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A Year’s Worth of Winning Designs

January 4, 2013


Happy New Year! We’re excited to see what 2013 will bring, and we have big plans for the next 12 months. We’re planning more sneak peeks Inside the Artist’s Studio, interviews with designers from across the country, behind the scenes looks at what goes on here at UncommonGoods, great gift ideas, and of course, brand new design challenges! But, before we announce our first challenge of the year, we’re taking a look back on the great designs that came to us through our 2012 design challenges and the people who created them.

Last Spring we were already thinking Summer! Our first design challenge focused on sustainable picnic ware from Susty Party. We asked illustrators to send us their summer picnic-themed art, and we saw a big batch of submissions celebrating fun in the sun!

Denae Douglas’ Bicycle design was the judges’ favorite, earning her the grand prize. Her blue bike was stamped on eco-friendlier disposable bagasse plates and cups perfect for picnicking. (We know it’s still January, and it’s cold outside, but we do have a few sets left if you’re looking to stock up for Spring!)

All of the illustrations that came rolling in with the Summer Picnic Challenge had us in the mood for great art, so for our next call for entries we asked artists to send us their artwork for the Art Contest. We asked our online community to pick their favorites, then sent the top 5 designs to our judges for review. In the end, Mathew Amey’s “Jump Off” leaped into our lineup.

Matthew’s piece was limited edition, and didn’t take long to sell out, but art fans need not worry; our buyers loved his work so much, they’re adding more of his illustrations to our assortment.

After the Art Contest we switched it up just a bit, from art you hang to art you take on the go! Our iPhone Art Case Design Challenge was a huge success. We received a slew of votes and comments in the semi-final round and heard some wonderful feedback from the judges in the finals.

The judges loved the techie feel of Naomi Meller’s computer design and chose it to win the grand prize, but our buyers weren’t quite ready to let go of all of that other great artwork! Several design challenge submissions were selected for our iPhone Art Case Collection and became uncommon goods!

Speaking of art on the go, we couldn’t have a year of design challenges without including a call for wearable art–A.K.A. Jewelery–entries! The winner of our 2012 Jewelry Design Challenge was a little different. Not only do we love Kim Jakum’s excellent craftsmanship and fine attention to detail, we also couldn’t stop talking about the unique (and oh-so-sweet!) personalization element of the piece. Kim’s Personalized Children’s Signature Necklace gives the wearer a chance to capture their little ones’ own handwriting in sterling silver.

Then, last Fall, we switched gears again and asked our design community to think bicycles! Submissions to our Bicycle Lovers Design Challenge included helpful bike tools, custom pieces to deck your ride, cycling wear, and art made out of reclaimed bicycle parts, like Laura White’s winning Bicycle Cog Suncatchers.

Laura’s pieces aren’t only beautiful, they also celebrate the sport of cycling and are made from reclaimed materials, which is always a plus here. In fact, we love reclaiming, recycling, and reusing so much that we decided to build a design challenge around the idea. Our final design challenge of the year focused on upcycling, and we saw some seriously clever creations made from materials that would have otherwise been discarded.

The story behind winner Susan Harbourt’s Forget-Me-Not necklace is almost as compelling as the piece itself! The beautiful copper flowers and the wires keeping them in place actually started out as part of the original electrical wiring in her Edwardian era country home. When she and her husband renovated the house, Susan saved the copper and turned it into a winning design.

Susan’s story of creating something new out of something old is surely inspiring, as are the stories of many of our 2012 winners and semi-finalists. If you’re interested in learning even more about what it takes to be design challenge champ, check out our previous roundup for more success stories or check out these tips from a former design challenge winner.

We hope this stroll around the winner’s circle put you in the mood for creative new creations, whether you’re a designer yourself, or a just someone who loves uncommon design! We’re certainly looking forward to a new year full of new goods. If you’re interested in taking part in an uncommon design challenge, see what we have coming up in the next couple months and stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook to see when and how to submit.

January – Garden Decor Design Challenge
February – Woodworking Design Challenge
March – Art Contest 2013

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Audrey Heller

December 6, 2012

I remember the sample meeting (where each week our buyers present uncommon products they’re considering for our line-up) when Audrey Heller’s fantastical photographs were first introduced. The team was immediately captivated by the whimsical scenes, and not a buyer could wait to add her work to our collection.

Remembering the excitement around her creative pieces like End Well, Ripened, and my personal favorite, Bound, I couldn’t wait to get a tour of the studio where Audrey brings her miniature models to life. Since Audrey is in San Francisco, I couldn’t visit her workspace in person; but being a photographer and all, Audrey was happy to snap some photos of her own to provide virtual tour of her studio.

