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UPPERCASE magazine

The Suitcase Series Volume 2: dottie angel, now shipping!A Collection a Day by Lisa Congdon, packaged in a collector's tin! Work/Life 2: the UPPERCASE directory of international illustratorsDownload the FREE iphone app!An illustrated storybook for sophisticated children and whimsical adults.

NEW! Shoegazing Notecards curated by Janine Vangool and published by Chronicle Books.

Click here to purchase Shoegazing Notecards 




current inspiration


w.i.p.s wednesday: Mitsy Sleurs

Images from Mitsy Sleur's Flickr stream

We featured Mitsy Sleurs in issue #5's Work-in-Progress Society article. It is nice to see her heartfelt work recognized on Etsy with a beautiful video. We wish her nothing but happy "tummy feelings" on her journey to motherhood.


Surtex: more than the Convention Centre

Alanna Cavanagh in Hell's Kitchentaxi photo by Alanna

Helen Dardik snapping some photos for inspiration.

Attending the National Stationery Show and Surtex are good reasons to get to NYC, but of course the city itself deserves some attention! Here are some shots that Alanna has sent from the Big Apple.


Surtex: a learning experience

Image by Mark Hoffmann, represented by i2i Art Inc.

Shelley Brown reports from NYC:

There's lots to learn about surface design and the more you learn, the more you discover it's just the tip of the iceberg!

The past two days I've attended seven seminars at Surtex. Some of the info covered challenges the right brain big time, and the seminars are held in underground suites away from the hustle and bustle of the show. There's no eye candy here, just the nitty gritty stuff. It's important, though, for anyone thinking of pursuing the business of surface design. Each session was an hour and a half long and included lots of Q+A.  It's great to get real specific answers to your questions.

Day 1: 

  • The Basics of Art Licensing - Part I + II, and 
  • Understanding Legal Basics - Contracts and Copyrights

Day 2:

  • New Legal Strategies - Royalties, Terms and More
  • Strategies for Working with Manufacturers
  • Futurecast:  Business Trends in Art Licensing
  • Understanding and Enhancing Retailer / Manufacturer Relationships

Some of the educational highlights from the Surtex seminars: 

Licensing is a $192 billion dollar business worldwide.

The artist is the Licensor and the buyer of your art (usually a manufacturer or retailer) is the Licensee.

The business is changing but there are always opportunities for great art.

It's not absolutely necessary, but it's preferable to register your copyright on any art you have licensed (in case of any infringement). To save money, don't register everything you create until you license it. 

You need to be prolific because it's best to have lots of samples to promote yourself to potential Licensors.

If you're looking for an agent, make sure you choose someone you get along with. Good communication and transparency make for a good marriage (in life and in the artist/agent relationship!).

If at all possible, try to get your name on any products you license.

When you're selling your art to a manufacturer or retailer, get an advance and royalty as part of your license agreement, if possible.  

The average royalty is 5% - 7% for household products, and up to 10% for paper goods or wall decor. 

Words to avoid in a contract: assignment, all rights and work for hire.

It takes about 1-2 years to get to know and achieve some level of success in surface design, so don't get discouraged a few months in.

Before you do a deal with a licensee check their reputation. Do they send royalty statements on time and pay royalties owning according to their agreements?

Before you sign a licensing agreement, have a copyright lawyer who specializes in licensing review the contract.  

Beware of exclusivity and make sure it is only for a narrowly defined category.

Don't be afraid to conduct an audit (through your copyright attourney), if you have reason to believe your royalties are not being correctly reported. In most royalty agreements you should receive a statement quarterly. 

There is a great online tool for finding your images which may be in use without your permission. It's called TinEye. Go to and do a reverse image search on any of your images.

Familiarize yourself with a manufacturer or retailer's style or brand before you approach them with samples. Also find out in what format and how often they prefer you submit your art. 

Attend a show like Surtex. Take the seminars to learn as much as you can about the business.


Surtex: Frank Sturges Reps.

