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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Phil Thompson

January 14, 2015

Phil Thompson | UncommonGoods

Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, Jeanne Gang—some of the greatest, most renowned names in architecture–have marked their space on the Chicago skyline. Their skyscrapers, public buildings, and homes in the Windy City have shaped modern design over the centuries. It is no wonder, then, why illustrator Phil Thompson finds inspiration in Chicago’s Prairie Style bungalows, classic six-flat brick Craftsman buildings, and skyscraping architectural landmarks. As a recently departed Chicagoan, I can attest that Phil and his wife and studio mate, Katie, live in one of those architecturally remarkable apartments that most of us dream of finding. Built in 1912, the Craftsman flat has many of its original Deco fixtures and warm, comforting wood detailing.
A colleague here at UncommonGoods tipped me off to Phil’s intricate custom home portraits. The cleanliness of his structured, blueprint-like approach suitably matches the sparseness of his studio. He surrounds himself just with what he needs: drawing paper, a basket full of trusty micro-pens, and drafting tools. There are a few exceptions to the sparseness—all of which are largely contained within a small bulletin board—a calendar, the usual lists of to-dos, and some inspirational quotations. Phil also prominently displays a beautiful postcard-size watercolor by his grandmother to remind him of his artistic roots.
I am always thoroughly impressed and warmed by artists that are able to seamlessly and successfully blend their passions and skills. Phil and Katie are two of those artists. He pairs his discerning eye and exacting hand with a passion for accurately rendering architectural styles and the home. Phil’s Classic Home Portraits honor those places where we build memories, families, and community.

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Maker Stories

Wishes Do Come True: Jill Davis’ Glass Globes

January 12, 2015

Jill Davis always knew she wanted to be in the business of creativity. Growing up just outside of Boston, MA, she was immediately drawn to the rich arts and culture resources the city had to offer. Visits to the Museum of Fine Arts in her stroller gave way to a summer internship in high school. “In retrospect, I can’t believe the museum staff hired me,” says Jill, “I was the only high school student—all the others were graduate students!” Despite her young age, Jill began working on a project to organize all of the exhibition photos in the museum archive. Her favorite part of the job, however, was exploring the decorative arts and period furniture sections.

Jill Davis | UncommonGoods

 

This sparked a lifelong passion in three-dimensional art. Before finding her way to glass, Jill worked with a variety of techniques and materials. From clay and metal to jewelry and paper, Jill eventually settled on fashion, making all of her own clothes. “It was the early ’80s and I wanted to look like I was in a rock and roll band, preferably Van Halen or KISS.” Jill went on to sell those clothes at small stores in Boston and Cambridge before enrolling at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.

During her freshman year studying fashion, Jill realized her clothes were more akin to wearable “sculptures” than they were “fashion.” She knew she wanted to stay at Parsons so she began exploring their different departments. The day she walked into the glass studio and saw molten glass for the first time, her search was over. “Glass is the most challenging and rewarding material I have ever encountered,” says Jill. “You can’t bully it—you are perpetually persuading and coaxing the glass into shape. Even the best living master glass blowers cannot always get the glass to do what they want! It’s this feisty streak that keeps me enchanted.”

Jill began working with the New York Experimental Glass Workshop, spending the next 15 years creating one-of-a-kind fine art sculptures. “It was absolutely great, and I didn’t mean to stop doing it—starting my company was a happy accident,” says Jill. After leaving New York and moving to rural Washington State, Jill realized that Washington was a bit lacking in terms of 24/7 public transportation. She needed a car and she didn’t want to take out a big loan to get one. Thus began her Car Project. “Glassblowers are lucky,” says Jill, “instead of waiting tables, we can blow Christmas ornaments, go set up a card table at a craft fair, and at the end of the day, you can generally count on having sold most of them.” She designed a small collection of affordably priced items and by the end of the year was able to buy a brand new car—in cash. She was also able to start her company, Henrietta Glass. Her innovative Wishing Ball followed shortly.

Wishing Ball | UncommonGoods

The Wishing Ball was inspired by an NPR story Jill was listening to while she blew some bud vases. A woman told a story about wishing on pennies as a way to heal a broken heart. Realizing that a penny couldn’t buy a wish these days, she began saving her wishes in a jar. Her wish came true at $4.73. Inflation much? This story inspired Jill to create a container for lucky pennies, though a container for pennies ended up amounting to a classic piggybank. Jill realized she was more interested in wishes than pennies, and so began to create a vessel that echoed both crystal balls and snow globes—“two other glass traditions that encourage us to gaze both inward and outward to explore new possibilities.”

