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Inside the Designer’s Studio with Dolan Geiman

June 4, 2012

With artists throughout the 50 states, being able to visit the studio of each designer is a valuable, but more often unlikely opportunity. However, sometimes an opportunity lends itself to step inside the mind of an artist without ever setting foot in their hometown. Dolan Geiman is a mixed media designer who marries found objects and iconic imagery in his pieces. He generously takes us on our first remote studio tour and shares his tools, tricks and inspirations through photos of his space and in his owns words.

What are your most essential tools for creating your art?
The tools I find most essential for creating my artwork are as follows, in this order:
apple pie, crisp warm days, cool nights, bluegrass and country music, a clear mind, and a vision of the finished project. Other tools are easier to obtain.

Where do you find inspiration within your workspace?
I keep artifacts around my studio that give me energy and creative power: a turtle shell, a cow skull, a box of fasteners my sister sent me from Prague, a collection of pine cones and bird nests, a box of civil war buttons and old watches. Things that have energy and I can plug into them like one might plug a Norelco into a bathroom socket.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Well, there is not a whole lot of downtime for me. I think it’s that way when you run your own business. A lot of peers tell me in in their wispy yoga voices “Ahh, you just have to make time for yourself.” Yeah, it ain’t that easy. So, I take time at the end of a few months of hard labor. I’m trying to eek out a few moments early in the morning to walk and look at birds. But for now, while the work is there, I will be there holding its hand or holding its head while it throws up.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I never learned how to say “no” earlier in my career. It’s nice to say no. It helps you to stay sane. It’s hard if you are broke, but don’t ever let people take advantage of your creativity in that way.

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Charge more for your services. And stop smoking cigarettes. And move to the country. And get a damn haircut.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I basically keep this little treasure chest in my head and on the front of the chest is a goal. When I complete the goal I get to open the treasure chest. It’s usually full of wine and beer and a few days of fly fishing in the mountains. I try to set goals that are attainable but very difficult. And I do weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Well, I used to celebrate more but then I married my business partner and that put a damper on the celebrations… haha. I like to celebrate after I complete a successful project or a milestone in the business. I think I appreciate these things because I’m more of a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of person. And it also helps mentally, and mental health is something I take very seriously. If you just keep doing these cool things and then don’t stop to look at what you’ve done and where you’ve been then five years goes by and you are just older and not any happier.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I have this quote that I say to myself which is like my mental tattoo – “make art or die” – because if I stop making art I will most likely die. Like a pancake without syrup. Useless and not making anyone happy.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am trying to learn more about woodworking and creating antiqued finishes. I rely on the spoken advice of my peers and colleagues for this. There are two nice woodworkers in the basement studio below my studio so I often pick their brains for advice.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I go fishing or hiking or camping or bird watching or anything in the woods for at least several days. I’m trying harder and harder to re-charge my creativity these days, since I feel like I am working harder and harder. I have had several mental breakdowns in the past five years, due mostly to the fact that I work way too much. But this is the burden of being a Libra blessed with creativity. It’s a blessing and a curse… and a curse. I find the best recharging happens when I am far from other people and just staring at something like a cloud or an ant or a cloud that is shaped like an ant. I often meditate in nature and will create an entire novel in my mind which I try to slowly erase until there is nothing but… nothing. Meditation is hard.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I am not really sure. I like to collaborate with other folks, but I think mostly the collaboration is more conversational. When I am around other artists that I enjoy, we often create nice mind energy conversations and the mood is good and so I feel like we are all collaborating on a conversation and it’s like we are pooling our positive energy into the physical space. It’s more of a Jungian thing. When you leave the space of being around good people, smart and interesting people, there is energy there and you can draw on that later. It’s a similar feeling to déjà-vu, perhaps a cousin of déjà-vu. But in reverse.


photos by Dolan Geiman, Eric Grimes, Chris Nightengale, David Schalliol, and Paul Zimmerman

Gift Guides

June Birthdays… now is your time!