What are your most essential tools?
Eyes. Light. Focus. Patience. NPR. Coffee. And then a bunch of tech stuff.

I was a lighting designer and director for theater, and I use those skills all the time. I create and light my little scenarios, using many of the same design theories that I used on a big stage, but adjusting my tools to tiny scale. So what I would do with a 400 pound follow spot in the theater, I might do with a flashlight in my studio.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love to be surrounded by evidence of creative thinking, reminders of unique places I have been, and objects with histories.

I’ve spent the last twelve years traveling to art shows across the country. That connects me to a huge variety of artists, people who present and support the arts, and arts educators. All of those connections, combined with the array of sublime and ridiculous experiences I have on the road, remind me that there are always new things to explore.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I’ve started to learn to play the ukulele. I have absolutely no musical training or aptitude, so I’m just dreadful. But I’m slowly getting less dreadful, and that’s really amazing. It is hard, it takes a lot of focus, progress is slow…but it is such a sweet and silly little sound that I can’t get too worked up about how bad I am. Working on a three chord song is a great way to reset my brain.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Ha. I usually set goals by committing to an external deadline. Deadlines are great for me, because without them, I would never consider anything finished. So I look for things that will stretch me, maybe scare me and then I say yes. From there, it’s the calendar and lists!

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Theater is the ultimate collaborative art, and I struggle with working alone. I really love working with people, incubating and nurturing ideas.

In this series my collaborators are silent, but essential. The figures I use are made for model train sets, and they all come from the same manufacturer. They are crafted with incredible precision and care, and have made it possible for me to create work with much more depth than if they were not, in themselves, so fascinating.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is its own reward, right? When it’s not, ice cream!*

* San Francisco is the home of some mighty fine purveyors of frozen treats, but I travel a lot, so I’m always interested to hear of new places to try..feel free to offer your suggestions!

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“You are here.”

It is simple, and profound. Sometimes it’s just a locational fact, sometimes it is great ponderable wisdom of the ages. It is a reminder that I often need. My curiosity can become a liability and lead to distraction. When I remind myself to be present just where I am, I get a lot more out of what is in front of me and who I’m with. It’s delightful that the phrase appears in the world, unlooked for. When I see it, even on a map in a subway station, it reminds me to stop and look around.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Serious play is the best recharger for me. Learning, experimenting, trying out new things, can put me in that childlike state of mind where I’m open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I don’t mean “childlike” to sound simple, or superficial. I mean REAL child-like: when the world is fresh and full of wonder, and a little scary and mystifying and out of control.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes. I don’t get better by figuring out how to do things right; I get better by doing things. Jump in.

The Uncommon Life

Our Pin the Halls Pinterest Contest Winner (Plus some Holiday Party Pinspiration!)

December 4, 2012

We’ve been singing carols and craving Christmas cookies since our Pin the Halls Pinterest Contest launched last month. We received just around 100 entries, so picking the winner wasn’t easy. Along the way, we discovered some great recipes, DIY ideas, and tips for planning the perfect holiday party. We couldn’t stand the thought of all this knowledge going the way of the fruitcake (i.e. not getting eaten up), so before we get to the grand prize winner, we’re happy to share these holiday honorable mentions.

The color-coordination and homey feel of Jenny’s board first caught our eye, but her pins that appeal to the stomach are what we love most. We think peppermint bark and sea salt caramels would be a hit with sweet-toothed holiday party-goers, and this gingerbread man in a hot chocolate hot tub is deliciously silly. (Though we do feel just a little bit bad about wanting to bite his head off.)

Mimi’s board also includes bountiful baked goods.

Petite whoopie pies, candy cane cookies, and red velvet cupcakes (in glass jars!).

Mimi’s DIY foodie faves aren’t limited to edibles, though. We also loved this gorgeous sparkling ice wreath.

We love the idea of a DIY party, and Amy’s board is packed with great ideas.

Goofy backgrounds for holiday pictures, a fully-decked table, and recycled paper gift wrap are a few of our favorites.

We adore this bit of decor–which can also double as an advent calendar or a fun way to display gift bags filled with party favors.

We also love the idea of incorporating vintage finds into the holiday festivities. Missy’s board features more than a few pieces the Ghost of Christmas Past would surely appreciate.

Vintage-inspired candy cane gift wrapping that Missy said reminds her of her grandma, red and white striped luggage that could double as an offbeat decoration, and vintage versions of some classic characters.

Another of Missy’s pins really stands out too, but not because of its vintage vibe. We just think this green Grinch martini would make a great addition to any party this time of year.

That sweet and sour holiday drink concludes our honorable mention round-up, but before you run off to throw a holiday bash of your own, don’t forget to browse the winning board.

Zillie Zallie’s beautifully blue-tiful collection strays from the traditional red and green, but still feels very jolly.