The Heads of StateAlanna Cavanagh reports from NYC:

Another booth that really stood out was for Frank Sturges Reps. Frank has been in the illustration representation business for over 15 years and represents a small group of incredible illustrators including  The Heads of State, Jessica Hische, and Katherine Streeter.

The booth made an impact with large panels of gorgeous illustration and saturated colour. Definitely a favourite of the day!

Jessica HischeKatherine Streeter


Surtex: Sorry You're Happy

Alanna Cavanagh reports from NYC:

First off it must said that being at the Javitts Centre can be an overwhelming experience. Your pass allows you admission not only into Surtex but into the National Stationery Show and ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) as well.  If attending all three shows you are literally exposed to thousands of images, exhibitors, attendees, press packages, "trend seminars", workshops, and business cards. By the end of Day 1 I had a strong desire to be put into a sensory deprivation tank with a big glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I come from an illustration background and bring a bias to the Surtex show—I am most excited by the illustration booths.

One of the freshest presentations I've seen so far was from Sorry You're Happy. This art licensing and surface design studio is made up of husband and wife illustrators Kyle Reed and Jen Hsieh (You might be familiar with them from UPPERCASE's Work/Life book series). It was exciting to see that, in addition to their own work, they were exhibiting pieces from two established and talented Toronto-based illustrators Katy Dockrill and UPPERCASE contributor Aaron Leighton.

Kyle and Jen holding one of Jen's tea towels.All the work in the booth looked fresh and playful with the perfect amount of quirkiness thrown in. Jen and Kyle are particularly interested in licensing their art in the children's market and I think it would work beautifully there. I can easily imagine any of these designs dancing on a onesie or on children's bedding.

Booth panels by Aaron Leighton, Kyle Reed and Katy DockrillOne of Katy Dockrill's patterns in the sample book


Contemporary Days: The Designs of Robin & Lucienne Day


Inspiration: Lucienne Day

Lucienne Day, circa 1952The work of Lucienne Day inspires a lot of contemporary interpretations, but it always worthwhile to know more than the surface of a designer's work. Day's work is part of Designing Women: Post-War British Textiles: a current exhibition at the British Textiles Museum. The book Robin and Lucienne Day: Pioneers in Modern Design by Lesley Jackson (Chronicle, 2001) is also worth adding to your library.

Around the web:

• Lucienne Day 1917-2010, remembrance in the Guardian

• Robin Day obituary

• An interview and home tour of Robin and Lucienne Day with Wallpaper magazine, December 2008.

• V&A Lucienne Day archives

Classic Textiles' reissue of some iconic designs



photo by Anne-Katrin Purkiss


Surtex: a view of it all

photo by Shelley Brown


Surtex: Day 1

Work by Tracy Walker, represented by i2i Art Inc. Tracy is also one of the artists in Work/Life 2: the UPPERCASE directory of illustration.

Shelley Brown reports from NYC:

After 25 fantastic years repping illustrators for everything from advertising to design and publishing, the economic crash in 2008 was a real catalyst for the already shifting business of 'traditional' illustration. There has been a growing trend towards illustrators producing art suitable for applications to surfaces on everything from greeting cards to household products. To this end, Surtex is a trade show offering artists an opportunity to introduce their work to a variety of manufacturers and retailers.

I attended the show back in 2006, but over half a decade later, I am noticing that the calibre of art is changing, as more and more illustrators are entering this market. Just imagine how exciting it is for an illusrator whose work is normally applied to a printed brochure or used in a campaign that has a shelf life of 4 weeks to suddenly see their work applied to a tea towel, a rug or a stationery package!


Today I attended three seminars:  Basics of Art Licensing, Parts I + II, and Understanding Legal Basics: Contracts and Copyrights.

If you are an illustrator or designer thinking of pursuing surface design, I would recommend that you visit Surtex, which takes place in New York city every May. The conference program includes sessions where industry pros help give you a foundation in licensing your art.

