I mentioned, I was going in circles over an "opportunity." The distributor for Barnes & Noble had contacted me, expressing interest in UPPERCASE, initially for a few hundred to a thousand copies. At that quantity, I would lose money on every issue. I was prepared to say no and walk away, but coincidentally around that time an independent circulation consultant got in touch who was very generous with her knowledge and contacts. Samples were sent to the head newsstand buyer who was impressed with the quality of UPPERCASE magazine and the desired quantity was upped considerably: 4,000 to 5,000 copies.

Now that's certainly a flattering request! Particularly since I've been steadily working on UPPERCASE for nine years and have never received such an order. Not even for the year or so when Anthropologie stocked UPPERCASE some time ago. (That was a great opportunity, brief though it was—Anthropologie paid for all copies that went to their stores.)

And while this quantity certainly changed the figures in my calculations, an order of thousands would not automatically be profitable. The cost of an increased print run, freight costs, distribution fees (including reshipping fees based on the weight of my fairly hefty magazine) not to mention the percentage off the cover price that goes to the distributor and the retailer... And then you factor in the sell-through rate—even optimistically at 60% of all copies sent to the retailer would be sold... the profit margin diminishes and the risk goes up. Even at an above-average distribution rate that the circulation consultant was able to negotiate.

But aren't you supposed to say yes to opportunities like this?

Wouldn't it be good for exposure?

Don't you have to spend money to make money?

How does a business grow without taking risks?

You can see my dilemma.


It's not that I'm risk-averse. I would say the opposite, actually. I thrive on taking risks. But only the right ones. Situations in which I have a good amount of control. Situations where I know that my own hard work and guidance help reduce the risk.

"Yes, the question is "why not?" — I don't see any I missing something?"

It would typically take two cycles of magazines (and print bills!) before I would see payment for the first copies sold through the distributor. So I would have the burden of spending a lot more before seeing any funds recouped, if a profit. That is a financial strain that could potentially negatively affect the projects I want to pursue this year and the ongoing health of the magazine. It would definitely add stress on me personally, too.

The sell-through rates are of concern, too. 40% of what I would send (2000 copies) could potentially be destroyed. (I like doing things at 100%—it goes back to my nerdy, bookish days in school where I strived to get perfect scores.) I would have no control over the display of the magazine in their stores.

"I don’t know what the return rate is on unsold copies, and I believe returns on old issues are handled by destroying the copy/removing the cover, so there would be no resaleability / back issues available."

"Not really [a good idea], unless it is a slam dunk for you. I think there is a lot of waste, which you are obviously trying to avoid. UPPERCASE is a cut above the other mags offered there....more meat than the rest..."

The newsstand distribution model is wasteful. And with my pledge this year to plant a tree for every new subscriber and renewal, I can't stomach the waste. My babies!

And what would it mean for UPPERCASE, this magazine I have lovingly grown over the years, to be in a big box store? Respondents worried that it might change the community and family feel of the magazine. I can truthfully say that UPPERCASE's content and ethos would not change, nor would I start putting advertising in its pages. But the perception that UPPERCASE would change because of such a deal was of concern to me:

"If having UPPERCASE there would lead to compromises like inviting advertising, creating crazy deadlines for yourself, or changing the format, I'd say let it pass. It has to be enjoyable for You. I consider the mag to be the most down-to-earth, inspiring publication that I know of. I'd hate to see it change!"
"Possibly - UPPERCASE is wonderful and should be shared with others. At the same time, I'm worried it would change. There's something about the quiet exclusivity of UPPERCASE that is appealing. I love the community behind the magazine and all the amazing people that bring this magazine to life. As long as that never changes and the magazine remains true to its roots, I would 100% support the light being shone on UPPERCASE in a retail store like Barnes & Noble."

There was plenty of support for UPPERCASE to be in Barnes & Noble (48% percent of US-based respondents), but it was often tempered with words of caution.

"Lots of times I see these beautiful types of publications and they are leafed through, picked over and returned to the magazine rack that is bulging full. I love Barnes & Noble, but I am not sure it's the best place for UPPERCASE—at least in the magazine stacks. I see it more in high end paper and art stores. I am sure it's hard to find the right line between accessibility and profitability."
"Personally, I have been wishing B&N would carry UPPERCASE, since it would be in front of so many more people. (It seems somewhat like a hidden gem) I've found a few other very cool mags lately that I never would have seen otherwise and have not seen anywhere else to date.  Hopefully, wide distribution won't cause you to include ads in your mag. That's part of the beauty of UPPERCASE."   
"It seems to me that more people READ the magazines at Barnes & Noble than BUY them. I suppose that being at the store would give you more exposure."
"I do count on B&N to offer a large selection of boutique magazines from all over the world. Their variety of arts magazines has exploded over the last couple of years and I have welcomed it and I’ve purchased many. I would be concerned that UPPERCASE would not lose its handmade, artisanal quality, and continue to avoid advertising while nurturing its community of makers and promoting the ideals of design, and the creative life." 
"I would like to see the magazine at B & N but worry what it would mean for the contents.  Once the big boxes get their clutches on mags I have seen too often the content decline in quality and be replaced with ads and other nonsense.  One of the great things about UPPERCASE is that there are no ads and the content is original and I would hate to see that change. Sometimes bigger isn't better and more exposure can lead to unfortunate changes." 
"I really miss having good magazines available at "the newsstand" and today that means bigger chains. But I wish more people knew about UPPERCASE and this would bring it to a wide audience and make it more accessible if someone can't do the whole subscription price. I feel like I got lucky that I found a copy in a crafting space/retail store in Pasadena on a trip— otherwise I might still be in the dark! Your magazine has truly ignited my creativity during a time that I could easily have just let it wallow." 
"It's hard to answer this intelligently without knowing the cost involved to 'enter' B&N and obtain shelf space. That being said, it seems like a worthy experiment. UPPERCASE would be in the company of similar-yet-different publications that appeal to countless people who still prefer to support a bricks-and-mortar store versus shopping online. Such a consumer may be considered rare, but UPPERCASE is a rare kind of reading / inspiring / motivating / enjoyable / guilty-pleasure kind of read, which may lead to a match made in heaven. Here on earth. For you. For us. And for B&N." 
"As co-founder of a mag that closed down, newsstand is fickle. You might get good visibility, but not always guaranteed. We happened to sell well at most B & Ns, but it always irked me that the remainders at other chains were just trashed. Total waste of resources and killed a few trees. Sometimes newsstands will arbitrarily slap on surcharges for obscure reasons, and if you want to stay there, you have to pay them. B & N was the most effective for us but if we were back in print today with a no-ads book hybrid model, odds are we would not do any newsstand at all, or only B & N." 

