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Art

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!”

Design

Artistic Apparel by Maggie Ryan

September 24, 2012

We are big fans of Design for Mankind over here and every week we look forward to Artistic Apparel, the regular contribution of Maggie Ryan, blogger of Very Pretty Please. Each week, Maggie builds an outfit from a work of art. We wanted to see what could be inspired by our new Artist iPhone Cases so we sent her Hanna Kim’s Dreamscape Escape. Check out Design for Mankind to see what Maggie created from Lara Mann’s Rhythm for Color.

  1. Mini Peplum Pencil Shift Dress ($92) at Topshop
  2. Alexis Peep Toe Heel ($49.95) at Sole Society
  3. Flower Lattice Necklace ($228) at J. Crew
  4. Bangle Bracelet ($85) at Endless
  5. Gumdrop Stud ($38) at Kate Spade
  6. Leather Pouch ($70) at Furbish
  7. Dreamscape Escape iPhone Case – Colors and Textures ($39) at Uncommon Goods
The Uncommon Life

Environmental ABC’s: 26 Ways to Go Back to School Green

September 6, 2012

It’s back-to-school time, giving us an excuse to get all educational on you, with tips and ideas about how you and your family can live green this fall. Parenting–and teaching–innately imply thinking about the future, and eco-sensitive lifestyles help ensure that the years ahead will be bright for today’s children. In that spirit, we present to you our ABCs of going back to school in sustainable style.

A

Art. Let’s start with something wondrous: Fabulous art–made from garbage. Some of the best art in the world today is being made out of trash. Check these out:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/101674993/trash-bird-sculpture-three

Inspiring, right? Talk to your school’s art teacher to see if they’d be into working on a trash art project. (There’s a good chance they already are.)
For art-making at home, keep a scrap paper bin of paper that’s printed on only one side. Kids can doodle, or do multiple drafts of drawings or paintings on the scrap paper. When they want to make a keeper version, that’s the time for the “good” paper.

At UncommonGoods, we love unique and beautiful works of art made from recycled and reclaimed materials that would otherwise have ended up as plain old garbage.

B

children-riding-a-horse-to-school-glass-house-mountains-queensland-1928-small
Bike, walk, skateboard, scooter or ride the bus (or a horse!) to school instead of driving or even carpooling. Kid energy is a renewable resource. UncommonGoods employees are encouraged to use bikes as transportation, and we offer several convenient, effective and cool bike safety items.

C

Copy machines: Do you really, truly need to make a hard copy of that document? If you absolutely must, use both sides of the–ideally, recycled–paper. In fact, how about making double-sided printing and minimal ink use the default settings?

You could also buy refillable cartridges containing bio based, sustainable inks (like soy). If for whatever reason that’s impossible at school or work, at least try to recycle your used ink cartridges.

D

Disposable items are uncool. Whenever possible, buy re-useable items. Tossing disposables into a recycling bin is at best, a very pale green: It takes energy to recycle and re-manufacture things, and if you throw them away after only one use, a lot of that energy has been wasted.
Prime culprits of back-to-school disposability crimes include:

  • Pens. The ballpoint pen was invented in 1938. In 2005, Bic celebrating selling its 100 billionth pen. 14,000,000 BIC Cristals are sold a day. And that’s just one brand. Six billion pens are thrown away every year in the US! 

Buy a refillable pen. Metal ink refills can be recycled. Vintage advertising pens are nostalgic, super stylin’, and the sins of their manufacturing are in the past. UncommonGoods’ selection of refillable pens ranges from funky to girly to sporty to arty.

  • Coffee cups. Americans buy 14.4 billion cups a year of coffee in disposable cups, which take energy, trees and water to make and transport. It’s not only styrofoam cups that are an environmental disaster; because the paper kind are lined with plastic, they can’t be recycled either. Get a mug.

You could go crazy upscale and get a cup decorated with  24 karat gold, blue cobalt, and diamonds. 

Or get an equally covetable but rather more sensible one.

