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Art

Gift Guides

12 Pieces of Art for Special Ocassions

July 29, 2013

This summer has been FULL of joyous occasions. Weddings, baby showers, birthdays! So much fun and happiness. But the hard part about all these celebrations? The gifts! Finding the right present can be so stressful.

Over the years, I’ve found one foolproof gift: artwork. Artwork is always unique, thoughtful, and memorable no matter what the occasion. I mean, who wouldn’t want an awesome new print for their wall? Plus giving artwork will earn you some major cool points. Promise.

Not sure where to start? Here are some of my favorite works from the Uncommon Artist Gallery organized by occasion…

Art for a baby shower | UncommonGoods01. Storks by Denise Fiedler

02. Building Blocks Personalized Art by Alexander Doll

03. Bubbles by Andrea Doss

Art for wedding gifts | UncommonGoods01. Love Carries All by Zlatka Paneva

02. Custom Cross Stitch Portrait by Elizabeth Dabczynski

03. Personalized Couple Tandem Bike by Patrica Carlin

Birthday art for her | UncommonGoods01. Beach by Yao Cheng

02. Going to See My Baby Blue by Allison Glancey and Craig Seder

03. Do What You Want by Jessica Swift

Art gift ideas for him | UncommonGoods01. All the Mountains in Colorado by James Gulliver Hancock

02. AIGA/NY 30th Anniversary Poster by Maira Kalman

03. Rocky Mountain Daybreak Bison by Dolan Geiman

Check out more gift-worthy artwork in the Uncommon Artist Gallery!

Maker Stories

Love Letters from Your Pet by Karen Jones

July 9, 2013

Usually when it comes to design challenges, we adhere to the rules. (Mostly because I’m a relentless stickler!) But every once and a while a submission comes along that makes you think twice. Our Art Contest is usually call for a digital rendering of a piece of art that we will reproduce and sell framed. However, Karen Jones entered a piece that wouldn’t fit that model. She entered her Love Letter Custom Pet Portraits that are oil paintings on a piece of steel of your beloved canine or feline, with a little note expressing their love to you. Since each piece is made to order, we wouldn’t be able to print and frame the paintings but the call was for art and that is exactly what Karen sent us. She also must have known we have a soft spot for our pets.

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I have a twin brother who is an artist also. On the surface we are not the same, he is a tall red headed cowboy and I am a short, high heeled, glitter loving city dweller. We were born artists and luckily enough had great art teachers when we were growing up in Arizona. We were in a lot of the same art classes in school which was fun because I always had a painting buddy. I still like to paint with other people around me, but that doesn’t happen anymore. I had to learn to love to be alone with my art. Now I look forward to being alone with just me and my art. Well, sort of alone. I paint with my dog, Ruby next to me.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
Last week. Funny, but I think we as artist have an internal idea of what being an artist is. I was an artist to the outside world since kindergarten. Art was always fairly easy for me. Awards, lots of art classes, going to art school… none of those made me feel like I was an artist. Three years ago, I became a full time, money making artist. That didn’t even make me feel like an artist.

When I started painting from my heart and giving more of myself and accomplishing paintings that I felt were ‘hard to do’ or challenging and I did it… that’s when I realized I was an artist.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
Everywhere. I try not to walk through life with too much singular focus. I am always looking around, letting things grab my attention. I look at other people art, that can often trigger an idea in myself. I love to travel, ideas often come to me while driving down the road. I look for things to spark my interest and then process them through the mill of my mind, letting the idea develop a little before making it real. I’ve started writing down ideas I have in the middle of the night but that doesn’t work. I wake up wondering what, ‘I’m human in pink chalk’ means.

Describe your artistic process.
On Sunday nights, I get my canvases for the week ready. I paint on steel, so I get my steel ready. I get the image drawn on, make sure I have a photo printed to work from and enough paint.

Then on Monday morning, after coffee, a little time on the internet and a load of laundry, I head to the studio in my house. I put a ’70s tv program like, ‘Hawaii Five-O’ on and start painting. Once I get started, I sort of go in a zone and before I know it, it’s 4pm and time to get on the treadmill and make dinner. To me setting up my environment so I am not distracted and able to go into the zone is key. My focus stays clear and singularly focused. Sometimes when I need more emotion in my painting, I put on loud love music or on Fridays, Disco.

Describe your work space.
Today my studio is my 1968 vintage Airstream. We love going places, so sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to paint while on the road.

Normally, I paint in my studio at home. My house is very modern and open. My studio is on the second floor with a big oval window with a nice view and good light. My studio isn’t big and is oddly for an artist, very clean. The only things in my studio are my painting easel, my paint table, a table for the computer so I can watch ’70s tv and a big chair and ottoman for me to sit back and ponder over what I need to do the painting. Only the things I need, nothing more. It keeps my mind uncluttered.

