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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Kristy Hadeka & Sean Tice

May 7, 2013

Days before I made it to the Red Hook work space of Sean Tice and Kristy Hadeka, they were putting the finishing touches on Brooklyn Slate Co’s new home, a space that took a hard beating during Hurricane Sandy. A line painted on an exposed brick wall shows where the water came up last October. At the time they were beginning construction on their new office and showroom, and had begun to store all of their merchandise and computers.

Months later, their space is a rustic, welcoming meeting space where they can work on new designs and meet with clients. I was happy to learn that behind the homey facade, Sean and Kristy were as warm as their aesthetic–serving as true advocates of their new neighborhood and neighbors. Take a look inside their work space and see what makes Sean and Kristy (and Garp) of Brooklyn Slate Co such Uncommon Artists.

What are your most essential tools?
Sean: An oversized work table, drafting light box, and good music playing. Editor’s note: The music was indeed very, very good.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Kristy: When we found this space, it was completely stripped down and raw. We built it out using materials and colors that make us feel really comfortable and at home. It’s open, airy, and relaxing – perfect for finding inspiration.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
K: Red Hook is a great neighborhood to walk around and explore – whenever we need a few minutes, we pick a direction and go for a walk.
S: Our dog also accompanies us at the shop on most days, so we take him to the park in the morning and late afternoon. I usually stop by Baked for a coffee or tea, then we go and throw the ball around.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
K: You should never be afraid to ask for help. Whether you need feedback on an idea you’re working on, or you find yourself managing an area of the business with which you have no experience, it’s important to know you can always go to someone you trust for feedback.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
S: We celebrate small victories every Friday with Beer Friday, when we pair a new beer we haven’t tried before with a cheese. Often, someone on our team will bring in something homemade for us all to enjoy, and we’ll pair a beer with that.
K: A big victory always requires the team head to the Ice House, one of our favorite watering holes in the neighborhood.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
S: We recently started developing other tabletop items that aren’t necessarily made of slate. I typically sketch ideas by hand, but I’m learning Google SketchUp so I can create more detailed renderings.

How do you recharge your creativity?
K: We both love running. It’s a great way to reset or gain perspective, especially when you’re stuck on an idea. There’s also so much to see in New York, and running is the best way to do it.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
S: Collaboration comes into play in two ways – on the one hand, we’re always exploring ways to collaborate with other producers in New York. Within the company, everyone is encouraged to speak up as new ideas come to them. Our shop and office are one and the same, which encourages open communication between everybody. Even if you’re not participating in a particular conversation, just overhearing a discussion can plant a seed in your own mind.

Maker Stories

Jeff Knight’s Dreamy Cutting Board Wins the Woodworking Design Challenge

April 4, 2013

It’s not news that we’re extremely proud of our artists, and our newest UncommonGoods artist is no exception. From almost 100 Woodworking Design Challenge entries, Jeff Knight’s Nimbus Cloud Cutting Board made our judges sigh, giggle and announce Winner!. But the more we learn about Jeff, the more we realize the breadth of his talents. Meet Jeff – woodworker, graphic designer, t-shirt entrepreneur, travel writer and the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family.

What is the most uncommon thing about you?
I think the most uncommon thing about me is my renaissance-man attitude toward projects. I’m the kind of guy who likes to roll up my sleeves and figure out a way to make a good idea happen. If that means learning a new tool or trade, then so be it. I have a pretty big range of hobbies and interests. I keep myself busy and always look forward to learning something new. This past year I’ve been involved in various projects from co-founding a design club to partnering in the launch of a pop-up t-shirt store.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by a variety of things; nature, comic books, toys, games, classic films, art, midcentury design, social events, friends, family, etc. I try to keep my eyes and ears open to things, and when inspiration strikes I’m usually prepared with a sketchbook close by. A weekly trip to a thrift shop sometimes helps rekindle my inspiration. You never know when looking at an old dinner plate or album cover will provide inspiration for a future project.

How did you get into woodworking?
My dad was a woodworker as long as I can remember, so naturally, as a child, I used to hang out in the wood shop and build little things from the scraps of his projects. Sometimes a block of wood could be a pirate ship or an airplane. Much later in life, I found making things from wood familiar and comforting because of my upbringing. My dad had everything to do with my love of woodworking.

