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Maker Stories

Over The Moon With Natasha’s Winning Design

September 17, 2014

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods

I immediately knew Natasha’s design of the Crescent Necklace would be a semi-finalist for the Jewelry Design Challenge the moment I opened up her entry. The charming piece matched perfectly with the UncommonGoods brand – not only was it a beautiful ceramic piece, but it was handmade with a unique mosaic design. The only problem we ran into, since Natasha offered multiple hues for her designs, was deciding on which color to feature!  The judges were unanimous when deciding on the winner and I was happy to make that phone call to the very excited and humbled Natasha. We wanted to bring a necklace into our assortment that was a classy statement piece, a pendant that would be hard for anyone not to notice, but not overwhelming or too showy. The Crescent Necklace was a perfect match. And because we couldn’t resist ourselves, we also threw in her matching earrings. Meet Natasha Justice, our latest Jewelry Design Challenge winner, and learn about her step-by-step process of making her Crescent Necklaces.

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods

How did you come up with the concept of your design for your Crescent Necklace?
I love to mix different shapes and textures.  I had some pieces from a broken necklace that sparked my curiosity.  I pushed each of the pieces into my rolled out slab of clay and really liked what I saw.  I was wanting  a bold piece, so I used my large oval to sort of frame the textured design I just created.  And the shape and design jumped out at me.  I made another cut to create the crescent shape and loved the completed piece.

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods

How did you celebrate when you found out that you won our jewelry design challenge?
I immediately called my husband, I couldn’t believe it!  I was so excited!  And we went to dinner that night to celebrate.

How did you discover our jewelry design challenge?
I heard about it through another artist and looked into it on UncommonGoods. I always tell myself to just go for it, you never know, you could win.

Can you tell us 3 fun facts about yourself?
1. I am seriously addicted to crime shows and movies.  I love Criminal Minds and any type of crime thriller movie.

2. I started making jewelry when I was 10 and then [again] after getting laid off. When I found out I was pregnant with my first son (I have 3) I decided I needed a hobby to keep myself busy. So I started making more jewelry and my hobby became my business.

3. I can’t sew but I would absolutely love to learn how.

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods

What different techniques do you use when creating your designs?
I mostly use hand-building techniques to create my clay pieces.

What’s one piece of jewelry you own that you would never want to lose?
One of my very first ceramic pendants I made.  It reminds me why I started making ceramic pendants and my love for clay.

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods
Natasha’s hometown, Cincinnati.

Can you walk us through the step by step process of creating your necklace?
I take a clump of clay and roll it out flat with a rolling pin.  I then take the broken necklace pieces and stamp out the design.  I cut the design out with my large oval cutter and then I use a small circle to complete the crescent shape.  I smooth all of the edges, make the holes in the top and sign each ceramic piece on the back.  Then each piece has to dry out completely between two weighted pieces of wood to ensure the clay pieces do not curl.  Once they are dry I put them through the first firing, which is the bisque firing.  My kiln reaches 1,940 degrees.  I let the pieces cool and then they are ready to be glazed.  I hand-glaze each piece with a paint brush.  I load my kiln again and let the kiln reach 1,830 degrees.  After the pieces cool they are ready to be made into jewelry.  I buy my chain, jump rings, and lobster claw clasps in bulk so I have to measure each piece of chain to the appropriate length and hand cut each one.  I then assemble the necklace into a completed piece.

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods

Other than making and promoting your jewelry, what other hobbies are you into?
I love watching movies and I recently got back into working out consistently. [These hobbies] seem to help me wind down.

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods

Natasha Justice | UncommonGoods

Do you think jewelry pieces should be fashionable or timeless?
I think a girl needs a little bit of both.  I love timeless pieces, but I always have to have some fashionable ones as well.  The fashionable ones are my go-to when I go on dates with my husband or out with the girls. I also love to mix them both with layering.

Necklace up close

Maker Stories

A Perfect Design for Your Knitting Nest

September 15, 2014

Aaron A. Harrison | UncommonGoods

The son of an architect father and artist mother, Aaron A. Harrison quickly gravitated towards all things creative. LEGO towers gave way to kindergarten art contest wins, which eventually gave way to an MFA in ceramics and sculpture. Knowing he wanted to play with clay forever, Aaron decided to turn his passion into a career once he started raising a family.

While working in production at a ceramic slip casting company that specializes in bird feeders, birdhouses, and nightlights, Aaron began to shift his focus from artist to designer. “It was here that I learned how to run a production studio,” says Aaron, “making products from clay was preeminent to making clay art.” Working with all the bird-friendly pieces at the studio also fostered an appreciation for the bird form, inspiring Aaron to incorporate the winged creatures into his own designs once he started his own studio in 2009.

