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Art

Maker Stories

Around the World with Wendy Gold

July 15, 2015

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

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

Wendy Gold | UncommonGoods

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

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

Bouquet by Wendy Gold | UncommonGoods

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

Wendy's Tools

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

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

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

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

Butterflies

Butterfly by Wendy Gold | UncommonGoods

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

Pushpin Map | Wendy Gold

See Wendy Gold's Collection

Design, The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Design School: Underground Artists

July 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Twenty-eighth Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

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

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

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

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Bleeker Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

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

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

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

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

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Mosaic panel by Squire J. Vickers

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

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

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Wall Street Station sign by Squire J. Vickers

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

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

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

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

 

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Maker Stories

Meet the Extraordinary Designers of the Extraordinaires® Design Studio

June 12, 2015

Groundbreaking designer Paul Rand once exclaimed, “Everything is design. Everything!”

While Rand’s declaration of design universality is sweeping and inspiring, it can also be confounding; its broad appropriation of, well, everything can stifle further conversation. If everything is design, then what’s the nature of everything? What’s so important about design? Where do you begin?

Irish designers Anita Murphy and Rory O’Connor suggest a place to begin, offering a way for curious non-designers to explore the process, challenges, and rewards of design through The Extraordinaires® Design Studio, an inviting activity kit that challenges young minds to think outside the box. Whereas Rand staked his claim to the totality of human endeavor, Murphy and O’Connor’s approach assumes nothing, first asking the most basic questions: “what is a designer?” and “why does the world need designers?”

Anita Murphy and Rory O’Connor

Designers Rory O’Connor (left)  and Anita Murphy (right) with their Extraordinaires Design Studio Kit

Through the guided play of their studio game and the introduction of some extraordinary “clients” (the Extraordinaires themselves, including a teenage vampire, a fairy detective, and a gentle giant), Anita and Rory invite hands-on exploration of these fundamental questions, raise many more, and encourage young designers to ask their own in a spirit of playful inquiry and empathetic discovery.

We had the pleasure of discussing the inspiration and aspirations behind the Extraordinaires with Anita and Rory in a recent conversation:

How does the Extraordinaires Studio experience differ from that of being a professional designer in the real world? What’s been simplified or enhanced here?
Many professional designers comment on how effectively we’ve captured the design process in the Extraordinaires Design Studio. We’ve presented design as a simple 3-step process, while in reality it’s a looping process, involving constant iteration for a professional designer. A key element that’s been enhanced is the Extraordinaires themselves. In the real world, a designer solves design challenges for ordinary people. In the Extraordinaires Studio, you’re tasked with helping characters with extraordinary needs—like a giant or superhero, robot or ninja—and who wouldn’t want to design a remote control for a ninja?

Expansion Pack and Case

The Design Studio features an extensive array of bizarre characters – Extraordinaires – each of whom present a unique design challenge

Assuming the goal of the Studio isn’t necessarily to produce the professional designers of tomorrow, what are the main skills fostered or lessons learned?
Empathy is a key skill fostered in the Studio. You must design for the needs of the Extraordinaire. This involves thinking about what others want, and not just what you like…thinking about the end-user. It offers a structured approach to creative thinking and problem solving, reinforces that there is often more than one answer to any challenge, and that the key is to ask lots of questions. While we would love to inspire a new generation of designers, our real goal is simply to encourage people to look at their world in a new way, to ask questions and consider how they might make it better for themselves and for others.

Do you see this primarily as a competitive game, and if so, what does that teach about the competitive nature of design? What can this experience teach about the value of constructive critique?
The Studio is more collaborative than competitive. The only person you are competing against is yourself as you try to make each new design better than your last. When playing in a group, discussion tends to become more collaborative as players use “yes… and” feedback to add to each other’s design. In the Awards ceremony, we designed the cards so that any feedback is focused on the features of the design and not on the player.

