Gail Anderson: Those who can, teach.

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan, who attended the AIGA Y Conference on behalf of UPPERCASE


I spotted Gail Anderson since the beginning of the Y20 conference, she was chatting with colleagues and listening to the talks from the first row. Gail is a previous contributor for UPPERCASE (issue 10, see related post here) so I recognised her immediately, but I waited until the second day to approach her, as I’m a bit of an introvert and she looked rather serious and intimidating. Believe me, she is not.

New York-based designer, writer, and educator Gail Anderson is fun and kind, she is humble and brilliant, down to earth and absolutely fascinating. Gail began her presentation telling us about the time she posed for a photo with President Obama and – accidentally – grabbed his butt (!). And how she modestly muttered “I make posters” when she was asked by Barack (yes, for the purpose of this conversation we are on a first-name basis) what she did for a living.

Through her career Gail has done way more than posters, and has won a few awards, including the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Medal from AIGA. Her credentials go from senior art director at the Rolling Stone magazine to co-author of several typography books, but what I want to focus on is her role as an inspiring teacher. Gail teaches in the School of Visual Arts MFA, undergraduate and high school design programs, and has lectured about design at organizations and conferences around the world, including a recent workshop she did for design students in Saudi Arabia, which landed her an invitation to a further workshop with none other than a princess.

Gail is the kind of teacher everybody should have. She is proud of her students and supportive, yet she challenges them, inspires them and pushes them to be better. As the topic of Y20 was “design moving forward”. Gail emphasised that, for her, design moving forward has been being a teacher. She beamed with pride as she showed us the new media work from some of her grad students; it was a delightful surprise featuring catchy music and flawless editing. She mentioned that, as the students came from many backgrounds, through exercises she made them comfortable with fonts. “I forced them to have fun! They become so rigid when dealing with typefaces.”

When asked why does she teach, Gail simply answered “I have had many great teachers and mentors through my life. Teaching helps me stay fresh.”

So, I say we should eliminate that infamous quote “Those who can, do; those who can’t teach” from our vocabulary, and start showing admiration to all teachers. How else will the new generations become extraordinary professionals, if not under the nurturing mentorship and guidance of remarkable teachers such as Gail?

Brian Gartside: Doing good work & work for good

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan who attended the AIGA Y Conference.


Brian Gartside is a 27-year-old graphic designer and typographer whose credentials include working at Pentagram, DDB New York, and more recently Deutsch Inc.

Brian began his Y20 presentation with advise for emerging graphic designers (and anybody in the creative industry, really) discussing “Things I wish I knew when I was studying to become a Graphic Designer.” Which can be summed up as doing good work, work that visually improves the space that it occupies. Here are the highlights:

  1. Make ads that don’t look like ads (or whatever you make, make it not look like that).

  2. Become a technical expert, be fast at the things you can control so you can spend time on the things you can’t.

  3. Build a diverse library of inspiration. It will help you be more authentic as it will reduce the risk of inadvertently copying someone else.

  4. Take a break. Have a hobby. Do something else for a bit, it will help you think.

This valuable insight from Brian’s very promising career (in October of 2014 he was named as an ADC Young Gun) was complemented by the second part of his presentation, where Brian discussed what he has learned in putting this knowledge into practice and how his skillset has helped him to do work for good.

Many of the projects Brian worked on while at DDB are partially credited for the creative revival of the agency, including The Drinkable Book, where he worked as a senior designer, and which brought the agency its first Cannes Gold Lion in two decades. The Drinkable Book integrates outstanding design and cutting-edge technology put to the service of a remarkable cause developed by Water is Life.

“The Drinkable Book is a life saving tool that filters water and teaches proper sanitation & hygiene to those in the developing world. Each book is printed on technologically advanced filter paper, capable of killing deadly waterborne diseases. And each page is coated with silver nanoparticles, whose ions actively kill diseases like cholera, typhoid and E. coli. Once water is passed through the filter, bacteria count is reduced by over 99.99%, making the filtered water comparable to tap water in the United States of America.”

We all want to use our skillset for the greater good, but at time the possibilities are overwhelming and the size of the task seem impossible to bear. As Brian put it, doing work for good is easier than we may think:

  • You don’t have to save the world. You might never change the world but what you can do is help the people that can change it. If there is something you believe in, find the company who is doing that important thing without the sexy, approach the company and bring the sexy! Make something people can’t ignore.

  • Agencies love pro-bono work because you get more creative freedom. Use that to your advantage but don’t be a scam artist.

  • Dead doesn’t mean dead. Proceed as if it happening. Persistency is key.

  • Beg for favours. If it’s a good project, people will want to help.

  • Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. Don’t let funding hold you up. Get it done and sort it our later.

  • Be more than just a graphic designer. These projects happen though sheer force of will. Do whatever you have to do (wear all the hats you need to in order to get things done).

As the long round of applause and stimulating questions from the audience proved, we were all really inspired by Brian’s investment and igniting curiosity, and the endless possibilities of using creativity to help build a better world.


*For more information or to support the Drinkable Book project please go to  Photos courtesy of Brian Gartside

Sharon Werner on The Importance of Creative Collaboration

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan

One of the most revealing Y20 talks was Sharon Werner’s insight on collaboration.

Sharon is the founder of Werner Design Werks, a small design studio of storytellers artists and designers located in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They do both large and small projects, from brand development to packaging, for companies of any size from all over the world. No matter the size of the project, their commitment is to create authentic brand stories that people care about.

During her presentation, Sharon described how her small team works on adapting and navigating to meet the future. They follow three simple steps: listen, talk, design; and work in collaboration with other designers so they are open and flexible to different points of view. “The answer to how do we keep moving forward is collaboration.” Collaborators bring inspiration as well as expertise to their projects they are part of the process from the beginning. Freelancers and junior designers attend meetings with clients, as it is important that they hear from the client directly. There is no hierarchy in her company, she believes that is how research and creativity flows best.