And of course, my dog, Ruby. She stairs at me while I paint.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Enter. You never know unless you try. Use your already developed support group of friends, family and customers and ask them every day to vote for you. Use social media and don’t worry about bugging people. They want to support you, let them.

Maker Stories

Yao Cheng’s Watercolors go with the Intuitive Flow

July 8, 2013


Artist and designer Yao Cheng was born in China, but early in her childhood, joined her parents in the United States. She has, she says, “a deep love for anything watercolor,” and is always happy “when it’s just me, my brush and that new piece of watercolor paper in front of me.” Painting for her is “a very quiet and personal place I can go to when I’m feeling down or stressed out…No matter what happens elsewhere in my life, I can always pick up a brush and paint until I feel better.” (Being talented enough to consistently produce beautiful paintings probably helps!)

Yao feels “incredibly lucky” to be doing what she loves for a living, and her love of patterns, textures and rich colors comes through vividly in everything she creates. She shared some of her thoughts and feelings about her artwork with UncommonGoods.

Probably the strongest consistent element in your work is your connection to nature. It’s hard to tell, looking at your watercolors, whether nature itself (for example, the ocean) is expressing things, or whether it merely bring up incredibly powerful associations and emotions in the viewer. Which is it, to you? Is that ambiguity intentional?

Nature is very influential in my work in many different ways. I look to nature when I’m painting florals, landscapes or even to reference color palettes, but more than that, I think there’s a lot of beauty in the way leaves of grass, for example, move. Because of my education background in textiles, I tend to find patterns in nature and that’s what comes through a lot of the time in my work. So in the painting “Field of Grass“, I wanted to capture the wind as if you are standing there, watching as the breeze combs gently through the grass. I think that I approach my paintings from an instinctual place, so it is the immediacy in emotion that I am trying to communicate. For example, with the painting “Ocean Waves“, I had a very visceral reaction to the dramatic ocean waves and I wanted to capture that immediacy and energy in the waves.

You posted on your blog, “My paintings are honest, original and reflect how I feel at the moment. There isn’t anything more meaningful than that.” What do you mean by “honesty” in this context?

I think it is important to always be honest with how I am feeling about a piece of work and communicate that visually. So maybe it’s the calm and warmth of the waves creeping onto shore in the painting “Beach” that I want to capture by using a saturated pink, you know? It’s the immediate reaction to an image or idea that I want to keep at the center of my work.

Art for me is most importantly a way to express my feelings or ideas at a particular moment. As long as I am creating work that comes from a genuine place in my heart, then I know I have accomplished something. And if my art can make someone smile or brighten their day in some way, then that’s all that matters.

Do you feel there’s a progression, path, or journey in your painting, with some sort of direction, whether you know it or not at the time? If so, how would you describe it?

Yes, definitely. The progression happens a lot in the painting process. I tend to jump right into painting most of the time because I like to not completely plan out how I will finish a painting. I try and approach each painting from a fresh and intuitive place.

I find the intuitive way of painting to be freeing, and I have actually learned a lot from the process of not knowing and seeing where it takes me. Sometimes it’s a color that I didn’t mean to use that will take in a different direction while in the middle of creating a painting. Especially in the way watercolor blends, I have to let go of control in a lot of ways and allow the colors to blend how they would like! It is a very loose medium to work with and at first, I became really frustrated with it. But now, it is really what I love about the medium and so I try to embrace that aspect.

You’ve blogged about your love of faded images, the poetry of objects that hover between being visible, and how the empty space in your art is more interesting to you than the objects — and that these are related to the Taoist philosophy you studied in college. Does it describe some of your own feelings about these things? Is this part of Chinese calligraphy as well?

I would say that empty space is a very important of all of my work. I really love how in Taoism the empty space is seen as the breath and source of everything. In this way, I think that what is not visible in my artwork is what I try and emphasize.

For example, when I am painting geometric shapes, I am interested in that transition from what is here and how it disappears slowly across the page. The push and pull between these two realities is fascinating. Through the use of watercolor and the translucency of the pigment, I can really play with that transitional stage between what is here and what is not.

Chinese calligraphy has had a deep influence on the way I now paint. There is true poetry in the way a brush mark can express a feeling or idea, and that’s what I try to capture in my work! I learned Chinese calligraphy when I was studying abroad for a few months under a calligraphy master. I learned a lot about how to make expressive marks that speak to an emotion rather than just being an image, it was a wonderful experience.

