Let's reach this milestone together!

Dear Reader,

When I first started UPPERCASE magazine back in 2009, I had no experience in managing a quarterly publication. I certainly didn’t know anything about “circulation management”, renewals and such. My primary goal was to reach 400 subscribers by the time the first issue shipped, and, when that was met, to reach 1000 subscribers by the calendar year-end. This would be enough subscription income to break even on the first year’s production costs. At the time, it was hard to see past the first year and those first four issues. But we made it! And then, I was faced with the reality that most businesses face: customer retention.

Though new subscribers were coming, those inaugural 400 were up for renewal. Half of them never renewed. Ouch! When it comes to percentages, I can’t help but fall back into my grade-school measure of success: high percentages mean good grades. 50% certainly felt like a failing grade. And it’s hard not to take it personally and think, “Why don’t people like me?" I know now that typical renewal rates for magazines are low. There’s always something newer out there, more competition for readers’ attention and wallets. (Here’s a fact: UPPERCASE was launched before the iPad came out!)

It will always be two steps forward, one step back. The magazine’s renewal rate averages 33%. I’ve had to acclimatize to this fact, and temper my expectations and be mindful of this number and how it affects my business on a cyclical basis. Each quarter brings an attrition, but with new subscribers steadily discovering UPPERCASE, as long as the overall number of subscribers is growing, then it’ll be ok. I have a core group of extremely loyal subscribers who renew consistently and purchase gift subscriptions for others, and I am very grateful for your continued support! I hope that all the interesting articles from our contributors, great imagery and inspiration-filled issues will convince readers to keep subscribing. I hope that you also find value in these weekly newsletters, my blog and social media streams.

The magazine has grown surely and steadily over the years and as of this moment, there are 3,879 active subscribers who will be receiving issue #23 in a few weeks. It would be awesome to reach a milestone 4,000 subscribers! Please share this message with your friends and colleagues and on social media and let’s see if we can do it together.

So, how do you ensure that you’re bringing in both new customers while keeping the existing ones happy? 

After nearly six years and 23 issues, I’ve found that what works best for me is simply: do the work. First and foremost, create something of value. Pour your heart and soul into it. Invest yourself, invest your own money. Be open and honest. Be available and accessible. Put yourself on the line. If you prove every day that you’re committed, people will go all-in for you.



This message was originally published in my weekly newsletter. To see the newsletter, click here. Sign up for newsletters right here and you'll receive a free download of the UPPERCASE Surface Pattern Design Guide.


The wisdom of calligraphers.

Calligraphers are wise people. Get to know all of these fine folks in the forthcoming issue of UPPERCASE.

Lemonni.... yum!

Lemonni always has such nice things! Designer Annie Chen writes, "I love creating things with my hands. All the paper goods are designed and handmade by me. The whole production – from printing, cutting, folding, assembling, to packaging – happens in my studio. I handmade my textile products as well. The fabrics were printed with eco-friendly, water-based pigment inks. I'm a pattern fanatic. I'm always drawn to bold colours and interesting colour combinations. It's fascinating to me that the same colour can appear quite differently when paired with different colours."


School House Craft Conference

School House Craft is an annual conference (September 27 & 28) in Seattle whose aim is to "school you in the business of craft." Check out the class schedule here. (bonus: registrants will receive a complimentary copy of UPPERCASE at the event.)

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Other magazines: Offscreen

Kai Brach is a designer and publisher based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the founder and sole operator of Offscreen Magazine, a gorgeous print publication that shares stories about the people who shape the web.

Featured Stockist: Big Wheel Press / Guild Art Supply

I'm honoured by this display at Guild Art Supply, home of Big Wheel Press, in Northampton, Massachusetts. As you can see, they have a healthy offering of back issues. Please pay a visit and pick up an instant UPPERCASE library for your own creative corner.

They also offer some letterpress workshops and have prints available on Etsy. I love places like this! Thanks, Bill!

Get a free notebook set with a 2-year subscription or renewal.

Whether you love cool colours or warm colours, the UPPERCASE everyday notebooks are the perfect companion for jotting down inspiration (as it inevitably arises while you read UPPERCASE!). When you subscribe or renew your subscription (starting with #22) for two years, you can select your favourite notebook set at checkout. I'll send you the notebooks and #22 now, and the fall issue will be mailed at the end of the month.

With issue #23 on press next week, subscriptions starting with the colourful summer issue #22 are only available for a limited time.

