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Maker Resources, Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studios: A Look Back at Our 2016 Studio Tours

December 30, 2016

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been running our Studio Tours series for almost 5 years. Maybe that’s because every time I step into a another studio, I feel like I’m entering a whole new world. Over the years I’ve visited jewelry makers, potters, woodworkers, and even an industrial kitchen. And that’s just to name a few. Every time I leave an artist’s space, I feel creatively refreshed and ready to get making myself.

In 2016, I actually did get in some hands-on experience, when Jim Loewer gave our team a tour of his Philadelphia glass-working studio and let me use the torch to make own pendant. It was was definitely as much fun as you’d expect playing with fire and molten glass to be, and I now have a memento from the visit. Other adventures this year included checking out a sustainable studio made from reclaimed shipping containers, one contributor’s trip to London to meet world-renowned jewelry designer Alex Monroe, a look inside our own Product Development team’s creative space, and more. It wasn’t easy to pick just a few highlights from each Studio Tour to show you, but here are some moments that I hope spark your interest and maybe even put you in the mood to get creative too.

Laurel Begley

Laurel Begley | UncommonGoodsCreating the Faux Bois Vase | UncommonGoods

Laurel Begley’s Personalized Faux Bois Vase includes a symbol of lasting love, so it’s no surprise that she told us about some of the symbols of love an nurturing in her own life as she gave us a virtual tour of her Santa Rosa, CA studio. She also shared some great advice: “Don’t try to be anything you’re not. Do your best work, put it out there, and everything else will fall into place.” | Visit Laurel’s Studio

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Christine Schmidt

September 7, 2017

Christine Schmidt soaking up the San Francisco sun, photos by Emily Hodges

Colorful. That describes the running theme inside Christine Schmidt’s home, and also sums up the very core of the artist’s personality. (What type of artist you might ask? Oh, just a printmaker, jewelry designer, illustrator, author, painter, and home decor extraordinaire.)

I was invited into Christine’s home to go behind the scenes of her quirky and offbeat jewelry pieces, like the Color Wheel Pendant and the Taco and Hot Sauce Mismatched Earrings (my personal favorite for obvious and delicious reasons). I knew the visit would be a success the moment Christine uttered the words, “Alexa, play 2 Dope Queens.”  The studio tour quickly unfolded into us playing with paints like art school girls and exchanging love-hate stories about New York City. We drank tea from mugs (that Christine designed herself) while listening to Jessica and Phoebe chuckling in the background. In my head, I’d basically found my new best friend in San Francisco.

Christine’s illustrations definitely bring out the playfulness in me and fill the Lisa Frank void I never even knew existed. Yet, what I admire even more is that Christine herself is super relatable and isn’t afraid to be different — very much like her jewelry designs. As an unapologetic feminist who naturally marches to the beat of her own drum, it’s no surprise that her company, Yellow Owl Workshop, has been a success for almost a decade. She also recently published her third crafting book, Make It Yours. Discover how Christine entered the world of design, what she loves most about San Francisco, and why she thinks you should never apologize.

 

Christine Schmidt’s Color Wheel Pendant

 

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Maker Resources

Inside the Artist’s Studio with George Roumanas

July 7, 2017

George Roumanas working in his Athens, Greece studio, photos by Emily Hodges

Given that I “prepped” for this particular Studio Tour by watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding and listening to Mama Mias soundtrack on repeat, I knew that my visit to George Roumanas’ creative space was definitely going to be a fun one. George is a self-taught sculptor from a small village in Southern Greece and he’s the maker behind a collection of brass and wooden art pieces, including our much-adored Pop The Question Wall Sculpture. Being the avid wanderluster I am, I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the process behind George’s romantic designs in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. (Insert overly excited squeal and triple axel jump.)