How do graphic design and woodworking fit together in your craft?
Form and function are important in what I do for both design and woodworking. I’m heavily guided by both concepts. There’s a back and forth tendency of wanting to make things function as a usable object, but also to craft that thing into a beautiful form. I find both graphic design and woodworking require a mastery of certain tools, but they also both require a sense of wonder, creativity and imagination to produce engaging results that resonate with people.

How do you market your designs on the web?
I’m not a huge marketer of my own work. So far I’ve found the best success through social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo. Like this contest, I couldn’t have gone very far without a strong group of supportive friends and family. There are so many tools available online to help get your name out there, it just takes some time and a little bit of strategic planning. If people like your work, they’ll share it and pretty soon folks take interest in what you’re doing and eventually that turns into sales.

Describe your workspace.
Luckily my woodworking takes place at a co-op space called DIY Wood Studio. They help keep the place neat and tidy so whenever I need something, the right tool is in its place. My workspace for graphic, however, is a complete mess. I surround myself with good, inspiring design in the form of toys, posters, magazines, funky objects, books and tons of other stuff. Because of that, I have Post-Its, drawings and other notes all over because I get ideas often and need to write them down or sketch them out.

Any advice to artists and designers thinking about entering an UncommonGoods design challenge?
Take a risk and enter. Be sure to rally up your friends and colleagues, they can be some of your best chances to filling in votes. But, above all, don’t let negative comments get you down. Constructive criticism is one thing, but personal preferences and insults are not necessary in the creative process.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Matthew Amey

April 2, 2013

It feels a little silly when we throw around the word “uncommon” so frequently here around the UG headquarters, but sometimes there just isn’t a better way to express how we feel. I first interviewed Matthew Amey when he won last year’s Art Contest. Being inked myself, I was overjoyed to learn his winning piece was a tattoo-turned-print. I was also completely baffled – was there a better word to describe the newest member of our artist family?

This time, take a look inside the Maryland studio of this design challenge alum to see how he transitions from painting on skin to paper.

What are your most essential tools?
I work primarily with tattoo machines but I also paint in oils quite a bit. I am fortunate to have a career (tattooing) that allows me to also work in other artistic mediums when time permits.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I work in my studio five days a week, eight hours per day. I find time between tattoo appointments to explore new ideas, mediums, do research for new projects and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is jammed with materials that I have collected throughout my travels. Much of my inspiration comes through interacting with other artists and discussing new ideas with prospective clients.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Being an artist is great but running a business, as an artist, is a daunting task. The creative mind is not one that worries about deadlines, bills, advertising. As an artist all I want to do is create work. Once I figured out how to shift gears from artist/creator to businessman/manager things got a lot easier. Once I found a ‘business manager’ it made my work much more enjoyable.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Trust your instincts; you’re making the right choices. Stay positive.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Much of my time is spent just thinking about projects. Once I decide on a project that I want to complete I am pretty adamant about following it through to completion. Some long-term projects get worked on little by little until completion. Ultimately I have to determine which projects are of utmost importance and work on those first. UncommonGoods has become one of my main goals this past year and I’ve been focusing much of my ‘free’ time on that work.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is fleeting. If/When I’m able to take time to reflect on my accomplishments chances are I’m thinking about what to do next. I’m not sure where I’ve heard this statement but it is very true that, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
My efforts flow through these three simple statements. Imagine; think outside the box, allow yourself to wonder. Create; make work, be creative and productive. Inspire; make work that inspires others to think, contemplate or produce work of their own. Repeat….

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am constantly challenging myself to experiment with new materials, techniques and styles both in tattooing and within my other artistic endeavors.

How do you recharge your creativity?
My artwork develops in cycles. During the warmer summer months I try to get outside and experience nature as often as possible. I live near the ocean and in the Summer I am very busy tattooing the tourists who frequent my town. In the Fall I start putting non-tattoo related projects together and in the Winter and Spring much of my time is spent working on completing those projects. I am currently getting ready for the summer season so I’m trying to wrap up some larger art projects that I started last Fall.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Much of my tattoo work is collaboration between myself and my clients. They come to me with an idea and I attempt to help them visualize their ideas in the most concise way possible. Occasionally I will collaborate with other artists in my studio to produce paintings.

