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!

UPPERCASE + B-School BONUSES

  • 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!

Why I needed B-School—and how it helped me keep and grow my business.

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When I enrolled in B-School in 2014, I was having the toughest time I'd ever had in business. I had employees and big print bills, but I never seemed to be able to get out of barely getting by—a line of credit was the only thing that kept things going, issue after issue. I was searching for a mentor, someone to help me figure out what to do next. I couldn't find that sort of guidance locally and so I began looking for it online.

Before I signed up for B-School, I had a gut feeling that I'd need to make some big changes to my business. I wasn't sure what they would be, but as I went through the course, it become more clear that I would have to take back the control of EVERY aspect of my business. Including, in particular, the marketing and voice of my company.

Thanks to Marie Forleo's amazing course and excellent advice, I was able to "reboot" my company. Even though it meant facing some painful realities such as letting go of employees and returning to a company of one.

Read more about my B-School story...

The next volumes in the UPPERCASE Encyclopedia of Inspiration are under way!

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The next 4 volumes in the UPPERCASE Encyclopedia of Inspiration were announced on Sunday afternoon and I am so happy to say that the print production costs for one book have been funded within four days!

The Early Bird Pre-Order pricing continues until March 6. Use the code inspired25 for $25 off.

Read all about the book concepts and project details here.

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 downside.....am 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.

Mark your calendar for DesignThinkers Vancouver

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We've featured the DesignThinkers conferences in Toronto quite a few times here on the blog and in social media in the past few years. They been generous in granting UPPERCASE a media pass so that a correspondent can attend, tweet, instagram as well as interview some of the speakers. Some of those interviews or connections have made their way into our printed pages.

Coming up this May, DesignThinkers is heading to Vancouver and I'm partnering with them to spread the world. 


DesignThinkers Vancouver

RGD's Conference offers in-depth analyses of trends and best practices in branding, design thinking, design management, communications technologies and user experience with a range of opportunities to exchange ideas with colleagues, new and old. Attendees leave with a reconsidered and refined design or creative process, feeling inspired, refreshed and connected to the creative communications community.

Conference registration includes two days of speakers, a creative marketplace, roundtable discussions, portfolio reviews, food and drink at our Delegate Party, studio tours and a multitude of opportunities to network with top design professionals.

Tuesday, May 29 and Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Vancouver Playhouse
600 Hamilton Street, Vancouver, BC.
 

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The speakers include:

Pia Betton, Partner at Edenspiekermann
Krys Blackwood, Senior Lead UX Designer at NASA JPL
Aaron Draplin, Founder of Draplin Design Co.
Stephen Gates, Global Head of Design at Citi
Randy Hunt, VP of Design at Etsy
Michael Lejeune, Creative Director at LA Metro
Meg Lewis, Founder of Ghostly Ferns
Ellen Lupton, Writer, Curator and Graphic Designer
Jamie Myrold, VP of Adobe Design
Gemma O’Brien, Australian Designer & Artist
Sebastian Padilla, Co-Founder & Creative Director at Anagrama
And more!


UPPERCASE readers can enjoy 10% off registration! Signup to my newsletter for the details.

For more information, head over to designthinkers.com/Vancouver.

Karen Barbé: Colour Confident Stitching

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If you've been reading Stitch*illo, you've likely been enthralled with Karen Barbé's work. Located in Santiago, Chile, Karen's skills as a textile artist (and designer and photographer) are impressive. I was so thrilled when she agreed to be part of Stitch*illo. If you want to delve into Karen's approach to colour and design, I recommend her book Colour Confident Stitching.

Karen's opening spread in Stitch*illo.

Karen's opening spread in Stitch*illo.

Here are some excerpts from my Stitch*illo profile on Karen:

Karen says that through her stitches she translates the worlds of home, crafts and comfort onto textile surfaces. “As an embroiderer I find a deep connection with a vast tradition of needlework, which I contribute to with a fresh look thanks to my design background,” she says.