This offer is valid until midnight MST September 21. The notebook is only available with subscriptions or renewals starting with 22 and cannot be retroactive applied to past orders. Thank you.

See you at Stash!

I'm looking forward to Inglewood's Night Market tonight! First on my list is going to my favourite yarn store, Stash. From 6 to 9pm, there will be additional fun such as vintage wares, the jewellery of Jennea Frischke and sewn goods by Leave it to Cleaver.

Stash will be offering a 10% discount off of your total purchase all evening long. Store owner Veronica says, "We will also be releasing some of our newest fall and winter products for you to fondle. And there will be giveaways and door prizes. Be there or be square!"

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Featured Stockist: Athenaeum, Amsterdam

Athenaeum—my best stockist in the world—has posted a video flip-through of issue #22. What makes them the best stockist? They're a great store in a bustling part of Amsterdam with exciting titles with friendly and knowledgeable staff who care about magazines. They support independent magazines and do excellent marketing, like making videos and hosting events like when I was in Amsterdam two years ago. They consistently sell more copies of UPPERCASE than any other single location!

If you're in Europe, purchase UPPERCASE through Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum here. And, they have back issues!

Congratulations on turning 5, CollageCollage

CollageCollage, a lovely stockist in Vancouver that fosters children's (and parents') creativity, is celebrating a milestone. Five years in retail is a great accomplishment! Erin Boniferro writes, "I really can't believe it's been FIVE years since we set up shop on what was a lonely little street in East Van. And look at us now! A bustling store on a sweet little street. I'm so thankful for our community of small businesses, local families and artists big and small coming together to make this shop what it is."

Join the celebration this Saturday at CollageCollage from 1-4pm.

You can find out more about CollageCollage in issue #14, an UPPERCASE dedicated to play and children's book illustration.

Beautiful new Cloud9 Fabrics by Elizabeth Olwen

Oh, Elizabeth! You always make such beautiful surface patterns! Congratulations on Wildwood, the latest release for Cloud 9 Fabrics. Warp & Weft is hosting an event with Elizabeth in a few weeks. If you're in Toronto, please go for me! Details here.


Read more about Elizabeth in Work/Life 3 and in issue #21's UPPERCASE Surface Pattern Design Guide. (If you sign up for my weekly newsletter, you will receive the guide as a free download!)

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Made You Look

inspiration from issue 10 by Leslie Shewring

Back for issue #10, Leslie Shewring created the mood board, above, for the magazine. Lately, Leslie and Holly Becker of Decor8 have collaborated on Decorate with Flowers, a beautiful book of florals for the home.


back in time: back issue 10

Mess is More by Jeff Rogers

Mess is More by Jeff Rogers

I remember the amazement I felt when UPPERCASE reached issue 10. It seemed like such a milestone! And here we are, a few more years on and I've more than doubled that issue count as #23 begins print production.

The warehouse sale on back issues continues. Issues #9 through #21 are just $10 each.


Back to... back issues!

If you want to school yourself in the history of UPPERCASE magazine and immerse yourself in hundreds of pages of great content and beautiful imagery, then this week's back issues sale is for you. Back issues #9 through #21 are at wholesale prices for everyone: just $10 per issue! 

This big sale lasts until Sunday at midnight MST or while inventory lasts on some of the earlier issues. Once they're sold out, that's it—they will not be reprinted.

If you want to preview the issues, each issue has its own web page and offers low res digital flip-throughs as well as the table of contents.

Getting through the unpretty

An issue of UPPERCASE begins as a nebulous entity in my mind.

In this ideation phase, distraction is my friend. Making connections between disparate topics, leaving room for serendipity and chance—that’s what makes UPPERCASE good. Early on, an issue is a rough assembly of ideas, imagery and thoughts. It’s a hazy thing in the distance that requires concentration on my part to make it happen. 

Each decision—from who writes what article, to whom I decide to profile—takes me closer to it, bringing it slightly into focus with each step forward. By the time an issue of UPPERCASE is at the design phase, I have been thinking about its content for six months or more. At this point, I have concrete items to work with—thousands of words, gigabytes of images and 116 blank pages—but I often feel like this is the most unfocused stage of the entire process.