The "exposure" we're talking about through distribution is actually access to potential subscribers and the hope that someone browsing would pick up an issue, purchase it, fall in love and subscribe. UPPERCASE has always been supported by subscriptions; that is the model I've stuck to since the very beginning and why UPPERCASE is still going strong all these years later.

"It would be good exposure, but I am worried that the magazine is not main stream enough. And the price point is high which would deter “non-industry” readers to buy it. I love uppercase just the way it is and wish there was a good way for others to discover the magazine."
"That is business decision... based on return policy not sales and placement in racks...loyal subscribers are better than point of sale purchase... exclusivity is often times better than exposure..."
"Very important for your business to reach as many people as possible."

The survey asked what customers might be willing to pay for a single issue. 74% said that $18 would be an acceptable price (but I didn't offer any prices lower than that in my survey and there were lots of comments saying that the cost of UPPERCASE is simply too high. But any cover price below $18 is impossible to offer.) I would have to charge at least $22 per issue sold at B&N for it to be worthwhile. The cover price everywhere else would not change, so the magazine would be the most expensive at B&N which doesn't seem sustainable either.

"Are B&N shoppers bargain-conscious, and unlikely to understand the value? Or would they find your magazine, like the treasure it is, and be delighted?"
"If I saw UPPERCASE for $18 or more I'd nick a subscription card and not buy the physical mag."
"Buying a single copy now and then feels more affordable than a commitment to annual subscription."
"$18 is pretty high. I know most global magazines cost around that much, and it's difficult to justify. I would probably just subscribe."
"Yes, wider visibility. But the price is still too high."

Subscribers also provided their opinions on the matter.

"I don't like the idea of having UPPERCASE in Barnes & Noble because one of the reasons that I subscribe to UPPERCASE is because I feel I'm supporting a small business like myself and feels like I'm a part a little family of subscribers."   
"I suppose that it is a good idea from a marketing standpoint. It would expose more potential readers to the magazine, not as good advertising as word of mouth, but still a broad audience. I personally would still buy a multiyear subscription for a number of reasons. 1: I try not to buy much of anything from chain book stores unless I absolutely have to. 2: I think that you will get more of the money I spend if I buy directly from you. 3: Even though the readership of UPPERCASE is fairly large, I still feel like I have a personal relationship with you when I buy it directly through a subscription." 
"I would rather subscribe directly from you. I imagine you profit more that way. Magazines tend to cost more when you purchase them individually."
"UPPERCASE is exquisite. People will love it anywhere they find it. Personally I love subscribing because I don't shop often."

I appreciated the genuine thought that many readers put into their responses:

"I think I am on my fourth year and have learned to thoroughly appreciate you and the whole philosophy behind this wonderful project called UPPERCASE. I think it would be hard to describe all that in one issue. Subscribing to it a bit like a relationship that has grown over the months of receiving the magazine and appreciating you and all the artists that contribute as well as being exposed to new forms of creativity. It's hard to get all that from one issue."
"I feel that special, meaningful things, inspiring things like UPPERCASE, are worth searching for, worth the hunt. Having Uppercase at Barnes & Noble would certainly expand its reach, exponentially, but I would fear for the integrity of what you've worked so hard to achieve. However, I'm not the one that has to round up funding each issue, and that certainly must be a burden, a constant stressor."

Further demonstrating that my readers are generous and thoughtful, a surprising number mentioned that they would like to be able to pop into a store in order to purchase the magazine as a gift but that they themselves prefer to subscribe.

"I'm always telling people about your wonderful magazine & it would be nice to have it more accessible." 
"When I answered YES to buying UPPERCASE at B&N, I wouldn't let go of my subscription, I meant that I would likely buy an additional copy on occasion as a gift.  It would be terrific to be in the big store so you could reach more people who don't yet know about this unique publication. I came across my first issue at Anthropologie and often wished I could still pick up a duplicate copy of an issue to send a friend (or two). I can imagine the increased work involved in going from "boutique" to "mainstream" is a risk so I would hope that the rewards outweigh the risk.  To be honest, so many bookstores have closed in my area that it getting to one is inconvenient and the habit of going has changed from a weekly visit, to a quarterly visit."

Many of you counselled that I should "follow my gut" and some of you gave me your gut reactions, too!

"I think the exposure could be great, but you’ve already built a platform online. My gut says it’s a risky move, especially if you have to put a lot of money into it."
"My instinct is no... there is a certain cache to subscribing to such a well respected magazine that is only available out of the main stream .. it feels kind of special." 
"My gut response is no because I think that the demands of dealing with the terms of the contract would be stressful and I would think the monetary return would not be worth it."  

This commenter said something that was really astute and can apply to so many instances of the "doing it for exposure" debate: 

"I don't think it's worth the time, money and effort. If the internal convo you're having with yourself is "but the exposure!" then walk away. That convo always ends up benefitting the seller far more than the maker (that's you!) I also think that your target audience would be far more likely to be found in local, independent bookshops rather than a behemoth like B&N. Just my 2 cents!!"

Many people expressed their love for independent booksellers and small boutiques (yes!) and I wholeheartedly agree that these are lovely places for UPPERCASE to be. Thank you for the many suggestions of potential stockists! And thank you to the couple of stockists who responded honestly to the survey. 

"Please stay true to who you are. That's the beauty of UPPERCASE."