Another quote from your blog, “As much as I love creating work, speaking about it doesn’t come as naturally to me. I think it’s because creating visual work is a completely different language to me than verbal communication, so a lot of the times I don’t know how to express in words what I was thinking or trying to say through my work.” Are there any paintings you can think of about which this is especially true? Do you try to paint what can’t be described in words?

This is especially true in my abstract paintings. You asked about the poetry of the objects in my work and I think of it more as a visual poetry when I am painting the abstract works. Trying to describe how I feel when I paint triangles dancing across a page and watching them interacting with the space on paper, that is hard for me to put into words!

Just as feelings are complicated and in multitudes of layers, my paintings sometimes have a lot of layers of different feelings or perspectives that I have a hard time finding the words to describe. For me, I think visual imagery is a more interesting and powerful way to tell a story or communicate a thought.

You posted that your UncommonGoods paintings “took you out of your comfort zone to paint work that’s more involved, and in the end, more beautiful.” Can you tell us a little more about this?

I loved creating this collection of paintings for UncommonGoods! At the time, I was painting a lot of abstract pieces and while they are visually interesting and complex, I had not made many paintings with landscapes. So with this collection, I was exploring landscapes that inspired me for the first time. It was a great way to expand my horizon a little bit and paint a different subject matter!

I would say that the layers of painting and time involved made it more extensive for me. Rather than creating a painting in one sitting, which is the case with most of my other works, I spent much more time to create the layers of images. The leaves painting, for example, took the most amount of time because first resist was laid down to preserve the color of the grass and then different layers of colors are laid down on top to create the colors in the field and the sky. It also took a few tries to capture the movement of the grass!

Do you have any big ideas for future work that you’d like to share? And/or words of inspiration?

My fiancé teases me all the time by telling me there is not enough time in the world to do everything I want! Right now, I am working on expanding my design services to wedding invitations as I have found it is the perfect culmination for my floral paintings, patterns, and graphic design to exist all at once. My fondness for calligraphy is also a great hobby of mine, so I am excited to explore more in that realm!

I am also working on expanding my art prints with some silkscreened pieces to bring in a different texture and size to my work. When I used to feel uninspired or out of ideas, I would just get frustrated and go do something else. But now I have found that inspiration is endless! There are so many ideas and beautiful things and colors in the world, I just have to open my eyes a little wider and pay more attention!

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Etta Kostick

July 1, 2013

Stained glass is often associated with large-scale pieces; sprawling mosaics, iconic cathedral windows, and ancient works of art. This meticulous craft doesn’t have to be reserved for the grandiose, though. As Etta Kostick proves, stained glass provides an illustrious splash of color to handmade jewelry.

Etta combines the techniques that were passed to her from her family of glassblowers and her talent for sculpting jewelry from silver and other metals to create her bold hexagon bracelets and the rings and bracelets in her collection.

The artist creates her pieces in her Chicago studio–a bright, inviting work space within her own apartment. Although we didn’t catch her hula hooping in her living room (see “How do you recharge your creativity?”), we did convince her to take us on a virtual tour of the place where she captures light and luster with glass and solder.

What are your most essential tools?
I couldn’t live without my soldering iron. It’s a pretty basic tool but it allows me to transform solder into a molten state so I am able to manipulate it. I also always have podcasts streaming while working and the occasional bad reality TV show. It’s definitely my guilty pleasure.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is located in my apartment and I love being able to roll out of bed, have a cup of coffee and start working. What most inspires me within my workspace are the raw materials surrounding me. Having all my materials easily accessible allows me to brainstorm new designs and test them out right away.

In the summer I really love working in my living room- I have a really comfy chair located right near all of the front windows. I get to enjoy the cross breeze and all of the chirping birds in the trees.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I like to take breaks and wander around the neighborhood, go to the gym, or lay out in the park. For a quick boost of energy I hula hoop in my living room.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I set weekly goals and am pretty good at scheduling times I should be in the studio. I have learned that it is important to pace myself and maintain a schedule that allows for a balanced day of work and down time. I like for my goals to reflect this lifestyle. I also like to be constantly creating new designs, exploring new techniques and pushing myself creatively. This is a constant goal for me and it seems to manifest itself naturally.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work by myself so I usually don’t do too much collaborating, but I love getting advice and input on new designs I am working on from friends and family members. I have worked in the past with my father- he is a glassblower, a craft he taught me when I was 7. We recently have collaborated to create fused glass sheets for my current work. I love that I have been able to maintain a connection with my family’s trade and incorporate it into my jewelry designs.

