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Art

Maker Stories

Tony Holman’s Problem-Solving Pottery

June 9, 2016
Tony Holman | UncommonGoods

Tony Holman working in his Plano, TX studio, photos by NéQuana Rollings

 

“Being a full time artist is never easy, but it’s certainly worth the hard work (and gray hairs),” says Tony Holman, a potter who makes practicality and purpose look good.

Tony began honing his pottery skills almost 40 years ago at Indiana University, fine tuned them soon after at Bloomington Pottery, and now runs his own studio in Plano, Texas. It’s here where he creates his line of handcrafted helpers that play a vital part in the well-appointed kitchen.

Statues in the Holman's yard

Tony created these statues in grad school. They now stand in the Holmans’ garden

His kitchen creations—an all-in-one fondue warmer and platter setself-draining utensil caddy, and omelet maker that turns out fluffy eggs in 45 seconds flat, to name a few—are an irresistible blend of form and function.

Utensil Draining Caddy | UncommonGoods

Utensil Draining Caddy | UncommonGoods

 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studios: A Year of Creativity

January 8, 2016

Inside the Artists' Studios | UncommonGoods

One of the most exciting things about serving as Editor of The Goods is that there’s always a Maker Story right around the corner. I am honored to get opportunities to meet talented artists, to see what they make and how they make it, and– when I’m extra lucky– to actually step inside their creative spaces. Over the past year, I had the pleasure of visiting several artists and seeing them in action, as did a few of our blog contributors, photographers, and buyers.  

From woodworking to weaving to jewelry making and beyond, we saw so much creativity last year that we couldn’t help but give our 2015 Studio Tours one more chance to shine before heading out with cameras and notepads to capture more inspirational moments in the year to come. Here are a few hand-picked highlights from those Studio Tours, complete with a few inspirational quotes, photos that made me want to drop everything and start a new creative project on the spot, and plenty of great advice. 

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Can’t I Shoot My Favorite Painting?

December 6, 2015

Smartphone Spy Lens | UncommonGoods

Before the age of smartphones, most museums had a no-photo, not-even-without-flash, don’t-even-think-about-it policy. There were multiple reasons for shutting down shutterbugs: first, concern over copyright of artwork and nefarious reproduction; second, good security practice meant museums didn’t want would-be crooks conducting “research;” third, flashes degrade painting pigments and delicate works on paper over time; fourth—and maybe most surprising—looking through a viewfinder makes people clumsy. In other words, you’re more likely to back into a rare sculpture or fall into a priceless painting. Now that everyone has a sophisticated camera in their pocket, it’s a whole new ballgame, and museums are challenged to adapt. Many have embraced the crowd-sourcing potential of social media, letting people Instagram-away as a means of engagement and creative looking. Improved security systems have made casing the joint with a camera less of an issue, but distracted, selfie-stick wielding visitors remain a threat to collections. So, next time you say “cheese” in front of a Van Gogh or O’Keefe, just check the museum’s photo policy and take care. When you shoot artwork, don’t shoot to kill.

Smartphone Spy Lens | $20

Maker Stories

Poster Precursors: A Look at Tim Sanders’ Sketchbooks

October 26, 2015

Artist’s sketchbooks, notebooks, drawing pads–whatever term you prefer–have been objects of study, fascination, and even obsession for museum curators, art appreciators, collectors, and the like. Sketchbooks contain the process people often struggle and crave to understand about art: how an artist germinates ideas, eliminates the unattractive ones, and gradually evolves those ideas to their final form. The creative process is allusive and captivating, and I like to think of the sketchbook as treasure map to understanding that process.

 A Grand Treasury of Shakespearean Insults | UncommonGoods

Tim Sanders, who created A Grand Treasury of Shakespearean Insults and 1980s Slang Chart with his wife Aurelia, was kind enough to share some of his sketchbook pages with me on a recent visit to his studio in Seattle, WA. His sketchbooks were large, maybe 11×14, and made of that delightfully thick, creamy artist’s drawing paper. Tim’s sketchbooks were among the most organized I’ve ever laid eyes on. Instead of the John Cage-like scribbles and quickly jotted phrases that seem like a secret code only the creator would understand, many of the pages I peeked contained a grids of small squares. These squares represent poster ideas–hundreds of them.

Tim and Aurelia Sanders | UncommonGoods

One of my favorites appears prominently at the top left corner of the page and reads “Practice Bravery.” Cleverly, Tim has drawn out Bravery in a script of small hash marks, confined by guiding lines. This brings to mind memories of staring at the the poster guides for learning cursive that hung in my fourth-grade classroom, a memory made more poignant by the fact that we rarely use script in this digital age. Some of Tim’s ideas are a bit more sarcastic, especially when speaking to the workplace.

