Design

Art Crush: Denise Fiedler

May 3, 2013

I think I have spring and summer fever. The lingering cold and snow here in Colorado has me daydreaming of warmer temperatures… and crushing on Denise Fiedler’s collages. They capture that easygoing charm of summertime so perfectly.

Denise started making collages in 2009 after one serendipitous bout of spring cleaning. While going through her attic, she stumbled upon a box of vintage books and newsprint, which she’d collected over the years from flea markets. Inspired by her forgotten treasures, she decided to transform these ephemeral materials into works of art. She calls this unique artistic endeavor paste.

The yellowing pages and iconic subject matter give her work a wonderful sense of nostalgia. It’s like we’re looking into the past at a simpler time of bicycle rides, ice cream cones, and family road trips in the ol’ station wagon.

To construct these delicate outlines, she carefully carves silhouettes from the vintage pages and assembles the cutouts to adeptly capture the design and essence of her subjects. Denise draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including architecture, animals, food, and people who have caught her eye.

Which one is your favorite? I think I need the ice cream collage. Just imagine, it would be summer on my wall all year round… that sounds pretty great.

See more from Denise in the Uncommon Artist Gallery and read more about the works featured above: Ice Cream, Sunglasses, Woody, Hydrangeas, Dogs.

Design

How to Win a Design Challenge

May 1, 2013

After facilitating 11 design challenges over the past year, I consider myself our company expert. I sit with the buyers as they sift through the entries to decide on the semifinalist designs that will make it to our community voting app, moderate the final judging session, and communicate with the designers throughout the entire process. I am to the point now where I can anticipate what the buyers will say about each entry and finalist design so I thought it would be helpful for me to share some of my observations.

Of course the final decision always comes down to the design and how well the buyers think it will sell at UncommonGoods, but keeping this advice in mind will help you avoid some road blocks that I have seen make or break the final decision.

PRICING I thought I’d start with the technical stuff to get it out of the way and because this is a really important factor in most design challenges. UncommonGoods is a retailer so we buy artist’s goods at a wholesale price. After we buy your design from you, we still need to make a profit, so we need to have a retail price set with a fair profit margin. We measure gross margin % to gauge profitability. We calculate this with (retail price – wholesale price)/retail price x 100 = GM%.

But if you have only been selling on Etsy and at flea markets, you might not have a wholesale price figured out yet. Many independent sellers are currently selling their items retail at a wholesale price! Stores like UncommonGoods will need to charge almost two times that amount to make a profit, and we won’t want to sell your design at a much higher price than a customer can get it on your site. This might mean going back to the drawing board but a strong pricing structure could really benefit you in the future.

Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson advises, “Research what is out there in the market place and understand the range of retail prices for similar products. Be sure to note the materials and how something is produced (handmade vs. manufactured) in order to understand where the cost is coming from.”

To understand pricing a little more, check out this really informative forum discussion between Etsy sellers.

Tell your product story well and completely! Some artists do a great job telling the story of their design in the Product Description field on our online submission form. Some artists don’t and it can really hurt them. This is the space to let us know all about your inspiration, your artistic process and how the design makes you feel. This is the space to tell our buyers everything you want them to know about you and your art.

If your design is chosen to be a semi-finalist, this is the copy we will edit for grammar and punctuation to use in the community voting stage-so this story won’t just attract our buyers, but also the thousands of voters who will be viewing your design. Good product copy can make or break your chances with the voting community, the buyers, and the rest of the judging panel.

Our buyers love collections. When I sit with a buyer and go through design challenge submission, more often than not we are also visiting an artist’s website to see what else they have. Not because we’re nosy, and not because we don’t like what we see. Our buyers want a sense of an artist’s future as a vendor at UncommonGoods. They’re looking for an artist that will be able to create a collection of similar products. Check out Valerie Galloway and Etta Kostick – former design challenge participants with robust collections.

Be prepared for our inventory demands. Our inventory requests for each design are always different depending on price and category, and our buyers work to create a plan with each designer that is beneficial to both parties. One common question you should be able to answer is “how many of these can you make in a week’s time?” Don’t know the answer to that question because you’ve only ever made one? That’s ok too, but have a plan in place for scaling up. (Get some advice from our current vendors here!)

Send a product sample, NOT a prototype. Most challenges require the semifinalists to send in their design for the buyers to review. Even if a design doesn’t make it into the top five designs that are judged, the buyers will review all the samples that come in. So many other artists are eager to get their designs into our buyers’ hands-but so many times I see samples with unfinished edges and chipping paint. Who knows when you will get another chance.

Send them something that shows the true extent of your talent. Before you send out your sample think, is this something I would send to a paying customer? Remember, when our buyers have your design in their hands they are thinking the exact same thing.

Stay tuned to our Twitter to learn about new design challenges and enter our Art Contest all year round!

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Sharon Hitchcock

April 30, 2013
Sharon Hitchcock, UncommonGoods  Buyer – Jewelry & Accessories

My hometown is…
Hmmm….well, let’s see, I was born in Manhattan so I guess I am a New Yorker, but I lived in Austin, Texas for 9 years (Hook ‘em Horns!), and have also resided in Seattle, Washington, DC, and London. Now I call Brooklyn home.