Karen was using her graphic design background in the corporate world, which she eventually left ten years ago to pursue her passion for textiles. “I realized they were a natural extension of a family tradition,” she says. “Becoming a trained designer enlightened this long, cultivated family practice with new tools, both conceptual and technical. To become a designer honoured this natural and affectionate tradition. Of course I didn’t see it as clearly as I do now. It was more about following my natural creative approach to everything. I’m thankful for how this discipline provided a rationale and methodological container that has shaped and improved my work, regardless if it involves textiles, stitching, photography or, lately, writing.”

Colour Confident Stitching has beautiful colour palettes to inspire your own work.

Colour Confident Stitching has beautiful colour palettes to inspire your own work.

For Karen, embroidery is a synonym of calm and peace. “It also provides an opportunity for conversation: to discover the interconnection between your eyes, neck and fingers with the fabric, needle and thread. I like to think about embroidery as engaging in a conversation or learning a new language. When we learn to embroider, all your focus is put into mastering the stitch—a precise and guided movement. At the beginning we only observe and get into this conversation step by step, much like making sure we are using the right words and grammar. But when we remember—without thinking—the right direction and sequence of every up and down of the needle through the fabric, that is when we can start having a more fluid conversation. I also like to see it as a negotiation, a set of questions, exclamations and commentaries. The needle and thread develop their own ways and we need to learn how to interpret and decode their signs and warnings, their postures and gestures. It is only after we have repeated a single stitch hundreds or thousands of times that we can engage in an endless conversation without thinking about whether or not we are being precise. It is almost like a dance with technique, shape and colour, all unified among the story, thread and fabric.”

A spread from Colour Confident Stitching.

A spread from Colour Confident Stitching.

“Embroidering takes so much time, attention and focus. Sometimes, and depending on the stitches being used, an area as small as one square inch can take up to four hours to complete. And so, approaching thinking, experimentation and creation in design through embroidery means having to reconceive and reshape creative and production methodologies so that they can fit and work with the time demands of today. It is also a declaration of an appreciation of life and design in a slower fashion, where mistakes and corrections are given the necessary time and consideration.”

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“I like to think about embroidery as engaging in a conversation or learning a new language.” 

—Karen Barbé

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Follow Karen on Instagram.

Feed Sacks Binding Project

"This project began with a very generous gift from Janine Vangool, the publisher and designer of Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric written by Linzee Kull McCray. Ms. Vangool shared fifteen unbound copies of the book in with different binders who were tasked with creating unique covers based on the contents. The results are a variety of bindings using various covering materials, bookbinding structures and ornamentation techniques." — TODD PATTISON

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ERIN FLETCHER:

The culture around feed sack fabrics really inspired me to create something that would highlight the various levels of design and craft that emerged from this commodity. Many of these fabrics were reused by women as a means to create garments for themselves and their families. With so many families reclaiming these fabrics, companies caught on and began to dye the fabrics and print beautiful patterns. Some fabrics were even printed with embroidery guides for objects likes dolls.

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In addition to this element of renewal and craft, I was also struck by the language and graphic design used on the feed sack labels. For the design on my binding, I chose to recreate a paper label through hand embroidery. This label is wrapped around an authentic feed sack fabric.

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Bound as a 3-Part Bradel binding. The spine is covered in handmade Katie MacGregor paper in purple. Boards are covered in vintage fabric with a hand embroidered Japanese tissue wrapper. Embroidered with cotton floss. Red leather wrapped endbands. Endpapers are handmade Katie MacGregor paper in aqua and Hook Pottery paper in pale pink.

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WENDY WITHROW:

Woven through the history of the feed sack are ideas that are often of less value or prevalence in the 21st century… frugality, resourcefulness, conservancy, economy, and preservation. Feed sacks served a function, while also bringing beauty and design into the home. In designing my cover for Feed Sacks, I wanted to give a nod to the many ways in which these lovely, practical materials were used and reused and used again. Once emptied of their original contents, feed sacks were sewn into aprons or dresses. Scraps were used to make curtains or quilts. Even thread was recycled and reused to sew new household items.

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In my binding, I repurposed a scrap of a feed sack to make the endsheets, endbands, and the apron that weaves through the cover. The quilt in the background is pieced together using a cotton broadcloth and pieces of feed sack cloth from a sausage manufacturer, Delicious Brand. For the title, I cut a linoleum block and printed it in black ink on broadcloth, which I then sewed onto the cover using reclaimed red thread from the Delicious Brand feed sack.