Werner Design Werks’ portfolio includes a series of children’s books, Alphabeasties and other Amazing TypesBugs by the NumbersAlphasaurs and other Prehistoric Types, published by Blue Apple Books. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get a copy for my 4-year-old alphabet fan & zoologist, and Sharon kindly signed it with a cute note for him (“Tomas, T is for Tiger”).

Alphabeasties books were also a good example of collaboration between Sharon and Sarah Forss, senior designer at Werner Design Werks. The project started as a fluke, it was their own personal project and suddenly someone was interested in publishing it as a book. Sharon recalls thinking, “What can we bring to an alphabet book that hasn’t been done before? Typography, that’s what we know about!” and so the first book was born.  As the younger generations are paying more attention to design nowadays, the project aimed to demonstrate “that typography is fun, that type has a personality and can express more than simply the words being spelled.” It was a creative outlet but it not always easy to find the time to work on side projects. The tactics that worked for Sharon to push that personal project was treating it like a real project with a real client; carving up the time to do it. She emphasized the importance of giving personal projects the attention they deserve, from your website to a project you are passionate about.

Reading more about Sharon’s work I found an interview she recently did for AIGA. I thought I would include here part of it, because her collaboration working model really resonated with me and with the Y20 audience:

(AIGA): Clearly this is a model that has worked for you. I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to expand the size or staff of your studio, but you’ve chosen not to do that. Why did you made that choice?

(SW): Well, I love to work with a lot of different people. Sometimes I think when you’re in an office environment; there can be a lot of petty “officeness.” No matter what the agency, no matter what the environment, there’s just this stuff that happens that’s peripheral to the actual work. Sometimes the morning chitchat you have with colleagues is really nice and fun, but when it happens all day long, it’s crazy. I think having a smaller studio, we can avoid that, and then we can bring in people to work on very specific tasks and specific things. Then we can move on and bring in new people. You don’t get caught up in everyone’s personal issues. Another reason I’ve decided to keep the studio small is that I like to stay involved with the actual work and process. As an owner, it’s difficult to do that with more people. You tend to get caught up in the management of people.

Keeping the studio small allows us to stay more focused. We don’t need to sit down and have staff meetings. We know the status of everything that’s going on all the time. I personally like that, though I don’t know if that’s right for everyone. That’s just my personality. I don’t want to sit in a staff meeting. I just want to do the work and I want to brainstorm.”

For the full interview please see

Sharon was featured in UPPERCASE issue #14 and at the end of her presentation she kindly agreed to pose with the magazine. Janine visited Sharon in her studio a few years ago, take a look in this post to see more.

Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua: Saying “no” to the big shots

Y20 Aiga Conference Day 2 post by Andrea Marvan

Jorge and Sandra opened the Y20 Conference on Friday morning. Sandra is a graphic designer and character designer for television and feature films, and her husband Jorge is an animator, painter, writer and director. They are a very dynamic couple with a hyper-Mexican over-the-top style, as they define it themselves. Jorge once suggested the idea of being the next Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo but Sandra fiercely rejected it “you are not cheating on me!”

Together, they created and designed “El Tigre, The Adventures of Manny Rivera”, a project that earned Equihua an Emmy. And more recently they worked on “The Book of Life”, a CG-animated feature for Reel FX, where Sandra was the lead character designer. Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Jorge, “The Book of Life” was Jorge’s life-long dream project and his love letter to their beloved Mexico.



Jorge’s graphic style is a bit more experimental while Sandra’s is clean and bold, yet you can see how their style perfectly complement each other, like a good marriage. Jorge is loud and fun, he uses animated sounds and a variety of voices when he speaks (after all he is a specialist in cartoon voice overs!), and Sandra laughs at his stories as if she were hearing them for the first time. They are absolutely charming and extremely talented.



Through their presentation, they shared stories about how their studio Mexopolis started and discussed the importance —and sexiness—of turning work down, as odd as it might sound. They are a very determined team and through their career they have been able to work only on projects they truly believe in. They have managed to insert Mexican elements in their work, even when the project had nothing to do with Mexico, and to portray Mexico proudly and with a sense of humour. “We’ve made our bosses like Mexico,” said Sandra, and I beamed.

Being Mexican myself, my opinion and my admiration for them might be biased, but their talent and creativity transcend borders and cultures. Their advice could not be more valuable to any professional in the industry: “Stick to your guns. Learn to say no, you want to work with something you can live with.” and they have ruled their careers by this principle, even if it meant quitting huge projects. Yet, saying no have turned them—as Jorge puts it—into “the hottest girl in town” because they fought for their projects to allow them creative freedom and they have stayed true to their passion. Because of this, Jorge and Sandra have been able to successfully accomplish personal creative vision and commercial success. It had also led them to fail sometimes, but that’s ok, because for them “Failure is great. Failure is the bricks of the pyramid of success.”

*Images courtesy Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua


Y20 AIGA Conference Day 1: Sharing a Universal Value

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan

As the sun starts to set over San Diego’s Mission Bay area, the first day of Y20 AIGA Conference is coming to an end. Participants head over the reception for cocktails and I look at the breathtaking view trying to allow everything to sink in. While I’ve always appreciated good design and I have an arts and communication background, I’m not a graphic designer and at times I worried my knowledge of design wouldn’t be up-to-date for the conference. But the AIGA talented group of designers shares a universal value: the passion for what they do and a strong sense of community. You don’t have to be in the industry to understand that.

Under the theme of Velocity, professionals from the design industry met at the at The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice on the beautiful campus of the University of San Diego, to discuss how to thrive in an accelerating landscape. The mix of presenters and their styles was for sure an eclectic one: from bold and colourful to elegant and sober.

I got there bright and early and at 8:00 am the vibe was already energizing and thrilling. Janine had donated copies of the magazine and I got excited when I overhead people saying “Oh look, there is UPPERCASE” as they opened their goodie bags.

The day began with highly dynamic Mexican designers Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua, creators of the movie Book of Life, who spoke about the importance of sticking to your guns and learning to say no—which I will elaborate more on a later post.

