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Maker Stories

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

Eric’s Hallucinogenic Design Wins Art Contest!

July 18, 2014

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods

It’s no secret that Eric Tonzola, our latest Art Contest winner, creates some prettytrippy designs. While observing his futuristic artwork, I feel like I’m jumping into a fantasy world where unicorns probably exist, the world wide web (fortunately) does not, and the sweet moments that we usually don’t notice are slowed down and captured. Here at UncommonGoods we want to add artwork into our assortment that will not only sit pretty in your new renovated bathroom, but will help paint a specific atmosphere that tinkers with your creative imagination. In this case, the atmosphere that Eric exudes is euphoria and reverie — a theme I wouldn’t mind welcoming into my home. Meet Eric Tonzola and find out about his “hallucinogenic” techniques, where he finds inspiration when it’s lost, and what his biggest vice is when it comes to focusing on his artwork.
Hallucinogenic Landscape | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoodsWhat’s an Uncommon fact about your hometown?
I live in Lancaster City, PA and although it is a small town and small city it is chockfull of incredible artist and musicians. Lancaster is such a beautiful place and there is always some new small business opening up and new artists popping up all the time. The music scene has been blowing up and has really been putting its self on the creative map. Our fresh produce, indoor market has been rated one of 10 in the world. It’s a very amazing town and uncommon in its own way.

How did you come up with your Hallucinogenic Landscape design for our Art Contest?
Whenever I start working on one of my digital pieces I usually start off by thinking of a out of worldly landscape. An ocean on a moon of a far off world or a thick foggy forest from another dimension. Something along those lines but for the piece I entered for the contest my concept was based on a serene mountain pass that looks almost heavenly. A futuristic landscape with radiant colors that takes you to a place that you could only dream of.

Tell us about your journey into becoming an artist.
Ever since I was young I always loved to draw. I would get into trouble a lot in school and church when I was young because I would sit and draw on everything. So I guess it was just natural that I would start to create more and more as I grew up. After high school I went to college to become a graphic artist. While in college I fell in love with illustrating and designing. Ever since then I have been fine tuning my different styles and techniques.

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods

Other than being an artist, is there anything else that you do?
Oh, Yes, Totally. I do love music… a lot. I play guitar (not the best) but it is something I really enjoy. The best is when I can get together with friends and jam. My younger brother is a really great drummer and I think him and I may start playing more together which is exciting. I also do have a full time job as a graphic designer. Working for a home décor company never seemed like something I would enjoy, considering the style of my personal work, but I have grown to love it. I create stuff your mom or aunt might have in hanging on her wall.

What different techniques do you use when creating your designs?
Over the years my different styles have really developed right down the middle. Creating designs digitally and illustrating things by hand. When creating illustrations or paintings I use mostly inks. I love using ink. It has such a richness to it and I feel like its very versatile. At times I also  like to use acrylics and honestly when painting, depending on the mood, I will use any material at my disposal. So I guess that half is mix media. My digital work I use mostly Photoshop and it is a combinations of over layering and blending a multitude of different images together to create the final design.

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods

Are there any major projects, collaborations, or ideas you’re working on now?
I honestly don’t have a lot of projects going on right now. Some ideas I have are brewing but nothing has solidified yet, but keep your eyes peeled.

What was the toughest lesson you learned while being an artist?
Not to beat yourself up too much when you have a block.  Being an artist is exciting but its also almost a privilege, I feel. I have come into this world with abilities and talents that not everyone has and although exciting it can also be stressful. Whenever I am in a block I try to just enjoy everything else in life. If I try to force new ideas or new work it usually ends up worse and more frustrating. When I step away and just enjoy every moment of life, the next thing you know I find myself six hours into an illustration, a whole new concept for a project, and planning on shows and what to do. It comes naturally.

Where do you picture yourself 5 years from now?
5 years older. Haha. No, I’m not too sure. I have a lot of ideas of what I want to do with my art but the skys the limit so I just need to pursue everything that comes my way and hopefully in 5 years I will just be that much more successfully and develop my work even further.

Hallucinogenic Waterfall | UncommonGoodsAre there any particular graphic designers or bloggers you look up to when it comes to your area of design?
Recently there is no one person I specifically look too. I see a lot of amazing work out there and pull a little from everything I see that grabs me. One blog site I love to check out is butdoesitfloat.com. Very cool, eclectic work comes through there.

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods
Where do you go or what do you do when your inspiration is completely lost?
I like to go hiking and just be outside. I will sometimes walk to the park and just lay in the grass on a hill and look up at the sky and try to clear my mind. Maybe go see a movie but, like I had said earlier, when I am uninspired I try to just enjoy life and it comes to me naturally.

Do you have any secret vices that causes immense procrastination? How do you monitor this vice?
Well, honestly just laziness, sometimes. Well, maybe not laziness, but when you work all day as a designer (which I do love and I design everyday) it gets hard to get yourself to sit down and keep working. Some of my work can take hours and I don’t always have the time. So I guess its more or less just keeping organized and focused on my work that can be difficult. I also spend a lot of time just hanging out with my friends. Love them to death, but they can be a distraction. Although, I wouldn’t change that for anything..

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work into our next design challenge?
Just have confidence in your work. Never hurts to try, and try, and try again.

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.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods
What are your most essential tools?
My hands.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My inspiration comes from working the clay, and inside my head… that’s where the designs come from.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhere does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time??? I am supposed to have down time??? Elwood disagrees! (Though we do have company outings, and frequent lunches where we attempt to take turns making various foods for all to enjoy.)

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I was never a “young” designer. I started learning to make pottery when I was 40+ years old. The best lesson I learned was the harder you worked, the luckier you got!

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhat advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Advice to the me of five years ago…learn bookkeeping.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I set goals HIGH… then stretch to reach them.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhat quote keeps you motivated?
I don’t have only one quote… there are several: “If you argue for your limitations, then all you get is to keep them.” “Well-behaved women never make history.” “Never teach a pig to sing… it’s a waste of your time and it only annoys the pig.” “Behind every successful woman is a man who’s surprised.” I guess what they all mean to me is that you have to keep going, keep motivated and put your energy where it will do the most good.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
New skills? Every day is an opportunity to learn something, but I am not attending workshops or classes personally.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsHow do you recharge your creativity?
Vodka, definitely vodka.

Where does collaboration come into play with you craft?
Pottery is one on one, me and the clay. However, when I come up with a new design, I do run it past my crew to see if it will be viable. As an artist, though, I tend to make things I like, things I’d like to have around me.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods

Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn | UncommonGoods