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See more on the Feed Sacks Bindings project website.

BUY A BOOK!

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The specially bound Feed Sacks books will be on display at the Iowa Quilt Museum next year as part of a Feed Sacks exhibition curated by Linzee Kull McCray. 

The Feed Sacks book can be purchased from my webshop and I have a few limited edition books packaged in a contemporary dress-print sack. Perhaps you'll be inspired to sew your own special fabric cover for the book!

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True Blue by Linzee Kull McCray

Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric is available in the shop as part of the Encyclopedia of Inspiration set or as an individual book.

Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric is available in the shop as part of the Encyclopedia of Inspiration set or as an individual book.

Readers will know Linzee Kull McCray's writing from UPPERCASE magazine where she has been a regular contributor for many years. She is also the author of the first book in the Encyclopedia of Inspiration, Volume F: Feed Sacks. Recently, Linzee has experienced what it's like to be on the other side—not as researcher, writer or reporter of the fabric and craft industry, but as curator and designer of a product. Her new collection of blue-hued feed sack reproductions was debuted at the recent Quilt Market and will be in stores next April. Let's find out how her fabric came to be!

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This photo shows the original feed sack swatches (two of which didn't make it into the final line). It gives you an idea of how close the Moda fabrics come to the originals.

This photo shows the original feed sack swatches (two of which didn't make it into the final line). It gives you an idea of how close the Moda fabrics come to the originals.

"Last winter the folks at Moda called me and asked if I'd be interested in designing a line of feed sack fabric. I've written for Moda for several years, but was surprised (and delighted) by the suggestion. Moda's design director Cheryl Freydberg simply said to choose fabrics I loved—no easy task, given the thousands of feed sack prints! I decided to focus the line on a single colour in homage to the feed sack swatches I studied while doing research for our book at the Briscoe Center of American History at the University of Texas. I'd fan page after page of the glorious swatches, all carefully preserved in colour order, on the desk in front of me. It was heavenly!

All but one of the feed sacks I used as the basis of the line are part of my personal collection—one was from Moda's substantial collection. The print with squarish flowers was my first choice—it reminded me of my 1960s childhood in southern California (hence that print's name—Flower Power). Next I chose the graphic Starburst pattern, then a plaid because it makes great garments and quilt binding, and then fabrics of a smaller scale and several that included accent colors. At the last minute I found the big red rose pattern—I love its drama. I sent the folks at Moda my swatches and full feed sacks and they reduced the scale of a few of the patterns to make them more "quilt-appropriate" and some colours were lightened or darkened to make three colourways. 

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In the tradition of feed sacks, I've stitched everything from embellished dish towels and pot holders to baby bloomers and adult skirts to quilts with Feed Sacks: True Blue. It will be available in stores in April.

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My favourite comment so far has been "It doesn't look like a line of fabric. It just looks like someone collected beautiful feed sacks." I love that, because that's exactly what it is!"

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Congratulations, Linzee!

Sunday Crafternoons at UPPERCASE

Please join us in my studio for some crafty afternoons. There will be refreshments and activities for kids. The events are free for UPPERCASE friends, subscribers and customers. My books and magazines are available for your holiday shopping! 

UPPERCASE is in the Devenish Building above Ethos Bridal on 17th Avenue SW.
Suite 201b 908 17 AVE SW, second level, end of the east hall.

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English Paper Piecing

Sunday, December 3 from 1-4pm

Learn the basis of English Paper Piecing using fabrics from my new collection. What's EPP? We'll cut little hexagons out of paper, wrap fabric around them, baste, and then sew them together. And repeat as long as your heart desires. You're welcome to bring your own fabric scraps as well. My fabrics play nicely with others!

 
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Pom Poms

Sunday, December 10 from 1-4pm

We'll make simple and cute pom pom decorations with thrifted yarn using PomMakers—wooden donut-shaped tools that are fun to use. Bring your own yarn if you want a particular colour. If we're feeling even more adventurous... tassels! (Here's the wreath I made last year. Warning: it took weeks to make! But I'll show you how to get started.)