Following the explosive Gutierrez–Equihua team was Michael Bierut, partner in the New York office of the international design consultancy Pentagram. He began his talk by saying “Are you ready to see some black and white geometric shapes?” I thought he was being funny for following such a colourful act by the Mexican duo. He was being serious, yet his elegant, clean and crisp work was far from boring, it was exquisite. With a very clever sense of humour, a dynamic composition and an incredible creative branding strategy his team was able to say so much with so little: “A 49 square grid can do anything for us”. It certainly did.

Mid morning lead to Julia Zeltser’s talk. She is the founding partner and creative director at Hyperakt, and provided valuable insight on community engagement and working for the non-for profit sector. She closed by saying, “We need to stay flexible, current and relevant to participate in the future. I hope you stay flexible and nimble.”

After lunch I found the unexpected, as I was not expecting to cry at a design conference! Designer and documentary maker Justin Skeesuck brought tears to our eyes and got a standing ovation when he spoke on how, due to a progressive neurological disorder, he had to redesign his life and use his creativity to adapt to literarily everything: from day-to-day situations to crossing the Pyrenees in a wheelchair.

And last but not least, Sharon Werner, founder of Werner Design Werks and a previous UPPERCASE contributor closed the afternoon session with an inspiring talk on collaboration and on how a small team can achieve wonders when they follow three simple steps: “we listen, we talk, we design.”

Each and one of these professionals of the industry have a very unique perspective, style and approach to design. Their client portfolio covers a wide range, from fashion moguls to non-for-profit organizations, but they all do the same for their clients: they provide fun and creative solutions.

As the day ended with a competition (Pixels of Fury, where 3 contestants had to design a poster in 20 minutes in front of a live audience), I left inspired, motivated and ready to come tomorrow for more

QuiltCon's Lasting Impressions

Guest post by Linzee McCray

Churn Dash 2 Complementary by Martha Pederson

Churn Dash 2 Complementary by Martha Pederson

QuiltCon 2015 is winding up. Though I couldn’t help but see some of the quilts that were on the edges of the exhibition, near the vendor booths, I decided to save the main part of the exhibition for last. In addition to the quilts accepted for exhibition and judging, there were special displays, including Quilts of Gee’s Bend, Bill Volkening’s quilts from the 1970s, a sampling of the Modern Quilt Guild’s quilts of the month and of Do.Good.Stitches charity quilts.

The Rabbit Hole by Nydia Kennley

The Rabbit Hole by Nydia Kennley

Quilts submitted and accepted for entry were juried in a number of categories: Piecing, Applique, Improvisation, Minimalist Design, Small Quilts, and others (you can see them all here

Lite Brite by Maria Shell

Lite Brite by Maria Shell

Walking the aisles was both inspiring and intimidating. There were so many ways to consider the quilts, from the concepts behind them to the workmanship and skills used to create them. It was impossible not to think “I’d love to make a quilt like that,” and then wonder if I was capable. It was humbling to remember that while some quilters have art backgrounds or are graphics professionals, others have no formal training. Every now and then I’d see a proud quilter posing in front of her or his piece, a soothing reminder that even quilts that make artful use of color and design might have been stitched by someone who reminds me of my next-door neighbor. Part of what I find so engaging about “successful” quilts is seeing simple, accessible materials—needle, thread, and fabric—wielded by quilters with an eye for color and design. It makes personal, visual expression seem possible for those of us who don’t paint or draw.

For Tanya by Emily Coffey

For Tanya by Emily Coffey

When it comes to personal expression, there was one quilt in particular that exemplified what is most interesting to me about QuiltCon. Penny Gold’s quilt Self Portrait, Year Two (Beneath the Surface) shares her stark reality of having lost a child: it’s unlikely that this quilt would be welcome in a traditional quilt show. (Click here to view the quilt.) While quilts usually evoke color, warmth, and a soothing tone, this quilt bleakly, bravely, powerfully expresses Gold’s pain. In the same way that Jacquie Gering’s 2013 Bang, You’re Dead quilt, a handgun dripping blood, stirred controversy, contrasting a quilt’s soothing qualities with harsh reality only serves to strengthen its message. Congratulations QuiltCon, for including the quilt and giving us pause, challenging our expectations, and helping continue the conversation about what a quilt is, should be, and can be.

Gina Pina Hometown Quilt

Gina Pina Hometown Quilt

QuiltCon 2016 will be held in Pasadena, California, Feb. 18-21, 2016.

QuiltCon: Panels and Patchwork

Guest post by Linzee McCray

Vanessa Christensen class "Working with Ombre Fabrics", student work

Vanessa Christensen class "Working with Ombre Fabrics", student work

For day two of QuiltCon, I wasn’t up for the 7:45 a.m. yoga session, but did enjoy the Maker to Making a Living panel at 9 a.m. on Friday. Four industry professionals whose experience ranged from a few to 40 years shared their career paths, their aspirations vs. the reality of “making it” in the quilt industry, and the challenges of small-business ownership. While each panelist (Denyse Schmidt, Mary Fons, Heather Givans, and Brenda Groelz) looks for personal fulfillment and a life filled with making things, they acknowledged that making money to pay the rent (or “buy the kitties food” as moderator Jacqueline Sava called it) was of equal importance. I loved hearing these women riff off one another’s comments and acknowledge the satisfactions, but also the hard, hard work that goes into making careers like theirs happen.

Panel: Maker to Making a Living

Panel: Maker to Making a Living

Next up was one of my favourite lectures: Modern Materials: Quilts of the 1970s with Bill Volckening. This Portland resident found his first quilt rolled up under a table in an antique store and though he didn’t buy it at first, he couldn’t get it out of his mind and returned for it. He was initially seduced by the colors of the quilts of this era, but also became intrigued by the fabrics themselves—Dacron, polyester, and some quilting cottons—and the context in which they were stitched. (He compared one quilt to the painted bus used by The Partridge Family.) A number of quilts from his collection are on the show floor, so it’s possible to admire them in person. They’re pretty wild.