Design Kit Testing

Amateur designers collaborating on their fantastic designs 

Although it coordinates with the Extraordinaires website, the Studio seems to emulate the look of a tablet or laptop, but using low-tech, analog media. Did you consider making the entire product a digital interface? What was behind the decision to make it paper and hand drawing based?
We did consider an entirely digital platform for the Extraordinaires. When we first came up with the idea, however, we made the decision to keep it as a physical toy, thereby making it more accessible to children, in a way that digital wasn’t. Many designers still swear by pen and paper for capturing ideas. There’s something powerful about the eye/hand/brain interaction that occurs when doodling on paper. Many design lecturers have also expressed their gratitude that we kept it analog. They share their frustration with too few students taking the time to capture their ideas on paper before turning to their computer. In the future, we will enhance the play experience with certain digital elements, ultimately creating a hybrid digital/analog experience. We do intend to keep the pen and paper for the foreseeable future, however!

Have you considered ways to allow players to realize their designs or inventions in three-dimensional prototypes – like connecting to 3D printing tools?
We think there’s nothing more satisfying that seeing an idea made real, in 3 dimensions. The whole ‘maker movement’ excites us greatly. We’re already exploring options on how we can support players wanting to realize their ideas in 3 dimensions.
Our background is in 3D animation, so we know only too well what a huge leap it is to take an idea on paper to a 3D model ready to print. We think a more realistic approach is to build prototypes using found materials like cardboard, construction toys, or modeling clay. This way, you can test your design and refine it before digitally modeling it and printing out parts. We say, “before you make it, design it.”

 

Deluxe Design Studio Kit | UncommonGoodsDeluxe Design Studio Kit 

How does the Studio encourage players with design abilities but limited drawing skills or other ways to represent their ideas?
Design is not about being a great artist; good design is about great ideas and solutions. We encourage people to find their own way to communicate their ideas; this may be by drawing and sketching, but it could also be a written document, physical model, or video presentation. We factored this in when we created The Extraordinaires app. It allows you to record a presentation orally to accompany your design.

Can you comment on the spirit of innovation in contemporary Ireland? Did that spirit inspire any aspects of the Studio?
There’s an incredible amount happening here design-wise. In fact, 2015 is the Year of Design in Ireland! There is a large program of events planned to explore how design can really help people. This resonates strongly with us.

Being from Ireland, which is really just a small island on the edge of Europe, we have always been grounded in our Celtic heritage of craft and storytelling, while looking externally to Europe, North America, and Asia for additional inspiration. It’s exciting for us to hear from schools in Singapore, gamers in Poland, or families in the US who play with and love our products.

Any particularly good user feedback you’d like to share?
We really value the feedback we receive from customers and fans. We’ve been told that the Studio takes children’s creativity seriously. We’ve received praise for the way it appeals to both boys and girls. In fact, some of our biggest fans are female. Others appreciate the flexibility it offers, allowing a child to play on their own away from screens or as a family in a group. Many parents have expressed their surprise at just how much they enjoyed the experience of designing for the Extraordinaires.

Our favorite feedback is that the Studio drops you into a real design experience. It breaks down the design process and combines drawing, creative thinking and fun.

Pirate

The UncommonGoods team had a lot of fun designing with the kit – now Mr. Pirate can finally open his restaurant

Ready to meet the Extraordinaires and help them with some of their extraordinary design needs? Their box full of playful design challenges and fantastic fun is just a few clicks away, and no design degrees or drafting skills are required.

See the Collection |Design Studio Kits | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Chanda Froehle

June 8, 2015

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

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Chanda Froehle, the artist behind the Stained Glass Panel Collection.

Chanda Froehle | UncommonGoods

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I must have been very young when I knew I wanted to be an artist. I don’t remember ever not wanting to be an artist. From a very young age, my mom always encouraged me to keep making art, and my step dad always encouraged me to stay focused on my goals.

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
I think the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist was realization that I could actually do this as a career. When you’re young, and you tell someone that you want to be an artist, you get a lot of “oh honey that’s nice, but let’s be realistic” type of reactions. Because of that, I think it makes doing what I love for a living that much more exciting.