Make Something Monday

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Today's the day to create a good old-fashioned made-by-hand gift.
It doesn't have to be something complicated, just something simple showing your recipient that you took some time. Time is precious; showing someone that you took time out of the busy season to make something heartfelt is powerful and will be appreciated.

Create something that comes from YOU.
It could be a handwritten card, a little embroidery on a hankie, some cookies made from scratch, a simply sewn pin cushion, an ornament made from found objects, a collage of pretty pictures, a finger-painting made with your child, a snowman in the yard (Instagram him holding a message for your friend!), a crocheted granny square coaster, a handmade notebook of blank pages with a found-paper cover... these are just a few little ideas that pop into my head.

Stay away from DIY posts and Pinterest!
These days, it is too easy to get bogged down into the perceived perfection of Pinterest and the tyranny of step-by-step craft instructions. Today's the day to unplug from these distractions. Comparing yourself to others and following directions can be so detrimental to genuine creativity. Use your own ideas, your own resources, your own ingenuity... you will make something that is from you and your heart.

Make something out of nothing.
Be experimental. Be silly. Creativity comes from letting yourself go a little bit. If you worry about stitching a straight line, today's the day to zigzag. Just gather up all your creative supplies onto the table and see what emerges.

Enjoy the process. Making things is a lot of fun!

I've started the Happy Flower crochet project.

I've started the Happy Flower crochet project.


These sales and offers continue to Tuesday at midnight MST:

All RARE items are here.  •  $10 back issue sale here.  •  Items that are 50% off here.  •  Subscription discount code is holiday2017-V50N80V72JGZ for $15 off subscriptions, gift subscriptions and renewals.

thank you!

Botanica Book Launch

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The Botanica book launch was this past Saturday, November 4 at Plant in Inglewood.

By the end of the day, most of these books had been taken home by their new owners. There are also copies of Botanica, Stitch*illo and the Compendium available at Plant. (Photo of me by Finley.)

By the end of the day, most of these books had been taken home by their new owners. There are also copies of Botanica, Stitch*illo and the Compendium available at Plant. (Photo of me by Finley.)

Thank you to my son Finley for being so helpful!

Thank you to my son Finley for being so helpful!

Me and some of the local folks featured in the book: Kyle Chow, Irene Rasetti and Tiffany Freeman. (Photo by Finley.)

Me and some of the local folks featured in the book: Kyle Chow, Irene Rasetti and Tiffany Freeman. (Photo by Finley.)

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Thank you to my family, Glen and Finley, for all your help; thank you to Kyle for letting us spend a nice afternoon in your lovely shop; and thank you to everyone who purchased the book!

My mom's quilts

My mom, Bonnie Vangool, is a very prolific quilter! Here are some recent quilts that were shown at the Saskatoon Quilters’ Guild show on October 27 and 28. 

The pattern was designed by Nancy Mahoney and appeared in the Fons & Porter Scrap Quilts magazine, Spring 2015 edition. The fabrics are from UPPERCASE Volume 2: Dots, Dashes and Diamonds, with the exception of the solid white.

The pattern was designed by Nancy Mahoney and appeared in the Fons & Porter Scrap Quilts magazine, Spring 2015 edition. The fabrics are from UPPERCASE Volume 2: Dots, Dashes and Diamonds, with the exception of the solid white.

This quilt incorporates fabrics from both of my collections plus lots of scraps from her stash.

This quilt incorporates fabrics from both of my collections plus lots of scraps from her stash.

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Beautiful Botanica

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Gorgeous! This photo is by Antonio Valente, one of the many dozens of talented and creative people profiled in Botanica. You can see more on his Instagram.

Antonio is a flower grower in Ontario, Canada. He recently launched his new website in which he shares his story: "I’ve been gardening all my life, but I actually come from a long line of avid vegetable growers. I’m currently growing flowers where my father and grand-father once grew their veggies. While I never quite took to vegetable growing as they did, it certainly left a niche for me to fully explore flower gardening. As a child, I remember my dad setting aside a small plot just for me amongst his vegetables. It was here that I was able to grow whatever I chose. I’d grow flowers, make bouquets, and deliver them to family members. Each autumn, after my grandfather had completed the trimming of his small vineyard, I’d use the vines to fashion grapevine wreaths and baskets. Growing up as a creative young boy who was fond of flowers wasn’t always encouraged, however. “Boys don’t play with flowers,” as I was told by an elementary school principal. Passion, however, is relentless in its calling…"

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Read more about Antonio Valente Flowers in Botanica.