My visit began with George’s upbeat business partner and wife — Stella Spanopoulou — personally picking me up at my AirBnb rental. I suggested I could easily catch a cab to the studio, but she insisted on giving me a ride. That should have been my first clue that Greek hospitality is genuine and is never to be mistaken for coyness. According to Stella, “When something is offered, just accept it. It’s the Greek way!” During our short drive to the studio, she apologized for three things: how “non-American” and messy their studio was, the fact that George only spoke Greek, and the economic state of Greece. I assured her that the messier the studio the better, that I’ve dealt with language barriers before, and despite Greece’s economic hiccups — everything I’d seen so far was absolutely beautiful.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas

June 7, 2017

Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas (with dogs Freddie and Sammie) in their Baltimore, MD studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

When we first started doing Studio Tours back in 2012, we were pretty limited on where we could go to get our inspiration. That isn’t to say the inspiration was limited–we’ve visited a fantastic line-up of New York City artists close to home. But getting the sign-off to pack up and head to another state definitely wasn’t the goal from the start. Five years later, we’re still featuring monthly studio visits. Thanks to all of the love and support shown by our online community, makers, and the UG team for our tours, we’re able to keep growing the series. Now, we’re finding ways to stop by the studios of creators a little farther from home. Around 195 miles or so from home, in this case.

My latest trip started at Penn Station in Manhattan, eaaarly in the morning. A few hours later, I arrived at Penn Station in Baltimore, Maryland, where Kim Strassner was waiting for me and our Tabletop Buyer, NéQuana. Kim filled us in on some neighborhood history as she drove through B-more to the studio, woodshop, and office space where she and her husband, Mike Pararas, design and craft their personalized wooden cutting boards and lazy Susans. It didn’t take long before I realized how much work Kim, Mike, and their team put into each board they produce. The letters in the customized pieces are carved using tiny blades, precise hand movements, and great attention to detail.

In addition to walking me through how a slab of wood becomes a beautiful, handcrafted cutting board, the couple gave me a look at Kim’s first-ever board with words, answered a few questions about what keeps them going strong, and introduced me to their two adorable Havanese dogs. Keep reading to see inside this woodworking wonderland for yourself.

 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Carrie and Patrick Frost

May 11, 2017

Carrie and Patrick Frost in their Mantua, OH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney and NéQuana Rollings

“Glass is full of magic,” Patrick Frost told me as he and his wife Carrie began the tour of their Mantua, Ohio home with an introduction to their impressive collection of glass pieces from around the world.

As Patrick carefully handled one of the handmade glass objects, he explained that it was created by a master glassblower he’d trained with years before. The glassblower was very old, but after 60 years practicing his craft, he still loved his art, because he believed in the magic of glass.

Patrick said that he too is enchanted by the way glass moves, interacts with light, and almost mesmerizes. The Frosts continued to tell the stories behind many of the pieces in the collection (which takes up an entire wall and then some in their living room), and it became clear that both Patrick and Carrie are sincerely passionate about every part of the glassmaking process—from the first drops of molten material, through firing and turning and blowing, all the way up to opening the oven and seeing the cooled, finished piece for the first time.

Carrie making the Sham-Rock Glass, check out a video of the this glass getting made here

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Maker Resources, Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Donna and Randall Rollins

February 6, 2017

Randall and Donna Rollins in their Brentwood, NH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

Most of us have had those days when we feel stuck in a rut. You know, when you’re sitting at your desk under harsh florescent lights, or walking extra slowly into your office building, or completing the same seemingly unimportant task for the 500th time. For most of us, this feeling creeps in and we start fantasizing about dropping everything and going confidently in the direction of our dreams. While the feeling usually passes, and many weekday warriors just keep fighting that battle against monotony, Donna and Randall Rollins figured that if they had to pour out their time and energy, it was going to be into something they love. 

The couple met while they were both working in corporate America. First they fell in love with each other, and then Donna fell in love with pottery. Then they learned about the healing properties often associated with gemstones from a friend with a PhD in metaphysics, and everything came together: Donna and Randall left the corporate world to start their own clay studio. They slowly grew their business to include family members and employ local artisans, they discovered new ways to incorporate stones and minerals into their designs, and, aside from acknowledging that their business backgrounds gave them the know-how to turn their passion into a career, they don’t do a lot of looking back. 

