taking stock

photo by Simon Pais

Somehow I never get around to spring cleaning. Once the leaves appear I have the same itch to burst out and be free. Who wants to spend quality time with a toilet brush when the air outside is so delicious?

Fall is a different story.

I get that Neanderthalian urge to roast some meat, cozy up in the cave and pull out the sweaters — some of which inevitably look strange after a year in hiding. They’re pilly or stretched out or just plain weird. Hence my need to do some serious fall cleaning, which is exactly how I spent this last rainy weekend.

Grade school first trains us in the rhythms of the seasons. Fall is busy, productive and often highly focused. It can be tricky just to keep up. But that’s why it’s an important time to keep the cobwebs at bay, in every sense of the word.  Creative pursuits need heavy scrubbing, too. Ask yourself:

– Where do I feel the most heat in my work?

– What gets me out of bed in the morning?

– What activities, contracts, tasks, or ideas have lost their shine?

– What should I spend more time doing?

– What should I stop doing?

Clearing out the clutter sounds cheery and virtuous, but it can also be hard work. It’s tedious and it’s not always easy to release a dead-end project — or a threadbare sweater. With cleaning, though, comes clarity. Suddenly, it’s so much easier to appreciate what you’ve already got while moving steadily toward what you really want.

posted 25 Oct 10 in: business, inspiration. This post currently has 2 responses.

monocle magazine

Anyone out there suffering from information overload? Yeah? Me, too.

It’s a constant challenge. Carving out quite time and space is one piece of the creative equation. The other part requires what my friend Lisa calls “drinking from the fire hydrant.” You’ve got to fill yourself with all manner of inspiring stuff — words, music, eye candy and real-life experiences. And regardless of what you create, it’s critical to know what’s happening in your field and beyond.

One of the best ways to stay current is to find your filters. Monocle magazine has become one of mine.

The magazine was launched in 2007 by good Winnipeg boy* Tyler Brûlé, who also created Wallpaper and writes a column for the Financial Times. The print mag is crammed with smart writing about global culture, politics, design and business. Most of the website content is subscriber-only, but steer over to the “sections” tab and settle in to watch short videos on everything from Turkish soap opera tourists to an interview with the CEO of Lego.

It’s a quick way to expand the world beyond your Firefox window.

*For my lovely American visitors, other prominent Winnipeggers include Neil Young, the Weakerthans, Brett Hull, Carol Shields, Miriam Toews, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Nia Vardalos and Monty Hall (okay, maybe the word “prominent” is a stretch in some cases…)

Happy Friday!

posted 8 Oct 10 in: art, business, media. This post currently has no responses.

in the line of fire

Tonight I’m going to see Arcade Fire – Montreal’s indie darlings who now fill stadiums around the globe. That means, of course, that music geeks are beginning to call them “sellouts.”

On the website Consequence of Sound, Alex Young writes:

“I feel like Arcade Fire has reached that point where they’re now Mother-approved. As in, you’ll soon be receiving a call from your mom asking if you’ve heard of this band called ‘The Arcade Fires’, because she read about them in Entertainment Weekly or heard them on NPR’s Morning Edition. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, of course…”


It’s an age-old story. A band / artist / designer / performer tips into mainstream popularity and is immediately branded dull and irrelevant. But unless they start churning out sub-par material (see U2), popularity doesn’t have to equal creative compromise.

As for Arcade Fire, their third album, The Suburbs, has received heaps of critical acclaim and they’re known for serving up positively electric live shows. They’ve also become savvy viral marketers.

The band doesn’t court mainstream press, but partnered with Google Chrome to release a buzzy, interactive film that quickly made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. They also created eight different covers for The Suburbs and multiple purchase options, including CD, premium digital files, double 12-inch vinyl, and combinations of all three. They’re smart with social media — and they give back, with a focus on rebuilding Haiti through the KANPE Foundation and Partners in Health.

Sellouts? Not in my book, but we’ll see if they deliver the goods tonight.

posted 28 Sep 10 in: art, business, music, performance. This post currently has no responses.

rue style

Have you noticed the new trend in home decor, design and lifestyle magazines? They’re going exclusively online.

First came Lonny. Now there’s Rue — a polished new publication from co-founders Crystal Gentilello and Anne Sage.

Like the pioneering Lonny, the free pages of Rue are beautifully laid out with a full index, searchable content, and clickable links that make it a breeze to learn more about featured items. You can also choose to read in magazine, presentation or paper layout, depending on your viewing preferences. All the pages are printable, too.