Maker Stories

Donna Rollins’ Handmade Mugs with a Healing Touch

March 15, 2013

“I’ve had an attraction to collecting stones for what seems like eternity,” says Donna Rollins, the artist behind Healing Stone Mugs and Birth Stone Mugs. Her creative cups incorporate layers of minerals, non-toxic glazes, and, of course, the signature stones that make them truly uncommon.

Healing Touch Pottery, Photo by Stephanie Minion Photography

Donna started creating pottery about 5 years ago, but says that she’s always been attracted to the medium. The self-taught potter credits her youngest daughter with inspiring her to give clay a try. She purchased her first wheel and kiln so they could create pottery together. Now all three of her daughters work for the company she and her husband, Randall, run in New Hampshire–Healing Touch Pottery.

When she got the notion of marrying natural stones with handmade ceramics Donna knew she was ready to start her business. “The idea of placing the stone on the thumb rest of a mug came to me in a dear friend’s home. I was admiring her stone collection and thought, How can I incorporate the healing benefits of crystals and minerals with my love for pottery?

Donna and Randall Rollins, photo by Stephanie Minion Photography

Today Healing Touch Pottery has 9 staff members who create 700 to 1000 mugs each week. “Each artist has their own style and that style comes through in the creation, but collectively we create what becomes an individual’s new favorite mug,” says Donna.

Healing Touch Potter Liz Johnson

Healing Touch Staff: Mandi Ouellette, Samantha Mistich, and Liz Johnson

“Each of our signature mugs begin with a pound of clay in our hands,” Donna explains. “We shape the square clay into a ball, we then throw it into the center of a potter’s wheel, hence the term throwing pottery. From there, we pull, push and gently caress the clay forming the various shapes of the cylinder of a mug.”

But the potter’s wheel is just the beginning. “The potter’s assistant takes the cylinder off the potter’s wheel and places it on a board. Depending on the day of the week, there could be anywhere from 120 to 220 cylinders thrown that day,” says Donna.”After a day of sitting and drying to leather-hard, the cylinders are handled by our other talented artists. Once the mugs have dried enough to be wiped and signed, they are then placed in the kilns for their first firing to bisque. After the bisque firing, the mugs are transported to the glazing room where another group of artists dip each mug in our handcrafted glazes. From this point, the mugs are loaded into the glazing kilns for their final firing at 2200 degrees. Once the mugs are cool enough to unload they are transported to another room where the stones are attached and Reiki-charged.”

Reviewer submitted image by By SouthernMama from Sweet Home Alabama

While a great deal of time and work go into each mug, Donna and her team don’t mind putting in the hours, care, and attention to detail it takes to create each piece. “There is a common thought and goal for each of us who work here at Healing Touch Pottery and we believe that is why our pottery is enjoyed by so many,” she tells us. “Quartz is a conductor of energy and it is in our clay and glazes and most of the stones we use are quartz-based. We believe our energy permeates our products, so it’s crucial we be in positive space and thoughts so our wares are enjoyed not just for their beauty, but also for their energy.”

The alluring stones also provide comfort, giving the person who holds the mug a gently-raised place to rest their thumb, and since skin slides easily against the smooth surface of the rocks, these creations are the perfect “worry stones” to help your troubles melt away as you enjoy a calming cup of tea or morning coffee as you start a new day.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Adrienne Vita

March 6, 2013

Artist Adrienne Vita | UncommonGoods

Through her exuberant illustrations, Adrienne Vita celebrates life, family, and friendship. “Coexisting” reminds us that, like giant polar bears and tiny birds, we all share the same planet, while the colorful family of cuddling wolves in “Close Knit” reminds us to hold on to those we love.

Feeling energized (and maybe a little mushy–in a good way) by Adrienne’s vibrant work, I couldn’t help but wonder where she brings her alluring animals to life. From across the country, the artist sent some positive vibes to Brooklyn in the form of her virtual studio tour. Although Adrienne mentioned that the sun was hidden behind clouds over Portland, Oregon when she held her photo shoot, this look inside her home-based workspace definitely brightened my day.