Birdie Yarn Bowls | UncommonGoods
Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

On his process, Aaron says, “creativity as a designer follows the need to solve a problem.” In the case of one of his most popular designs, this problem was the unrolling of yarn. After two separate friends asked him if he made yarn bowls, he researched the concept, made some prototypes, literally put a bird on it, and the Birdie Yarn Bowl came to be. Each yarn bowl begins as a ball of clay that is then thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel. Once the bowl firms up, the bird is added, then the hook and holes. After an initial firing and glazing, each bird is painted by hand, then fired one more time to seal it all in.

Painting the Birdie Bowl | UncommonGoods

Aaron works out of his 500 square foot basement, painting each individual bird himself and packing each completed yarn bowl for shipping. “It’s not uncommon to find my children wrapped in bubble wrap or making packing peanut soup for their dolls,” says Aaron of his at-home operation. For inspiration while he works, Aaron keeps drawings from his children around, as well as a LEGO calendar (“my second favorite pastime after ceramics”), and an architectural drawing of an observatory from his father.

Aaron's Studio
Packing the bowls

With all this inspiration by his side, it’s no wonder Aaron’s work has been featured in Knit Simple, Vogue Knitting, and Knit Scene. Though he’s “still waiting for Oprah or Martha Stewart to place their orders,” Aaron gets immense satisfaction from the feedback of others, telling him that his piece inspired them to be more creative. Both this and the opportunity to work from home are the ultimate pay-off. “Sitting at the wheel three to four hours a day, working long into the night to finish an order, and the physical strain of manipulating the clay can take its toll,” says Aaron, “but I am working for myself and I can see my children grow up. In the end, it’s a tremendous blessing and extremely satisfying.”

Buy the Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Margaret Dorfman

September 9, 2014

Margaret Dorfman | UncommonGoods

As the UncommonGoods Jewelry Buyer, I see amazing artistry from artists and designers using all sorts of materials. We are always delighted when we find an artist who uses uncommon materials in an unexpected way. Margaret Dorfman is one such artist. She transforms fruits and vegetables into parchments that she then uses to make gorgeous bowls, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.

Margaret’s relationship with UncommonGoods has been a long one, dating all the way back to 1999. Fifteen years later, she continues to delight us and our customers with her lovely organic creations. As a huge fan of Margaret’s work myself, I was super excited to meet her and learn about her process.

Margaret’s studio is tucked away on a lovely tree lined street in Oakland, California. I knew I had arrived at the right place as I walked down the path to her studio entrance. That morning, before my arrival, she had received a delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables and the walkway was lined with boxes and bags containing all imaginable varieties of fruits and veggies. I saw pears, oranges, papayas, cabbages, and bell peppers just to name a few!

Orange Earrings

Stepping into Margaret’s space was truly like stepping into a secret garden. Shelves were lined with finished pieces and the vivid jewel toned colors of her work popped against the crisp white walls. On the center table of her work space, she had oranges piled high and had pulled finished pieces made from oranges so I could see the “before and after.”

Margaret was lovely–so warm and welcoming–and she let me pepper her with questions about herself and her technique. I love hearing about the path our artists take to doing what they do. Margaret’s path was an uncommon one; she spent many years as a professional sign language interpreter, before leaving in 2001 to concentrate on her art. In seeing her work with such dexterity as she cut into fruits and vegetables, I could see the connection between her years as an interpreter and her current work as an artist.

Holding up her pressed vegetable parchment sheets to the light was magical – the pieces are translucent, and you notice every detail of the intricate structure of the vegetables and fruits. The colors in her pieces are vivid. I was struck by how the original colors were retained, even after being pressed.

As our visit came to a close, Margaret introduced me to her frequent studio-mate, her cockatoo Bindel, a sweet boy with a spirited personality! It was a such a delightful end to a great visit. Meet Margaret and learn more about her colorful world!

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio With Deborah Stotzky and Erwin List Sanchez

August 15, 2014

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Erwin List Sanchez and Deborah Stotzky are exactly who you would imagine when you think of partners who design Yoga Jewel Pendants for a living : peaceful, positive, and calm. After only five minutes of chatting with the couple and exploring their home, they were no longer just the “Yoga Jewels” designers in my mind, but simply Erwin and Deborah.

I knew the moment I walked down their quiet East Village street that I was about to be welcomed into one of the most charming home studios I’ve ever seen. Their street is the kind of street I wished to move to when I first thought about moving to New York City ten years ago based on all of the NYC-based movies I watched. (Just to name a few: Manhattan, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally.) And by no surprise, my assumption was proven correct when I stepped into their apartment and found myself gawking around as if it were a quaint museum that I just so happened to run into on a Sunday stroll.

