Friday, August 4, 2017

An Interview with Janine Vangool of UPPERCASE Publishing

Today I'm chatting with Janine Vangool, the publisher, editor and designer at UPPERCASE. I've shared before how inspiring I find UPPERCASE Magazine and its books and I'm delighted to have Janine here with us sharing her thoughts. Sit back and enjoy!


ab: Hi, Janine, so glad to have you here chatting with us today! UPPERCASE "celebrates the process of making, the commitment to craft and the art of living creatively". Can you share a bit about what it means to you, personally, to live creatively? How do you juggle your business and your family while also prioritizing your own making and creative living?

jv: It’s my pleasure!

I was a freelance graphic designer for a dozen years before I started UPPERCASE. So for my entire adult life, I’ve supported myself through my creativity one way or another. But I’ve never treated “being creative” or “living creatively” as something other than simply who I am—I’m just creative in different ways in different situations. Being creative on demand for a client is one thing, taking time to sew or crochet for fun is another, and working on my publishing business is another sort of creativity. I like having various outlets for creativity: from solving problems, physically making something, or creative ideation and strategizing when it comes to my business. They’re all fulfilling a greater creative drive, I guess!

When it comes to work/life balance, I don’t like to use the term “juggle” because it implies a level of difficulty (and stress) that I don’t think needs to be part of the equation. My work is part of my everyday life. Being a parent is also part of my everyday life. At any given moment, one will take priority over the other, but one identity doesn’t take over the other. I’m a creative entrepreneur. I’m a creative mom. I’m both of these things all the time.

My husband Glen handles customer support for UPPERCASE a few hours a day, so we really are living and working on UPPERCASE-related things a lot of the time. But the reward for that is that we do have quite flexible schedules and we always have time for family.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: Uppercase was a studio, shop and gallery before it was a magazine. How did it evolve from that first incarnation to what it is today? Did starting a magazine at a time when many long-lived magazines were stopping production feel like a risky decision to make? Did you ever imagine you'd be where you are now, 33 issues later, with circulation up and the magazine cherished and collected by many from all over the world?

jv: Yes, it began as “UPPERCASE gallery, books and papergoods” in 2005 in a public space in my city’s downtown. The front half was a gallery and I sold greeting cards and stationery that I designed and sometimes made by hand. The bookshelf initially contained other publishers’ books but I dreamed of doing my own publications someday. The back end of the shop was my design office where I did freelance for arts and culture-based clients.

By 2009, I was feeling unchallenged by client work but was really thriving on the entrepreneurial side of UPPERCASE. I had published a few books by then, based on gallery exhibitions. Through my blog and online shop, I had developed a nice little following who I hoped would appreciate a new quarterly magazine, also named UPPERCASE.

At the time, many mainstream magazines like Martha Stewart’s Blueprint or the first incarnation of Domino were being shut down. (There weren’t a lot of indie magazines like there are now!) There was a void in my own needs as a reader and began to think that others might be feeling the same.

I had a line of credit, some eager early subscribers and crossed my fingers and just dove in in producing the first few issues. It was slow and steady and took YEARS and lots of hard work and some really stressful times before it became sustainable financially. But I’m so glad I stuck to it!

Janine Vangool, Uppercase, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: Your most recent project is your Encyclopedia of Inspiration, an open ended endeavor which you began with three volumes, Feed Sacks, Stitch*Illo and Botanica. The first two volumes are already in print and the third is on its way. How did this project come about? What made you decide on these three volumes as your starting point? Now that you're close to being finished with the first volumes, are you planning on diving into creating more?

jv: Even though the quarterly magazine is really enough work (I do all the curating, design, marketing, etc), I find that I always have more ideas than pages! And as a designer, I love conceptualizing and making books. So the Encyclopedia of Inspiration series is a way to address some of these ideas with more dedicated pages—I enjoy really diving into a subject matter!

Feed Sacks emerged through writer Linzee Kull McCray who wrote about the topic in issue 24. We had talked about doing a book on the beautiful vintage fabrics for a number of years before I was able publish the book as part of this new series. Stitch*illo developed from a trend that I saw emerging, of artists using thread and stitching in their illustrations and sewers and crafters telling stories through their textiles. Botanica, which I’m currently working on, is an assemblage of all sorts of creativity inspired by flowers and plants. It’s quite eclectic and I look forward to sharing it with readers this fall.

I’ve got a list of possible next ideas, but I haven’t quite decided which ones I’ll be persuing. But once I have them decided upon, I’ll do another crowdfunding call on my website, which is how the first three were funded. And there will be open calls for folks to submit to them as well.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration, Stitch*Illo, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration, Stitch*Illo, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: I'm always curious about other people's sketchbooks. In one of your newsletters you mentioned a project you were doing in your sketchbook, painting patterns inspired by vintage feed sacks (I love this idea, btw!). Do you regularly work in a sketchbook? What part does it play in your creative life and/or in your business?

jv: Alas, I don’t use a sketchbook very regularly anymore. Perhaps it is all these years being a magazine editor, but I find that I think in words more than pictures or sketches now (as opposed to when I designed for clients). I use Evernote and my laptop to jot down my ideas because they’re more agile that way—I can assign tags and sort and duplicate and change and nothing is ever lost.