Log Cabin medallion, unknown maker, c.1975 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Log Cabin medallion, unknown maker, c.1975 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Tile Blocks, unknown maker c.1977 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Tile Blocks, unknown maker c.1977 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Woven pattern, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Woven pattern, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Grandmothers's Fans, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Grandmothers's Fans, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

At noon I gave a talk about UPPERCASE and expanded on the story I wrote about feed sacks for issue #24. Audience members ranged from people who had never heard of feed sacks to two women who had worn feed sack underwear as children. I shared a photo of a doily crocheted from the strings used to hold feed sacks shut and an audience member recalled a relative knitting a pair of socks from the strings she’d saved.  Another pulled the loveliest piece of feed sack material from her purse—the pink, grey, and gold apples had such a contemporary feel.

Feed sack example shared by an audience member.

Feed sack example shared by an audience member.

All day long I ran into people who wanted to talk—about quilts, about feed sacks, about fabric, about a quilt they’d seen on the exhibition floor. Those conversations are the real highlights of QuiltCon. Even after the convention center doors closed for the day, Austin was full of people talking about textiles in hotel lobbies and over dinner and drinks. The quilts and the lectures and the workshops provide fodder for getting a conversation started, but the shared love of stitching keeps them going.

On the scene at QuiltCon

Hi there! It's Saturday evening here in Perth and I've had a very busy time at the Writers Festival so far. I'll try to put together an update soon (please join me on Instagram to see what I've been up to). In the meantime, this guest post is from Linzee McCray, reporting from QuiltCon 2015 in Austin, Texas.

Phew! That’s really the only way to sum up the first day of QuiltCon 2015. It started the day before, when nearly everyone on the airport shuttle was going to QuiltCon. Though we didn’t know one another there was an excited exchange of information about lectures we were attending or workshops we’d gotten into: there was the immediate sense of camaraderie that comes of being with those who share a similar passion.

View from above of the quilt exhibition hall.

View from above of the quilt exhibition hall.

I started Thursday by attending the awards ceremony. Though it was delayed due to technical difficulties, Modern Quilting Guild board president Jacquie Gering used her good humour to keep the crowd from getting restless. It also provided the perfect opportunity to meet the quilters around me. I chatted with Candy from Virginia, who is a grants-writer and Girl Scout leader with a fondness for African fabrics in her modern quilts. Soon she was photographing the tote bag of the woman in the next row, also stitched of African fabrics, and sharing fabric sources and design inspirations.

Jacquie took the podium once more, and before announcing the winning quilts, she  shared statistics on who was at QuiltCon 2015. Attendees came from 48 U.S. states and 15 countries and were part of 109 Modern Quilt Guilds worldwide. Two quilters from Sangali, India were recognized for traveling 9,134 miles to be there.

Best in Show: "i Quilt" pieced and quilted by Kathy York from Austin, Texas. Image courtesy the QuiltCon website.

Best in Show: "i Quilt" pieced and quilted by Kathy York from Austin, Texas. Image courtesy the QuiltCon website.

Then it was time for the awards ceremony. More than 1,300 quilts had been entered and 359 of those accepted for exhibition in Austin. There were squeals of joy as Jacquie announced winners and those in attendance came on stage for group hugs and photos. The Best in Show quilt was the last announced: “i quilt” by Kathy York. (You can see all award-winning the quilts here.) 

Modern Traditionalism: 1st Place winner "Long Island Modern Sampler" Pieced & Quilted by: Kim Soper from Centerport, New York. Image courtesy the QuiltCon website.

Modern Traditionalism: 1st Place winner "Long Island Modern Sampler" Pieced & Quilted by: Kim Soper from Centerport, New York. Image courtesy the QuiltCon website.

Those attending workshops were already in classes, learning about appliqué, curved piecing, fabric dying, and screen printing. The rest of us ventured out to lectures, the quilt exhibits, and the vendor hall, where it was hard to know where to look first. In addition to buying fabric, patterns, and books, it was possible to get a sewing-related tattoo or wave a ten-gallon hat from atop a giant aqua sewing machine (courtesy of Austin’s Stitch Lab).

Kathy Mack, Bainbridge Island, WA; Susan Hogan, Dallas, TX and Cheryl Jennings, Austin, TX

Kathy Mack, Bainbridge Island, WA; Susan Hogan, Dallas, TX and Cheryl Jennings, Austin, TX

My UPPERCASE name badge garnered comments. In the conference “swag bags” were complementary copies, donated by Janine, and many who had never before seen it loved it and stopped to talk with me about it. (Remember, until March 31 there is a special QuiltCon discount for new and gift subscriptions and renewals.)

Lectures scheduled throughout the day varied from how-tos (ways to improve your machine quilting or your creativity) to business matters. After wandering the vendor hall I attended a panel discussion about publishing your work, and a session titled “Quilting and the Copyright War” by Rossie Hutchinson. The thought-provoking conversations that resulted continued over lunch with friends I knew best from email—what a treat to be face-to-face with them.

The day ended with a party at Austin’s Mohawk bar, at a party sponsored by Moda fabrics. People lined up along to the block waiting to get in, and though the night was cool, the outdoor areas were filled with QuiltCon folks, taking in the Austin evening sky and chatting more about their workshops, favourite lectures, and meeting friends old and new.

Jacquie Gering seems to have set the tone for the conference at the morning’s session when she said “These days are about celebrating who we are and what we make.” The celebration is definitely in full force.

Design Thinkers, part 2

Christopher Rouleau shares more of his conference notes from Design Thinkers.