Tim's Sketches of Future Art Posters

Another favorite of mine reads “NOTICE: Work meetings crush the soul.” This warning resonates with most of us who work in an office, and putting it on a poster means that when we see it, we can all nod our collective heads in agreement that meetings can, in fact, crush the soul! As an art director and former playwright, Tim certainly has a knack for using his art to reflect the times and engage his viewers.

Tim Sanders' Sketchbook

To develop and push his ideation, Tim has a system for selecting the most worthy of his poster candidates to continue to the next level of development. Across the pages are clues of a cryptic system of black check marks, green hearts, and green dots, some of which are circled with blue pencil. Instead of asking Tim to hand over the key to his editing notations, I prefer they remain part of the mystical creative process. Tim’s sketches and notations are less like accurate GPS directions, and more like a treasure map illuminating milestones along his creative path from idea to final piece. Undoubtedly, there will be unexpected twists and turns to reach the poster.

Inside Tim's Studio

See the Collection - Tim and Aurelia Sanders | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Teri Stratford

October 19, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the people behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Teri Stratford, the artist behind our vibrant new botanical prints, A Visual Poem, Twilight, and Firefly Festival Fireworks.

Teri Stratford

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I always knew I was an artist so there never was a “when.”

What’s been the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?

The sheer joy of doing something that just makes me giggle with delight on a regular basis. Seeing people’s delightful reaction to my work and what miracle happens next!

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What does your typical day in the studio look like?

I might research photos online for reference of animals such as horses, turtles, geese, cats, fish in different positions; underwater or mountain landscapes.  Go over orders to fill.  Do some printing to replenish my inventory.  Or, much more fun….go collect leaves in my yard or go for a walk with a backpack to fill up.  Or pull interesting leaves from my stash and play with arrangements on my illustration board and see what happens.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?

I have a puja in my studio, a place for meditation.  The room vibrates with spiritual energy, the source of joy and creativity.  I am happy in this room!

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Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartener for the first time. What do you think they would say?

“Wow…. Mom!  Look at this?  Can I take this home?  This is really cool… ” (I actually had this happen with a 7 year old boy!)

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
“I am the vibrational energy that creates WORLDS!!!  My creativity is endless….”

Firefly Festival Fireworks by Teri Stratford | UncommonGoods

See Teri's Collection | UncommonGoods

The Uncommon Life

12 More Quotes that Keep Makers Motivated

August 14, 2015

A while back, we rounded up a series of inspirational quotes that we gathered along our adventures through artists’ studios. Those 8 Quotes that Keep Makers Motivated are enough to give most creative types a little get-up-and-go, but why stop there? We’ve since visited more studios, interviewed a ton of talented artists, and collected even more quotes that help keep our makers going strong.  Here are a few that we hope you’ll enjoy!

CassidyBrush

Considering that Cassidy Schulz Brush deals with lighting all day, it’s no surprise that she’s a fan of Edison. “There are a few quotes by Thomas Edison that I find inspirational,” she told us when we visited her Brooklyn studio. She wrote this quote out on her chalkboard wall and snapped a shot for us.

 

AnnaTalukder

We’re proud to feature a wide assortment of Ana Talukder’s Jewelry and our Jewelry Buyer, Sharon, was thrilled to have the opportunity to check out Ana’s studio in Seattle. Ana wrote out this mantra that reminds her, “You always have to be looking to be better, you always have to be working at being better, and you always have to put all your heart in it. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

BarryRosenthal

Photographer Barry Rosenthal happens to have a creative space in the Brooklyn Army Terminal, the same building that UncommonGoods calls home! Of course, we couldn’t wait to work with him to develop new products, but we also couldn’t wait to check out his studio. Barry explained that this Burroughs quote makes him think about his own creative process: “I don’t know what I will find in the field, and I may not know what I will do with what I find, but somehow fully formed themes are sparked just by the simple act of ‘seeing’ what is out there.”

DaveMarcoullier

Dave Marcoullier’s San Francisco woodworking studio is in a building that’s also home to the studios of more than 250 other creators, or “mad scientists,” as Dave likes to say. His quote from architect Daniel H. Burnham reminds him that he got where he is today by thinking big. “It’s good to get riled up and make bold plans,” he said.

JenPleasants

Jewelry Designer Jen Pleasants not only imprints “She believed she could, so she did” on some of her designs, she also truly believes in the power of those words. She even has them proudly displayed in her Portola Valley, CA studio.