  • Razors. Cut out (yep, we went there) disposable razors. Each year, Americans buy, use, and toss two billion razors and the packaging they come in. Instead, how about trying a solar-charged electric shaver, or at least, an Energy Star model? Electric shavers do use energy, but not water. A recycled razor is another possibility; one brand is made of recycled yogurt containers. The blades in the (disposable) cartridges can be kept sharp much longer by using a razor-saver gizmo.

If you’re feeling a luxe goth vibe, we’re pretty sure that our skull razor is the coolest thing going.

 

Opt for Don Draper’s safety razor (they use recycleable metal blades) and you’ve got an excuse to buy a retro-hip shaving brush. (The gratuitous photo of shirtless Jon Hamm is here for strictly educational purposes only, honest!) But whatever you do, don’t shave in the shower–especially women, who have the most acreage to denude. As this Slate article informs us, “Shaving for 10 minutes with a typical 2.5 gallons-per-minute shower head, you’d waste more than 24 gallons of hot water, 4.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 5.3 pounds of carbon dioxide in your warm, misty tub. It would take less than three days of shaving to account for the energy you’d use by shaving in the sink for an entire year.”

E-waste. Americans junk 30 million computers every year (those are circuit boards in the photo above). Add phones, TVs, DVD players, etc. to that list and you’ve got about 3 million tons of dumped electronics a year in the US alone. Not only does this waste reuseable materials, but 70% of the dangerous heavy metals in landfills come from all that e-junk. But it’s becoming easier and easier to reycycle old electronics, as governments require manufacturers to take them back. Here are some links to help you find e-waste collection sites.

A protective sleeve or case will help keep your mobile phone, laptop, tablet or e-reader from getting broken or wet and then sent to an early grave.

F

Food. There are so many good, green food habits to teach your kids. Perhaps the primary lesson should be about wasted food.

Just kidding. Not that kind of wasted.

We Americans waste around 40 percent of our food. The average American throws away 33 pounds–about $40 worth–of edible food each month, according to a report the Natural Resources Defense Council put out in August. That’s about 50% more than in 1974. (And we know it’s not because we’ve gotten better at portion control.)

When people talk about becoming less dependent on petro-fuels, they don’t usually think of food as part of that. But growing, transporting, packaging, selling and buying what we eat uses a ginormous amount of oil. (And fertilizer, pesticides, and water.) The NRDC estimates that approximately 25 percent of the freshwater and 4 percent of the oil Americans consume goes to edible food that’s thrown away. On top of all that, a whole lot of greenhouse gases are produced during the food cycle.

There’s also all that food packaging to consider: Every year, the average American child generates 67 pounds of trash from their school lunches. That’s 18,670 pounds per year from the average elementary school. (NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation).

As Dana Gunder, agricultural environmental specialist at the NRDC put it, “No matter how sustainable the farming is, if the food’s not getting eaten, it’s not sustainable and it’s not a good use of our resources.”

It’s very possible to quickly change this for the better. A public awareness campaign in the United Kingdom called “Love Food Hate Waste” has reduced household food waste by 18% in only five years.

A simple way to do your part to reduce waste while also ensuring that your child is eating healthy, is packing their lunches yourself in an appealing lunch bag made of recycled materials. You can also use cloth napkins and refillable beverage containers–lightweight, collapsible, BPA-free models might be best for kids’ lunches.

Whenever possible, eschew (see what we did there?) single-serve portions: ugh, all that disposable packaging! And don’t forget that in addition to their nutritional benefits, fruits like bananas, apples and oranges come with all the packaging they need.

G

Green(er) tools for school.

Avoid backpacks and school binders made of nylon or new plastics, especially PVC vinyl. Not only is it not recycleable, but some of the most dangerous environmental contaminants, including dioxins (known carcinogens and hormone disruptors, and the most toxic synthetic chemicals) are released during its manufacture and disposal. It’s worth searching for non-toxic binders, and easy to find bags made from recycled or natural materials.

Personalized backpack patches,  painted backpack,  homemade drawstring backpack

Better yet, find a gently used vintage one. I’m a lifelong thrift store cruiser, and those places always have plenty of new-looking backpacks and messenger-type bags for sale, just begging to be creatively personalized. If you’re artsy, it’d be a snap to paint a great-looking, unique backpack; sewers of even modest skill could make one from the fabric of another vintage item, like a skirt.