This is the “unpretty” phase of design when all the words and pictures are splattered onto their designated spreads so that I can take inventory of what I have to work with. It can be overwhelming to sort through everything; and there are moments when my ideas for the overarching theme seem lost in visual clutter. This is the stage that I liken to sculpture: the design is in there somewhere, but I have to hack away all the unnecessary material to reveal what it is supposed to be. I start to live inside the design, getting to know how this particular issue is going to work: the structure, the connecting colours and sympathetic visual motifs.

Designing becomes a series of decisions made to resolve different perspectives:

me / you
What am I trying to accomplish as a designer?
What do my readers want to experience? 
What are my intentions?
Will there be an element of surprise?
Do I love it?
Will you love it?

sharp / blurred
Are the themes evident to the reader?
Do the ideas and design leave room for play and discovery?
Does the issue feel cohesive?
Will it inspire new ideas and connections for the reader?

micro / macro
Is the kerning on this word ok?
Should I hyphenate this paragraph?
Should I have one or two columns of text?
Should the article be four pages or six?
Does the headline on this page look good?
Does this article fit well at this point in the magazine?
Does the issue fit with what readers expect of UPPERCASE? 

As I switch between these perspectives, an issue of UPPERCASE begins to emerge. After I’ve answered all of these questions (and many more!), it’s ready to print.


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Let the design marathon begin!

It's my annual Labour Day Weekend design marathon! These are last few days before the fall issue heads to the printer. Your subscription would be great encouragement... thank you. (If you're a brand new subscriber, start with #22 and I'll ship that to you on Tuesday and #23 will follow in October.)


The cover reveal!

How will a sweater look with a particular yarn? What will a quilt look like when it's done? How will inks layer in a silkscreen? How will a sketch translate to final art? How will the ceramic vase look when glazed and fired?

When you embark on creating something new, it's all about having confidence in your ideas—and the ability to visualize what you want. The same is true in design for print: although you can approximate how something will appear in print, there are plenty of instances when you have to use your imagination, have faith in your idea and just go for it. 

I've been imagining the next cover to have a shiny silver foil on the spine and on the number 23. Like this:

In contrast to the summer colour issue, the fall edition is decidedly toned down in hue—but not in inspiration or creative excitement!

Celebrating things monochromatic—and the graphic appeal of black and white—issue #23 contains a special calligraphy and lettering section featuring Seb Lester (the cover artist who created this fun calligraphic grocery list), master penman Jake Weidmann and profiles of Joy Deneen, Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls, Erica McPhee, Barbara Calzolari, Neil Tasker, Pietro Piscitelli and Molly Jacques. The experts offer tips for beginners and our talented pool of readers share their amazing calligraphy work as well.

This issue also has articles about modern-day heraldry and how to use tradition and crests to design your brand; silver spoons painted and collected; the dynamic mother-daughter duo Tag Team Tompkins; a field trip to an in-house sign painter at an old-fashioned department store; a visit with the enigmatic inhabitants of a House of Cardboard; and a trip to a Parisian calligraphy guild.

I've got one week left to get the design finished up and off it goes to the printer! 


Want to keep that summer feeling? You can still subscribe starting with issue #22. I'll mail it to you right away and then you'll get the fall issue when it is released in October. Or if already have a copy of #22, subscriptions starting with fall are available here.


Face Books


Artist Alison Stockmarr pokes fun at Facebook by imagining 'Face Books' of old. She pairs oddly-titled old books, found photographs and cut up lines of text to create curious personalities. She writes:

By matching old photographs with suitably titled books, profiles are constructed, creating a library of invented friends of yesteryear. Apertures are cut into books, with photos and ephemera collaged within their pages. Appropriate, and sometimes inappropriate, narratives are composed to complete the picture! I hope you ‘like’ them.

The spine pattern for fall

The fall issue is heading to print just after Labour Day and I look forward to revealing the cover design, featuring the work of Seb Lester, on Tuesday! (Subscribe to my newsletter to see it first.) In the meantime, here's the pattern design I've developed, inspired by the content within the issue. In addition to the special calligraphy and lettering section in the fall issue, we also explore the influence of heraldry on traditional and contemporary art and design.

Starting from the observation that a calligraphy nib is somewhat shield-like and also thinking about the souvenir spoons that are featured in the Collections spread, I did some studies of the nib shape and shield shapes, ultimately going in this simple repeat so that the overlap of the shield vaguely references the split in a nib. It can't be too detailed or illustrative since it will be reproduced quite small (and in silver foil! I hope!) on the magazine's spine.

I can see foxes and bears in the motif as well, can you?

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