What are your most essential tools?
Brushes, pencils, pens, paper, an Exacto blade and music.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Well, my “space” includes a couple parts of my house. It started off as a logistical thing such as size of the rooms, hooking computers together with one router, etc. That became how and where I could set up my “spaces” to do my work. But I’ve grown to really like it this way over the years. Mainly, I share a computer “think tank” room with my husband (when he’s home) and have a drawing part in another small room. I like how when I draw; I don’t have the distraction of the computer or the business part of what I do because it’s in another room. Also, I use the basement for the really messy stuff, and sometimes move my work outside on the deck in the summer. It’s really nice to be able to switch it up.



Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Meditation time on my couch in the drawing part of my studio is a perfect way to recharge and get some moments of down time in between working.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I have a book where I write my goals but often refer to lots of colorful post-it notes and iCal for daily intricacies.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Lot’s of dance parties! Coconut ice cream and treats are always a nice way too.


What quote keeps you motivated?
What does that quote mean to you? I have never read this book but I always liked the title so much – “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway”.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Traveling, visiting with nature, riding my bike, baking and of course dancing and singing! Basically, just doing things I enjoy that allow me to be creative and free in a different way.


What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?

Five years ago, I struck out on my own after working for various design companies for about 10 years. When I first started, I was worried about how I would make enough money and how I would stand out in a sea of talented artists. Basically losing sight of the big picture of the work I am here on this earth to do. Knowing what I know now, I would have told myself, “What you put out in the world is more than what you make or create. It’s about the connection with people, about the helping and healing that you give through your work that is important. That is why you make art. Do it in your own way and celebrate it.”

Maker Stories

Meet Beau Lyday, Garden Design Challenge Winner

March 4, 2013

Our busy year of design challenges started off with a call for garden decor in January. With entries from across the country of sculptures, planters and birdhouses, our judges Katie and Chris had the difficult task of picking a winner. They decided on a design they considered to be a triple threat- with beautiful craftsmanship; a creative, unique design; and functional. What they didn’t realize during their deliberation, that they were inviting Beau Lyday of North Carolina into the UncommonGoods artist family. Meet Beau, a carpenter whose skills were passed from generations and a philosopher whose view on art and life is sure to inspire.

What was the inspiration behind the Garden Tool Box Tote?
My wife loves Pinterest and she pinned a garden box on her “Projects for Beau” board. Using the rake for a handle was a really neat idea. I made her a gothic style garden box for a present. That got me thinking about my grandfather Pennington. He was a carpenter. He passed before I was born, but I remember playing with his tool box in the shed. Wooden tool boxes used to be a commonplace item, but are rare now. Using the handle idea and my memories of my granddads tool box, I came up with a strong serviceable garden tool box tote.

Who or what are some of your design influences?
My Father helped me make a stool when I was six. He was a teacher at school and at home. We worked side by side, repairing and refinishing antiques through high school and then whenever we could get together. He taught me how to work with my hands and to be safe with machinery. Most of all he instilled in me a pride in workmanship and if it was not right it was wrong.

After college, I studied the works of Palladio and Christopher Wren, learning the classical relationship of balance and proportion. Their rules have become my basic design building blocks and help me discern why something looks right or wrong and how to fix it.

My wife, Brenda, is a wonderful artist with a keen eye. We make a wonderful team. When she makes a critique she is seldom wrong and she does it with love. I am my own worst critic. She is my greatest influence.

How does designing fit into your lifestyle?
Designing/creating is how I uncover my authentic self and act on it. The quote “By the work one knows the workman” says it best. Whether a person appreciates what I do or they don’t is not as important as the act of bringing an idea, a feeling to life. Working with the creation process, understanding the challenges and overcoming them, creating something useful and pleasing is where my true vocation and occupation come together. So, my work is my full time job.

What are some of your other designs?
Brenda and I try to have breakfast and watch Sunday Morning each week. I love the sun art work. This inspired me to create a series of sun mirrors.

This week I have continued taking down an old barn. I made a checker board with a Celtic ribbon border out of some of the wood I repurposed from that barn. There were also several pieces of wonderfully aged red painted boards that I used to make Brenda a primitive one door 3 shelf wall cabinet. She showed me a strange table in a magazine that we figured out was kite shaped. It took me two tries to make one but it is a very unique small side table and it’s only Wednesday evening. My web site has over 70 items I have made this year.

I am always looking for new inspirations, experimenting, refining until I have it right.