If you use “office” machines at home, choose Energy-star rated ones, and be sure to schedule regular maintenance for maximum energy efficiency. And it’s now possible to buy folders and binders, pushpins, rulers, scissors, paper clips, crayons, correction fluid, glue, pen and pencil holders and cases, desk organizers, and laptop sleeves made of recycled/recycleable/biodegradable/nontoxic materials.

H

Habits, like recycling, or searching for green alternatives, are easy once they become automatic. Teach kids (and pets, if you can…) to turn out the lights when you’re the last one out of the room; turn off their computer when they’re done using it; turn off the tap while they brush their teeth.

I

Inventory. Know what you already have before you go shopping for school supplies, clothes, backpacks, etc. It’s so tempting to buy scads of new, shiny pens and notebooks when they’re on sale, and parents tend to over-buy at back-to-school time. Pull out last year’s extras to save money and waste less.

J

Jobs. Green ones. Meaningful employment is one of the main reasons people go to school and get an education in the first place, right? Lots of interesting and fulfilling jobs are popping up in the fields of sustainability and environmentalism. Inspire your kids by talking with them about the possibilities. For teenagers and college students, there are internships galore.
Many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. now have an “Office of Sustainability” or a less formal task force, through which students can become involved in greening their campus. A geographically diverse sampling:

A few resources to help find green/environmental/sustainability internships:

K

Kvetch. And vote. It’s never too early to teach your kids that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. (OK, we take that back. It is sometimes too early.) Help them understand what democracy is and the effectiveness of action within it. Teach them about the history of environmentalism (maybe brush up on it yourself, first) and how people got together to push for societal change.

L

Laundry. Living green sometimes takes a little extra effort, but occasionally it’s less work, rather than more. Here’s an example: don’t wash your clothes and bedding so often. You can tell when fabric needs cleaning: it’s either dirty or…fragrant. If neither is true, skip the wash.

Set a family laundry schedule and stick to it. Getting the whole family on board could avoid unnecessary runs of your machines for a basketball uniform or dance costume. When you do wash, use natural and non-toxic soaps, and line-dry whenever possible. In the summertime, use the great solar dryer in the sky. In the wintertime, damp articles of clothing hanging indoors are electricity-free humidifiers.

UncommonGoods offers a nicely designed indoor clothesline, as well as this aroma-tastic natural laundry soap. It’s packaged as a manly item, but who doesn’t like “rich smelling sunflower, coconut and rosemary oils”?

Stunningly beautiful clothesline photos to inspire you, collected by Pinterest-poster Mei-Mei:

M

Meat. Eat less of it.

Issues of morality and health aside, meat is simply far less energy-efficient and far more polluting than non-animal sources of protein. Audubon magazine: “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that livestock production worldwide is responsible for a whopping 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases–more than all the cars, buses, planes, and trains in the world combined.” Nathan Fiala, a doctoral candidate in environmental economics at the University of California-Irvine, estimates that to produce 1 pound of beef, 15 pounds of carbon dioxide are created.

According to Department of Agriculture estimates, it takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Even farmed fish eat up to 5 lbs of wild-caught fish per pound that we can eat.

That doesn’t even take into account the energy and other costs of raising, butchering, packaging, refrigerating and transporting. For instance, according to the Worldwatch Institute, producing one pound of beef can use up 50,000 liters of water.

Children will love the following info-tidbits about the inevitable noxious “output” of so many animals: Massive amounts of #s 1 and 2 from pig factory farms leak into nearby water supplies. Burping and farting livestock produce 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, which is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). So. You can start small by participating in Meat Free Monday, the worldwide campaign of the cute Beatle. Or start big and do the opposite: eat meat only on Mondays.

N

New. Old is the new new. If vintage clothes are cool enough for super-rich and fashionable movie and pop stars, it’s possible that your kids (and you) could deem them adequately fabulous. They require zero energy and resources to make, because they’re, y’know, already made. We did a little searching and found these adorable clothes that we thought were perfect for back-to-school.

1960s snap-front western shirt,  vintage dress and sweater,  Garfield brand vintage polo shirt,  1960s plaid skort / culottes

Then there are clothes made from recycled or salvaged fabric and fibers. They’re green no matter what color they are.

