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Art

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.

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Pinterest Addict

November 28, 2012

She knows her way around the craft store and will try any slow cooker recipe at least once. She’s quick to reuse scraps of fabric, empty mason jars, and even old cardboard boxes. She’s got a new quote daily, which is perfect, because those canvases and sticky letters aren’t going going to put themselves together to create inspirational wall art. She’s the queen of the color palette. The creator of copious cupcakes. The steward of style. Now, thanks to Pinterest, all her DIY dreams are just a click away. But, even the most persistent pinner needs a break during the holiday season. Help her take a load off by presenting her with one of these pinworthy products perfect for the Pinterest Addict.

Instrumental Lighting–Trumpet / Upcycled Sweater Moose Head / Hattie Apron / State Table / Instabook / Felt Animal Kits / Upcycled Sari Clutch / Cake Pops Stand / Flavor Infuser Water Bottle


And while you’re pining for pin-ables, don’t forget to stop by our Pin the Halls Holiday Pinterest Contest for a chance to win a $250 UncommonGoods shopping spree.

The Uncommon Life

Food Art to be Thankful For

November 20, 2012

I’m thankful for art, I’m thankful for food, and I’m thankful that Jan Davidszoon de Heem painted this mind-blowingly gorgeous painting, “Festoon of Fruit and Flowers,” in about 1660. That’s 352 years of beauty so far.

This squirrel is thankful that he didn’t end up the way most “game” does in these old still lifes – dead.  We at UncommonGoods don’t sell anything that involves harming animals, and we also prefer animals to be safe and happy in art (including all the cats on YouTube, naturally). German painter Peter Binoit’s “Fruit and Vegetables, Roses in a Glass Vase, and a Squirrel,” painted in 1631 or so, is stunning, nutritious–and vegan.

The way the colors pop in this painting seems sort of modern, doesn’t it?.

This one, even more so: “Still Life,” 1618, by the same painter, Peter Binoit.

I suppose back in the day, painters liked to use fruit as a subject because it was a way to get bright colors massed in globs, before they (European artists, at least) thought up abstract painting. In Edouard Manet’s “Basket of Fruits,” painted in 1864, you can almost see the paint wanting to leap off the fruit and fly around on its own, without being obliged to resemble anything real.

Look what it’s doing with Van Gogh’s and Cézanne’s apples, below.

“Still Life, Basket of Apples,” painted in 1887.  (With all due respect to Vincent, I think they look more like some kind of squash.) Whatever they are,  each one has a mind of its own, and so did every brush stroke that made them.

www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111436

Paul Cézanne , “The Basket of Apples,” 1893. Do those fruits appear to be obeying any laws of gravity or perspective that you know of?  How about that table–in what dimension does that exist?

Fooled ya. There’s no paint at all, here.  Photographer Rasbak’s “Sterappel” (star apple), 2004, is a real piece of fruit. Yet it looks more abstract than any of the paintings, and seems  if anything even more miraculous, because its perfect form wasn’t invented by humans.  Paging Georgia O’Keeffe.

We’re done with apples, but not incredible edibles. Not only were no fauna harmed during this blog post, but the flora staged a revolt. Van Gogh made apples look all crazy just because he could, and the vegetable kingdom returns the favor in Ju Duoqi’s “Vegetable Museum no. 16: Van Gogh made of Leek” (2008) (photo courtesy of Artnet).

Vegetables, fruits, painters, photographers and collagists in all media: I’m truly thankful for the talents and imaginations of all the beings, past, present, and future, who’ve created the art I love, the food I love, the art about food I love, and the art made from food I love.

And, because I have an inexplicable passion for produce with faces, these four tasty toys will conclude my post for today. Thanks, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving! (To gorge on 100% fat-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, vegan food art, check out my ongoing Pinterest collection.)

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Smitten Couple

November 14, 2012

When they look at each other, they still get butterflies. And when you look at them, you know they’re in it for the long haul. You catch them holding hands and stealing kisses. They finish each other’s sentences. You couldn’t be happier for them, and you can’t imagine either of them with anyone else. So, how do you tell the perfect couple you’re happy they found one another? With the perfect gift. Here are a few that those love birds are sure to love.

Love Token Necklace / Squirrelly Love / Personalized Wedding Wishes Vase / Beating Heart Pillow / Love Carries All-Zlatka Paneva / Custom Animal Couple Portrait / Love is Art Kit / Wine Purse / Personalized Tree Trunk Glassware Duo

The Uncommon Life

A Windfall of Autumn Art on Pinterest

November 9, 2012

Due to an injury, I wasn’t able to go on a leaf-peeping trip this year, and I consoled myself by collecting autumnal art on Pinterest. It wasn’t the same, of course, but I found it hard to be unhappy while perched upon a comfy chair with a cat and a laptop and perusing fantastic art, like the great Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church‘s “Autumn in North America,” above. Andy Goldsworthy. Rowan leaves around a hole, made on a sunny day in the shade, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, October 25, 1987.As I surfed, “curated” and pinned, several major themes of autumn art emerged; all so obvious that a child could guess them.  And so the first theme, “Made of Leaves,” includes some children’s artsy/craftsy projects (see sources at the bottom of the page), along with one by British environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, “Rowan Leaves with Hole,” made in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton, England in 1987.