Richard Turley

Senior VP of Storytelling, MTV (previously: Bloomberg Businessweek)

"Let's Talk About Me"

  • "Typography can change the world!"
  • on bad clients: "the worse I made it, the more they liked it…"

Steve Vranakis

Executive Creative Director, Creative Lab, Google

"Making Technology Matter, and Using Technology to Drive Creativity"


  • the description "must be brave & kind" was listed in a Google Creative Labs job posting
  • make design matter
  • coding = a creative discipline
  • developers = artists
  • code / poetry = right words in the right order
  • break the conventions / structures

Annette Diefenthaler, Ellen Lupton & Lawrence Zeegen

"The Future of Design Education"

What is the most important trait(s) for students leaving college / entering the workforce?

AD: one core skill is more important than multiple skills. A single skill permeates through a portfolio. Don't pretend you can do everything.

LZ: not skill sets, but mindsets / must be able to embrace new thinking – we're looking for innovators who will push the industry forward

EL: don't copy others / "nobody's going to be everything"

What is more important: critical thinking or technical skills?

EL: there should be no division—skill set and mindset should be integrated

AD: students must be adaptable and be able to teach themselves, or know how to acquire the skills they need

LZ: importance of learning both high tech and low tech (analog techniques), as well as learn from each other

How do you teach less-skilled students (the 90% "non-stars")?

LZ: educators are responsible for teaching the entire gamut of students, from all skill levels and backgrounds. strive for better, not best

AD: must question metrics – not just about graphic design "hard skills"
things to consider:

how is the student inspiring / challenging the discipline / industry?
how the student having an impact on his / her community?
how is the student able to communicate / inspire / teach others?
ultimately, educators must embrace diversity of skills and help break down barriers

Should software / technical skills be the core of design programs?

EL: critical thinking is more important that software knowledge
"teach spelling AND poetry in tandem" — always with an element of FUN

How important is coding fluency in a world where students are expected to be multi-disciplinary?

AD: students must have "digital fluency": able to use but not necessarily produce
ability to tell stories with existing apps, platforms, tools of visual distribution

How do you teach students to be "resourceful"?

EL: make students work within constraints, units, specific parameters, this teaches problem solving / resilience creates systems that can change / design is the most basic form of literacy for both designers and non-designers / empower students to do good: either at industry/agency level, or within their community

AD: time = money; make students execute projects in time constraints
find ways to "get to amazing" within 24 hours

What are your thoughts on design departments who are changing the course descriptions from "Graphic Design" to "Communication Design"?

EL: "I will go to my grave as a graphic designer!"
"graphic design" connotes discipline, long standing traditions
"communication design" connotes business, marketing, PR (yuck)

LZ: "graphic design" doesn't adequately describe the tasks any more

What are the constraints of a 3-year design degree? What would you add/change?

LZ: too insular
gap between real money / real time
need to connect graphic design with everything else

EL: too much focus on self, homework, etc. / add communal spaces to create a studio experience, encourage peer-to-peer learning, which is invaluable / also, make all classes electives…

AD: most classroom spaces are terrible – feel too "school-like"
learning / working environments affect how we think, act, and the quality of our work

Visit Christopher's blog for more, including his notes on Jessica Walsh and Erik Spiekermann. Our thanks to Design Thinkers for the press pass to this annual event.

Mary Fisher's "100 Good Deeds"

post by Cara Howlett

Artist Mary Fisher was featured in issue #12 (2011), showcasing her talents in jewelry-making, sewing and weaving, as well as designing fabric and making paper. Besides her work as an artist, Mary is known worldwide for her role as a HIV/AIDS activist. After finding out she was HIV-positive over 20 years ago, Mary has used her art to help others affected by HIV/AIDS.

In 2000, Mary was asked by the White House AIDS office to travel to Africa on a fact-finding mission. While in Africa, Mary identified with the stigma attached to women with HIV/AIDS. Mary started ABATAKA, a foundation dedicated to helping these women. About 30 women hand-craft exquisite bracelets using Mary’s designs—thereby learning how to support themselves and becoming self-sufficient business women. 

Following the release of her memoir Messenger in 2012, Mary met filmmaker Thomas Morgan. He and his family created a game in which they would perform 100 good deeds anonymously. After learning about Thomas’ game, Mary responded by creating the 100 Good Deeds bracelet. Each bracelet is hand-braided by vulnerable women worldwide and strung with one hundred glass beads and a single rubber ring. After wrapping it around your wrist, each time you do a good deed, you move the rubber ring one bead closer to the 1GD charm. With every purchase of a 1GD bracelet, one vulnerable woman is employed giving her dignity and freedom. 

The 1GD bracelet is available in ten colours and may be purchased at

Since issue #12 is sold out, you can read the original article about Mary Fisher, written by Christine Chitnis, by clicking here for a pdf.  

meet Cara

Serendipitously our boots match.

Serendipitously our boots match.

Janine and I are happy to introduce you to our first practicum student. Cara Howlett contacted us back in January about coming to work with us. We knew it was meant to be when her interview outfit matched issue #20. Cara will be with us for the next month helping to launch issue #21. She will also share behind-the-scenes posts about her time at UPPERCASE. She writes her own introduction below. 

This morning, I woke to a few centimetres of snow, albeit quite mushy and wet, but snow nonetheless. My grey, fleece-lined rubber boots squished through the muck as I walked to the UPPERCASE office. 

I’ll be wading through Calgary’s unpredictable weather to get to the UPPERCASE office as I finish up my journalism arts diploma at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Until mid-April, I’ll be learning the behind-the-scenes process of building an award-winning magazine, attempting to help Erin and Janine, all the while being fully immersed in all-things UPPERCASE. 

For the past two years, I’ve been attending Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, Alberta. I graduated from high school in 2006, and after a few years of working at coffee shops and retail stores, I knew I needed to find a career. My interest in reading, writing and photography lead me to journalism. 

Originally signing up for the journalism program with the hopes of becoming a photo-journalist, my focus shifted as I realized the potential in print. While thoroughly enjoying a print production and magazine class at SAIT, I decided to become a Print and Online Journalism Major. 