Her uncommon pins include frostbite mocktails (perfect for those who’d rather avoid the spiked eggnog), blue and white cake pops (that look delightfully like ornaments), candy doing double-duty as decor, and these luminous blue lights.

Please help us congratulate Zillie Zallie on winning an UncommonGoods holiday shopping spree, and don’t forget to spread the holiday spirit by visiting all of our favorite Pin the Halls boards to repin the recipe for your perfect holiday party!

***We had such a great time pinning and party-planning that we couldn’t wait until next December to hold another contest! Enter Pin the Halls–Part 2 for another chance to win a holiday shopping spree!***

The Uncommon Life

Positively Inspiring Reusable Graphics

October 30, 2012

Positivity is contagious. Sharing a kind word, a thank you note, or even a smile can start a chain reaction. With this in mind, Amy Humes created her Positive Message Graphics, reusable stickers that let you spread happiness, inspiration, peace, and the power within. We love Amy’s idea so much, we decided to take her message to the web. Feel free to pin, tweet, like, and share these encouraging buttons as reminders that optimism really can go viral.

These Reusable Positive Message Graphics are available as a set of 4 large canvas stickers, so you can place them anywhere where you or a loved one may look when in need of words of encouragement.

Design

How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs

October 23, 2012


We are excited to host our 4th How To Make It event on October 29, Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, a topic we hold very close to our heart. Our panel will be weighing in on sourcing reclaimed materials, the legal implications of calling a design “green”, and setting up an environmentally friendly business and work space.

As always, we want our guests to stick around after the panel discussion for refreshments and networking with the panel, other local creatives and UncommonGoods staff – we know you’re dying to get your cards in the hands of our buyers!

RSVP for the event through our How To Make It page.

Maker Stories

Meet Laura White, Bike Lovers Design Challenge Winner

October 15, 2012

The entries to our Bike Lovers Design Challenge ranged from the beautiful (stunning and evocative art about bikes) to the practical (sturdy and useful bike accessories). We were delighted by all of them. Perhaps because winter is coming, the entry that tickled our fancy the most was a suncatcher.

Laura White’s Bicycle Cog Suncatchers are lovely pieces of everyday art. They creatively combine upcycled metal bike parts with colorful, translucent inlays to harness the sun’s light and create a stained glass effect.

We asked Laura about her crafty, bike-y life.

What’s the weather like where you live? Is there a lot of sun?

For the last four years I’ve lived in Southwestern Virginia, prior to that I had spent my entire life in Michigan. The biggest draw to this area was the mountain biking. It is an outdoor lover’s heaven. We have some of the best mountain biking in the world. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the edge of town, so there is also great road cycling.
The weather is very mild, at least compared to Michigan. Lots of sun and blue skies.

How did you first get into making things and being crafty? What kinds of things did you make back then?
I think I’ve always been into crafting. As a kid my favorite part of school and day camps was the arts and crafts. I was also heavily influenced by my grandmother, who did a lot of crafting. She taught me to knit, and one summer we sewed a doll. She was also good at saving household items that would normally be discarded, and using them in craft projects.

How did you get into biking, and when did it turn into a major passion?
I rode my bike a lot as a kid, both for recreation and as a way to get around before I could drive. I left it behind once I got a car. But then in my 30s I attended a bike race with a friend and decided that I had to do that. So I bought a bike and began training and racing. My love of cycling has grown from there. I don’t race much anymore, but cycling as a lifestyle and as transportation has become something that I am passionate about.

What was the inspiration for your Bicycle Cog Sun Catcher?
I had been making items out of recycled bike parts for several years. Several years ago, I had a daydream. Fast forward almost three years, I now I have a beautiful daughter (and a piano). I still have to work a regular job, but supplement with crafting.

I had made bike chain stars for several years and was growing tired of making the same thing and wanted to make something more “fun.” Something that would be colorful and cheerful instead of just metallic and hard. I had a sun catcher hanging above my daughters changing table that she loved. I liked the way the sun hit it. One of those fun craft projects I did as a kid was to make suncatchers in the oven. I decided to try to use the cogs as a medium for the suncatchers.

What other things do you like to make? What are you best at? Worst?
I really like anything that’s art or crafty. I love to knit, that is probably one of the things I am best at. Painting is probably the thing I am “worst” at. I love to paint but find that I am too much of a perfectionist when it comes to painting and tend to ruin the pictures by trying to making them look real and perfect. If I could embrace the abstract a little better I would probably be better at painting.

Is there any common theme, style, approach, or thought process to most or all of your craftwork?
Biking tends to be a common theme in my craftwork. I think I just love biking so much that I try to incorporate it into my life. Even my knitted items tend to have a bike theme or little bikes knitted into them. I also try to make things that are practical and I can use. That’s typically how a project starts. I’ll see something that I need and my first thought will be “can I make that?”