I immediately could tell everything that they hung on their walls or displayed on their shelves carried a personal story. “We brought that back from Mexico,” “Erwin designed this, actually,” “We took that photo,” and “We found those on the ground. Can you believe it?” were some of the comments Deborah would say when I inquired on an interesting piece. I loved that their studio had a memory tucked behind every corner– with their work table stationed in the middle of their home —  inspiration was always just at an arm’s length.

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Maker Stories

Good Intentions: Alena Hennessy’s Affirmations in Art

August 12, 2014

Alena Hennessy | UncommonGoods

Words and art are two extremely powerful forces. Both can make us recall certain memories, impact our emotions, and even influence our decisions. That’s why Alena Hennessy only found it natural to combine these two important elements to create vibrant drawings, paintings, and mixed-media pieces featuring positive mantras, which she calls “intentions.”

One of these inspirational affirmations, “Don’t Quit Your Daydream,” is exceptionally fitting, because she never has. She’s been doing what she loves, creating art full time, for nearly 10 years.

Don't Quit Your Daydream | UncommonGoods

“For many years now I have viewed art-making as a kind of therapy or healing, one that brings us to quieter and more meditative states of being,” said Alena, who explained that writing positive intentions into her art is a way to capture those words and keep them as daily reminders.

“Writing intentions (or mantras) into my art feels beautifully affirming and became a natural part of my creative process,” she said. “I believe that words hold a certain power and when I am making art, the words or script that I place into my art sets an affirming tone for my life. I [also] think script is rather beautiful and artful in itself.”

Although Alena spends hours working in her Asheville, NC studio, art is just one of the therapeutic practices she embraces. Drawn to “the healing arts and natural forms of well-being,” Alena is also a certified flower essence practitioner, herbalist, and Reiki master.

Cultivating Your Creative Life by Alena Hennessy

She said that synthesizing the visual and healing arts in her work “seems inevitable and more reflective of my innate passions.” This comes through not only in her dynamic illustrations, but also in her many other creative endeavors. As an author, she encourages others to experiment with art and use it as a means for self-awareness and personal wellness. She also spreads inspiration through her blog, and facilitates several e-courses.

Alena Hennessy

While Alena always has many projects in the works, she makes sure to take her own advice and puts herself first, before business. However, in making her own wellness a priority, she finds that she is also better able to produce her art. “I become inspired by making sure I have enough rest and self-care of my body, mind, and spirit,” she said. “I find that the more I am in balance, the better my creative output.”

Just as Alena finds inspiration in nurturing her mind, body, and spirit, the cycle of creativity continues through the artistic process and on to those that bring her work home. The quotes and mantras working in harmony with Alena’s visual art encourage the new owner, and all that see the piece, to live each day to the fullest in a positive light.

Maker Stories

Handmade in India: Uncommon Wooden Designs

August 8, 2014

Based in Austin, Texas, Matr Boomie partners with artisans in India to produce eclectic, one-of-a-kind products that support the aesthetics and ethics of its artists. Some of our favorite pieces, the Hand of Buddha Jewelry Stand and Owl Eyeglass Holder come from two of their non-profits, located in a town at the foothills of the Himalayas. There, over three hours away from New Dehli, is a small rural area historically known for its woodworking.
sugar

With such a storied history in crafts, it’s no wonder that most of the artists in this community learned their skills at a young age from family members. This strong tradition helps Matr Boomie create beautiful pieces that utilize the artisans’ skills in intricate carving, filigree, and inlay work. While some of the designs are made out of small woodshops, most workshops are run out of the home, letting large, combined families work together as they see the project through from beginning to end.

Village

Run by Manish Gupta, this collective is devoted to the development of underprivileged artisans. The constant flow of work has helped unearth a great amount of talent that had previously gone under appreciated. “In the five years we have been working with this community, we have been able to provide constant work to more and more artisans,” says Manish, “this starts to build confidence in the community, starts to make the art more respected, and the community can start to think about long term development aspects.”

Village

Intrigued by the designs produced by this region, our founder and CEO, Dave Bolotsky, took a trip to India to see how the artists work within their community. “Most moving for me was seeing newly built schools, pumps for fresh drinking water, and solar panels powering lights,” says Dave. “ These are the hard-earned results of growing handicraft employment for villagers.”

