Date: 17th May 2021
By Sarah Moore
Graphic designer Janine Vangool always dreamed of her own publication. In 2009, she took her creative nature in a different direction and launched UPPERCASE, a quarterly magazine that provides a platform for stories about makers, artists and artisans and the work they do.
Vangool is the publisher, editor and designer behind UPPERCASE, a brand “for the creative and curious.” In addition to the magazine, she publishes books about quilting, ceramics and other creative pursuits, and she designs fabric collections in collaboration with Windham Fabrics.
Initially aimed at graphic designers, UPPERCASE has since opened up anyone in the creative community, with readers around the world. The magazine covers a variety of topics, from art inspired by science, to surface pattern design and a guide to stationery.
Because UPPERCASE is published without advertisements, Vangool relies solely on her customers to keep things running. It’s a direct relationship, and one that’s helped her through the past year.
“I have a wonderful core group of readers and supporters who wholeheartedly support my book publishing efforts and also subscribers,” says Vangool when asked about how the magazine, books and fabric collections all work together.
While the pandemic changed her operations–she’s now working at home instead of at an office–her readership has grown. She surpassed 6,000 subscribers for the first time with the current issue, UPPERCASE #49.
One driving force for that growth is the connection she’s developed with her readers through a newsletter, sent out almost every Tuesday since 2014. In it, Vangool shares a snapshot of each week: behind-the-scenes of what she’s working on, as well as nitty-gritty details about fulfillment, printing and “the struggles of independent publishing.”
In 2018, she also started out a weekend edition, “All about YOU,” that features her subscribers and their creative work.
“It’s just really fun—and also good for building the community—to see what my readers are creating. They’re all super talented people. Sharing their talents more broadly with the rest of the readers has been a good way to nurture the relationship between me and my readers.”
It has helped build the content of the magazine as well: “a lot of the contributors that I have in the magazine started as subscribers first,” she says.
Vangool’s open and honest approach to her readers helps keep her business running. Since the pandemic, she says subscription renewals have come a lot more quickly than in previous years.
“I do think people have seen the value of having something nice sent to their home every once in a while,” says Vangool. “The magazine is a nice escape. It is uplifting and good for people’s mental health.”
What was the first magazine you fell in love with?
Chickadee Magazine, when I was a kid. I wrote in to Chickadee magazine and they sent me a postcard back and I was totally thrilled about that.
What is your favourite thing about working in magazines?
I get to do all sorts of different things. There’s a variety that keeps me on my toes.
How would you describe Alberta’s magazine industry, in a couple of words?
I don’t really think about the industry. I find that I do things in such a contrarian way and I forge my own path. I’m better off just doing things my way because my magazine is so unique. There are plenty of terrific magazines that require ad revenue and some sort of sponsorship or grants and that’s great, but their concerns are so much different than mine. I’m not relying on anything other than what I can nurture with these relationships with my customers.
Who is someone whose work you especially admire?
Arounna Khounnoraj, a Toronto-based artist with Bookhou, a company that creates crafts, books and beautiful photography. Everything she does is just impeccably done.
What are you looking forward to in the next year?
I’d love to go browsing in a bookstore. That’s the thing I’ve missed pretty much the most–having a relaxing browse and discovering things.
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