UncommonGoods Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt and Recycled Cat and Owl Scarves

O

Organic foods don’t pollute our environment with toxic pesticides or petroleum-derived fertilizers. They usually (but not always) take a lot less energy to grow, too. You’ve probably had your fill of info about eating organic, but perhaps your kids are interested in growing it!

It’s tough to make a living as a small organic farmer, but the non-financial rewards are inspiring more and more young people to give it a whack. If your teens or college students would like to taste life on the chemical-free farm, here are some resources to help them find a volunteer or paid position–maybe next summer?

P

Paper. You already know that paper requires the death of innocent trees (and destruction of animal habitat). But you may not know about the rest of paper’s massive environmental impacts.

Paper milling is one of the most energy and pollution-intensive industries in the world, emitting lethal chemicals into the air, water, and when the 12 million tons a year of paper solid waste are disposed of, the earth. Some of them stick around for a very long time and gradually enter the food chain. Others deplete the ozone layer. As if that’s not bad enough, its manufacture uses more water per ton of product than any other industry.

The good news is that making new paper out of old is energy-efficient, cost-effective, uses far fewer resources, and obviously, reduces the amount of waste. While it takes from 2 to 3.5 tons of trees to make 1 ton of virgin paper, a ton of recycled paper can make nearly equivalent amount of new, while using only 10 to 40 percent of the energy, less water, and far fewer chemicals. Buying recycled paper is voting for more recycling.

The most toxic chemicals involved in paper making – the various types of seriously carcinogenic chlorine used for bleaching, which produce, among other things, deadly dioxin (as we mentioned in letter “G,” above, the most potent carcinogen known)–aren’t necessary. There are plenty of non-toxic chemicals that can whiten paper, including the same stuff that’s in Oxy-Clean.

Not all paper has to be white, anyway–paper towels, and toilet paper, for instance. Avoid using bleached paper products whenever possible. Buy non-bleached brands instead.Processed Chlorine-Free

When you do buy bleached paper, choose chlorine-free brands; specifically TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free) or, best of all, PCF (“Processed Chlorine-Free”). The latter is a lousy name for a good product; it refers to papers that contain a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled fiber, have not been re-bleached with chlorine-containing compounds, are made in mills without outstanding environmental violations, and use TCF virgin pulp (when virgin fiber is included in the paper) that did not come from old growth forests. (Don’t be confused by ECF, “Elementally Chlorine-Free, which uses other types of chlorine, just not its “elemental” form.)

The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) certifies all of this. You can use the Paper Calculator to figure out the environmental impact of various kinds of paper, and look up every possible sort of paper on Conservatree, in order to find green paper brands. You can even buy recycled sticky notes!

Q

Questions are the starting point of changes. Moms and dads, encourage your children to ask questions about the family’s new habits and ask them if they can think of new ways to decrease the family’s ecological impact. You might be surprised by their answers.

R

Read. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s magazine, Conservationist for Kids, covers a wide range of topics that are fascinating to kids, written just for them, and accompanied by great photos. All past and current issues are available online.

S

Statistics. We know we’ve flooded you with facts here. But they’re meant to inform, not overwhelm. Negative statistics can make one feel powerless and discouraged. But you yourself, reading and practicing a few (or a lot) of these green ABCs and sharing them with friends, who share them with their friends, and so on, could start generating statistics we all like a lot better. Yes, really.

T

Think (it only takes a moment) before you buy or use anything and everything. That’ll give your mind a chance to recall some of the tips and factoids you’re reading here (and elsewhere).

U

Unplug electronic gadgets and appliances when not in use, due to…

V

Vampire power. Also known as “standby power,” this is the electricity used by many electronic devices, chargers, appliances, and equipment when they’re switched off, but not unplugged. The name comes from those black power supply cubes; their metal plugs are like fangs, sucking power out of your walls.

Depending on how much electricity costs where you live and how many devices you have plugged in, trickles of vampire power can really add up. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s joint Energy Star program estimates that “the average U.S. household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

As you can imagine, the billions and billions of devices sucking electrical “blood” out of the world’s power grids collectively waste a tremendous amount of electricity. And because most energy plants emit a great deal of carbon dioxide (one of the major culprits of global warming) and sulpher dioxide (which causes acid rain), plus various other pollutants, eliminating vampire power with smart power strips, etc. is a no-brainer.