And so, as surely you've guessed by now, I've decided not to pursue having UPPERCASE available through Barnes & Noble. I have no disrespect to that company, but rather that the current model of magazine distribution makes it unfeasible from financial, idealogical and ecological reasons. 

I've decided to continue US distribution on our own, simply and directly to independent stockists—and to concentrate our growth via subscriptions, the model that has sustained the magazine these many years.

And as the hundreds of considered comments from respondents attest, UPPERCASE really does have the best readers in the world.

YOU are the most valuable part of my business.

Thank you.

A new design for the new year

I ordered a  Pom Maker  tool and went a little overboard on making pom poms this Christmas!

I ordered a Pom Maker tool and went a little overboard on making pom poms this Christmas!

I got this far and ran out of yarn! fortunately, my mother in law haD a good supply of yarn and I was able to keep POM and carry on.

I got this far and ran out of yarn! fortunately, my mother in law haD a good supply of yarn and I was able to keep POM and carry on.

The wreath wasn't done until after Christmas, but at least it will be ready and waiting for next year's festivities! Or perhaps I'll just bring it indoors to enjoy year-round. It's nice to pet it once and a while!

The wreath wasn't done until after Christmas, but at least it will be ready and waiting for next year's festivities! Or perhaps I'll just bring it indoors to enjoy year-round. It's nice to pet it once and a while!

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a lovely holiday and are feeling rested and ready for the year ahead.

As I mentioned in my newsletter today, one of my goals for 2016 was to revamp this website. It's the digital window into what UPPERCASE is all about and very often the first in-depth experience someone will have with the magazine before they subscribe or see a copy in person. The site really needed some focus and a much stronger home page. And in the backend, I've had my site hosted with Squarespace for a decade (!!!) and the navigation and organization was getting out of hand.

I've been thinking about the redesign for months—gathering ideas, jotting notes, saving urls on websites that I like, musing about it, wishing it would magically get done by itself... but my print projects always necessarily take the forefront of my to-do list. And readers will know that I put out a LOT of pages in 2016. Four magazine issues and the 544-page Feed Sacks book! 

With my workload done for the holidays and some mental space to tackle a medium that's quite a bit different than print, I started fleshing out the site redesign. I selected a new Squarespace template (I'm using Five) and got the basic framework ready. Full screen video on the home page has been on my wish list for years and I'm happy that there's the support to make that very easy to do now. With issue 32 fresh from the printer, I shot three different videos, trying to get the best possible result. I'm still not 100% satisfied with the video on the home page, but I'm sure I'll improve it with each subsequent issue. I'm a learn-by-doing sort of person!

After a very pleasant and mostly technology-free Christmas, on New Year's Eve—in that concentrated flurried feeling of having to get everything clean, sorted and ready for the change of the calendar—I dove in to the redesign. (Do you feel like that on New Year's Eve? I even felt compelled to clean the inside of my microwave. And I enjoyed doing it!)

The new design went live yesterday and there are still some elements to smooth out and improve upon, particularly on the blog page and some typographic elements... but the best thing about it is how this online renovation makes me feel enthusiastic and energized about the work I'll be doing in the coming year. A fresh new home for the new year.

coming up next

There are two new volumes in the Encyclopedia of Inspiration in progress: Botanica and Stitch•illo will be coming your way in the first half of the year. (You can still order the set and Feed Sacks will ship right away or you can purchase the books individually.) I have more plans and projects that I look forward to sharing with you soon.

And of course, the mainstay and core of what I make and do: UPPERCASE magazine. The January/February/March issue is on its way to subscribers and will soon be at stockists worldwide.

be published in uppercase

Want to published in the spring issue? The open calls for submissions are posted and submissions are due January 16.

1348 pages of content created in 2015!

The end of the year's always a time for reflection—and for making resolutions and plans! Please join me in looking at the past year at UPPERCASE... and find out how you can be in the magazine next year!

This has been one amazing year. It started with a lot of travel: In January I was in Austin, Texas to help judge hundreds of beautiful quilts in for QuiltCon. (That's me in a very cute fabric store in Austin.) It felt like I was barely home before I was on a 32-hour odyssey to Australia to speak at the Perth Writer's Festival and then the Creative Women's Circle in Melbourne. I spoke at the HOW conference in Chicago in May, I was in Toronto in June for the National Magazine Awards, onward to Portland in October... it's a wonder I got anything done this year with so much time away.

But now that I look at it all, it sure stacks up. UPPERCASE published a whopping 1348 printed pages of content in 2015. Thank you to all my amazing contributors—the writers and photographers and illustrators and crafters who make such inspiring content. Thank you to all the readers who submitted their work for inclusion. Thank you to Correy Baldwin for copy editing. Thank you to Chris Young at Prolific for handling the printing on all these projects (except for The Typewriter which was printed by Asia Pacific Offset). Thank you to my husband Glen Dresser for his assistance in writing The Compendium, his contributions to the magazine and for taking on customer service recently.

Let's see how all those pages add up:

UPPERCASE 24: January/February/March 2015  
116 pages  

If I were to play favourites, I'd have to say that issue 24 is mine—I love the illustration by Andrea D'Aquino and each of the 10,000 copies had a piece of antique feed sack fabric applied to the cover! The feed sack swatches were sent in by readers from all over and it was such fun to receive little bits of fabric in the mail. (This issue sold out quickly and will not be reprinted... however, a book project has emerged from this issue, it's in the very early stages and I look forward to sharing more! If you've got a feed sack collection, please get in touch!)

UPPERCASE 25: April/May/June 2015  
116 pages

This issue is dedicated to printmaking in all its forms. The cover is by Joey Hannaford. The Profiles in Printmaking section introduces dozens of talented readers who work in everything from monotypes to risograph to letterpress to collographs. Subscribers enjoyed a free printmaking sample inserted into their issues. Get issue 25 here. (Photo by stockist Tiny Feast.)