Etta’s Dad

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
My favorite way of celebrating success is by traveling. Although I am technically not working during these times, I find that much of my inspiration for my jewelry occurs when I am traveling and exploring landscapes that are new to me.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I love the Thomas Edison quote “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” It was terrifying to take that initial leap and go full time with my business but this quote was a reminder of how I should approach life and work.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I grew up in the country and I love getting out of the city to connect back to my rural roots. There are some great state parks within driving distance of Chicago. There is nothing more relaxing and revitalizing to me than going to a quiet beach and lounging out by myself for the day. I always come back refreshed and energized.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Keep pursuing what you love! It was easy to feel overwhelmed and insecure during that time period when I was just starting my business. I’ve learned a lot in 5 years and I would tell myself it’s OK to make a mistake. It’s all a part of the learning process.

Maker Stories

Self-taught Metal Artist Chris Crooks on the Danger & Pleasure of His Work

June 28, 2013

You could say that Chris Crooks’ art makes a lot of sparks! It’s true factually as well as metaphorically, as you can see in this photo of him at work on one of his 16-gauge steel creations. Chris loves working in metal because, as he says, “The possibilities are endless. If you can dream it, you can do it.”

He took a somewhat winding road to get to where is now, running his own successful metal art company. After graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 1984, he worked in advertising, then ran a printing business with his wife, while painting during his free time. Wanting a change of scene, the couple moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1990. There, Chris started a company making solid cast statuary. It was while collaborating with a metal art manufacturer that Chris met his true love, materially speaking: Metal, he realized, was so much more dynamic than plaster. It was in 2001 that he began designing and making his first line of metal sculpture, inspired from the southwest and the Sonoran desert. We were curious to know more about his path to creative fulfillment and success — so we asked him about it!

What’s your studio like? Do you do all the work yourself, or do you have assistants to help with certain tasks?
I rent a space in an industrial park. I started out from my garage, as the business grew, and my wife’s and neighbors’ patience stretched, it was time to move to an industrial space in downtown Tucson. There I can bang and grind at all hours of the night and stretch out a bit. It’s a 1000 square feet of pure metalworking nirvana.

Do you display your work in your own lawn or garden? If so, what kind of reaction have you gotten from it?
I really don’t display much of my garden art, but my friends and neighbors make up for it. I generally don’t give people my art as gifts unless they actually ask, since you are never really sure they like it as much as they are telling you, kind people as they are. With their response to the garden art though, I am never at a loss for a present.

How did you end up working in metal?
It seemed like a natural progression from sculpting in clay to working in metal. My first pieces combined the two, using the metal to augment the plaster, then the plaster to decorate the the metal, and then no plaster at all. Metal is just so fun and versatile, I feel like I’m just getting started.

Do you work regular hours, or do you work when you feel like it?
Well, when you work for yourself – you’re always motivated. OK, maybe not always. Generally, I work something like 60 hours a week. I really don’t have much say in the matter, especially when UncommonGoods comes calling! As a small business owner it really doesn’t feel like work.

What are the biggest challenges to doing this work?
Beyond the logistics of getting all the orders out the door, the biggest challenge is coming up with new designs. New designs and product is the lifeblood of an art company. Fortunately, coming up with new designs is also the funnest thing to do.

Is it dangerous sometimes? What do you do to keep it safe?
Yep, it certainly can be dangerous. I’ve learned my lesson more than once not to disregard safety precautions. Never the same precaution and never more than once. Whenever I’m training somebody, it reminds me how dangerous it can be.

How much metal do you go through in a year?
I use about 400 sheets of 4 x 8 foot metal a year of varying thickness.

How do you get it all to your studio?
It is both picked up and delivered.

You studied Fine Art in college – did you expect to be an artist, or did you think you’d always have a “day job”?
I always wanted to be an artist. I didn’t know if I could pull it off…didn’t really have a clear vision of what being an artist would mean for me. I got a day job at an ad agency out of college, that was fun for a while. Painting was not as rewarding as sculpting, and metal sculpting is completely enjoyable and engaging. It seems to be working so far.

What were your paintings like, back when you were in advertising — were they in any way related to the themes of your metal art? And do you still paint?
Here’s one of my Bar Fly paintings, and recent painting on metal.

How did you learn the skills of your metal art?
I am completely self-taught.

What do you like about living the artist’s life?
I always wanted to make a living doing something genuinely enjoyable. To get up in the morning raring to go, and never having enough time to do everything you want to do. I remember watching the Crocodile Man Steve Irwin cavorting about wrestling crocs and generally living life large. He was just so happy. What a way to live life. Crikey, now I got some of that.

Do you miss anything about having a regular job/working for somebody else?
Not really. Routine is nice, as long it’s not every day. Coworkers, company paid health care and a 401K are definitely positives.

What do you do for inspiration?
I get back to nature as often as possible to recharge. Honestly, whenever I find the time to be creative there’s generally tons of ideas ready to go.

See Chris' Collection | Uncommongoods