The ball itself is hand blown from a blob of 2000 degree molten glass. The clear glass is rolled in bits of copper and cobalt glass called frit in order to produce an ethereal turquoise color. “It’s just like putting sprinkles on ice cream, only screaming hot,” says Jill. The glass is then carefully shaped with a bubble inflated within it. A separate bit of molten glass is affixed to the ball to form the foot. Once assembled, the whole piece slowly cooled in an oven over twelve hours.

Jill Davis Creating the Wishing Ball

The perfect spot to stow wishes, give thanks, or make a resolution for the New Year, the Wishing Ball presents an inspirational opportunity to put your hopes where you can see them. What’s Jill’s wish for the Wishing Ball? “I’d like people to see their Wishing Ball as a little bit of help or inspiration toward a positive future. Deciding what to write on each piece of paper may be an opportunity to focus and clarify your thoughts.” Her resolution for the New Year? To make sure she keeps doing things that make her uncomfortable, things that challenge her.

“The wonderful American furniture artist Wendell Castle, a hero of mine, has a list of 10 ‘rules’ to live and make art by,” says Jill. “One of those rules is that if you hit the bull’s eye every time, you are standing too close to the target.” This inspiration to constantly push herself lends perfectly to the idea behind the Wishing Ball. Set goals, make a wish, and make changes.

People often ask Jill why the wishes can’t come back out, and her explanation can be summed up with birthday candles. “When you blow out you candles, you don’t tell the wish you made, otherwise it won’t come true.” Says Jill. “But more importantly, memories are always more beautiful than photographs, and the same is true of wishes. When you look at the little slips of paper accumulating in your Wishing Ball, I want you to think about the Big Picture those messages convey. Rereading the notes would be like looking backwards, or trying to step in the same river twice.”

Take home Jill Davis' Wishing Ball from UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Graffiti Jewelry: Off the Streets, into Art

December 17, 2014

Amy Peterson and Diana Sebastian Small | UncommonGoods

Detroit got its nickname, Motor City, from its once booming automotive industry. For the last few decades, as the American automobile industry has declined, Detroit has deterioriated along with it. But over the last decade or so, creative types have been attracted to Detroit’s low real estate costs. Entrepreneur Amy Peterson is one of the creative small business owners helping to give Detroit a new identity–and she’s making a positive impact on her community in the process.

Amy, who has lived in Detroit for 8 years now, saw the beauty in chips of fallen graffiti around her neighborhood. While those flakes of old paint were once reminders of the city’s decay, Amy and a team of artisans are now turning bits of urban detritus into stunning symbols of rebirth.

Graffiti Jewelry Collection | UncommonGoods

Amy and her business partner Diana Russell work with area women from local shelters to transform the fallen paint into unique jewelry designs, including necklaces, earrings, and cufflinks.

Although Amy and Diana both have backgrounds in jewelry making, their current business wasn’t founded solely to produce fashionable pieces. According to The Daily Beast, when inspiration for the Graffiti Jewelry Collection stuck, Amy was already on the lookout for a way to help her community. Since she lived near a local shelter, she had spent time listening to the stories of women in need. She realized that the short-term housing provided by shelters doesn’t provide a long-term solution to the problem of unemployment.

Through experimentation with the graffiti pieces, Amy and Diana developed a technique for creating stone-like paint “gems” with brilliant layers of color, reminiscent of (and sometimes even more vibrant than) the original street art.

 

Creating Graffiti Jewelry

No existing art pieces or buildings are harmed to gather the paint. “We collect the graffiti once it crumbles off the walls in the city of Detroit, ” said Amy. ” We take it through a special process to reveal all of the layers that make up the scrap piece of graffiti.  It creates a beautiful palette of colors that serves as the inspiration for the women we hire. They cut out whatever shape and color speaks to them.”

The Detroit Free Press beautifully describes this process as turning “nondescript sheets of paint scavenged from alleyways and weedy lots” into  “a shocking kaleidoscope of color.”

