When I first stumbled across UPPERCASE Magazine, within seconds of opening the soft-but-sturdy pages I had an instant pang of “I wish I’d started that,” followed almost immediately by the question, “how can I work for them?” and then a deep sigh when I learned the whole shebang was pretty much a one-(extraordinary)-woman show.
Based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, UPPERCASE Magazine is a quarterly print publication that covers what feels like everything in the realm of design. From traditional graphic design, to stationery, to fabric and surface design, to illustration—it’s really a magazine that celebrates the design community in all its multi-faceted forms. Though Janine Vangool—editor, publisher, designer, possibly superwoman—points out that the magazine is not specifically about graphic design.
“We say we’re ‘creative and curious’ with an eclectic content range from design, typography, illustration and crafting to just about any topic that relates to creative fields,” she tells me in an exclusive interview.
Started somewhat serendipitously following the closure of an independent magazine for which Vangool freelanced, UPPERCASE was born from the combination of what Vangool perceived as a “void for a well-designed, visually inspiring publication,” and a fantasy of designing her own magazine after becoming tired of working for clients on their own ideas, but not her own, she says.
From an early age, Vangool loved making books, she says.
“In high school, my ultimate goal was to be the yearbook editor,” she says. “So when I went to college, I knew that I wanted to become a graphic designer since I’d be able to combine my love of type and image.”
Though it hasn’t always been a smooth ride, the pages of UPPERCASE are really a testament to how much love Vangool has for what she does, and especially for her readers and subscribers.
“The biggest influence on content curation is actually my own subscribers and readers—I look to them and their projects for inspiration and potential content ideas,” she says. “Creative people need to develop a tolerance for risk. We don’t necessarily know where the next paycheck is coming from—or if it will come at all. Despite this, you need to keep working, keep pushing forward and following your creative path.”
“Creative people need to develop a tolerance for risk. We don’t necessarily know where the next paycheck is coming from—or if it will come at all. Despite this, you need to keep working, keep pushing forward and following your creative path.”
She further explains what she sees as the magazine’s purpose—not resting in what seems to be the commonly-expressed idea of making changes to the magazine world—but rather, “to inspire, inform, and promote its readership.”
“I see the magazine as having a direct one-on-one relationship with its readers,” she says. “It becomes very personal to people who appreciate UPPERCASE. And of course, it is very personal to me since I dedicate so much of my time and efforts to it.”
Part of what contributes to this relationship between UPPERCASE and its readers is the very format of the magazine. Although the general industry is increasingly moving toward digital formats, Vangool has chosen to keep UPPERCASE as a print-only publication.
“The decision to keep UPPERCASE print-only was quite an easy one to make: my readers and I love ink on paper,” she explains. “We love the tactile nature of a magazine, how it becomes part of your life in a tangible way.”
UPPERCASE is just one magazine contributing to the resurgence of print, but Vangool suspects the reasoning behind other boutique publications’ decision to only release print format magazines is similar to hers.
“From a business perspective,” she explains, “I can’t incur the cost to both print an issue and develop an app for it. And the price point expectations for an app are so much lower than the equivalent content in print, that it doesn’t make sense to dilute my readership across print and a digital platform. I suspect that other ‘boutique publishers’ feel the same way and face the same realities,” she says.
As for the supportive atmosphere of UPPERCASE—Vangool often holds open calls for submissions from designers, artists, crafters, etc. on particular issue themes.
“UPPERCASE strives to be a very inclusive magazine and community,” she explains. “I often say that anyone can be included in UPPERCASE in some way, it is just a matter of asking the right questions and discovering a point of view that suits our readers. Our readers range from professional designers to creative entrepreneurs to crafters to those beginning to discover their creativity outside of [the] nine-to-five [work week]. We want our readers to feel happy and invigorated after reading an issue, to know that there is a community of like-minded people who support them and their craft, no matter what it is.”
A few more questions for Janine Vangool:
Can you walk us through a bit of your typical day running and designing a magazine?
“The day-to-day operation of UPPERCASE is a one-woman enterprise, so I do everything from editorial development and design, to customer service and subscriptions, tech support and web design, to social media management and blogging. It’s a full day, that’s for sure. I try to concentrate on one area per block of time (customer service and filling orders in the morning, editorial concerns in the afternoon for example).”
Do you have any big plans for UPPERCASE in the future?
“I am working steadily towards growing the subscription base of the magazine as this would offer more financial stability and enable me to do things like expand my team and offer additional publications. UPPERCASE also publishes books on creativity and craft and I am looking forward to the release of The Typewriter: a Graphic History of the Beloved Machine. This book has been a few years in the making (and a lifetime obsession) and at over 300 pages, it is nearing completion.”
You come up with such unique themes for UPPERCASE, and content that you really don’t see anywhere else. Do you ever find the inspiration not flowing? Or your creativity waning? What do you do in those moments to get it back?
“Inspiration is everywhere! I’m always looking at blogs, books and other media. I also receive lots of content suggestions and portfolio links from our readers and more and more often the inspiration is coming directly from our subscribers. They’re a talented and enthusiastic bunch! I often notice trends or themes from what I’m seeing and collecting and those eventually emerge as themes to explore in future issues.
When I’m feeling tired or uninspired, unplugging and taking time away is the best medicine. Easier said than done, but that’s the best way.”
Have you ever had a moment in your career (whether with UPPERCASE or your previous design life) where you felt like you failed? If so, how did you overcome it?
“This year was a tough one in that I had to reduce a staff of three to just me—returning to my roots and doing it all myself. Magazine sales and subscriptions couldn’t support their salaries and there wasn’t enough growth potential to merit weathering the increasing debt. So that certainly reads like a failure, and felt like one at the time. However, making the decision to go ‘lean and mean’ and rebooting my company was the best possible decision. My level of stress is much lower and by becoming the sole voice of the company, I have been connecting directly with my readers in a far deeper and meaningful way as I open up about my struggles through my weekly newsletter. As creative entrepreneurs, we’re all facing similar issues and it helps to know there are other people working their way through.”
Do you have a favorite issue of UPPERCASE? If so, why’s it your favorite?
“The most current issue is always my favorite! However, this is particularly true of the summer issue #22 which was art-directed as a spectrum. It was a design and editorial challenge for me and I’m pleased with how it has been received.”
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring magazine creators, or designers in general?
“Creative people need to develop a tolerance for risk. We don’t necessarily know where the next paycheck is coming from—or if it will come at all. Despite this, you need to keep working, keep pushing forward and following your creative path. As for launching a magazine, I am actually working on an e-course on the topic which I hope to have available in the new year. Folks can sign up for my newsletter to get details or follow along on the blog and on Twitter @UPPERCASEmag.”
You can subscribe or learn where to find an issue of UPPERCASE near you at uppercasemagazine.com