Describe your workspace.
We live in an 1840’s post and beam farm house I restored. Behind the house Brenda and I have side by side studios with wood floors and good windows. My grandmother’s Warm Morning pot belly stove keeps my shop comfortable in the winter time. I am going to have to take a week off and fix up my studio. It’s functional but not too pretty. I have a blacksmith shop in a shed by my studio. Brenda’s description of my work space is sawdust, sawdust, sawdust.

What is most uncommon about you?
I am a unique individual. My uncommonness stems from spending most of my life observing. How do the lines come together and work with each other. Which colors are present and how do they blend. What are the effects of textures and light. Can I identify the functions and understand how it works. I question how these observations relate to each other. I debate with myself why objects are pleasing or unsettling to me. These conclusions have become my memory library that I draw from to see things, to create and to interact.

I made a whirligig base on a child’s antique rocking horse and carriage and showed my dad. The horse’s head rocked up and down, the carriage following along. My dad said he remembered riding in a carriage like that when he was three (he was 80 at the time). I asked him what he thought of the whirligig and he said, “Son there is a fine line between crazy and genius. He did not tell me which side of the line I was on, but he had a smile on his face.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designers’ Studio with UncommonGoods Creative Team

February 4, 2013

(clockwise) Liz, Gaby, Hanna, Rebecca, Stephanie, Jessica, Adam and Thomas. Not pictured: Nathan, who works from Oklahoma.

 

Some of the most talented, creative minds we know are closer than we think, so this month we wanted to share the creativity within our own walls to help inspire you. The team, headed by Associate Creative Director Gaby Germaine is responsible for our catalog, emails, home page and everything else UncommonGoods sends out into the world.

UncommonGoods co-founder, COO and Creative Director Thomas Epting loves working with our Creative team. “I’m so proud of this group of absolute creative rockstars. Thrice weekly I get to hear them pitch and show innovative ways to present our product and delight our customers. They are unafraid to call me or each other out about how to improve our collective work. And while laughter is the most frequently heard sound in the studio, they are a crazy-hardworking group, who care deeply about our customers, our brand, great writing, photography and design. More than any creative group I’ve ever seen, they push their collaborators in marketing, merchandising and purchasing to help them react to the numbers behind our business.”

We interviewed Gaby and some of the other team members jumped in. Welcome to the studio!

What are your most essential tools?
The camera is the most obvious and regularly used one for me. It can feel like an extension of my arm at times. But also plain white paper. I need a spot to get the thoughts and images out of my head and down into a visual, tangible item. That can mean sketches, lists or even just scribbles of color and shape. My mind can be chaotic and I adore order. The lists and sketches provide that order.

Nathan, copy writer: My tools aren’t too fancy. All I need is a word processor and my imagination to do my work. But because I’m located in Oklahoma, I also need Skype and instant messaging to interact with the rest of the studio in real time.

Hanna, graphic designer: My Wacom tablet! I can’t work without it. And, of course, nothing beats a #2 mechanical pencil and some graph paper.

Adam, photographer: My most essential tools are the Canon 5D, Broncolor lights, Apple computers, Photohop, and the power of Gray Skull.

What was the toughest lesson you have learned working in the creative field?
The toughest lesson for me was to learn to embrace the concept of a cutting room floor (to steal a term from the film industry). It is one that I still struggle with. Sometimes the best way to get to a great idea or end product is to be willing to spend time making a lot of less-than-great work. It can be a fun process of testing and playing, but it can also be stressful when you tie in a deadline and obviously wanting all of my work to be at a high level of quality. It is a lesson worth learning though as some of my favorite work that I am the most proud of has come through this editing process.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
It is pretty much involved in every element of it. It can range from talking over a photo shoot idea with the Creative Director, or being on set with him to shoot covers, to working with the designers and copy writers to come up with the best photo/copy/design elements for an upcoming email. We brainstorm and plan together on all the emails we send. I also love how when we are shooting covers for the catalog everyone is involved. Everyone gets called over to look at set and the photo to give feedback on the image and copy. Sometimes I agree or disagree with the feedback and sometimes changes are made due to other suggestions and other times not. I just think it is a good practice to listen and think about how the customer might respond to the images I am presenting. Best way to figure that out is to be willing to present the images to others and work on any solutions needed.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love the front of the studio. The big conference table right by the bay of windows. The light is beautiful, and the space itself is open and airy. There is loads of room to craft, have a natural light photo shoot, brainstorm with the group and of course the studio favorite – a game of Apples to Apples!