Do you enjoy making things out of things that would otherwise be discarded?
I do. I try very hard to live a sustainable lifestyle, which is part of the reason why I love cycling as opposed to driving. I try to limit the amount of waste I create by reusing and recycling items. I often find myself saving things that would typically be discarding, thinking, “I bet I can make something with that.”

What’s your favorite thing that someone has said about something you made?
When someone responds to something I’ve made by first being impressed that it was crafted for them and then saying “You should sell these.”
I recently received a picture from a mom that purchased a couple of suncatchers. It was of her daughter admiring them. I like when other people find joy and beauty in the things I’ve made.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio: Tiffany Threadgould of TerraCycle

October 12, 2012

This month we have the pleasure of hosting our fourth design event, How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, at which Tiffany Threadgould will speak on our panel. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at TerraCycle, a long time vendor of UncommonGoods with a penchant for turning trash into treasure. Now operating in 20 countries across the globe, Terracycle offers recycling services to large companies and creative products for consumers, like our Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Tiffany leads the team of designers who are tasked with taking an unwanted product or package and creating a piece that will impress.

We were unable to take train ride across the river to Trenton, New Jersey to visit the TerraCycle headquarters first hand but Tiffany was willing to share her studio with us. Enjoy!

What are your most essential tools?
The industrial sewing machine and heat press machine are two machines we can’t live without. Just about any solution from flexible waste can be solved with one or both of those machines.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?
Inspiration often starts with the material itself. We work with a lot of waste that has logos and branding on it so we’re always tying the original purpose of the material back into the finished product. Colgate toothpaste tubes can be transformed into a travel kit. Baby food pouches become a diaper bag or bib. Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There’s not a lot of down time in the office. If we don’t have urgent sample requests for our brand partners, then we’ll refocus on new, upcycled décor for the office. [Decorating with repurposed materials] is not only an inexpensive way to refurnish our office, but is also the best sales tool to demonstrate our commitment to what we do. An old bowling alley was turned into a conference table, soda bottles and vinyl records became room dividers. Nothing is waste to us. It’s all material for our next project.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer?
Measure twice, cut once.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Try to get the word “NO” out of your vocabulary. I’ve worked at TerraCycle for over 4 years and it really has taught me to push the upcycled envelope on waste materials. Prior to working here I was always choosier about the materials I worked with. At TerraCycle there is a need to find a solution to everything that comes our way – yogurt lids, cigarette butts, you name it. My job is to make sure we find an upcycled product for any material that comes to us.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Goals come directly from our project assignments. We hit a goal whenever we finish a big project like an office makeover; complete a challenging project for a brand partner, or creating a new product line for our awesome retail partners like UncommonGoods.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Our CEO, Tom Szaky, started a tradition of “gong hits”. We have an actual gong in the office and whenever something major is accomplished you actually ring the gong and then send an email to the company. TerraCycle is in over 20 countries now, so we can share good news and positive energy with our distant offices this way.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Traditional crafts techniques can always be applied to new waste materials. I recently learned to braid with bread bags and food wrappers and that was a fun “twist” on an old technique.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This quote came to me from Daniel Freitag when I was working on my graduate thesis titled Trash Nouveau – “Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products.”

How do you recharge your creativity?
Caffeine is always the perfect tool to help recharge.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work with an amazing design team at TerraCycle. We all bring different skills and talents to the table (a table made from upcycled wine barrels and doors, of course). We do a great job of blending our backgrounds of Industrial Design, Textiles, Architecture, and more to create unique design solutions for recycled materials. Hurray for upcycling!

Design

How To Make It: Scaling Up Event Videos

September 21, 2012

Last month we hosted our 4th How To Make It panel event and networking happy hour in Brooklyn, NY. Over 100 guests showed up to powerHouse Arena to hear our panelists, Rachel Rheingold of Maptote, Jesse James and Gus Anangopolous of Aesthetic Movement and artist Jenny Krauss of SAFEFA, talk about their experiences in scaling up their business. But a lot of you couldn’t make it so we wanted to share some of our favorite moments of the night. Check out these videos of the panelists sharing their advice and anecdotes.

Rachel describes how Maptote is run and who takes on what tasks.

The group talks about the best way to bring your designs to a trade show for the first time.

Does size matter? Jenny talks about the effects of press placements in big magazines and small newsletters on her sales.

Rachel shares ways of figuring out where your designs fit in the marketplace and keeping your eyes (and ears) open to new opportunities.

The panel discusses the measures that should, and shouldn’t, be taken to protect your intellectual property.

Or watch the whole discussion in its entirety!

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