UPPERCASE 26: July/August/September 2015  
116 pages

I do love little bits of paper. And stamps? They tell such great stories. The cover is by Richard Benson and features fancy cancels. Subscribers were treated to a glassine envelope of vintage stamps inserted into their issue. Thank you to a dedicated group of stamp-sorting, envelope-stuffing philatelists who got thousands of envelopes ready for subscribers. Get issue 26 here.

UPPERCASE 27: October/November/December 2015  
116 pages

This issue has a focus on new illustration talent as well as articles about creative education, wonder and the secrets to longevity (in a creative field). Get issue 27 here (it's now listed as a back issue, so add it to your cart with other back issues and you'll pay less per issue.) Cover by Brian Hurst.

The Typewriter: a Graphic History of the Beloved Machine
336 pages + 16-page insert

Of all the projects this year, this one was the toughest. I spent three years working on this epic visual history of typewriter ephemera. To say that I'm glad it's done is an understatement. The project certainly tested my stamina and "stick-to-it-iveness", but it got done! And now that I have a few months separating me and all the work, it feels even better. The book got a great full-page review in Canada's national newspaper. Purchase it here. (If you're in Europe, get the book through Central Books.)

The UPPERCASE Compendium of Craft & Creativity
384 pages

My most recent book project, it was exactly a year ago that this project began with a call for entries in my newsletter. Featuring 66 artisans, artists and craftspeople from around the world, the Compendium is look into what's happening in craft right now. I look forward to doing a second edition... maybe every couple of years? Order it here. (If you're in Europe, my distributor Central Books will have the book in about a month—ask your local bookseller to stock it through them.)

UPPERCASE 28: Jan/Feb/Mar 2016
116 pages

The new issue is mailing out to subscribers right now! It will be arriving in mailboxes in the next few weeks. This was the best year ever for Gift Subscriptions. Well done, Santa! Subscribe here. Cover of old bus tickets from the collection of Kindra Murphy.

UPPERCASE Creative Calendar 2016
32 pages

For subscribers as of December 17, you'll get a free insert of this fun and inspiring calendar. Keep your creativity on track everyday next year. (Subscribe here to be part of future subscriber-only benefits like this.) Cover by Tara Lilly.

With such a busy year behind me I'm really enjoying a holiday pace right now. I've been taking it slow and being crafty. My problem is that with more time to be contemplative and space to think... I keep coming up with new ideas! Three book ideas for 2016? The launch of Little U? Plus all the regular UPPERCASE magazine-y goodness? 

I can't wait to dive in!

2015 started out with quilts and fabric... and it has ended that way, too! With my very own collection with Windham Fabrics!!! Look for a sneak peek in issue 28.

I'm going to QuiltCon in February. Are you? I will be giving a 30-minute presentation... any suggestions? Want to meet up for an UPPERCASE event?


Calls for Submissions

There are two new open calls for the spring issue. I expect to get a lot of submissions on these topics, so the open call ends on January 15. 

Submit creative projects in which folds and folding are integral to its execution and design. Projects can be in any material, medium or scale. Submit here.

Book Arts
Book arts, unusual book designs, artist's books, intriguing book formats, books as sculpture, books that aren't books... projects in which the concept of a book is the starting point for creative exploration. Submit here.

On a podcast with The Marketing Mentor, Ilise Benum

I recently had the opportunity to have a chat with "The Marketing Mentor", Ilise Benum. Ilise invited me to be a speaker at the HOW Design Live conference in Chicago next month. I'm also organizing a small event in Chicago for the evening of May 4, details will be announced soon. (Sign up for my newsletter on the sidebar or stay tuned here on on Twitter.)

What I learned from design clients led to my “retirement”... and launched a whole new career. 

Freelancing was an unexpected education in marketing, time management and business development. Having left client work to pursue her own projects, Janine will share how to turn frustrations and obstacles into your advantage and how to keep motivated and inspired. You'll get a personal look at how the magazine is made.

THURSDAY, MAY 7 • 4:15 – 5:00PM

Maker's Retreat

Jessika Hepburn of Oh My Handmade is organizing a Maker's Retreat, happening a month from now on the beautiful Cortes Island in British Columbia.

"As makers we create something from nothing every day whether it is logos or lunches, business plans, communities, new creative adventures, or positive change. Our hands make dreams into reality and have built an entire maker movement but we don’t make time to gather and share enough. This October we’re crafting a new kind of gathering for the creative community together."

Christina Platt of the doll company Bamboletta and Arianne Foulks of website design firm Aeolidia will both be at the retreat. Read Arianne's interview with Christina  here .

Christina Platt of the doll company Bamboletta and Arianne Foulks of website design firm Aeolidia will both be at the retreat. Read Arianne's interview with Christina here.

To discover more and register for the retreat, visit the registration page.

Building a Creative Brand: review, week 2

It's week 2 of Creativebug's Building a Creative Brand online class (you can still register and watch the first couple of videos to catch up)  and I am pleased that I signed up for this course. This week's video (over 40 minutes!) was particularly good, delving into pricing, business plans and financial considerations. It was really Todd Gibson's show (of Oliver + S), he had a wealth of great advice and I look forward to the online chat with him and Liesl on Thursday that is part of the course benefits.

I signed up for this course for reasons I assume are not typical of other participants. I do have a business brand that is working fairly well and have been at this for a few years, but I am interested in online classes since I hope to offer some from UPPERCASE one day. One of the best ways to learn is from the perspective of a student. I am also interested in Creativebug and how this company markets and presents its content. (One minor disappointment is that the course downloads are not especially well-designed and don't do a service to furthering Creativebug's own creative brand, though the content is adequate.) 

As a business owner, I could also use some motivation and mentorship—Christine Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop mentioned last week that being a boss is tough. And in my experience, it can feel pretty lonely, too, at times. It is difficult to ultimately be in charge of all the decisions, it can get tiresome and draining and running a business can certainly take over from the creativity that started the business in the first place. Today's video addressed some of this and I'm taking some of Todd's advice to heart. He also addressed issues of pricing products which was particularly useful as I bring something new to the UPPERCASE shop shortly.