I'm happy to report that although about one third of the surface design industry may still sell the art outright for a modest flat fee (where the artist relinquishes their copyright), there is a growing appreciation for the value of the usage and the aritst's rights.

More to come after day two tomorrow!

Shelley Brown
Principal + Artist Agent


Surtex coverage!

When Alanna Cavanagh offered to be the UPPERCASE correspondent at Surtex of course we said yes! And even better, Alanna's rep from i2i Art Inc, Shelley Brown, will be sharing her experiences as well. The two have travelled to NYC from Toronto and will be sending in their daily recaps. Surtex is THE place to go to buy and sell licensing of art and design and I know that many of you aspire to be represented there some day.

To set the mood, here are some of Alanna's pattern designs:


National Stationery Show: wish you (i) were here


National Stationery Show: Blackbird Letterpress

An instagram of the Blackbird Letterpress booth at NSS.

I'd like to thank Kathryn Hunter from Blackbird Letterpress for all her support of UPPERCASE magazine — she's an avid reader, takes lovely photos of the magazine on location in Louisiana, provided samples for our letterpress issue #8, and advertises in our pages as well.

We wish her much success at the Stationery show in NYC.

These animal cards are great for including paper gifts like birthday money."Get Whale" funny pun!hmmm...this "missing U" card could make a good reminder for former subscribers who've forgotten to renew!


National Stationery Show: Happy Cactus

The National Stationery Show is the ultimate destination for a lot of small papergoods companies. At the show, they'll be exposed to buyers, media and potential partners from across North America—contacts that could determine the future of their creative business enterprise. Happy Cactus Designs is a new company, less than a year old, and this is their first time at the big show. Proprietor Brannon Cullum has a good post on the Happy Cactus blog about her road to the NSS.

The name of a stationery company can go a long way in helping the success of a brand. The name should communicate the aesthetic style, appeal to its audience and denote quality. The Happy Cactus name suits the friendly illustrative style of their cards. Brannon explains the name:

So just where did the name for the design studio originate? While living in New York City, Brannon bought a tiny one-inch tall cactus to remind her of her Texas roots. With loving attention (and a lot of sunlight), the little cactus grew into a thriving plant…a very happy cactus indeed! Now in Texas, the happy cactus is enjoying the warm Texas sun. Just like the plant, Brannon’s goal for the studio is to take her tiny seed of an idea for a paper goods company and grow it into a line of products that bring color and happiness to everyone. 

Best wishes, Happy Cactus, and all the new companies debuting at the show!


National Stationery Show

Some of UPPERCASE's favourite stationery companies will be at the National Stationery Show (May 20-23). 

The following are all represented by Crow & Canary, a fine art card and gift representation company:

Dear Hancock

Susy Jack

Pie Bird PressStudio Olivine

If you're exhibiting at NSS or Surtex and you'd like us to consider featuring your work on the blog, send us your url via twitter


Kapitza talk in London May 30

The Kapitza office, photos from issue #9 of UPPERCASE.

The sisterly dynamic duo named Kapitza, will be giving a talk in London. We've mentioned them a few times on the blog and have an article in issue 9. You can read the article here.

Wednesday 30 May 2012 at 7pm
St Bride Foundation, Bride Lane, Fleet Street, London 

They will share their experiences of the ins and outs of self-publishing, the creation of pattern fonts, how to start a font foundry, designing an app, book design and working with a worldwide audience. Kapitza collaborate with a variety of international clients to create exhibitions and products featuring their distinctive artworks, such as stationery, canvasses, calendars, wall stickers and tiles, textiles and postage stamps.

Click here for tickets.