While searching for a business at which to do my practicum, UPPERCASE was one of the first to come to mind. In a world of online everything, UPPERCASE proves to its thousands of readers that print lives on. With its focus on vintage items, original graphic design and colourful content, UPPERCASE distinguishes itself amongst other magazines I have come across. The opportunity to be a part of it (for a very brief time!) was an occasion I did not want to miss.

As a newbie in the world of print journalism, I am extremely excited for all that I will have the chance to see, experience and learn. 

You can visit my website to see writing samples I completed while at SAIT, along with design samples, photographs and public relations materials. 


Mundania Horvath documents the dwellings of Pittsburgh


Lisa Toboz is a Pittsburgh writer, photographer, and curator of the Studio 5013 window installation series. Follow her adventures in art and travel at The Long Way Home Diaries.

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Artist Mundania Horvath didn’t call herself an illustrator until a few years ago: “I considered myself a designer who was good with computers and print design.” But as former office manager of Moss Architects, she’d watch coworkers doing draft sketches, wondering how she could incorporate traditional illustration into her graphic works.

Wanting a yearly project, Mundania created PGH/Digs (PGH is Pittsburgh’s affectionate acronym), an illustration series combining art and design with her admiration for Pittsburgh dwellings. 

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Pittsburgh’s various neighbourhoods are clustered with old, at-times unusual, solid brick homes that have survived decades of industrial history, and Mundania—who moved from Uniontown, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh to attend the Art Institute—drives around the city’s one-way streets, taking photos of houses that she can draw, then fine-tine later in Illustrator and Photoshop.


The simple, clean lines of ’60s ranch-style, “311 S Dallas Ave, Point Breeze” (first in the series, above) appealed to her love of geometry and retro design. She pays attention to house details others may not notice: a slanted roof, or asymmetrical windows.

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While the house structures are characteristic of Pittsburgh, Mundania makes them universal through bold colour. Inspired by artist Lisa Congdon’s bright and playful colour schemes, Mundania experiments with changing the original house colours in her pieces to ones you may be reluctant to try in real life. “If you could paint your house any colour,” she says, “it might look like this.” 

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PGH/Digs has evolved into commissions—some clients want their houses replicated, while others give Mundania free reign with shape and colour. This year, she’s taking the project beyond city limits, illustrating well-known houses designed by famous architects, in addition to the Pittsburgh houses that continue to inspire. “This project has opened a lot of doors for me, connecting me to people throughout the city. It’s completely changed how I view myself as an artist.” 

On craft, creativity and finding community


Ana Isabel Ramos is an illustrator, designer and crafter from Lisbon, Portugal. In this guest post, she shares her personal story on how craft and creativity has helped her find connections and community in difficult times.


As Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots in hindsight; and today I want to tell you a personal story where I connect the dots from difficulty to craft, to collaboration, to creativity, to integration. And finally, from there to making money with content creation. 


Let’s move back in time: seven years ago, I moved from my hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. All I took was a suitcase and the hope that my new life near my then boyfriend would work well for us. 

(Spoiler alert: it did. We are now married and having a lot of fun together. The beginning was rough, though.)

The first week in my new city wasn't very easy. We had an apartment, but no friends or acquaintances. In a ten-million-metropolis, I didn't know one single soul.

On the eighth day I was there, I got sick. At first, my husband and I thought it was just a bad case of food poisoning. We decided to go to the hospital, if only we knew where to go. We looked at a travel guide, saw the hospital recommendations and took a chance. When we got there, I was admitted for the day and discharged with some medicine prescriptions, as doctors believed it was nothing too serious. I didn't get better, though, so we returned a day later, very dehydrated and with an enlarged and painful belly. That was when I was finally diagnosed with a first world disease, one that is easily curable but not preventable: due to a previous surgery, I had grown adhesions inside my abdomen, which then forced my intestines shut. The treatment was surgical: in 48 hours I underwent two open abdomen surgeries followed by three long weeks at the hospital.

The day I was discharged, several pounds lighter, no strength on my limbs, I felt pure joy. Returning home was like finding the El Dorado, but I kid you not: after the initial thrill came the heavy weight of depression.


Why am I telling you all this? Because my life in my new city did, indeed, get better, and I got to make a lot of new friends through collaboration, craft and creativity. 

Fast forward to a year later, my new life started to get better and I slowly grew roots in Buenos Aires. After attending Spanish classes, where all the students were foreigners who sooner or later left the city, I signed up for German classes, where my fellow students were locals. That is when I finally made local friends. 

I also took up knitting, a craft my grandmother had taught me when I was a child, but I hadn't done in two decades.

In Buenos Aires, knitting kept me sane and energized: through knitting, I was able to burst the expat bubble and meet real porteños, people with as diverse backgrounds as possible, the only thing in common among us being knitting. For some reason, we were all at a crossroads at that point: after meeting, many of us turned craft into successful entrepreneurial ventures, and today there are professional dyers, spinners, knitters, teachers and designers among our group. In my case, I launched a brand of handmade baby wear, abbrigate*, which has been growing to this day. 

But the story goes on: after three years living down south, the time came to uproot our family of two and leave Argentina for Panama. Where, due to its tropical hot and wet climate, there's no need to wear any knitting at all. 


My knitting strategy was useless on that latitude, so I turned to a new craft, embroidery, for a challenge (and support). Being a passionate illustrator and sketcher, I saw in embroidery a way to somehow reproduce the line drawings I fill my sketchbooks with: instead of pen on paper, I started using needle and thread on fabric. For my baby wear brand, I launched a new product: hand embroidered baby blankets, to protect the little ones from the fierce cold of air conditioning. 

Embroidery soon became a passion, one that was portable and easy to take with me in that incredibly hot weather. 


Given that knitting wasn't going to help me integrate in Panama, I launched an illustrated monthly zine, which I then printed and left in strategic places. It became the start for many conversations I had during those years. I even spoke at a Pecha Kucha event in Panama about it, and entertained a whole audience in a foreign language. 