W

Water. Most Americans have never had to give water a second’s worth of thought. This summer’s drought, however, has caused many of us to begin waking up to the reality that water is a limited resource. How about trying to use less? It’s painless, once you start paying attention.

Some simple ways to conserve water: If you’re a gardener, grow plants that thrive in dry environments. Notice when you’re using running water’s physical force to push food off plates or dirt off of whatever, and begin using elbow grease instead, cleaning with a brush or rag–with the tap turned off. In fact, start paying attention every time you turn on a tap or shower. How long does the water really need to be running? During the hectic morning rush, setting a timer for morning showers will limit bathroom time per family member while saving many gallons of water.

X

Xx.  We hope you don’t think we’re fresh, but…here’s a smooch, for getting your green on.

YRecycling symbol tattoo,  glitter green platform disco shoes,  eco-mack daddy vegan fur hat and vest, recycling symbol nail art

You’re a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be

–Earth, Wind, and Fire

(Set a good example!)

Z

Zzzzz. It’s easy to drift away from the great schedule that you started at the beginning of the school year, but keeping bedtimes early means fewer lightbulbs burning in the night. Besides, Benjamin Franklin says it will make you healthy, wealthy and wise–and he was not only one of our Founding Fathers, he’s also the Father of Electricity!

He also said the words we’d like to close with:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Emily Rothschild

September 4, 2012

Studio tours have opened up so many new views into the lives and creative minds of our artists. In visiting with Emily Rothschild last month, I learned that her jewelry line was only the tip of the artistic iceberg. A designer who is always excited to learn, Emily constantly challenges her mind with lessons and classes, expanding her talents and perspective.

We thought her well-rounded attitude would serve well on the judging panel for the Bike Lovers Design Challenge and couldn’t wait to see inside her Fort Greene home-studio.

What are your most essential tools?
A few of my most essential tools are my camera for documenting inspiration for new work as well as completed projects, a radio for constant NPR streaming, and a pair of jeweler’s pliers which always seem to come in handy. My most loved tool is a pair of glassblowing jacks. The jacks have an excellent weight, feel, and history: it’s easy to imagine the years of hard work they endured before I owned them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I find inspiration from the objects around me all of which have a story: tools I inherited from my father, a workbench from RISD, design books and culled images, a kitchen spatula from the 1940s… I find it is important to be surrounded by loved objects.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
My two dogs remind me to step away and take a walk; they make me slow down and refresh. It’s often hard to remember to step back but it is necessary to see things from all angles: sometimes you need distance in order to get closer to a solution. I’m also settling into my new role as a mom and know that I will be spending as much time as possible with three-month-old Otto between projects. I’m often guilty of working too much but for him I’m willing to slow down and clear my head completely.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I learned that I need to push myself beyond my comfort zone, seek advice when needed, and find solutions in a variety of ways. I enjoy working in new areas of interest and with new materials which means that I have to reach out often to others. I am lucky to have found a great community of designers who work in the same way and are just as curious. Sharing information goes both ways and is key to making it on your own – it means you’re never really alone.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Love what you do. And find a community of people with similar interests and goals whom you can share ideas (and gripes) with. Community is key.


How do you set goals for yourself?
I usually have a variety of projects going on at any given time which helps me to stay focused and continue moving forward. The goals I set often seem unreachable when I first set out – I’m generally completely intimidated when starting a new project and also raring to go. The only way I can make anything happen is to dive in and take risks.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
My husband reminds me to reward myself after working hard and wrapping up a project. It’s easy to run right into the next job when you work for yourself, I’m lucky to have someone to celebrate victories with – both big and small. I try hard to remind him of the same!


What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I think about something my father always said: “Why is a duck when it spins?”. I figure if I can unlock that life mystery, I can make just about anything. My father was a great source of inspiration, information, and humor and someone who had a great hunger for investigating and learning. His wide spanning interests helped to form my curiosity about people and my perspective on design.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
This past year I took rhino, wax carving, and quilt making classes at Third Ward, Fitzjerald Jewelry, and Pins and Needles respectively. There is always some new skill I want to acquire for a project; I love learning to work with different materials and getting lost in the process.