In addition to exploring the town Dave took a trip to their studio to watch the artisans create each design by hand. Each piece is made using sustainably harvested Sheesham wood, sourced through dead or fallen trees. Once procured, the first artist in line uses a man-powered machine to initially cut the wood. They then work as an assembly line to carve down the block into a charming nose or owl-shaped eyeglass holder. A final polishing using natural wax and lacquer completes the process, leaving a one-of-a-kind piece that harkens back to a generations-old tradition.

process

Looking forward, Manish hopes to continue the community’s long-held tradition of woodworking by attaining economic stability for the artists. “Our partnership with UncommonGoods to bring some of these items to market has been a key part of our work,” says Manish, “it takes time to bring a long-term change but economic sustainability is the key element in that— our work focuses on that.”

Maker Stories

Pre-Columbian Craft Shines in Dipped Lace Jewelry Designs

August 7, 2014

We’re always on the hunt for stunning, handmade jewelry pieces to add to our assortment. We look for quality designs with uncommon looks, pieces made from unexpected materials, and collections that fill us with awe. Tulianna Garcés and Alejandra Noguera-Garcés’s Dipped Lace Jewelry more than meets those criteria, and we’re thrilled to welcome this line of carefully crafted necklaces, earrings, and bracelets into our assortment.

Dipped Lace Jewelry

While gold-plated textiles certainly aren’t the norm in modern jewelry, Tulianna and Alejandra’s designs are actually based on a traditional technique thousands of years old.

The mother-daughter team is inspired by pre-Columbian jewelry pieces, such as those that are now on permanent exhibit at the Gold Museum, in Bogotá, Colombia. They work closely with skilled artisans to create new designs that celebrate an age-old tradition, but incorporate a contemporary twist.

Lace Jewelry Designs |UncommonGoods

Tulianna and Alejandra emigrated from Colombia to the United States in 1985, but the Vermont-based design duo travel several times a year to train and collaborate with Colombian artisans who have been affected by the civil war that has plagued the region for more than fifty years.

“A large part of [our] mission is to encourage these artisans to maintain their cultural traditions while also being able to support their families,” says Tulianna. More than 85% of these artisans are women heading households in low-income and displaced communities. Tulianna explains, “We not only share a language, our cooperation is [also] fueled by the mutual desire for a better, more peaceful Colombia.”

lace1

Crafting the luminous, detailed pieces is very time consuming. Each piece takes several days from start to finish, and every single piece is made entirely by hand. First, the heart of the jewelry—vintage-inspired lace—is sewn into shape. Next, the lace creation is coated in wax to harden the fabric and seal the shape. This beautiful bit of sculptural art is then ready for the next stage, where it’s dipped in recycled metals.

Creating Lace Bracelets | UncommonGoods

Copper provides a firm base-coat before each piece is covered in either 24 karat gold or sterling silver. The pieces are dipped over and over, until they’re completely finished with radiant, recycled precious metals. In an update to the traditional pre-Columbian process for creating gilded wares, the metal is secured through electroplating.

Electroplating

During electroplating the pieces are submerged in salt water, and then given a blast of electricity, which helps prevent the metal from losing its golden (or silvery) glow over time. Once dry, the jewelry is brushed by hand to make sure every hole is free of excess metal buildup and that every delicate detail is perfect. Finally, a protective lacquer is hand-painted onto every piece.

Dipped Lace Jewelry Collection | UncommonGoods

This precision and attention to detail comes through in each design, from the welcoming shape of the Dipped Lace Heart Necklace, to the Precious Lace Bangle’s classic eyelets, to the show-stopping beauty of the Ruffled Gold Dipped Lace Statement Necklace. Visit this exciting new collection to see all of Tulianna and Alejandra’s handcrafted dipped lace jewelry designs!

Buy Lace Jewelry Now | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with JoAnn Stratakos

July 14, 2014

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods
At UncommonGoods, we’re always excited when we launch a product that in time reveals itself to be a complete game-changer; an overwhelmingly popular product that sheds new light on what makes something a runaway sensation. But every once in a blue moon, we meet a new product that we know will win hearts as soon as it is placed in This Just In. Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn was the latter. From his goofy blue eyes to his chubby little feet, we were smitten and didn’t have any questions as to whether everyone else would share our love for him.

So we decided to take a trip to Pennsylvania to meet Elwood’s creator. By “we” I mean Senior Buyer Candace, Purchasing Planner Maham, and myself, and by “trip” I mean a car ride outside of cell phone service to a place where the streets had no name. Literally, we had to call when we were close so the artist could give us directions that Google couldn’t help us with. We were warmly greeted by ceramicist JoAnn and her spirited team of Mudworks helpers who were eager to show us how our most beloved new product is born. It was easy to fall in love with people as it was to fall in love with their creations so we are excited to share our visit with you.

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