Hanna: Hahaha. But seriously would not turn down a game of Apples to Apples in lieu of the catalog meeting.

How do you set goals for yourself and the team?
We make a yearly plan as a studio that aligns with the companies over all yearly goals and then break that down into work by quarter with what we can get done… and then we adjust as new projects and goals come up. It is really important that we assign ownership also to keep projects moving along. It is really about breaking everything down into smaller easy to manage steps.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time… I should get me some of that. No seriously, I think down time is a hard thing for anyone in the creative field to understand. I think just so much of our thoughts wander back to our projects be it work, or personal. We do have some really talented bakers and cooks in the studio though, so inevitably each week someone has brought a treat in to share. We will often gather around the table for a taste test and chat. And of course Pinterest research has a special place in all of our hearts.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We all pretty much love anything involving confetti and glitter. You can always tell when it is someone in the studio’s birthday by the loud explosion of a confetti cannon (popper).

What quote keeps you motivated?
“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work” Thomas A. Edison

In college I was in a visiting artist lecture and the speaker told the class that it is not the most talented artist that make it in this industry. It is those who don’t lose interest due to work that is needed. Those that are willing to work the hardest and longest. Like most in a creative field I struggle (and especially in school with the daily critiques that compared me to some really talented student in my program) with seeing my worth and vision as an artist. I remember sitting in that lecture and thinking, “Oh, I can totally do that! I know I can work hard and long.” It was a great moment for me. It was the first time I really felt like there was potential for me to succeed not just a hope for it.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft
I feel like I am constantly working to improve my styling for photographs. How to lay objects down and have them look beautiful and not too organized that they don’t look natural, but still can tell the story of the items clearly. It seems so simple, but there are hours that can go into a shot to make it look effortless. I try to keep up on “research” by looking over blogs with great photography, Pinterest, magazines and sometimes even how sets from some movies are styled. I also have some friends who are stylists and I will trade my photo services with them for their styling services. When we work together on a test shoot I end up learning so much about how to lay down fabric to show motion, or how to stack blocks or plates so they are a little less than a perfect tower, with some shape and motion to draw you in.

Hanna: Currently I’m on a mission to become a web development guru. I’ve been taking classes at NYU and working towards getting my certificate. So far, they have been great! Being in school makes me feel nostalgic and presenting to my classmates keeps me on my toes design-wise. I have to bring my A-game to class!

How do you recharge your creativity?
I have to walk away at times. I have to have interest and goals outside of work and creativity… although they all seem to find a way back into creativity somehow. I was prepping to run a 10k for my birthday last year (a bunch of my friends in the studio ran it with me also. So I went running while on press to print the Holiday Catalog in Wisconsin. I was running to train and recharge from work and was totally pulled into the amazing beauty of the landscape. I ended up having a terrible day as far as running was concerned, but some of the best photos as I would run 10 ft then stop to snap a shot of another amazing view!

Other times I just need to learn something new or create something just for me. I love knitting, embroidery, bookbinding, cooking, decorating, etc. And I love learning about people who do these things. I live in a great city that gives me the opportunity to go to loads of lectures or meet artist at street fairs. Sometimes hearing someone else talk about something they are passionate about helps me to refocus on my passions.

Adam: Lunchtime walks through the industrial district. And playing ukelele while I wait for files to load.

Nathan: I make sure that, outside of work, I use my creativity for the things I love. I write musical theater, play violin, do craft projects, and whatever else that I can so that I don’t ever feel like my talents are just limited to use at work.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Oh man! That advice is probably the same advice I need today…. lol. Worry less, play more. Seriously, I spend a considerable amount of time concerned and focus on missing a press deadline- or any deadline really. Things generally work out. Even if we go with a back-up plan, we all work hard and find a way to get the job done.

Hanna: You don’t know it all.