I’m on the lookout for… 
Jewelry and accessories that are beautifully made with thought and care. Pieces and collections that use materials in a distinctly different way, and have a strong point of view.

I’m inspired by…
People-watching in NYC.

My guilty pleasure is…
Can I have two guilty pleasures? ’80s music is a definite. And, flea markets! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a good flea market.

An uncommon fact about me…
Although I have never considered myself to be very musically inclined, I have taught myself to play the ukulele, which I think is the happiest of all instruments.

My favorite place to eat in New York City is…
For fancy-pants food I love Balthazar. I always feel French glam when I go there. To get my Mexican food fix, I head to La Esquina.

My style is…
Hard to define! After a phase of wearing all black every day, I now embrace colors and patterns. Anything with stripes has been a recent favorite. I also collect vintage jewelry and try to wear something from my collection each day.

Since working at UncommonGoods I’ve learned…
So much! I truly do learn something new each day. I love the collaborative environment here, and how supportive the team is of different ideas and points of view.

With a pile of stuff in front of me I would make…
(You’re given paperclips, yarn, cheesecloth, markers, and plastic beads.)

I would make a mini, colorful, and fabulous Eiffel Tower sculpture.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How To Be a Real Smooth Guy

April 29, 2013

Research
Hard work comes at a price; rough hands! I chose the 7 Day Hand Repair Kit for Men for my experiment because it seemed like the perfect product to give my hands an overhaul. The designer of this kit was a mechanic for 20 years, and his damaged hands pushed him to make this product. Coupled with the fact that I have never tried anything like a hand repair kit before (although my neighbor wore gloves everywhere because she was a hand model), I figured that this might have interesting results.

Hypothesis
I was very active as a teenager, and I work in a warehouse now, so this seemed ideal given that my hands have lost many battles in the hand-aesthetics department. I predict that I will have softer, more moisturized hands by the end of the seventh day of me using this repair kit.

Experiment
I figured that Monday morning would be a good day to start this experiment. I opened the kit, which includes soap, hand repair lotion, knuckle wax, night salve, cotton gloves and butter nub along with instructions.

The instructions on the kit state that there is a morning and evening routine. The first step in the morning routine was to thoroughly wash your hands with the hand scrub soap. The soap actually made my hands feel smooth and soft after using it.

Next, the instructions state that after the soap, I should use the hand repair lotion followed by the knuckle wax. After the first couple of days I did not really notice much of a difference. However, at around the fourth day, my hands did in fact feel somewhat softer.

The evening routine varied slightly. After using the soap and hand repair lotion, the instructions stated that I must coat my hands with the night intense salve instead of knuckle wax and then cover them with the cotton gloves. The main ingredients in the salve were cocoa butter and shea butter, which left my hands shiny and slippery (even after rubbing the moisturizer in for a couple minutes). I left the gloves on overnight and took them off when I woke up the next morning.

The butter nub, which has skin healing oils and is meant for on-the-go moisturizer, took a bit of extra effort to get out of the container as it was of a more solid consistency. My wife described the smell of it as similar to shea butter, although it definitely seemed harder than the night salve. Throughout the seven days of hand repair, I used the butter nub in an attempt to moisturize my hands while at work and home.

Conclusion
My hypothesis was correct. My hands actually felt softer after using the 7 Day Hand Repair Kit for Men. This was a cool experiment that allowed me to improve my hand texture and keep them moisturized. If I did this again, I would probably use less of the butter nub as that seemed to have the least effect on my hands. Overall, though, the morning and night time routine seemed to work after a few days, and now I have great hands! Well, maybe not great, but definitely smoother than before I started using this kit.

Design

Art Crush: Audrey Heller

April 26, 2013

Miniatures fascinate me. Maybe it’s because I watched the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids a lot when I was little. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m 5’3″ and holding tiny things makes me feel like a giant… we’ll never know, but I do know this: Audrey Heller’s photographs are seriously crush-worthy.

Audrey transforms common foods and objects into exciting uncharted worlds for her tiny figurines to explore. Her playful and imaginative juxtapositions create some pretty surreal scenarios. Ordinary objects like grapes, cappuccinos, and breakfast cereal become unfamiliar – even dangerous – landscapes.

Like film stills, Audrey’s photos leave you wondering what came before the scene you’re looking at and, more importantly, what will happen to our tiny protagonists next. I’m a little worried about those scuba divers… I mean, how will they get out of that bowl? What if they get eaten? What happens when that shredded wheat gets soggy? Because you know it will…

Audrey is truly my favorite kind of artist – one who thinks outside the box and inspires us to do the same. You can’t help but use your imagination when looking at her photos. They make you think and that’s really what art should do, right?

Audrey Heller lives and works in her native San Francisco Bay Area. Since 1996, her photographs have been shown, shared, published, and collected around the world.

Get a peek inside Audrey’s studio here and learn more about the works featured above: Ripened, Cafe Society, Challenging Conditions, Bound, Fish Out of Water.