In 2013, we relocated again to my original hometown of Lisbon, Portugal. Repatriation may sound easy and smooth, after moving around so much, but it comes with its thorns. Granted, I had a previous social network, I have my family and friends nearby, but it is unwise to think that things are exactly the same as they were when I left seven years ago. Neither am I the same person.

In Lisbon, I pulled my big guns: I knew craft, collaboration and creativity would be the best way to connect with new people, make new friends and maybe even revive old friendships. I launched an Embroidery Club as a way to create a network, to collaborate with different people—I believe each member is a collaborator, specially whenever I see the amazing embroideries they come up with, based on my designs—and to monetize my content creation.


Craft, collaboration and creativity have been the instruments to keep me grounded wherever I am living at a certain point; they keep me growing with all the stimuli I receive from new friends around the world, with whom I share a passion for craft; they make me appreciate the skills and abilities required to complete a project, and the producers of those materials I use, from the farmers who grow and shear sheep to the dyers and spinners who produce wonderful yarns, to the industries that provide us with new, natural sourced fibres, to the shops who strive to keep themselves open and engaged in their communities, despite the difficult economy.

Through craft, collaboration and creativity I managed to find a community; with the support of my community, I found a way of making a living with content creation. And through all the challenges of living abroad, I grew much more than I could have ever anticipated. 

sequins & voodoo


Have you ever tried to photograph sequins? Let me assure you .. it is HARD! Hard to capture the richness and colour spectrum.. hard to avoid glare.. like shooting into window panes! And hard to shoot over 50 items all the while documenting their every irregularity and still making them look good! But that is what you do when photographing for an Etsy shop.

My friend Dina Knapp, an artist featured in UPPERCASE issue # 18 and her late husband, a poet, were inveterate collectors, amassing an amazing array of outsider and Haitian art.

When Jeffery died in 2010, Dina set about making sense of life and their collections. She decided to say goodbye to the Haitian Voodoo Flags and Spirit Bottles they had collected and hello to Visionary Voodoo, her new Etsy shop.

Dina and Jeffery were first introduced to Haitian art through a show at Brooklyn Museum in 1978. It was a major exhibition that included paintings and sculpture by all the contemporary Haitian masters. Jeffrey, a poet and educator, connected to the pure authentic, primitive quality of the works. Dina, on the other hand, connected to the simple scenes of everyday life depicted in the paintings, and the materials the artists used to express themselves. The sewn pieces in particular resonated for her.

This show changed their life.


Dina Knapp's art and apparel shop is Golden Hands and her vintage shop is called GrandmaBerthas.

Read more about Dina Knapp in UPPERCASE issue 18

even more moxie

Photos: Jamie Leonardi

Photos: Jamie Leonardi


Jamie Leonardi (Resident Cheerleader for a. favorite design letterpress greeting cards & blogger for Stumble & Relish) shares the The Wisdom of Moxie:

It was the first sunny, beautiful day in Chicago—Saturday at 7:45 A.M. and I walked into a day-long creative conference. You might think, “YAWN” or “I wanna play outside today”. But you’d be wrong. So wrong. This was a “conference to inspire confident creatives” and it definitely did. I was blown away by the variety of speakers, the creative fields they were from and how they all managed to really make me think.

Aside from brilliant Illustrator, Lisa Congdon, the list of speakers didn’t mean much to me before I heard them speak but they all left quite an impression on me. Designer and illustrator, Elle Luna, was memorable with her poetically, blunt style. She made me laugh, made me think and I will always remember that distractions threaten us daily—“every time you say yes to one of them, you say no to yourself”. The speakers were refreshing, easy-going, smart, forthright, honest, funny, witty, entertaining and so incredibly passionate. There was a common theme of taking the jump off that cliff, quitting your job and start doing what it is you really want to do. I think the eloquent illustrator and fine artist, Lisa Congdon, said it best “Be you. Make the work you love and embrace your path”.

It is a rare chance that you get to feel and experience the true creative passion of others. All creatives have the passion that drives them, fuels them, feeds them but to get inside some true creative genius is a gift. It was fantastic to see the rich, creative community here in Chicago in one room. There was so much to take away but mostly I walked away with many words of wisdom to share:

“Find your MUST. What do you burn for? What moves you?” —Elle Luna, designer & artist

“Safety & comfort obstruct your dreams.” —Rob Loukotka, designer

“Mistakes are so beautiful, lets go paint a million mistakes.” —in the words of a little boy to Elle Luna

“Be you. Make the work you love & embrace your path.” —Lisa Congdon, Illustrator & Fine Artist

“The original Kick Starter.“ —Max Temkin referring to Mr. Rodgers defending PBS in the senate in 1969 

“Your haters are really good at pointing out your strengths.” —Ann Friedman, Editor & Writer

“We are all writers, we are all storytellers.” Susan Betteridge. Group Creative Director

“Always have a business card.” Mare Swallow, Speaker, Consultant, Author

“It would be better to fail than to suck.” Max Temkin, Designer & Gamer

“Be prolific. Be brave. Be communal. Be adaptable. Be firm. Be adventurous. Be dependable. Be gracious. Be (occasionally) disentangled. ” —Lisa Congdon, Illustrator & Fine Artist


Photos: Kept Casual

Photos: Kept Casual

Over the weekend we were proud to support MoxieCon in Chicago by providing complimentary magazines to attendees. This one-day event was a crash course on the business side of design and technology. Workshops covered topics such as self promotion, how to market your ideas as well as dealing with legal issues. We sent Stationery Guide participants Nina from Tweedle Press, Tiffany and Mary of Kept Casual and Jamie from a. favorite design who all report that the event was very inspiring. 

Kept Casual’s TOP 10 List of the Most Noteworthy Observations and Moments from Our Inspiring Experience at MoxieCon:

10. Lots of prints, patterns and cool eye wear all around us. Designers are so chic.

9. Cool bag of swag, including a back issue of UPPERCASE Magazine and a bundle of Field Notes!

8. From Susan Betteridge—tell a story when presenting your work. Don’t undersell the journey you took to get to your idea.