JoAnnStratakos

Our Tabletop Buyer, NéQuana, traveled to rural Pennsylvania to meet JoAnn Stratakos, the maker of everyone’s favorite rainbow unicorn, Elwood. One of JoAnn’s favorite quotes, which was inspired by a quote from Richard Bach, is a reminder to keep the good things that could be in mind, instead of thinking about what might be holding you back.

LahlaSmart

We were lucky to get a look inside Lahla Smart’s London studio when our contributor, Emily, visited England. Lahla said that this Walt Disney quote reminds her of her early days of a designer. She took a leap, created her Food Guide Towel, and the rest is history.

StuartGardiner

On the same trip, Emily had a chance to check out Stuart Gardiner’s studio. Stuart shared a quote by Saul Bass, not only because Bass is one of his favorite designers, but also because: “it’s quite a broad and vague statement which is similar to the way I go about my work. I have a very organic unstructured approach to design: the opposite of methodical.”

MatthewHoffman

Matthew Hoffman’s work is full of inspiring quotes and words of wisdom, so it was hard to pick just one statement from our recent interview with the Chicago-based artist. We figured that “Anything is possible” pretty much says it all.

PhilThompson

Also based in Chicago, Phil Thompson creates art inspired by architecture. He keeps this Winston Churchill quote on the bulletin board in front of his drawing board to keep him motivated.

SarahGarcia

Design Challenge Winner Sarah Janece Garcia sent us a painting of her favorite quote from Coco Chanel when we interviewed her about her winning painting, First Light

RondaJSmith

We carry quite a few of Ronda J Smith’s photographic pillows, so we loved seeing her favorite quote printed and plush! “This quote means anything and everything you want it to mean,” she said when we visited her Brooklyn studio. “Your thoughts and mindset are more powerful than you could ever imagine.”

We love getting these looks inside our artists’ creative processes, and can’t wait to share more interviews and Studio Tours with through our Maker Stories. Share your favorite quotes in the comments below to get in on the conversation. 

Maker Stories

Around the World with Wendy Gold

July 15, 2015

Wendy Gold says that nothing made her happier as a child than a new box of crayons. While her preferred medium has changed, Wendy still feels her best when she’s working on something creative.

These days scissors, X-ACTO knives, foam brushes, glue, and finish have replaced crayons and she considers the world her canvas. Both literally and figuratively. Wendy creates beautiful maps and globes using repurposed vintage materials and water-based, environmentally-friendly finishes.

Wendy Gold | UncommonGoods

“Inspiration has come to me steadily throughout life, and I have been fortunate to be able to chase it,” Wendy says. She explains that as a teenager she “spent countless hours creating insanely intricate friendship bracelets, kaleidoscopes, and ceramic musical instruments,” and in college she made a headboard for her bed so big that she couldn’t get it out of her room when she moved out.

Though she says she’s chased inspiration, it seems that the inspiration for her decoupage maps found her, in a way, through a series of related events.

Bouquet by Wendy Gold | UncommonGoods

“In 2001, my husband went away on a fishing trip, and came back to find our dining room table covered with toilet seats,” Wendy recalls. “Yes, toilet seats. While he was gone, I had been making decoupage picture frames for holiday gifts, and when I took a bathroom break, inspiration struck. I went to the hardware store, bought some toilet seats and began decoupaging them immediately. My first business, Art de Toilette was born.”

Wendy's Tools

From there, Wendy went on to design a line of bathroom scale art, playing on the idea that people have a love/hate relationship when it comes to weighing in. But after a few years, she decided to take a break from decoupage.

“In 2007, when I got pregnant, I had to take a break from Art de Toilette because of the glues and finishes I had been using at the time,” she says. “After my daughter was born, I was looking for a canvas that would be more environmentally and physically friendly to work with. In 2010, I was at a local flea market and I saw the most beautiful vintage globe I had ever seen.”

Globes
That vintage globe was the start of Wendy’s work with miniature worlds. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes surreal, and always creative, each of Wendy’s pieces adds another level to the illustrated version of the Earth that we all became familiar with in grade school. Of course, since her materials are repurposed, many of these illustrations are out of date. By adding her artistic touch to these outdated depictions of our planet, she gives them a new life.

“I just love the aesthetic of things from eras past, and the idea of turning old, geographically inaccurate globes and maps into new, modern day worlds,” says Wendy, who frequents estate sales and flea markets for inspiration and materials.