Thanks to bigger, brighter computer screens, e-readers and iPad mania, digital publications are coming of age. Both Lonny and Rue have strong content and staff that understand how to create for this brave new medium. I still prefer that slick paper in my hands, but more than anything, I love magazines. I want to see them survive.  For that selfish reason alone, I’m excited to see how this technology evolves.

posted 20 Sep 10 in: business, design, media. This post currently has 2 responses.

content questions

Tommy Ton photo by Kurt Geiger

Women’s Wear Daily recently published an interesting article by Cate T. Corcoran about the blossoming relationship between clothing brands and influential fashion bloggers. The story suggests that these popular (and formerly DIY) sites now provide increasingly hospitable territory for big budget advertisers.

Companies such as Coach, Gap, Barneys New York, Urban Outfitters and JCPenney are testing new connections — and the idea of customer-brand “conversations” — with fashion bloggers that can include product references, design collaborations, videos, giveaways and contests.

– Is this smart business or corporations invading what were formerly organic online spaces and communities?

– Are fashion bloggers independent self-publishers or simply small-scale fashion magazines (which have always been supported by advertising)?

– How do you draw appropriate lines between editorial content and advertising? And who does the drawing?

The article raises these and other questions that apply not just to fashion scribblers, but also to anyone who’s developing content — and hoping to earn a paycheck from their work. Take a look and let me know what you think.

posted 8 Sep 10 in: business, fashion, media, retail. This post currently has no responses.

Roasting in PDX

The dog days of summer are here and I just returned from another quick trip to Portland, Oregon. I know I seem to write more about Bridgetown than my own home of Vancouver, BC, but there’s just so much creative, cool stuff going on in this city by the Willamette River. This time, one of the great surprise finds was Coava Roastery and Brew Bar on SE Grand Avenue.

We stumbled into Coava — Turkish for “green coffee” — after trolling the nearby vintage and antique stores. I’d finished an iced coffee just an hour earlier to fight the scorching heat, but the 10,000-square-foot space (yes, ten thousand) was so bright, open and downright pretty that we had to stop in. Why so big? Coava shares its counter and roasting area with the cavernous showroom for Bamboo Revolution – a collective of designers, product developers and bamboo craftsmen. It’s a brilliant cross-pollination of two very different businesses.

Coava was hatched in 2009, when Matt Higgins bought a coffee roaster from an East Coast church group café. He started by roasting small batches in his backyard to share with family and friends, and later sold the beans to local coffee bars. In early 2010, Matt’s best friend Keith Gehrke (a seasoned barista and roaster who worked in Seattle and the San Francisco area) joined the operation. The duo opened the Coava brew bar a couple months later.

Coava‘s focus on single origin coffees and educating customers on optimum brewing techniques will satisfy any coffee geek, but I have to confess that I was still gaping at the airy space while sipping the best espresso I’ve ever tasted — decaf, no less.

Coffee brewers have often shared real estate with other ventures, but I thought this combination was especially inspired. The Coava bar, walls and shelving are all constructed from bamboo and provide a fixed portfolio of sorts for Bamboo Revolution. They demonstrate what’s possible with this sutainable material. At the same time, shoppers seeking new flooring will quickly fall for Coava’s perfect pour-over brews and lattes.

Everyone wins — and gets fully caffeinated in the process.

posted 28 Jul 10 in: business, design, food, retail. This post currently has no responses.

a passive plan

photos by Jamie Beck

In every Inspired Outsiders interview, I always ask, “do you have a passive income stream?”

The answers have been as varied as the definitions of “passive.”

To me, it’s something you make once and then leverage to earn a profit multiple times over. It doesn’t require hands-on hourly work (other than sales and distribution channel upkeep and any applicable customer service tasks) and can literally sell itself while you sleep.

At this point, you’re probably either intrigued or repelled. The phrase “while you sleep” smacks of bad pyramid schemes, late-night TV gadgets and desperation. But passive income streams are powerful — and they don’t have to be cheesy.

Remember Jamie Beck and her lovely photo blog From Me to You?

Jamie and web designer Kevin Burg have just released a new blog theme called Southern Afternoon, based on the imagery of a hand-collected scrapbook. It sells for $49 to anyone who wants a nostalgic look for their blog or online journal.

Kevin gave From Me to You such a distinctive look that Jamie was constantly fielding design questions and flat-out requests to use her theme. The pair spent three months dreaming up a new, customizable template and now they’ve got a passive product that reflects Jamie’s charming visual style and extends her brand as an artist — without a hint of hucksterism.