Lakeside Stained Glass Art Panel | UncommonGoodsWhat does your typical day in the studio look like?
A typical day in my studio… I spend a lot of time listening to music while I hand-cut my glass. I usually spend one day a week grouting, which is actually my favorite part of the process! It is completely messy, and that is the point where I can see the design coming to life.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I don’t know if this counts as a talisman, but I have this little box in my studio which contains my very first stained glass. My husband gave it to me years ago. It is very special to me, because without that glass, and without my husband’s unwavering support, I may have never tried to make a living as a glass artist.

Spring Tree Stained Glass Panel by Chanda Frohle | UncommonGoods

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?
I imagine if I were to show my work to a kindergartner, he or she would want to know how often I cut myself. Also, I think they would like the part where I sometimes get to smash some glass up with a hammer.

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” -Friedrich Nietzsche.

See Chanda's Collection | UncommonGoods

The Uncommon Life

Something Special Happens When Two B Corps Join Forces

May 8, 2015

Editor’s note: Daniela De Marco is the Director of Marketing at ecojot, the folks that helped us bring you our exclusive City Prints by artist Carolyn Gavin. In this guest post, Daniela explains what it means to be a B Corp and how B Corps can work together to “B the Change” that they want to see in the world.

San Francisco City Print

First, you may be thinking what are B Corps? “B Corps are certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” That means that B Corps are assessed for their impact on the environment, workers, customers, community and governance. When we here at ecojot joined the Certified B Corporation community in 2011 we knew that we weren’t just validating our good business practices. We were spreading the word to inspire other businesses and people to follow the lead in redefining success in business.

B Corp

As a B Corp we are rigorously assessed for our better businesses practices. Whether it’s ensuring we live up to our GIVE Program initiatives, making our products locally, keeping them green, or treating our employees respectfully. B Corporation is not just another certification to stamp on our products. Instead, it’s a movement for change, to make better choices when it comes to business, people, and our environment.

Best of all, special things happen when you’re a B Corp. We are automatically part of a movement that is changing the way business operates for the better. We get opportunities to discover and collaborate across nations with like-minded businesses that may not have been possible. With these collaborations we are spreading the word even further.

Check out the B Corp Anthem video to see what we mean:

When we met with the people at UncommonGoods we were over the moon excited for the opportunity to work together. Not only do we get to partner with an insanely well-known organization who can help grow our artist, Carolyn Gavin’s vision for our happy earth friendly ecojot brand, but they are a B Corp too! Meaning we share the same values to give you, our consumers, a product you’ll love, enjoy, and be proud of.
Carolyn St Lucia

Carolyn signing and giving out workbooks to the children of St. Lucia. A Rainforest of Learning trip hosted by OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation that ecojot proudly supported in 2013 through the GIVE Program.

OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundatoin

The faces of the ecojot team together with OneWorld Schoolhouse as we packed over 100 boxes full of school supplies for the children of St. Lucia and Grenada.

SchoolBags for Kids in HaitiMark Gavin, Carolyn’s brother and co-founder of ecojot visited children in Haiti in 2012 and 2013 together with SchoolBags for Kids. Providing over 33,000 workbooks and over 20,000 pens.

Without further ado, this spring we exclusively launched City Print designs by our uber-talented artist Carolyn Gavin with fellow awesome B Corp UncommonGoods, who have gone over and beyond in working with us to create a set of beautiful thick stock, Portland made, sustainable wall prints that capture the colors and cultural of the cities.

Carolyn Gavin | City Prints

Carolyn’s process involves painting and hand lettering each landmark separately. She then combines them into a bright map-style design. Watch her in action as she listens to music by harpist Brandee Younger and paints San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden.

Whether you want to adorn your walls with the fresh sights of San Francisco, or the magic of Paris, find Carolyn’s ten popular cities here. To find other socially responsible businesses in your area and online, check out the B Corp Community.