How do you recharge your creativity?
I recharge my creativity by working on a diverse range of projects at a variety of scales – both client-based and self-generated. I work on research-based design work with my team, Hello. We Are _____., and more product-based work on my own. This combination of experiences and opportunities makes for a well balanced and never boring workweek. I also try to remember to get out of my studio often and look around – studio visits, museums, jogs, a trip out of the city, anything that keeps me looking at and talking about design.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’m lucky to have the support of an excellent design team as well as a strong local design community and access to any number of makers and manufacturers. I have been working as part of a team of designers (helloweare.com) for the past few years and we are excited to be growing our team and outreach this year. I find it is impossible to design alone.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Laura Fisk

August 10, 2012

The creator of memorable screenprinted characters like the Pancake Monster, artist Laura Fisk grew up on the East Coast and called New York home for 10 years. She recently said goodbye to her Brooklyn studio and relocated to Austin, TX. From across the country, Laura opens the doors to her new studio to us and shares about embracing an unfamiliar work space, making art in a new city, and creating a happy place.

How is working in Austin different than working in Brooklyn?
I love Brooklyn and New York so much, and leaving was really hard after living there for 10 years, and growing up on the East Coast. It’s a total cliché, but it came down to space, space, space. My husband and I both needed more space for our businesses (Josh just started a content development and production company this year with a business partner). I almost felt guilty when we first got here setting up my office space and studio. After working out of mostly a corner of our apartment and a communal studio it felt decadent to be able to have two functional workspaces all to myself! It’s a little slower paced here than NYC. I both like that and miss the sometime frantic New York energy.

How are you adjusting to a new studio in a new city?
Moving makes your brain work in different ways, although it’s a bit painful. It forces you to do things differently, but in the end that’s a good thing. Austin is a really creative town so it’s been great getting to know people, finding out about arty/crafty things, eating at the delicious food carts, and discovering new fun stuff. In my head I’ve always had ideas how I’d want to set up my space and now I have a chance to enact them. Joining a screenprinting co-op down here has also helped me get to know some local printers. I loved working side by side to other printers in NYC, so still having some element was important to hold on to. I now mostly print in a little house in our backyard. It took a bit to get set up, but now I’m in love with it. It’s my own world back there, and enjoy it even more than I thought I would.

What are your most essential tools for creating your art?
As an illustrator, my drawings are hand-drawn with all sorts of different pens, and I do touch ups and work on color ideas on the computer. At this point I really work back and forth, and I wholeheartedly thank the person who invented the scanner. I need a slew of specific things for printing, but for me, it’s all about the ink. I love bright colors, and the saturated color that you can get with screenprinting is amazing. It’s the reason I keep printing.

Where do you find inspiration within your workspace?
I have piles of books–old and new–that I like to flip through that take me to a new idea or for an animal photos for reference. Staring at my ink shelves does wonders, thinking what colors will work together best. I like putting images up on the wall or holding on to articles that inspire me. It’s important for me for where I work to be a happy place, with little fun things to catch my attention.

What are some of your time management secrets?
To do lists! I feel completely out of control without lists and I have them everywhere. I usually hand-write them, because it helps me remember things more, and it feels really satisfying crossing things off. I’m not the most organized person, so forcing myself to stop and think what I have to accomplish for that day, that week, etc. keeps me on target.