The Typewriter at 1888.center

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It has been two years since The Typewriter: A Graphic History of the Beloved Machine was released into the world. It feels so very long ago! But when I think of all the books and magazines I've released in those months... 8 issues of UPPERCASE, plus Feed Sacks, Stitch*illo and Botanica... it is safe to say I've kept myself busy since then.

It was a book I felt compelled to create—not only from a personal interest in typewriters and, in particular, their associated memorabilia and ephemera—but because there wasn't yet a book that chronicled this graphic history of typewriters. Since 2015, there have been a number of typewriter-related books released, each with their own perspectives. There's also a new film called California Typewriter by Doug Nichol (currently playing at Toronto's Hot Docs) that features famed typewriter collector Tom Hanks, among others. (Although the director originally contacted me about being part of his film, his project took a different direction. Alas, I missed my one-and-only chance to be in a movie with Tom Hanks!)

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So even if my brush with Hanks and Hollywood didn't come to pass, there's a bit of my typewriter project living on in the vicinity: a selection of my vintage ads is currently on display at 1888.center, a creative community writing space, coffeehouse and bookshop in Orange, California.

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I'm happy to say that my book is still very unique its direction and the quality of its graphic design and production. And since the subject matter is already out-of-date, the ephemera collected within the book only get older and more interesting. (Like the rest of us, one hopes!)

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The exhibition is up through November. I was also interviewed by Jon-Barrett Ingels for the center's podcast: The How, The Why. Click here to listen as we chat typewriters and publishing, two things that go very well together!

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The Typewriter can be purchased in person at 1888.center, via my webshop if you're in North America and for folks overseas, it is available through Central Books. It makes a wonderful gift for writers, typewriter lovers and design history enthusiasts!

Photo by The Paper Trail Diary. Read their review of the book here.

Photo by The Paper Trail Diary. Read their review of the book here.

Volume 2: Strike offs

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Strike offs are hand-printed silkscreened swatches to show colour and registration.

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This is the most stressful part of the process, because so much is left to personal interpretation when it comes to colour. Requested changes to the colour are communicated to the production manager at Windham, who passes them along to the print production folks, who are in this case, in South Korea.

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Some colours are too dark, others skew to bright. Some are perfect, others need a bit more yellow, or a bit less yellow... or need to be warmer, or cooler... I mark down my comments for each design in each colour and discuss the requested changes with the production manager.

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There isn't time in the schedule to see a second batch of strike offs, so the production team proceeds to make sample yardage based on the first round of comments. The sample yardage is used to make the projects for the look book, sample swatches for the sales team, plus sample fat quarter bundles and charm packs to give away at spring Quilt Market.

UPPERCASE Volume 2: Dots, Dashes & Diamonds

My second collection with Windham Fabrics will be available stores in November! Leading up to its release, I though I'd share some of the process and behind-the-scenes looks at how it came to be. Like my first collection, the designs are inspired by the patterns that appear on the cover and spine of UPPERCASE magazine.

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As you can see, there was a lot to work with! It was a matter of whittling it down to create a cohesive collection, while adding in a few new patterns to tie it all together.

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My design brief for Volume 2 was "the same but different." So designs that could work as basics, but also some with more colours within a pattern.

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The fabric swatches on the left are from my first collection. They're placed on some paper ink jet printouts to see how they work together. The common motifs for Volume 2 are dots (both circular and diamond-shaped), diamonds (squares on an angle) and dashes (repeated lines).

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The colour palette is similar to the first collection, with little hits of black giving some graphic punch to many of the designs. (Not all of the paper designs pictured in this post ended up in the final collection.)

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Researching and designing (and collecting!!!) swatches for the Feed Sacks book also influenced the collection. There were two specific designs that I reinterpreted to fit within the collection.

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These vintage feed sacks' diamond motif inspired some of the new patterns.

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I made lots and lots of printouts with various colours and designs before narrowing it down to present to Windham.

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In my next post, we'll look at the strike offs!

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