Another fringe benefit of the course structure was being introduced to Mightybell, the community platform that the course uses for chats and conversations. I've been looking for something like this for UPPERCASE for a while and Mightybell's aesthetics and functionality is quite appealing. (And it's free!) So I've started a fledgling community and am pleased that we have 50 members so far in just a few days. Join us and we'll develop this place together as wonderful way to connect and share around specific projects or interests.

Building a Creative Brand

As a creative entrepreneur, I've admired Creativebug since their launch in 2012. And although I'm firmly and lovingly rooted in print and paper, I consider video and video editing my hobby (I just happen to use UPPERCASE as a guinea pig testing ground for video projects.) I got to see the Creativebug team in action earlier this year at the Makerie and it was fun to see them at work and to learn a few new techniques through observation of their process and watching the finished videos.

Earlier this week, I saw that they were offering a 5-week video series called Building a Creative Brand. With instructors Lisa Congdon, Christine Schmidt (Yellow Owl Workshop), Heather Ross, Liesl Gibson and Melanie Falick heading the course, I signed up right away. I'd been meaning to sign up for a while, and this course was the incentive that I needed.

Coincidentally, Kelly Wilkinson, one of the founders of the company, emailed me a few days later to ask if I'd share the workshop information on the UPPERCASE blog.  If you're interested, please sign up and we'll take the course together! 

The early bird price is $125, and Creativebug members get a special price of $99. You can subscribe through October 6th for $9.99 a month and then you'll also get the member pricing on the Creative Brand Series. (Use the code UPPERCASE to get early bird pricing extended from October 7-13th.) The series starts off October 14th and other than the release of each subsequent video, the pace is up to you. Click here to learn more about the course. 

Since the blog is taking steps into hosting advertising on the sidebar, I will also be providing affiliate links to services or products that I use. If you click on the Creativebug links provided in this post or on the sidebar and proceed to signup for a course, UPPERCASE will receive a small commission. Thank you.

If you enjoy "startup" stories like I do, here's the backstory on Creativebug: 

the advertising conundrum

UPPERCASE magazine has never been a magazine in which ad sales drive its success (or influence its content!) From the beginning, my goal was that readers—subscribers and single issue purchasers—would be the base for its financial stability. Thankfully, we have found a loyal foundation of subscribers. As I write this, Jocelyn is preparing the master mailing list and I am happy to report that we have just over 3000 subscriber names on the mailing of #19. This subscription money pays for our print bills and distribution costs.

Over the years, we have not been without advertising support though—we have had full page ads in the inside front and back covers over the years. The revenue generated by these "bookend" ads have gone towards paying our roster of contributing writers, illustrators and photographers. We have actively sought advertising partners, but we simply have had no luck in garnering more long-term partnerships. Perhaps because our style isn't the typical "pushy ad sales" way. Perhaps because our magazine's content is so unique and eclectic, advertisers don't see how they fit in. Perhaps because we are based in Canada and not the USA. Perhaps because we can't afford to have a full time person on ad sales. Perhaps because our editorial content cannot be influenced by advertisers. Perhaps because we're not a magazine that highlights big brands and a consumer lifestyle. Perhaps.

We appreciate the companies who have placed ads throughout the years; they show an understanding of the culture of our community of readers. We are grateful for the smaller advertisements through the Peeps and Marketplace in each issue. However, when it comes down to dollars and cents, it is the "prime real estate" of the full page ad space that needs to be sold to justify the cost of time and salary to woo advertisers in the first place, and also provide the cushion we need to pay contributors. We are still looking to find two visionary companies who see the value of print advertising coupled with social media access to our engaged and enthusiastic readership. We are still open to advertisers who are the right fit.

However, as a print magazine, we find that it is increasingly difficult to sell print ads. At this point, at almost five years in, I have to say that it is nearly impossible! Advertisers nowadays are interested in tracking click-throughs and metrics and prefer online placements and digital publications. Numerous conversations with potential partners have told us as much.

We are considering implementing ads in the sidebar of the blog to offset the lost revenue. I would like to know what you think about ads and the UPPERCASE blog.

Your responses to this survey will help us improve this website and our magazine—and maybe help us navigate a way into selling ads that work for the advertisers, the magazine AND our readers.

Thank you. 

publisher / editor / designer


team UPPERCASE: Eleanor, Jocelyn and Erin (plus me, photographer)

team UPPERCASE: Eleanor, Jocelyn and Erin (plus me, photographer)

Today marks the "changing of the guard" at UPPERCASE. Alas, we say goodbye to Eleanor, who has been our customer service expert for a year and a half. She has been fulfilling orders, answering queries, managing subscribers and stockists... all while attending SAIT's Engineering Design and Drafting Technologies program part time. We commend Eleanor for juggling schedules and racking up the kilometers on the c-train, shuffling from college to work (and back again!) She has been a wonderful and loyal employee and we wish her lots of success in her studies and future career.

And so, we happily introduce you to Jocelyn who will be taking on Eleanor's job—and then some—in a full time role. I am relieved that we will have someone consistently available to deal with customer queries, stockists, distribution and shipping matters... it is a vital role in a business built on subscriptions and fulfillment of online orders. 

Jocelyn has been with us for just a couple weeks, but she has been an avid reader and supporter of UPPERCASE for a long time so she is fitting right in! You can follow her Instagram #dailyUPPERCASE and see behind-the-scenes from her perspective. (She offers the warning that her Instagram feed is also full of lots of cat pictures.)

Erin is our marketing/publicity manager, working with me here in the studio three days a week and always available via email. Erin and I are looking forward to our quick trip to Toronto next week, to attend the National Magazine Awards and to visit our lovely stockists. 

My husband Glen needs to be recognized, too, for supporting me and UPPERCASE by being a wonderful stay-at-home dad to our son Finley. Glen is also a regular contributor to the magazine—look for his Creature and Abecedary columns in the summer issue. (Looking for an excellent work of fiction to read this summer? Pick up Glen Dresser's novel Correction Road. There's a thoughtful review here.)

thank you, everyone!

moving forward

(a brief history of UPPERCASE)

Today, Calgary's Metro News published an article entitled, "Calgary's Art Central Facing Closure."