Hemlock 82, 2008The word 'woodcut' typically refers creating images by chiseling our gouging a relief into a wood surface and then printing the results. Bryan Nash Gill's work takes the word in a different direction; he makes relief prints from cross-sections of trees. Rather than using the wood as a medium for a carved image, he tries to capture the tree itself. Good portraiture is limited in its frame but expansive in its impact. Here, Gill has found a wonderful form of portraiture for trees, where the simple patterns of rings and texture are captured, while other traditional boreal imagery like the vertical shapes and warm hues are only implied. Gill's work starkly captures age, growth patterns, rot and other abnormalities that tell a tree's stories. He doesn't simply work with whole crosscut trees, but dimensional lumber, plywood, telephone poles... any wood he can find that tells a story or creates an interesting image. 

This book from Princeton Architectural Press presents a fantastic retrospective of Gill's woodcut work. This represents only a segment of the work that Gill does - his sculpture and installation work, for example, is not show here. While the images alone are nice, I really enjoyed the text as well, with little blurbs telling what makes a specimen unique, where he found it, or what challenges the piece provided the artist. As well, Gill also extensively documents his creative process. My only quibble is that I would have liked to see more of his studio... Of course at UPPERCASE were suckers for seeing an artist's studio, and here there's only one grainy photo of what looks to be an absolutely stunning workspace. 


Ornitholego Society

Gloria GoldfinchBritish bird and LEGO enthusiast Thomas Poulsom created a series of gorgeous local birds in LEGO blocks. Pictured here is Gloria Goldfinch, but he's also done a puffin, a woodpecker, a kingfisher, a robin, and a blue tit. 

Thanks to the LEGO site Cuusoo, amateur designs like this actually have a chance of being made into official LEGO products, if they get 10,000 supporters on the site. Poulsom's birds still have a very long way to go, but they are very deserving with their lovely simplicity. 

via Make.


The Case for Off-line Creative: Conclusion

The last post in this week's series written by Christina Crook.


One can conclude that the best way to treat the Internet is like an exacto knife. Take it out of the toolbox, get the job done, then tuck it away for next time.

While for many the Web is a substantive source of inspiration, Karen, Paul, Valerie and Samantha agree that before you approach the keyboard it’s important to have a task in mind.

It’s better to get lost in the making than lost in the web.

Jean Arp wrote: “Soon silence will have passed into legend.  Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation…tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego.  His anxiety subsides.”  

Each time we access the Internet we are offered a shot of adrenaline: a like! a share! a purchase! Our egos are bolstered, our nervous energy absorbed.

But ideas come from wide open spaces. Face-to-face conversations, extended hours lost in a project, sketches in our source books, all over deep bowls of espresso and gulps of really good wine.

Cultivating an off-line existence is fundamental to our life-long development as artists.

Look outside. The world has outlived the web. Its this great wide world, and your imagination, whose possibilities are truly endless.


Christina Crook is a magazine writer partial to snail mail, typewriters and traveling on foot. Her articles on culture, technology and religion have appeared in UPPERCASE, Geez and the Literary Review of Canada. This January she stepped off-line for 31 days, chronicling the journey with a type-written letter a day. Her Letters from a Luddite project was featured on CBC’s Spark and is now a book available at


The Case for Off-Line Creative: Embroidery & Education

This post is fourth in a series of posts by Christina Crook.

Karen Ruane:

Contemporary Embroidery

For Karen embroidery is both a vocation and obsession. She sets her hands to work every single day. Mixing classic and contemporary techniques, her sophisticated white-on-white designs are in high demand.

“My work is born from tradition and respect. Respect for my female predecessors and a wish to continue the traditions of needlework taught to me as a child.”

In addition to creating, Ruane has exhibited her work all across England, offers online courses in embellishment, buttons and more and runs an Etsy shop. The Internet plays an important role in her instructional work, but she sets aside at least four hours a day simply for making.

For her it comes down to priorities.

Describe your relationship with the Web. I am amazed and totally in awe of the internet. It opens up so many possibilities for communication, interaction and learning and I wonder constantly how we ever managed without it. It's like when you have kids, you can't remember what life was like before. That goes for the web with me too.