Adam: Try to get an internship during college. Work as much in your field as possible, especially with people who are good at what they do.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Michelle Inciarrano & Katy Maslow

January 10, 2013

It only took a short subway ride to get from UncommonGoods headquarters to the Twig Terrariums studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, but when I got there I was surprised at how far away I felt. I stepped into a tiny forest of laughs, puppies, and Lady Gaga songs (OK, there was only one puppy–but you get the idea). It was very clear that the Twig brand is all about the things BFFs Michelle and Katy love most – making beautiful and whimsical living environments inside apothecary jars, achieving their goals, and having fun. Growing up in Brooklyn, they were childhood buddies and reconnected at a friend’s birthday party a decade later. They recharged their friendship with regular craft nights, and when Michelle suggested they try putting together terrariums, Katy had to admit that she didn’t know what one was.

I could give one of Michelle’s famous Braveheart-like speech about how much fun I had in their studio, but I’d rather you hear about why Twig is so successful in Michelle’s own words.

What are your most essential tools?
Our #1 best tool of all time is… wait for it… the “pokey stick.” Yes, a simple dowel. We absolutely love them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Where do you not find inspiration? We are obsessed with making these miniature gardens – and do not understand any other way since we started. We simply cannot fathom an end to creating them and the possibilities are endless. We revel in them.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Plan on needing more space than you think. Seriously. We moved studios 4 times in the last three years. Four times! And when you factor in that most of the stuff to be moved is made of glass, you understand our horror. Luckily, we made it through with surprisingly little broken, but jeez, that was a challenge. And then when you factor in the costs of moving, repairs, storage and design, the enormity of the situation becomes clearer. We still cringe when we think of it! But now we have 3,000 sq feet to play in, and although we still run out of room on occasion, we have an outdoor area to play in when we need a break. And did I mention the 14-foot paper mache tree we built in the middle of the studio? Yes, we now have a 14-foot paper mache tree!

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
I would write the “us of five years ago” a novel! Seriously. A novel. There is so much I’d like to say, but if I had to cut it short, I’d reassure myself by saying that everything is going to be okay, and to stay focused. I’d reassure Katy, too. We worry a lot.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I mind-map with Katy for all long-term goals – this is where we discuss the new things we want to do and create, then break them down into short-term goals, then break those down into to-do lists.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We celebrate everything here at Twig! The staff here are a small family. Or cult. We can’t decide. You can ask them yourself but I have a feeling they’ll say it’s a cult. We all believe in the team “work hard/play hard” philosophy, so while we are happy to have a Mimosa Monday, we may have had a late Friday. We are all self-driven. And finishing everything we had to do on Friday is a victory. It’s usually an impressive list. Taxes are a victory. So is being featured in a magazine, or a wonderfully fun event at New York Botanic Gardens, or winning an award (or four) at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The only rule is that we party after the work is done, but one of my favorite things to do during a long (or particularly packed) day is surprise everyone with a picnic style bbq feast on top of our picnic tables (underneath our paper mache tree, of course). Ribs, fried chicken, mac n cheese, creamed spinach… you get the idea.

Putting together the Unchartered Territory Terrarium.


What quote keeps you motivated?
Katy and I are both English majors (hers in poetry, mine in fine art and classic literature). Never ask English majors for quotes. We’ll inundate you. We can’t help it. There are too many.


Instead, Michelle and Katy shared Twig’s motto “an easily maintained, easily contained life”, something that describes their work ethic as well as their terrariums. They believe that being maintained and contained includes strong goal-setting and super-sized list making–but also playing as hard as you work.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Oddly, we argue. Then we cry. Then we hug. We are happy. Then we create. This happens only every four months or so.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
That’s the thing; there isn’t much down time here during the day. We are a growing a small business here! But once the day is done, there is always beer in the fridge, chips and dip laying about, and stories to share.

Michelle and Katy sat in Prospect Park one day trying to figure out what the name of their creative company would be. The mulled over many choices until Katy reached down, picked up what she refers to as the most perfect twig she has ever seen and made one simple suggestion that stuck. That fateful twig now rests inside this antique apothecary jar in their store.



Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
We collaborate with a few glass blowers to design pieces for us, as well as visualize our designs. We love it!

After spending an hour or so with Michelle and Katy, it was really easy to understand why their terrariums are so popular, why the press can’t stay away, and why fans flock to their studio for workshops and classes. They are all about having fun and getting the work done – especially the really fun work.

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