After yesterday's Facebook hurricane over Sally Ford/Robertson getting a "trademark" on the phrase colored pencil, I went to bed feeling incredibly grateful to the hundreds of supporters who leapt to my defense. But there was a little nagging unease deep inside, too…
The truth is that I am not entirely blameless. So, in pursuit of a conscience as clear as the rain we are not getting this summer - a history…
The first issue of my colored pencil magazine was published in November 1999, after Deb Mason from Fredericksburg, TX emailed me and asked if I could give her lessons online. My daughter suggested that instead I write a monthly online magazine which could then instruct many at the same time. This was right after my Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step book was published and had created quite a stir in the then teeeensy world of colored pencil. I called the magazine From My Perspective or FMP for short. I had 200 subscribers within a couple of months and I was elated, energized and having all kinds of fun. Although I love drawing, I love teaching even more, and as an ex-English teacher, I also happen to love writing. Add the fact that I’m a people-person into the mix, and you can see that writing a magazine about a subject I’m passionate about and skilled at would be a dream come true. It was.
The magazine thrived and I kept publishing, month after month. The magazine at that time was only online and the only option was to subscribe yearly. Once I had a sizeable audience, I realized there was potential for offering other products that would benefit artists. I knew I had a gift for breaking instruction down into “do-able” bits. This may be because I have a very autistic son and had to learn how to break tasks (holding a spoon) into the tiniest possible increments in order for him to acquire any new skills.
Regardless, I created my first set of project kits around 2003; the Apple, Orange and Pear. (I guess I was on a Vitamin C kick!) Those kits flew out the door! I was amazed and having even more fun. About that time, Anne deMille Flood had her Realistic Pet Portraits in Colored Pencil book published after I recommended her as a possible author to my editor at North Light Books. I didn’t draw animals, so I asked Anne if she’d like to create a kit for us. She did and to this day, our best-selling kit is still Anne’s Cat Kit. Soon we had a whole bevy of kits from various artists skilled at particular techniques or subject matter and soon a better part of my business was through selling products other than the magazine (germane to the rest of the story…)
In 2010, Sally Ford (Robertson) emailed asking if I’d be interested in taking my online magazine to print. I “knew” Sally through Scribble Talk, an online forum of sorts that she used to own. I knew nothing about the history between Sally and Gemma Gylling and Arlene Steinberg. But even now, I’m happy that I didn’t know that there was some bad blood there or I wouldn’t have gone forward with Sally. And for reasons that will become clear, I do not regret my brief alliance with Sally.
When Sally approached me, I was particularly overwhelmed with work and life so I let Sally run the show far more than I should have and we went forward without a contract. It’s so easy to say, “But I’m such a trusting person and expect everyone to be as honest as I am.” Yeah. Well, I’m no spring chicken. I’ve lived in this world a long time. I now think that attitude is cowardly and lazy. It puts the onus of responsibility on the “other” and if bad things happen, you can play the victim with a lovely violin soulfully playing in the background. Yes, I’m a trusting soul, but I also have a responsibility as a grown-up to protect myself, my business and my own interests. It wasn’t up to Sally to protect me. So there was Fault #1. No contract. You could call it a mistake, but really, it was not. It was a failure on my part to take full responsibility for my life's work and I am the only one to blame.
Over the course of dozens of emails (all of which I still have) Sally and I together decided that the magazine needed a name change. I suggested “COLOR”. She liked “Colored Pencil” better. She is a graphic designer, and since she was doing all the design work, her idea won and Colored Pencil magazine was born. A flurry of activity followed, all handled by Sally, including her creation of a separate website for the magazine. In retrospect, I can clearly see that sanctioning that was my biggest mistake. More on that later…
Once she had our first issue designed and ready to go, we published it through Magcloud. Sally had done the research on printing and she did a great job with that research. Sally is a hard worker, no doubt about it. Although I personally didn’t think at that time that people would pay for a print issue since it was nearly triple the cost of the online issues (I was eleven years in significant poverty when I started trying to make a living at art and still struggle with issues of perceived “scarcity”) it turned out that Sally was right. We sent an email to the nearly 5000 people in my database, and they bought the print issue!