“We actively made the decision thinking, ‘If we tank, what’s the worst that can happen? We’ll still have each other,'” Randall told me on my recent visit to the couple’s Brentwood, NH studio. “We took that risk and we were willing to lose it all.”  

As you’re about to see in the photos and interview below, Donna and Randall didn’t lose it all, and they’re still hard at work making beautiful pottery and sharing their passion for stones and clay whenever they can. In fact, when our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I arrived to the studio over two hours late, thanks to a flat tire, the Rollinses weren’t even fazed. Their team had left for the night, and evidence of a long workday (so many pieces, in all stages of completion!) was all around. Still, they welcomed us like old friends, offered us snacks, and almost immediately started showing us their collections of stones and telling us about the energy in the space.  

Healing Stone Mugs, before the stones are attached

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Anne Johnson and Arra David

January 10, 2017

Anne Johnson and Arra David outside of the Sea Stones Studio in Windham, NH, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

Canopies of colorful leaves. Air so fresh it actually feels different when you breathe it in. Wide open spaces and dewy blades of grass. These are things I don’t get to enjoy all that often in Brooklyn, but New Hampshire is another story. I experienced the natural beauty of “The Granite State” firsthand last fall, when I also got a full tour of Arra David and Anne Johnson’s bustling studio.

The state’s nickname is certainly fitting, given the extensive quarries in New Hampshire. It’s also fitting that Anne and Arra make their designs there, considering that their one-of-a-kind creations are made with wood, natural stones, metal, and–you guessed it–granite.

Curious about just how the designers are able to turn solid rock into functional home designs, our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I made the five-hour road trip from Brooklyn to Windham, NH to get an inside look.

Anne and Arra welcomed us in, offered us some of the homemade hard cider mentioned below, walked us through the studio and workshop, and let us take some tools for a test drive. With Arra’s guidance, NéQuana even built her own Sea Stone Splash Sponge Holder!

Arra, an engineer, talked to us about designing special tools to tackle heavy-duty work. He also shared thoughts on taking hold of inspiration when it “ambushes,” advice on the importance of collaboration, and a perfectly pertinent Thoreau quote.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Emilie Shapiro

November 7, 2016
Emilie Shapiro Portrait

Emilie Shapiro in her Long Island City studio, Photos by Rachel Orlow

Since I’ve started working at UG, Emilie Shapiro is a name I’ve heard often. (And here’s a fun fact: she used to be a regular Emily like me, but rebelled against our all-too-common name and switched to the “ie” ending at age 13). We carry many of her stunning, raw gemstone jewelry pieces, and everyone at the office sort of fan-girls about her work. So when I heard that Emilie was up for a studio tour, I was psyched to be on the invite list.

I set off expecting the drive from my home in suburban Long Island to Long Island City, Queens to be less than pleasant, and unfortunately I was right. After a hectic morning crawling down Queens Boulevard and searching for a parking spot for what felt like hours, arriving at Emilie’s sunny studio was a welcome respite.

shapiro-display

From the moment we cracked open the door, the vibe at the studio was easy and welcoming. We were sort of a big crew–our blog editor, our jewelry buyer, our photographer, our SEO specialist/jewelry-lover, and myself–but Emilie and another maker who she works with, Erica, were totally accommodating. They offered us apples and coffee and turned on some classic rock. They let us drool over the gorgeous pieces they had on display. Emilie urged us to try on whatever we wanted, which was basically everything.

Our blog team has visited Emilie before, but not since she moved to her new studio space. And this time, we were lucky enough to watch her in action – she did a demo for us on how she sets the striking Waterfall Ring. Following our lesson, we got to chat with her about how she’s grown as an artist and business owner, teaching others the craft, and even a bit about her family. Turns out, her grandfather once had a toy factory in the Brooklyn Army Terminal, UG’s home! We must be kindred spirits.

spapiro-stonesandpieces-2

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