What advice could you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Too many things; if only there was a time machine. One, be more organized from the get-go. Set specific goals from the start–not vague–but specific plans. Think ahead more. I tend to jump head first into projects without fully thinking them through, which is something I actively work on now. Also, and this is a big one, everyone needs help in a business. Doing everything completely by yourself isn’t the best way. Knowing your limits of what you’re good at and what someone else can do for you will only make your business better.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Forcing myself to stop and do something else–which honestly is hard sometimes! I love going to see movies in a theater because I can’t do anything else but watch the screen and get sucked into the world on screen. There’s a great group of theaters here, the Alamo Drafthouse, and it makes me want to go see something everyday. We just adopted a super sweet pug, Salsa, from Pug Rescue of Austin and taking her for walks forces me to get out of the house and clear my head. I love taking classes in different mediums, even if I’m terrible at them. It’s so interesting to learn about different creative pursuit, and usually helps inform my own work, or at least gets me into different studio environment for awhile. I took a natural dyeing class last summer (at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn) and would love to take a weaving class or something in sculpture.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This may sound like a weird quote, but I constantly keep in my head “How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb,” the alternate title to Dr. Strangelove. My business and life is pretty hectic and there’s always some weird issue or situation that comes up unexpectedly. I just try to embrace the crazy and roll with it.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Setting real deadlines is key for me. I’m a natural procrastinator, and am working on trying to get things done over time not at the last minute. Setting real deadlines with hard dates helps me get things accomplished. I just finished exhibiting at the National Stationery Show, and having that show date looming in my mind kept me on track with new designs for the show. Real deadlines make things actually happen.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Just taking some time off, taking in a movie, or going out to dinner with my husband and allowing myself to really appreciate it. It’s when all the work makes it feel worth it.

The Uncommon Life

DIY Project to Welcome Baby by Rubyellen of My Cakies

July 30, 2012
baby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby artbaby art
Collaborative family projects are the best. We first did a family art piece (see here) before Soul was born and now we finally got around to creating one for Glow. I asked the girls what colors come to mind when they think of their baby sister and those are the colors we used. All of us took turns painting on it and we went back a few times to let layers dry before adding more. It’s a sweet pop of color perfect for a baby room! 

We loved Rubyellen’s idea of coming together before a new baby is born and creating a piece that is unique and memorable from the entire family. It not only can serve as a personalized piece of art but a special keepsake for the rest of their life! Visit Rubyellen’s blog, My Cakies, to learn more about her incredible family and check out her hand-picked collection of UncommonGoods baby gifts.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Film Festivals

March 14, 2012

A couple of UncommonGoods people are at SXSW this week; at the interactive part, not for film. But some of us who aren’t going (passive-aggressive pouting alert: orange) were perusing the SXSW site, looking at the film festival schedule, and saw this: “Big names, big talent: Headliners bring star power to SXSW, featuring red carpet premieres and gala film events with some major and rising names in cinema.”

Well, fine. Stars and red carpets help deals get made and careers get started. However, they are not exactly… uncommon. You can see them at Sundance. You can see them at Cannes. And now you can see them at SXSW.

But at none of the three big film festivals can you see “Downstream: Testing Trout,” (an underground cult of hardcore fly anglers in Ontario obsess over mayfly hatches and spinnerfalls while casting for trout in untouched waters),“The Bicycle Cap Made With Love by a Bike” (a bike and a sewing machine fall in love) “My Very Own Death (a man contests the claim by a scandal sheet that he died from an outdated yogurt), or “Self-Assembly of Bio-Inspired Peptoid Polymers,” (about the discovery of amphiphilic peptoid polymers of specific sequence that, in aqueous solution, spontaneously assemble into one of the thinnest two-dimensional organic crystalline materials known).

For those, you’d have to go to the International Fly Fishing Film Festival, the Bicycle Film Festival, the Atlanta Philosophy Film Festival, and the RidgeDance NanoScience Film Festival, respectively.

Welcome to the world of uncommon film festivals, where red carpets, major names and million-dollar deals are scarce and passionate devotion is in ample supply.

Just for fun, we made a list of some of the most intriguing-sounding film festivals we could find.
Grouped (somewhat) thematically, here they are:

DepicT! 90 Second Film Festival
The 15 Second Film Festival
The Ten Second Film Festival
A.D.D. Short Film Festival (sadly but kind of appropriately, this one was postponed indefinitely)
The 48 Hour Film Project (“you and a team make a movie—write, shoot, edit and score it—in just 48 hours”)
New York Cat Art Film Festival
Pet Film Festival
International Bat Film Festival
International Wildlife Film Festival
Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival

San Francisco Ocean Film Festival
International Year of Forests Film Festival

Princeton Environmental Film Festival
American Conservation Film Festival (ACFF)
Sustainability Film Festival
Possible Futures Film Festival (“film visions of the positive future that hundreds of millions of people are already living into and creating right now”)