Butterflies

Butterfly by Wendy Gold | UncommonGoods

Despite the inaccuracies hidden among the new worlds created in some of the maps, the pieces have no trouble drumming up a bit of wanderlust. Seasoned travelers looking to chart adventures don’t need to worry about about running across Czechoslovakia or the U.S.S.R., though, Wendy also makes the Personalized Wedding and Anniversary Pushpin Map with current information. So, whether you’re getting ready to pack your bags or you’re looking for an artful reminder that the world is full of beauty, Wendy’s maps are sure to send your imagination on a journey.

Pushpin Map | Wendy Gold

See Wendy Gold's Collection

Design, The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Design School: Underground Artists

July 1, 2015

Like many New Yorkers, if I need to get somewhere, I take the subway.

Whether I need to hop the train to travel from my apartment adjacent to Prospect Park down to UncommonGoods’ headquarters at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, or I’m bumbling through the Big Apple’s other boroughs on the weekends, cramming into crowded subway cars is as New York City as pizza pie. And like the more than 5.5 million passengers the system carries on an average weekday, the moment I step on the train I succumb to modern “tunnel-vision:” I bury my head in my iPad until I reach my destination. But when I step out of the train, I’m consistently surprised with the rich history laid bare in front of me in the form of the station’s diverse signs, vestiges of past design trends, fashions, and the mores of bygone generations.

From its opening on October 27th, 1904, New York City had already envisioned the subway as more than a simple method of getting around the metropolis. While urban, the experience of riding the subway was intended to be urbane; from the beginning, the city hired artists to embellish the underground walls with fanciful, yet legible, decorations.

From 1901 to 1908, John L. Heins and Christopher G. LaFarge designed the earliest subway motifs in the popular Beaux-Arts style, evoking classical architecture using ceramics, metal, and wood. The Philadelphia-born architects – who are also known for their work in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the original Astor Court buildings of the Bronx Zoo – were heavily steeped in the Arts and Crafts movement, an international artistic trend that advocated traditional craftsmanship and striving to create environments in which beauty and technical skill were of paramount importance.

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Twenty-eighth Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

Accented with swoops and curlicues, cornucopias and floral medallions, the duo’s elaborate terra cotta signs endure as some of the system’s most recognizable emblems.

Tile inspired by the original  Times Sq-42 St station, designed by Heins and LaFarge | Personalized House Sign – Times Square Subway

While quiet compared to the glitz and hubbub of Times Square above, Heins and LaFarge’s sumptuous mosaic sign is an unmistakable symbol of New York’s vibrant urban fabric. The original sign that inspired this tile is located at at Times Sq-42 Street, one of the system’s oldest stations at 111 years old.

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Bleeker Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

The elaborate tile-workings were not just decorative: each sign’s unique palette and patterns were used didactically to help non-English speakers identify stops.

The team’s successor and owner of arguably the coolest name in New York City history, Squire J. Vickers took over as chief architect of the New York City Subway system in 1906. Known as an “underground Renaissance man,” Vickers was responsible for more than 300 stations—the most of any architect—and was the system’s lead designer for almost 30 years.

Squire J. Vickers and the “Vickers Eagle” at the 33rd Street Station

Vickers took the subway on a much more pared-down, modern path than that of his Beaux-Arts predecessors for both aesthetic and economic reasons. As the floriated embellishments that defined the Arts and Crafts style gave way to the slick lines and austerity of the Machine Age, Vicker’s signs reflected the era’s dominant graphic trends with their quilt-like geometric abstractions and bold colors.

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Mosaic panel by Squire J. Vickers

“How grateful to the eye is the wall surface unbroken by paneling, noxious ornament, or the misplaced string course, decorated, if you like, inlaid with color, but unbroken,” he wrote.

Vickers was also imminently practical and, especially during the Great Depression, many of his aesthetic decisions were driven by the bottom line. Mosaic elements were flattened, for example, so they would be cheaper to clean (“to avoid dust ledges,” he wrote). The intricate signs could also be set by hand in a factory instead of on the wall tessera by tessera, making them less expensive to install.

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Wall Street Station sign by Squire J. Vickers

Despite budgetary constraints, Vickers, who was also a competent painter, was still able to create mosaics revered as much for their utility as their beauty.

Inspired by Vickers’ oringal designs | Personalized House Sign – 59th and Lex Subway

Vicker’s decorative details underground, at the Lexington Av/59 St station, complement the sophistication of the Upper East Side above.

To this day, the MTA commissions artists to continue the creative vision that was an integral part of the subway from the very beginning. New works are installed every day, from traditional mosaics, to sculpture, stained glass, and more, giving passengers plenty to see—as long as we’re willing to look.

 

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