What advice would you share with others regarding the interplay between the physical work of making and the online demands of the Internet? I try to make the internet work for me yet not take over. I don't want to be an administrator, I want to be a maker and a teacher. It is a conscious effort daily to set aside the time for both as separate aspects of what I do, embroiderer and online creative. Divide your time, prioritize, is your heart with making or do you prefer the interactive aspects of what you do....?

Do you try and restrict your time online? Why or why not? I try and control rather than restrict my time online. I have to have a certain level of online presence to work with students in my online classes but making is my passion and I set aside at least four hours a day purely for making. The internet time is decided by how much time I have remaining after making is planned.

What do you love about the Internet? I love that the internet gives me an opportunity to reach the world, for free in order to promote my work. I love that it allows me to teach in places like the US, Canada, Australia and Europe without leaving the house…isn't that amazing? Having access to the internet also allows me to keep up to date with contemporary art, see what is new and developing in terms of my peers.

What do you dislike about the Internet? My main concern about the internet is the misuse of images relating to creative work. I have seen numerous examples of images being used without proper credit given to the maker. I also think that as the internet is such an 'instant' media there is an assumption that creativity is 'instant' which in some cases can devalue the work of talented, original makers.


The Case for Off-Line Creative: Tugboats and Woodcuts

This post is the second in a series written by Christina Crook. Christina Crook has been a regular contributor in the pages of UPPERCASE magazine and we're happy to welcome her to the blog this week with a special guest post series on the case for being creative offline. 

Tugboat Printshop:

Handmade Woodcuts

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, husband and wife duo Paul Roden and Valerie Lueth translate fantastical imagery onto wood and into print. Valerie's artwork, in particular, has a narrative slant. Each intricate etching jammed with environs carefully built through the layering of dense linework and pattern. Together they make the Tugboat Printshop creating original works of art on fine, archival papers.

“We make color woodcuts entirely by hand.  All of our original images are drawn by the 2 of us directly onto blocks of wood (often multiple blocks make up a single image), carved with hand-held knifes, and then rolled up with oil based inks. We print the inked blocks onto archival papers on our in-house press. Quality is of huge importance to us. Our prints are traditionally made artworks that can last for generations.”

For the Tugboat Printshop the Internet is an invaluable tool. But they’d really rather meet you in person.

Describe your relationship with the Web. We have an official website (which Valerie built and maintains), that operates as a homebase for Tugboat Printshop online. At, you can purchase any of our available prints, find upcoming show dates, scroll through photos and read more about our process. We use social media (facebook, flickr, twitter and our blog) to additionally chronicle our process, relay news about upcoming projects and communicate our latest news to our followers.

What advice would you share with others regarding the interplay between the physical work of making and the online demands of the Internet? The internet is surely a nice thing, but it doesn't do everything and there is a lot of necessary upkeep to maintain a presence. Right now, we keep busy around the clock doing everything ourselves ~ it's a pretty demanding lifestyle. Thankfully, neither of us minds wearing multiple hats and we both really enjoy the art of inventing ourselves as Tugboat Printshop. From building a display booth to house our prints at fairs to unveiling new woodcuts via newsletter, there is always a growing list of work to be done and, as a result, more to talk about online. We ultimately feel our prints will always look better in person (because they are objects, not digital files) so we try to get out of the studio with our wares regularly. We really enjoy meeting our customers face to face and feel it is important to have a physical presence.

Do you try and restrict your time online? Why or why not? Yes! We try to have something in mind we hope to accomplish every time we're in front of the computer. This doesn't always work (we do occasionally lose some hours), but having a goal keeps us on track most of the time.

What do you love about the Internet? It's inspiring to see all of the great stuff that people are doing and posting about online. But when we think about all people making & doing and NOT posting about it every second, that's pretty mind boggling too.

How do you sell and/or promote your work on and off-line? Which do you prefer? We don't really have a defined strategy for promoting our work online. We try to communicate the labor and intricacy of our work with words and pictures but that can be a real challenge. Our prints always look better in person, so we prefer to sell our work in person.

Up Next: Embrodery and Education