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Autumn Leaves, Lake George, N.Y." (1924)

© Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

“Art of, but not made of, leaves” is my clunky title for Theme Two.  Russian painter Isaac Levitan‘s 1879 “Autumn Leaves,” Georgia O’Keeffe‘s 1924 “Autumn Leaves, Lake George, N.Y.,” British photographer Stuart Franklin‘s 1986 “Somerset county, Quantock Hills,” and this incredible leaf tattoo with silhouettes of a hawk diving after some rabbits that are hiding among the leaf veins, each satisfied several leaves’ worth of my forest of foliage cravings.

Paul Gauguin,"By the Stream, Autumn" in WikiPaintings

A Frenchman, an Austrian, a Canadian and a Chinese walk into a bar. “What’s shakin’?” asks the bartender. The Frenchman, Paul Gauguin (1885’s “By the Stream, Autumn“), the Austrian, Egon Schiele (1917’s “Four Trees“), the Canadian, Tom Thomsen (1915’s “Maple Saplings, October“) and the Chinese, Lin Fengmian (“Autumn in Jiangnan“; I couldn’t find a date but he lived from 1900 to 1991)  all answer, “The autumn leaves from the trees!”, but in paintings, not words. Which sums up Autumn Art Theme Three, “Trees,” and probably ends my writing career here and now.

Autumn Art Theme Four, “Golden Fields of Ripe Grain,” could easily have been subtitled “The Vincent Van Gogh Subsection,” because the man painted wheat field (“Wheat Fields with Sheaves, 1888) after wheat field (“Wheat Fields with Auvers in the Background,” 1890) , each more glorious than the next. But for contrast, I threw in Grant Wood’s slightly cartoonish “Iowa Cornfield” (1941) and Greek painter Nicolaos Lytras‘s more atmospheric “Fields with Haystacks” (I couldn’t find a date for it, but Lytras lived from 1832 to 1904). I like the way you can see the light reflecting off this painting; I’m so used to looking at computer images all day that it’s nice to be reminded of actual paint.

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=341&no_cache=1

Autumn Art Theme Five is “The Glory and the Power(less) of the Harvest.” Pieter Bruegel the Elder‘s 1565 “The Harvesters” makes the whole wheat scything thing look pretty chill. Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s 1573 “Autumn,” a comic take on the season’s vegetable riches, is a good vibes-er as well. But Jean-François Millet‘s sad 1857 “The Gleaners,” one of the most famous paintings of all time, shows poor women gathering what’s left on the ground after the more fortunate have finished their harvest. Gleaning is still practiced today (though not usually while wearing long skirts), and there are non-agricultural, year-round versions of gleaning as well, which you’ve probably heard referred to as “dumpster-diving.”

Autumn Art Theme Six, “Vistas,” may look a lot like Theme Three, “Trees,” but I swear it’s different. These paintings have bigger scenes. More of a view. Are not 100% tree-predominant. There are ponds (Charles Burchfield‘s 1938 “October in the Woods“), mountains (Canadian Franklin Carmichael‘s 1920 “Autumn Foliage against Grey Rock“), and people (Van Gogh’s 1889 “The Garden of Saint Paul’s Hospital (‘The Fall of the Leaves’).” Totally more vista-y than Theme Three!

I saved my favorite vista for last. This one reminds me of the northern lakes in the state where I (and Cassie) grew up, Minnesota. “Hasta la vista!” say the geese in Tom Thomson’s 1915 “Round Lake, Mud Bay,” and now I must say “Ciao” to this blog post as well. Quack, quack!  (You don’t have to say good-bye to beautiful autumn artworks, though. There are tons more in my Pinterest collection.)

Kids' fall foliage crafts sources: Leaf Rubbing Fairy,  Leaf Finger Puppets, and Leaf Deer
The Uncommon Life

A Humongous Pinterest Collection of Candy Art

October 26, 2012

One of the heartbreaks of adult life is not being able to go trick-or-treating. Sure, you can go door to door on Halloween night, but only with children, and you have to let them have all the candy. Boo!

One of the joys of adult life, on the other hand, is art. Fine art, crafts, paintings, photos, street art, whatever. It’s all good. And it’s especially sweet when it’s art about… CANDY.

Most candy looks like abstract art to begin with, so it’s a natural subject and inspiration for artists, photographers, and designers.  Look at this photo of Airheads Extreme Sweet Sour Belts by Steven Depolo next to Pop artist Gene Davis’s 1964 painting, “Sour Ball Beat” (above).