Bicycle Film Festival
California Surf Festival
International Skateboard Film Festival
International Aquatic History Symposium & Film Festival (put on by the International Swimming Hall of Fame)
International Fly Fishing Film Festival
Action Sports Film Festival
Los Angeles All Sports Film Festival (films with “mental and physical competition for the sake of winning a prize,” with “sports” defined as “anything from auto racing to badminton and spelling bees to chess”

Food Film Festival (in association with the James Beard Foundation)
Food Justice Film Festival
Farm Film Fest (“documentary films about our food — who produces it, how it reaches us, and how it affects our health, our environment, and our local and global communities”)
Farm Film Fest (Chatham Agriculture Partnership (CAP – “films that focus on farms, farming, and farming issues”)
Farming Film Festival Video Contest (“Farmers need game changing solutions to meet rising expectations and costs. If you are a farmer, create a video that tells us about a game changing idea or technology on your farm. If you’re not a farmer, find one and help tell their story.”)

Handmade Puppet Dreams (“a touring festival of independent artist films exploring their handmade craft specifically for the camera”)
Strange Beauty Film Festival (films which are “strangely beautiful” and “beautifully strange”)

Rose City Steampunk Film Festival
Viscera Film Festival (female genre filmmakers)
Pollygrind Film Festival (“all about the darker side of cinema and the artists that bring those films to life;” held in Las Vegas)
International Festival of Darkness (“the best and the most macabre that the horror and sci-fi genres have to offer”)

NYC Mental Health Film Festival
Psychiatry Ethics Film Festival
Biomedical ethics film festival
Neuro Film Festival (put on by the American Academy of Neurology Foundation “to help raise awareness about why more research is needed to cure brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, autism, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis”)
RidgeDance NanoScience Film Festival
Nanofest: The Nanoscience Film Festival
YPOP Film Festival (solar films: solar flares, eclipses, etc.)

The Atlanta Philosophy Film Festival
San Francisco Atheist Film Festival
Interfaith Film Festival
Sikhnet Online Youth  Film Festival
International Buddhist Film Festival
San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival
New York Jewish Film Festival
Nihilist Film Festival

Politics on Film (“an annual, bipartisan film festival based in Washington DC dedicated to providing a platform for films that tell stories of America’s politics and policies”)
Magic Lantern Video & Book Store Political Film Festival

BRIEFS: Erotic Shorts Film Competition

DisABILITIES Film Festival
NY Disabilities Film Festival
Sprout Film Festival (“film and video related to the field of developmental disabilities”)
Deaf Rochester Film Festival

GI Film Festival (“the first film festival in the nation to exclusively celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the service member through the medium of film”)

San Francisco Transgender Film Festival
Lost Aneles Transgender Festival
Post Alley Film Festival (“female-centric and eccentric”)

Legacy Film Festival on Aging
ALFA (Assisted Living Federation of America) Short Film Competition on Ageism

American Indian Film Festival
Los Angeles Asian-Pacific Film Festival
Black History Film Festival
Black Panther Film Festival
Boyle Heights Latina Independent Film Extravaganza
South Asian Film Festival
Urbanworld Multicultural Film Festival  (“dedicated to redefining the multicultural roles in contemporary cinema, television, and online by supporting the urban content creation community”)
Margaret Mead Film Festival (“the longest-running showcase for international documentaries in the US; from indigenous community media to experimental nonfiction”)

Black-Rock-City-Film-Festival at Burning Man

Found Footage Festival
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
The Disposable Film Festival (“short films made on everyday equipment like cell phones, pocket cameras, and other inexpensive video capture devices”)
Century City Cell Phone (Film) Festival

YouTube Your Film Festival
Vimeo Festival and Awards

And finally, we would be remiss not to mention UncommonGoods’s own

Film Festival in a Box

The Uncommon Life

The Phantom Artist

February 23, 2012


A series of skillful drawings have appeared on the wipe boards around the break-out meeting area at the UncommonGoods office. Although we’re very curious to know who the talented artist is, we are hoping that more anonymous images keep appearing.

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