Nicely done, Jamie & Kevin.

posted 13 Jul 10 in: art, business, interviews, retail. This post currently has no responses.

smart sampling

At the end of a Gulf Island vacation, my friends and I dropped in on the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably seen their pretty, petite chèvre rounds topped with basil leaves, flowers, white truffle, pepper, chili and lemon.

If not, well, I hope I had you at “white truffle.” The company also makes goat feta, sheep’s milk hard cheese and four surface ripened goat cheeses, including the addictive Blue Juliette.

Salt Spring started making handmade goat and sheep cheeses in 1994 and began selling them in 1996. They believe that “a better kind of food business is one that reflects both good community and good food, as the two frequently go together.” Agreed.

Visit the farm and you can watch white-coated cheesemakers through the viewing windows, take a self-guided tour, and get cozy with the goats, chickens and resident Border Collies (who will quickly convince you to play pine-cone-and-tennis-ball fetch).

The best part of the farm shop, though, is tasting. Every cheese flavor is set out next to a bowl of crackers with knives ready for spreading. Visitors chomp their way through the buffet and inevitably, purchase at least $40 worth of the homemade stuff.

It’s a small cost for the farm with a bigger on-the-spot payoff. Almost no one leaves without a white bag overflowing with fromage — and a stronger sense of loyalty to the homegrown company, which made me think about the power of sampling.

Luckily, this simple technique is not limited to food artisans and culinary businesses. I always sample music on MySpace before I commit to a purchase. Most people wouldn’t think about buying clothes or jewelry without trying them on first. And a first-chapter download is now a common marketing technique for authors and publishers.

But the sampling doesn’t have to stop there. Get creative. Let people try, test and taste your work and you’ll quickly get them hooked on what you do best.

posted 6 Jul 10 in: business, food, retail. This post currently has 2 responses.

back to school

photo by Michael Nagle

My beloved New York Times recently did a story about business education for artists. Okay, so the NYT is definitely not “mine,” but I do spend an obscene amount of time trolling its online pages. Procrastination or research? A good dose of both.

Where was I? Right. Art in the classroom.

A June 18th story, “Creative Types, Learning to Be Business Minded,” by Kate Taylor, describes a City of New York-funded program (run by the New York Foundation for the Arts) that teaches business skills to artists. School’s in session for 55 students on five consecutive Saturdays. They’re painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, creative writers, actors, directors, dancers, musicians and others who can’t be slotted into single-word titles, and they’re learning to make money from their creative talents.

The program is a terrific idea and a great public service. It’s also smart thinking for a city that prides itself as North America’s top creative hub, underscored by the fact that the New York City Economic Development Corporation is footing the $50,000 tab. A similar series is also being run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a “lanky puppeteer” and program participant, Eric Wright, who tells reporter Kate Taylor: “People think that art and business are at odds, but you can create great art and have it also be a business.”

Amen to that.

posted 28 Jun 10 in: art, business, media. This post currently has no responses.

the cheaper show

- 200 artists

- 400 pieces of art

- $200 each

That’s The Cheaper Show in a nutshell — and the ninth edition runs this Saturday, June 26th from 6 pm to midnight!

Even if you’re not in the Vancouver area, The Cheaper Show is worth noting. You can even watch a live stream of the action from the event website, filmed by ArtLive.Tv.

Originally called “Cheaper Than a One Night Stand,” the first show was launched in 2001 by Graeme Berglund, Steve Cole and Syx Langeman as a vehicle to promote talented, underexposed artists — and to sell their work at one affordable price. It’s now a non-profit event organized by the Emerging Arts Foundation and run by the Cheaper Crew — 12 artists from East Vancouver — and a team of over 100 volunteers.

The show has grown exponentially to become one of the hottest summer tickets in town (the afterparties don’t hurt, either). Last year, line-ups began snaking around the block a full seven hours before the doors opened and 5,000 people vied to purchase over 200 pieces of art in just five hours. Organizers are expecting 7,000-10,000 for Saturday’s festivities.

The Cheaper Show highlights the hunger for accessible art, introductions to talented new creators, and a lively forum to mingle, sip a cocktail (or three) and celebrate the local visual art scene. Talk about art meeting commerce in the most authentic way possible. It’s also a format that could be easily re-created in cities from coast to coast.

Any art-minded connectors and planners up for the challenge?

posted 23 Jun 10 in: art, business, retail. This post currently has no responses.

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