 

Graffiti Jewelry Process

Amy said that she considers herself fortunate to have met each and every one of the six woman that her small business now employees. “We plan on continuing to grow and help more women in our community,” she said. “Each piece of jewelry that we sell goes directly to supporting that mission.”

In addition to giving the female artisans she works with full-time employment, Amy’s company also helps them connect with organizations that provide further assistance.

“We have been able to offer [our employees] free legal aid thanks to the generosity of Foley Lardner, women’s empowerment classes thanks to Yodit Mesfin at Lips and Hips, a host of supportive services thanks to Focus Hope and Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS), Digital Inclusion provide[s] affordable computers, [services from ] Community Social Ventures, and financial advising from Lauryn Williams at Waddell & Reed Inc.,” Amy explained.

 

Making Graffiti Jewelry | UncommonGoods

The financial management, business education, and life wellness skills that these programs teach allow the women to successfully transition from shelter situations to independence.

Taking part in the creative process and developing the technical skills required to produce the jewelry pieces also has a positive impact on the women who craft these designs. “It really helps enhance their confidence when they create beautiful works of wearable art that customers are proud to wear,” said Amy.

That confidence shines through in every perfectly polished piece of Graffiti Jewelry; and, much like the many customers who have told Amy and her team how proud they are to wear these designs that are as meaningful as they are beautiful, we’re proud to show off this collection in our assortment.

 

Graffiti Jewelry Artists

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Judi Powers

December 11, 2014

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

When I received the smile-from-ear-to-ear news that I would be visiting Judi Powers’ workspace for a studio tour, I didn’t even try to hold back my excitment. As the go-to person who organized the design challenges from our Brooklyn headquarters, it wasn’t every day that I was able to schmooze with our talented design challenge winners in person. And being Judi’s number one fan girl, I knew this studio tour would be a special one.

I first met Judi at one of our How To Make It design events – not knowing that she was one of our contestants who submitted an entry into our Jewelry Design Challenge months before. I complimented the gorgeous necklace she was wearing, and that’s when she revealed to me that she actually tried to submit that same piece into one of our past Jewelry Design Challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. I immediately knew which entry she was speaking of – a poorly lit photo that didn’t capture the beautiful craftsmanship I saw in person. I told her to submit again with better photos, and didn’t think I’d hear from her anytime soon. Less than a month later, Judi sent in another submission except this time – with much better photos. After passing through three rounds of judging and receiving samples of Judi’s work, it was apparent that the jewelry judges were in love with the handmade A Tree Grows Necklace and crowned her our next jewelry grand prize winner.

Since then, Judi has repeatedly told me that her jewelry career has blossomed. She’s added two more lovely designs into our assortment (including this eye-catching Ear Climber) and has become an irreplaceable member of the shared space studios of Brooklyn Metal Works tucked away in the streets of Brooklyn — where she creates more of her nature-inspired pieces. Meet Judi Powers, an artist and advocate for sustainable jewelry, positive thinking, and good ol’ second chances.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Ronda J Smith

November 14, 2014

Ronda J. Smith Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Studio tours are one of my favorite things about being a part of the blog team here at UncommonGoods; it’s impossible for me to leave a creative space and not feel fascinated, energized, and most of all – inspired. (Okay, and maybe a wee bit jealous.) There’s always new designer lingo, unusual tools, or interesting processes I discover when stepping inside a vendor’s creative haven, and my social media-obsessed alter ego immediately wants to Instagram and tweet everything I see.

Ronda J Smith’s In The Seam studio is absolutely no exception. From her super-duper mega printers to real life Pinterest-like wall quotes and images to her beloved chair that’s showered with eye cut-outs, my curiosity ran wild – and then ran some more. Yet, as much as I adored her studio, it wasn’t exactly In The Seam’s home that got me pumped up for life and wanting to run out the door to simply make something, anything. It was Ronda. She led me to not only feel like I took two shots of espresso, but was ready to conquer the world. I was on a high. Ronda’s energy and enthusiasm towards her craft, projects, and space was overwhelmingly contagious and uplifting. It taught me that whatever I’m doing in life – I should always have that much passion for it, nothing less.

Meet spunky Ronda J Smith, maker of our Indulgent Foods, Elements of NYC, and Custom Pet Pillows. Step inside her studio and be prepared to feel your creative juices flow.

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