So all is well for a while, but then I started seeing something alarming. As people searching online for “colored pencil” were being drawn to the magazine website, they were not being drawn to my own website, annkullberg.com. My non-magazine related business was suffering. People, the truth is that there is very little profit in any printed publication. Costs are too high. No matter how many new print subscribers we acquired, it didn’t begin to make up for the loss of traffic to annkullberg.com. I mentioned to Sally that this was beginning to be a problem and we might have to merge the magazine site under the umbrella of annkullberg.com. She poo-pooed the idea from the start and I remember being a bit puzzled by that. I had assured her that she would have full control of the magazine portion of my website, and I knew it would actually bring additional subscribers which would benefit us both, so I was bewildered. Over the next month or two, we went back and forth on that idea but she just became more adamant that the websites remained separate. I can’t prove it, but now I have to admit that I wonder if she had planned to break off from the beginning?
Then I was hit with a sudden hospitalization. Self-employed, I have “junk insurance”, basically, with a $7000 deductible. Website traffic down, business down, a huge hospital bill…something had to change and change fast. I emailed Sally again, carefully outlining the circumstances. I was very clear, at that point, that the magazine simply had to come back home to annkullberg.com. She replied curtly, in effect saying it was not happening. In frustration, I responded more stridently than is generally my style saying. “Sally, it’s my magazine. It will always be my magazine. I can’t let my own magazine take my business down that I’ve worked 12 years to build.” Sally response: We’re done. This is the last issue I’ll do together with you. I’m going to continue publishing without you. And that she did.
(Those of you who've read both magazines, you now know why both magazines have the same format and sections - "You asked...___answered", the Showcase (Gallery), etc.)
I was completely, totally, incredibly stunned. It was the day after Thanksgiving. My world had just sort of fallen apart at all seams.
How could she do that? Fault #2: massive inattention. I hadn’t even noticed that she’d copyrighted every issue she designed and the copyright was hers, not mine or even ours. I couldn’t even legally sell my own past issues from that year. Print subscribers were now in her database. Print subscription fees were going to her. Copies sold individually on Magcloud went to her. A hearty percentage of my former online subscribers had switched to print. I was left with a bit over 400 online subscribers. (To be clear, Sally reimbursed me for my portion of profit for any back issues sold after the split, from that year's collaboration.)
Scrambling like a madwoman, and literally going weeks with three hours of sleep, I had to hire a designer (with little income) sort out trademark stuff, come up with a new name for the magazine and figure out how to somehow let people know what had happened without getting ugly. But it got so ugly. She had my Facebook page taken down. It’s not entirely true that I’m not a fighter because I retaliated and had hers taken down. It went on like that, but I really had no stomach for it. I’m non-confrontational and really just wanted to just move on. I couldn’t even justify to myself telling the whole story to the world as I knew it, because I knew my part in the mess was substantial – I hadn’t protected myself.
But I honestly, to my core, have no regrets. About any of it.
For one thing, I’d renamed my magazine “CP Magazine” and in an effort to strengthen the “CP” brand, the idea of the first CP Treasures book was born. I would never have even thought about publishing a printed book had it not been for Sally showing me that colored pencil artists will pay for print. That book was an amazing success and since then I’ve published two more. Besides being profitable, those books have been good for my whole being. When I started using colored pencils, I felt like I was one of maybe a dozen people creating art with them; I truly felt isolated. To now publish books with colored pencil artists from 16 different countries is like having Mom’s amazing lemon cake with extra whipped cream for my soul. So, thank you Sally. CP Cats by Gemma Gylling and Cynthia Knox’s CP Horses books came next. They are selling well. Again, thank you Sally.
I admired Sally’s sense of graphic design, so bought a few books on design and they’ve helped me so much. Thank you, Sally.
Sally has a tendency for typos, and I’d heard that complaint a few times so I hired a copy editor, colored pencil artist Susan Cottman, who is a gem, and you won’t find typos in my magazine. Thank you, Sally.
And last, the magazine did need a new, contemporary name, and this latest trademark issue has spurred me to go back to the name I always loved, COLOR. Both a verb and noun, I think it’s descriptive and perfect. Thank you, Sally.
You probably think I am being ironic or sarcastic with all these thank you’s. I am not. I made gigantic mistakes. Lots of them. I will choose to call them lessons, though. It’s so much more forward looking, and I am all about forward. Readership to my magazine has increased nearly 5-fold since our meltdown. I now employ seven different free-lancers. I have more ideas for cool new colored pencil stuff than my garage has cobwebs (and that’s a lot!) I have countless dear, dear friends and supporters who are as passionate about what I try to do as I am. I have my health, my parents, my children, my granddaughter and a thriving business I truly love.
So…I carry on.
"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." - Albert Einstein