June 1, 2012


You say it’s your birthday!? Then tell us about it on Twitter and Facebook.

Enter yourself and friends with June birthdays and this year their gift could be on us. Tag your friend in a comment on this photo on Facebook or Tweet at them with #UncommonBDay to enter them into our June Birthday Contest. Do both of those things for a double entry!

The winner will be contacted on June 30.

Maker Stories

Matthew Amey’s ‘End of Innocence’ Jumps into our Collection

May 23, 2012

With every new design challenge comes the chance to step into the minds and lives of some of America’s budding designers. The Wall Art challenge brought in over 100 entries and an opportunity for artists to tell a personal story through the paintings, sketches and digital graphics they have created.

Our judges worked through art with sentimental stories, unusual mediums and contemporary themes. They decided on some pieces that they could see hanging in the homes of many Americans yet others they loved for their niche attraction. But the piece that stole their heart was one about the uncertainty in change and straddled a fine line between hopeful and ominous.

The more we learn about Wall Art Challenge winner Matthew Amey of Maryland, the more we love End of Innocence: Jump Off and can’t wait to share its story with customers. Matthew heard about our design challenge from his wife who encourages him to share his work with others in new and exciting ways and will soon be able to say that his work is on the walls of homes across the country. Meet Matthew, our Wall Art Design Challenge winner and the newest addition to the Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover art?
As a young child I took art classes during summer camp and was thrilled with the freedom that was afforded us to create whatever we wanted. My older brother was much more astute at drawing than I was so, as a challenge to myself, I set out to be a better artist than him. I believe I was 7.

What are your favorite things to design/illustrate?
My interests are many and diverse. I’ve spent the last four years studying fine art at the University of Delaware where I’ve been exposed to a plethora of techniques, materials and insight into the concept of a fine art profession.

Recently I have been enamored with cephalopods; octopuses especially but I’ve been researching and becoming more interested in cuttlefish and squid.

How do you keep yourself inspired?
I am constantly thinking of what to do next. Dwelling on past achievements, while ingratiating, can be burdensome. The process of making art, the actual moving of paint around on canvas, pushing a pencil across paper, or drawing with a stylus on a drawing tablet to create digital works, is what drives me to create more. While I enjoy the finished pieces and I’m excited to see how others react to my work, I am more enamored with the actual creation of the work. I started out as a doodler and dabbler but that has turned into a profession that is quite fulfilling.

How else do you express your art?
I have been a professional tattoo artist since 1991 and much of my work is informed from that experience. Tattoos are a very personal expression for my clients. I have built a reputation for creating high quality work in the skin and my clients know that my work excels when they give me artistic freedom to work within their design parameters.

As a tattoo artist it is very apparent that my job is to help my client express their ideas on their body. Often it is an opportunity for me to explore many different ideas, compositions and concepts that I wouldn’t normally investigate.


What attracted you to want to take part in this challenge?
My wife knew that I was searching for outlets to show my non-tattoo related artwork and she turned me on to this contest. I happened to have these illustrations that are part of a series that I recently created.


What was the inspiration behind End of Innocence?
In 2008 I returned to college after a 20 year hiatus. While studying fine art at the University of Delaware it became apparent that I was surrounded by young, soon-to-be adults who were going through some major emotional and physical changes. One day a tattoo client of mine requested an image of his daughter on a rope swing under the silhouette of a tree. After doing the tattoo on him I started to think about the image and how it had the potential to tell a more compelling story. I started putting together images of different trees with children on rope swings and ended up with a series of 5 disparate images.

Each image has a tree, a child either on the swing or jumping off, and varying types of birds either in flight or perched on a branch. The tree represents stability, safety, comfort, excitement and all the positive attributes of a loving family. The child is enjoying the ride and seems oblivious to what lies just outside of the trees reach, the future. The birds represent the varying societal norms that the child could eventually grow into.

Any advice for someone interesting in taking part in a future challenge?
Take a chance. You’ll never know how your work will affect others until you put it in front of them.

All photos courtesy of Matthew Amey.