As my Calgary friends know, Art Central has been UPPERCASE's home since the beginning. Suite #204 was just an empty shell without shelving or lights when I first saw the space in late 2004. By early 2005, I was a happy tenant in a building concept with a lot of potential. With gloriously large windows, an old brick wall and a white slate of a gallery office, the space was endlessly inspiring and motivating.

Initially, freelance graphic design was my main occupation and UPPERCASE-related projects were side projects and creative experiments. "UPPERCASE gallery, books & papergoods" sold greeting cards of my own designs, handmade notebooks, hosted illustration shows, had a small selection of books on design and a nice supply of pretty paper goods for a growing number of walk-in customers. In tandem with the physical store, I began to sell my offerings online and to dedicate time to growing an online community through the UPPERCASE blog.

In 2007, UPPERCASE hosted an unusual gallery exhibition and launched its first book. The Shatner Show was an illustrated homage to William Shatner (of Captain Kirk fame) featuring 76 illustrations of his life and career. Endorsed by the man itself, the show was a great success and was featured on international newscasts and garnered a lot of positive press. But more importantly, it showed me my true calling: publishing.

In short succession, I released a few more books and decided to launch a magazine modelled after my own creative interests. My blog readership had grown modestly and I hoped that if even a small portion of those readers would support a print endeavour, publishing a magazine on a regular basis could be feasible. The inaugural issue was released in April 2009. (And I officially "retired" from freelancing; there was simply not enough time in the day to do it all.)

Fortunately, the magazine was well-received but I quickly discovered that it was far more work than I could ever have guessed. At the end of 2009, I closed the retail aspect of UPPERCASE. Growing a retail business in Art Central seemed to be an uphill battle—especially when compared to the success of online sales. When comparing the results from a bit of foot traffic with the potential of online traffic, the decision to close physical retail was obvious. (I also had the costs of inventory as well as print bills to consider.) Expecting a baby as well, I knew that though I can juggle a lot at once, new motherhood plus publishing plus retail was just too big of an equation.

I have no regrets about closing my retail store, though I do miss all those lovely stationery goodies and the joy people expressed when stopping by for a visit. I was also aware that closing my shop, a regular destination for many Calgarians, could impact my neighbours in Art Central. I remained committed to Art Central and our doors were open to curious walkers-by and we were active in First Thursdays and hosted occasional shows in our gallery.

For locals who still visit Art Central, it has been hard to miss the steady increase in vacancies over the past number of years. In this post I'm not going to go into detail about why the Art Central concept has been so difficult to sustain. But I do think it would be useful to write a post-mortem about what happened (or didn't happen) here, particularly in comparison to the seemingly successful creative entrepreneurial centres such as Wychwood Barns, Konstepidemin and the American Can Factory profiled in issue #16 of UPPERCASE.

Over a year ago, the Art Central building was sold to a new owner; a property company that purchased this building along with many others in the downtown core. I stress that they purchased the building—they did not take on a stewardship of the Art Central concept, a concept that had been seriously malnourished for many years prior. Now the news is public that the building is going to be "redeveloped" ie demolished to "replace the current building with a taller structure that may incorporate commercial and residential spaces," tenants are left to determine what they're to do next.

The story about the impending closure of Art Central might be breaking to Metro News today, but tenants here have known about this since late January when were told in a meeting that the building was slated for redevelopment. Though I suspected that something significant might happen eventually (rumours were certainly afoot) I wasn't prepared for the immediacy conveyed in a statement by the VP recommending "look for your alternatives now while you can." 

In response to the media queries that I have received about Art Central's impending closure, I would like to state that the story here isn't about big vs little, corporate vs arts. The concept had failed long before these new developments. 

My work and my life have been intricately woven with Art Central for eight years. Now, facing its closure has been somewhat like having a loved one with a terminal illness. After the initial relief that it will soon have a resolution to its misery comes time to grieve for what is lost and what might have been. 

I've been quite depressed about the news; it has been hard not to picture my beautiful studio in a pile of rubble. At first there were days when I stood at my doorstep at home, unable to motivate myself for the walk to work. On one hand I didn't want to be reminded that Art Central could be demolished; on the other hand I didn't want to waste any time away... So I did what I usually do when faced with a problem: I set out to solve it. I am happy to say that I have found a contender that is somewhat different from my current studio, but it inspired me the moment I walked in. Now, rather than imagining endings, I am looking forward to new beginnings and the potential of this new location. I look forward to chronicling that adventure when the time comes.

It has been difficult not to share this news with you until now—my wonderful community of supporters here on the blog and Twitter. I know I have your support as UPPERCASE moves forward and continues to flourish.

Please also support the other tenants at Art Central. For those with galleries and retail, it has been difficult. They remain open for your business!

Publishing books and a quarterly magazine has been far more challenging and exhilarating and fulfilling than I could have dreamed. I am very lucky to be doing what I do.

Thank you.

Onward and upward!


As I left for home yesterday, I paused to take this panoramic iPhone picture of UPPERCASE headquarters (mess and all!) Click to view it larger.

As I left for home yesterday, I paused to take this panoramic iPhone picture of UPPERCASE headquarters (mess and all!) Click to view it larger.

on press!

The cover of #16 (artwork by Debbie Smyth) with subscription and typewriter postcards along the side.

The cover of #16 (artwork by Debbie Smyth) with subscription and typewriter postcards along the side.

The cover on press.

The cover on press.

The interior pages are being printed on a new stock — Rolland Enviro100 Satin — so I am here at Prolific in Winnipeg to press check. So far, everything looks great on this paper. Though it is 100% post consumer recycled and uncoated, its satin finish performs almost like a coated stock. Everything is more vibrant with less dot gain than on the previous stock we used.

The interior pages are being printed on a new stock — Rolland Enviro100 Satin — so I am here at Prolific in Winnipeg to press check. So far, everything looks great on this paper. Though it is 100% post consumer recycled and uncoated, its satin finish performs almost like a coated stock. Everything is more vibrant with less dot gain than on the previous stock we used.