7. Lawyer up!

6. Jen Myers talked about Girl Develop It, a meetup community of women that offers classes and resources to women interested in learning how to code. Sign us up!

5. Read autobiographies of really successful people. 

4. From Mare Swallows —“Inspire confidence [in yourself and your work] from the start.” And, “Create a web presence, and keep up with it.”

3. Elle Luna advised, “Know the difference between the work that you can do and the work that you must do. What do you burn for?” 

2. Favourite piece of advice from Lisa Congdon—“Be communal. Surround yourself with good people. Don’t bother with the jerks.”

1. Hands down best thing said all day came from Ann Friedman, “You’re doing something right if you have haters.” Amen.


art basel farewell

Guest post by Rose Zgodzinski

We come to Art Basel to look and absorb as much of the experience and atmosphere as is possible. We’ve never bought anything at any of the fairs, although we have considered a few pieces over the years. The experience is always overwhelming, probably the word that best describes our treks through Art Basel week… but overwhelming in a good way.

If you are a novice and are considering going it might help to do a little research first and then understand that there is no possible way to see it all! So relax, breathe and just start anywhere. 

If you know what you like, try and tailor your experience to the fairs that will interest you. (Granted it is a bit hard to distinguish when almost every fair uses the same descriptions: "cutting edge contemporary works, emerging or mid-career, internationally renowned artists". The NADA (New Art Dealers Association) Fair, thankfully, was described as avant-guard—not to everyone’s taste—and they were right!


But more than anything, the Art Basel experience provides something for everyone—even man's best friend! On our last day, wandering through the Design district  (in the Buena Vista building) we came across Architecture for Dogs, an exhibit organized through the Design Miami Fair, a celebration of the relationship between humans and their canines. Check out the website that accompanies the exhibit, where you can download free blueprints of the 13 projects on display.

artwork by Vanessa German

artwork by Vanessa German

A highlight for both of us this year were these tar-baby assemblages by Vanessa German—beautifully forged entities, all precariously perched, and encrusted in found objects. They come prepared with everything that they might need, and are strong and frail, old, yet new. Vanessa German, who has also performed as a spoken word artist, is represented by Pavel Zoubok Gallery, a gallery specializing in collage, assemblage & mixed media.


These globes by Ingo Gunther gave me serious Infographic envy!


I'm looking forward to next year’s visit, and everything in between…

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art basel: creative blast


Guest post by Rose Zgodzinski

Rose designs and illustrates information graphics—Charts, Maps & Diagrams is her website. We asked Rose why she attends Art Basel since it is seemingly so visually and conceptually different that her day-to-day graphics and problem-solving.

I have always needed a more practical anchor for my own expression—a large reason why I have practiced design and not fine art. The Art Basel experience, with all its diverse forms of expression is a huge push for me to experiment.

I connect to any schematics I see at the fairs, because it is the language I work in. But all these diverse expressive languages, which can be understood by anyone makes me feel that I can still practise and be understood in a new language.

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art basel: inside manita and randy's apartment

Guest post by Rose Zgodzinski
Photos by Michael Vaughan

Randy and Manita

Randy and Manita

The best part of Art Basel for my husband Michael and I is the visit to Manita & Randy's Bayside condo. Manita Brug-Chmielenska is the reason why we go to Art Basel. She is an old friend from Toronto who relocated to Florida originally to investigate southern vegetation (when she was practicing landscape architecture). She found Randy Burman in a neighbouring studio, stayed, married him and became a principal in his graphic design firm, IKON Communications and Marketing Design.

For years Manita has been saying "You've gotta come down and see this! It is the Olympics of the art world! We've taken her advice and this year's annual trek to Art Basel marks our fourth visit. I would be lost without Manita's daily telephone debriefing sessions during Art Basel week—she is the indispensable insider's guide with advice on what to see, what to avoid, restaurant and even traffic and parking suggestions.


We always manage to get in a visit in to their apartment. This year Manita, has organized a morning brunch, in order for all their visiting friends (collectors, out-of-towners, artists) to get together.

Their amazing apartment, which has been organized around a burgeoning art collection (or "Living with our Obsession" as Manita calls it), has been amassing for the past 17 years and reflects their eclectic sensibilities.


Manita describes their collection as "Guided by intuition, personal preferences and sensibilities that lean towards Dada and Art Brut, we have surrounded ourselves with a collection of contemporary, thought-provoking, and often, witty art." The collection of 200-plus pieces consists mainly of found-object assemblages, but there are also works on paper, paintings, woodcuts, ceramics, books, collages, glass, sculpture, advertising icons, and photography.


Visiting the apartment is also an opportunity to catch up with Randy's own artwork; also found-object assemblages and an extensive portrait project of Republicans ("Somebody's got to do it!") for a conceptual arcade-like installation.


art basel

Yayoi Kusama: Tulip with All My Love. Photo courtesy Art Basel Miami website.

Yayoi Kusama: Tulip with All My Love. Photo courtesy Art Basel Miami website.

Guest Post by Rose Zgodzinski

We attended the previews of the Art Basel fair yesterday, hoping to avoid the crush of the vernissage—still the place was packed, and people watching was just as interesting as the art itself. This is the sophisticated, classic art fair that oozes prestige—and never disappoints. Languages overheard: Spanish, German, Russian, French and many accents of English.

Jack Pierson, IF. Photo courtesy Art Basel Miami website.

Jack Pierson, IF. Photo courtesy Art Basel Miami website.

Jack Pierson, The World is Yours. Photo by Rose Zgodzinski.

Jack Pierson, The World is Yours. Photo by Rose Zgodzinski.

We also drove through Wynwood—the street art capital of the world, where we saw several crews painting in the dark, getting their walls ready for the day and the expected throngs. We managed to get to preview some art fairs nearby: Scope, Overture, and Art Asia, all in one tent.

Image courtesy Wynwood Walls website.

Image courtesy Wynwood Walls website.

Photo courtesy Wynwood Walls website.

Photo courtesy Wynwood Walls website.