I have been making a conscious effort to return to drawing and painting, so I’ve done a few “feed sack portraits” in gouache in a sketchbook, to reacquaint myself with painting. Something I haven’t done much of in the past twenty years.

Janine Vangool, sketchbook, feedsacks, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: In 2015 when you were a judge for QuiltCon you suggested developing a line of fabric with Windham Fabrics and your dream of creating Uppercase fabrics started to become a reality. Since then you've released two Uppercase Fabric collections and you've shared a lot of sewing and quilting on your blog and on Instagram. When your first fabric collection was coming out you mentioned that you weren't (yet) a quilter, but that your mom was. Was your mom's sewing and quilting an early influence for you? What role has sewing played throughout your life? Are you ready, yet, to call yourself a quilter?

jv: My mom did women’s clothing alterations at home when I was really little, so I remember having lots of frilly 1970s hems to play with and I use to make little doll clothes with them. My grandmother was also a professional seamstress who made draperies and had industrial sewing machines in her basement. Both of them taught me to sew.

In her retirement, my mom has become an avid and prolific quilter. (I started an instagram account for her, but it looks like she’s spending her time sewing instead of posting to social media! https://www.instagram.com/havensquilts/). She sewed some quilts for my first Windham collection and has helped a lot. She was on vacation in Hawaii when I was working on the look book for the second collection, otherwise we’d see her sewing efforts in there, too.

I suppose I can call myself a quilt designer since I’ve developed a few that others have made patterns for. I’m not calling myself a quilter yet. I have one that I finished using vintage fabrics and quilted by hand with a running stitch. I tried making one for my most recent collection and it started out strong—I still like the design—but it ended up kind of a funny puckered disaster. Don’t ever try to make your first quilt on a deadline. And if your sewing machine is making a mess of it, don’t keep sewing, it will only get worse! Ha. I do like sewing and piecing, but I think I’ll need to invest in a better machine before I attempt actual quilting. I am doing some English Paper Piecing—I prefer making things by hand. It’s more relaxing for me.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase fabric, quilts, windham fabric, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase fabric, windham fabric, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog



Janine Vangool, Uppercase fabric, quilts, windham fabric, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


Janine Vangool, Feedsacks, Quilt Blocks, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

ab: You are a self-proclaimed optimist and seem to fearlessly embark on one bold, creative adventure after another. I'm sure, though, like all of us, you have your share of dark days. What techniques or practices do you use to help you return to the light and overcome uncertainty?

jv: To be a positive person was a conscious decision I made early in my career and it has helped tremendously. Being a freelancer and then a shop/gallery owner and now publishing… those are all careers in which failure can be a likely outcome. But thinking positively and working really hard and earnestly is how I keep going.

In the really stressful times of my business, I’ve trusted myself to make the right decisions. I don’t second guess—I make my informed decision and stick to it. This helps me through times of uncertainty… trusting oneself is really important. I don’t want it to sound like I’m over confident or brash, simply that I trust that I will make the right decision based on everything that I know at that point in time. Then I step forward and am ready for the next challenge.

If I’m feeling burnt out or tired, I try to do something else or I put work aside entirely. A bubble bath is always a good temporary solution. And if there’s a lingering problem, I try to figure out what it is. I tend to pile on my projects, so giving myself permission to take time off for a few days can do wonders.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: You are such a strong advocate for creatives of all types and an inspiration for so many, both through the wonders shared in your publications and the beauty of your own work. If you could offer one piece advice for someone on her creative journey, what would it be?

jv: Thank you, Anne, that’s nice of you to say.

That’s a tough thing to answer with one piece of advice. I think that there are two reasons for someone on a “creative journey”. Either they have a destination in mind, or they’re wandering. Either is fine. But I think the experience is easier if you decide what kind of trip you’re on. Are you ok with wandering and making surprise discoveries along the way? Great! Or do you have a specific goal and things you want to learn? Great! Just know what kind of journey you’re on—then plan and pack accordingly.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Thank you, Janine for being here today!

Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this interview. You can read more about UPPERCASE and subscribe on the website. Be sure to check out the UPPERCASE blog and see what Janine is up to on Instagram, too.




Want to read my other artist interviews? You can catch up here. And find more inspiration from the Sketchbook Conversations series of mini, sketchbook-related interviews, all of which can be accessed here.



*Photos in this post ©Janine Vangool. Used with permission.

4 comments:

  1. Great interview Anne! I believe I am 'wandering' on my creative journey or even meandering! The covers on the Uppercase books featured above are so visually pleasing. :)

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the interview today, Simone. Wandering (or meandering) is definitely a valid way to travel and I really like Janine's thought that you need to determine which sort of journey you're on. I didn't really do that in the beginning and I just wandered without a clue. It's all a learning experience, though, isn't it?

      And yes, the covers are all so pretty lined up like that! Janine sure does visually appealing well!

      Have a lovely week!

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  2. This was a wonderful interview Anne! Janine is truly an inspiring individual. I love what she had to say about being a positive person and trusting herself from the get go.

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    1. Hi, Karen. I'm glad you liked the interview. Janine is so interesting, isn't she? Her confidence and thoughtfulness is very inspiring and her perspective is truly unique.

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