Though I was fond of our previous stock, it didn't have any recycled content. With the switch in paper we're saving resources and achieving better print results. 

Though I was fond of our previous stock, it didn't have any recycled content. With the switch in paper we're saving resources and achieving better print results. 

A large portion of the paper required for our print run.

A large portion of the paper required for our print run.

77,000 press sheets for printing 10,000 magazines.

77,000 press sheets for printing 10,000 magazines.

Live to you from The Prolific Group in Winnipeg, Manitoba! The next issue is on press right now and I am happy to be here in person to see it printed. 

To find out more about our printer, visit Prolific and ask for Chris Young—the best print sales person you'll ever work with.

love or no love?

love love love poster.jpeg

LOVE LOVE LOVE by UPPERCASE The poster I designed in 2009 and sold via my website. It was designed by typing the word love with various pressures on my Royal typewriter and then scanning and enlarging the results. See the original blog post here.

love shirt.jpeg

LOVE LOVE LOVE by The Gap This week, Eleanor came to work wearing this shirt. This isn't a new shirt, she recalls purchasing it maybe three years ago which would place both designs to the same time period (and right when my posters were making the blog rounds). This design from The Gap uses various weights of the font Trixie. 

What do you think? Creative coincidence or lazy knockoff? Love or no love for The Gap?

However this tshirt came to be, it is old news now. And that's the thing... it is so difficult to police your designs once they are out on the web and in the world. If Eleanor hadn't worn the shirt to work, I would have never seen this design so very similar to my own. In the course of design career, my work has been copied and blatantly ripped off a few times. Unfortunately, there has been a case quite recently where I could very obviously trace the path from my work directly to some other company's product. In fact, I could overlay their design onto my original and trace the similarities in fonts, angles and placement of elements—let alone that the overall impression of the design was that it looked like it was by UPPERCASE. I sent polite but firm letters to the offenders, consulted with a lawyer and was very disappointed with my lack of choices to see the wrongs made right. Ultimately, I decided that I could not commit the time, emotional energy or funds to pursue it and I had to just "let it go". But the disappointment lingers and I wonder how the infringement will affect my income. It is very hard to let it go.


Modern Dog is a Seattle-based design firm who is standing up to the big guys in another case of infringement on a tshirt. They have chosen to fight, at considerable expense and effort. In order to offset the costs, they have set up a website which accepts donations to help in their legal bills. I made a small donation to show my support. 

Modern Dog writes: "Compelled to make things right, we entered into a lawsuit that is now a year in the making. If anyone had asked me a year ago if I thought this case would drag out for months, I would have said no. I naively believed that this case would be settled in a few weeks.

Boy, was I wrong.

We find ourselves in a battle with some of the biggest corporations in the world, and we have no idea how long and hard they intend to fight as they have seemingly unlimited resources. Our jury trial date is not until September 2013, in that time the process could easily bankrupt us. We need money to see this case go to trial; money for depositions, forensic accounting, expert witness testimonies, and other expenses related to the case.

In June of 2012, I made the decision to sell our Greenwood house, partly to reduce our overhead expenses, and partly to fund the lawsuit. I realize now that we are in it for the long haul. I cried the day I handed the new owners the keys, but I also felt a sense of relief because I knew that I personally would be able to help my company fight."

Please help the underdogs.

And do your part when it comes to respecting intellectual property. Know the difference between inspiration and infringement. Don't put images on Pinterest if you don't know who created them. Don't repin or post without attribution. Give credit where credit it due.

revisit: the method method

The following post was previously published [with some slight edits and updates below] on the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association's blog last year. AMPA has generously provided UPPERCASE a bursary to help offset the costs of travel and accommodation to Toronto to attend DesignThinkers. Thanks, AMPA!

Having heard great reviews of DesignThinkers conference over the years, I finally got to experience it firsthand this year thanks to a bursary from AMPA. With an eclectic variety of speakers, presenters were from a graphic design background (advertising legend George Lois, book designer Chip Kidd, lettering goddess Jessica Hische) and from big companies (speakers representing Google, Oprah Magazine, and Method Home). The conference was very broadly about design thinking—about how creativity can affect change, enhance communities, engage consumers and entertain audiences. As magazine publishers [and creative entrepreneurs], these are our goals.

Surprisingly, I found the most useful information for succeeding in publishing from two guys who make nice-smelling soap. Method, by combining eco-conscious products with innovative thinking and eye-catching design in a very traditional product category, has become an extremely successful company. Conference keynote presenter Eric Ryan (founder of Method) has a background in advertising; his friend (and co-founder) Adam Lowry was a climate scientist in his previous career. Theirs is an entertaining story [available in their book], honestly presenting the failures alongside the success.

So how does running a cleaning products company relate to publishing a magazine? It's all in the attitude and using the Method method of business thinking. Here are some of the most relevant points:

Inspire Advocates
Create a product that people love and they will not only become dedicated customers but advocates for your brand. If you publish a magazine that people love (not just like), they can't live without it. The magazine [or your product] becomes part of their way of life—they identify themselves by it. They proudly tell others about it, they're invested in the content and they support it financially. My magazine is built on this notion; it was heartening to see this approach work so successful on a bigger scale.

Kick Ass at Fast
If you're not one of the "big guys" then you have to be better in other areas. For Method, this means that the relative small size of their company and manufacturing processes allows them to quickly seize opportunities of trends or customer feedback and implement change swiftly. For magazine publishers, it means that interacting and reacting with readers in real time is vital. You can no longer exist just in the realm of print—social media engagement is a vital and required offshoot of publishing content. Readers expect a dialogue; create a platform where this can happen and it will result in a stronger base for your publication. Smaller publications can achieve this much more easily than large publishing conglomerates, since readers can access us on a more intimate level.

Relationship Retail
Having fewer but more reliable customers is better than having lots of one-time customers. Method realized that their version of laundry detergent will never compete with "Tide", but they realized that their ideal customer will pay more for a product that they respect and understand. So fewer newsstand sales is fine if you have a strong subscriber base—a long term relationship is what magazines need to cultivate.