Controversial contemporary artist Damien Hirst‘s  famous “dot” paintings have often been compared, sometimes derisively, to candy. The candy will cost you about a buck; one of Hirst’s dot paintings went for $3.48 million early this year. Which is treat and which is trick? (Trick question.)

I may not be able to go trick-or-treating any more, but I can “collect” candy art treats on the Internets without gaining an ounce. In honor of Halloween, I amassed a humongous amount of creative, beautiful, fun, funny, happy, sugary art onto a humongous Pinterest board.

With apologies to diabetics, here’s a sampling of candy you don’t have to say “Boo!” to. Note: because it’s my board and I’m the decider of it, I chose to include gum and soda, aka “liquid candy.”)

“Portraits” of candy

Art made of candy


Art about candy

Candy-themed tattoos


Art made of candy wrappers


Halloween candy corn art

And finally…

A candy toothbrush

(Also, because we care about your dental health, a non-cavity-inducing one.)

Happy Halloween! (If you somehow haven’t OD’d yet, check out the entire Pinterest collection.)

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!

Maker Stories

Classic Collaboration: Classic Hardware & Born Free USA

October 8, 2012

Our new Royal Panda and Polar Bear cases aren’t just cute and practical. Yes, they feature original art by Kelly Vivanco. Yes, they’re made of brushed stainless steel, so they help protect your “smart” credit card data. And, yes, they are the latest design from Karyn Cantor, head designer and owner of Classic Hardware. But, they’re also helping to support Born Free USA’s mission to keep wildlife in the wild.

Kelly Vivanco & Karyn Cantor

As part of the Endangered Creatures Collection, a portion of the proceeds from the Panda and Polar Bear Cases goes to Born Free USA. According to Karyn, who founded Classic Hardware in 1995, the Born Free/Classic Hardware collaboration started with a connection through an artist.

Karyn explained: “They actually found us through one of the artists we work with, Caia Koopman. We have contributed to some of their auctions over the years and they are connected with the pop surrealist/lowbrow style art we love! I was talking with another artist about adding Endangered Creatures to the Classic Hardware collection; I knew I wanted to give a percentage of the profit to an organization that helps wildlife. I did some further research and decided they were the best match for our company on many levels. They have a great mission and they understand the modern art style and I think their donors will, too.”

Karyn then reached out to some of the artists she often collaborates with. The artist behind the Royal Panda and Polar Bear, Kelly Vivanco, was a natural choice.

“I wanted to leave it up to the artists what they wanted to draw, but I did send them all the Endangered Species official list, which is huge,” Karyn said. “With Kelly I was encouraging about adding the crowns. She often paints animals that have a lot of personality and sport cute hats, so this fell into place nicely.These animals are royal and regal and deserve a crown and caring!”

Caring for those animals that need it most is what Born Free USA is all about. “Our mission is to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife — including highly endangered species — in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally,” said said Sharie Lesniak, Creative Director at Born Free USA. “We work to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild.'”

One way the organization helps animals is through the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas. According to Sharie, the sanctuary is “home to more than 600 primates, many of whom were rescued from abusive situations in laboratories, roadside zoos and private possession. We provide a life in as natural an environment as is possible, with minimal human interference, on almost 200 acres. ”



“This kind of partnership helps contribute to the funds we need to continue doing our work to save the lives of wild animals,” Sharie said. “It helps us reach people outside of our current circle of friends and engage new supporters beyond the initial purchase with information about our organization and what they can do to help wildlife. It also provides Born Free USA with an opportunity to give current members new and different ways to support the organization.”

Sharie also explained that the this collaboration helps the organization reach a new demographic, who might not be familiar with the cause. “With the Endangered Creatures Collection, we are also able to take the unique images of endangered animals out of the galleries and into the world,” she said.”So not just the people who buy the items can be inspired, but also people who see [the Wallet Case and Business Card Case]. They can be moved to ask about the species, the artist, and the two organizations behind it: Born Free USA and Classic Hardware.”

Since the cases are compact, stylish, and can be used for a variety of small personal items, it isn’t hard to imagine taking them on the go.

Karyn said she actually uses both the Wallet Case and the Business Card Case in often in her own life. “I have a large wallet in my bag, but when I go out at night or even out for a walk or bike ride, I will take my ID and some cash and a credit card and use the Card Case or Wallet Case as my wallet,” she said. “I also keep a Card Case in my bag that keeps my business cards nice and neat. I will also use it to hold other people’s business cards that I collect. There has been some concern about identity theft via new “smart” credit cards in your regular wallet. It has been advised to use a stainless steel wallet to protect against this. I’m glad that these cases are stainless steel and it’s a great to play it safe with all the new technology constantly changing, plus they look so cool and we are donating to a great cause!”

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