Win on Product Experience
Method is all about delivering an exceptional product experience. They take the mundane such as toilet bowl cleaner and reinvent the category, elevating the product design and packaging into something unique, useful and memorable. Whatever topic your magazine covers, yours should be the ultimate: the most reliable reference delivering the most intelligent expertise in the most engaging way possible.

Design Driven
To differentiate your product on the shelves, your design needs to be different. And not just different for the sake of different, but different for good reason. When Method launched its first product, they hired Karim Rashid, a superstar in industrial design, who created a bottle that not only looked unique, but one that functioned in a whole new way. Theirs was so innovative and unique on the shelves that other companies had to struggle to catch up to this new standard. Good design comes from good thinking. Make sure that the packaging of your magazine [or product] is in service of its content and that it recognizes the intelligence of its readers.

from the field: forage symposium

What began as a Facebook group conversation about the challenges of working for oneself and building a creative business developed into a gathering of creatives on a small island off the west cost of Canada this past August. Presenters included Fiona Richards (Cartolina Cards), illustrator Douglas Jones, Leslie Shewring (A Creative Mint), Tamara Komuniecki (Delish Magazine) and moreKari Woo, a jeweller living in Canmore, shares more about the Forage Symposium

Bryan and Mariko, Feedlot Studios

Bryan and Mariko, Feedlot Studios

photo by Jenn Chic

photo by Jenn Chic

Mariko Paterson McCrae, ceramic artist a co-owner of Feedlot Studios on Gabriola Island courageously came forward early in the conversation to offer her studio as our venue. Luckily for everyone Feedlot is co-owned by Mariko’s husband, graphic designer Bryan McCrae, who was very much the all-things-technical support team. This magnificent setting provided the perfect retreat ambience for this fine gathering and a stellar behind-the-scenes crew of local artists, supporters, and small businesses helped to bring it all together.

A Gathering of Ideas + Makers, the symposium was an opportunity for inspiration and learning. Three days of jam-packed content included topics on how to use social media successfully, where to find funding for creative projects, partnership and collaboration and how to find your audience. We discussed the pros and cons of consignment vs. wholesale venues; brick and mortar vs. online; outsourcing production vs. keeping it in-house. Panels deliberated about time and money management, delegating, prioritizing and balancing family life with work.

Thanks to size and magic of our venue it felt like we were sitting around someone’s (albeit large) living room facilitating the intimacy of our discussions. Panelists were open and honest, sometimes standing on the edge of vulnerability. They shared both victory moments and challenges, advice about what to do and what not to do based on lessons learned, as well as valuable technical and industry information.

Personally, I already see the tangible outcomes that my attendance is having on both my creative and business practices. The nuggets that I gleaned from this bounty of information were solid affirmations with philosophical and practical implications. We are all scared, but who cares? Get over it. Just do what you want to do. Do your research and figure it out. Be prepared for success!

UPPERCASE was happy to provide complimentary magazines to Forage participants. Up next: more about Kari Woo.


This is big news... after having the same blog since 2005 and the same online shop design since 2007, UPPERCASE's virtual home was overdue for a renovation and makeover. The old sites predate my professional shift from designing for clients and running a side retail business to what UPPERCASE is today, a publishing company producing a quarterly magazine and books (9 and counting...) for the creative and curious.

The main site,, better highlights all the content that UPPERCASE has to offer: a beautiful new blog with bigger images and better access to past posts; more previews of the current and back issues; more content from the print magazine; more videos... the goal with the new design was to provide more content with better navigation and a clean slate design that allows the content to shine.

Issue 14 is brand new as well—North American subscribers are starting to receive their copies in the mail this week. If you're not a subscriber yet, flip through a digital preview to see the content. There's a link on that page from which you can subscribe, or click on the shop link on your left. >>>

Issue 14 is brand new as well—North American subscribers are starting to receive their copies in the mail this week. If you're not a subscriber yet, flip through a digital preview to see the content. There's a link on that page from which you can subscribe, or click on the shop link on your left. >>>

Another big improvement is the visual and functional integration of the main website with the online shop. is a vital companion to our online home: this is where you can subscribe, renew and shop for our back issues and books. There are links and "add to cart" buttons throughout the main site and blog, so it is always easy to click through to the shop and make a purchase or commit to a subscription. For our many repeat customers, we have added an account option so that you can save your login and address details (also in the works is a customer portal so that you can manage your address changes and search past orders.) We have created a password-protected wholesale shop, so wholesalers won't accidentally stumble into our retail listings and customers won't accidentally purchase a box of 30 magazines. (Of course, if you want to purchase large quantities of anything, just contact us and we'll set you up with a wholesale account!)


Our online home's foundation and walls are thanks to some great web services that I have been using for years. I'm still working on the plumbing (ie database, customer management and the un-pretty but necessary things) but to have such attractive "curb appeal" is all-important to a business like mine that is largely built online.

The main site and blog are hosted on Squarespace V6, the newest platform from my long-term blog host (and ALT Summit party co-host). V6 is just out of beta this week, so congratulations to all the people at Squarespace who have been working hard and have answered our numerous queries over the past weeks. The layout functionality of V6 is pretty impressive and I love the flexibility of multiple columns and content blocks. I'm sure it will just keep getting better and I look forward to even more features.

The online shop is hosted through Shopify, which offers really great e-commerce solutions. I purchased one of their premium shop templates and the migration from the old site to the new site was so seamless I could hardly believe how easy it was. I'm still working on optimizing the shop for mobile devices, but the basics are there!

The typographic details are extremely important to me, so I use Typekit for web fonts: Museo Slab and Proxima Nova. Proxima was designed by Mark Simonson, an UPPERCASE magazine subscriber! A big big big thank you to my left-handed right-hand man—my husband Glen—for making all those little tweaks to the CSS and getting the design details from my head onto the screen.


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I invite you to take a look around... It's open house—please stay awhile and enjoy yourself.