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Maker Stories

Ali Bennaim and Ximena Chouza: Out-of-this World Fashion

March 17, 2015

Inspired and entranced by the breathtaking splendor of outer space, Ali Bennaim and Ximena Chouza bring the marvels of the universe down to Earth in the form of interstellar accessories. The makers met while attending Parsons the New School for Design in New York and bonded over their captivation with the cosmos and their passion for fashion. Although Ali is from Caracas, Venezuela, and Ximena is from Mexico City, after graduating they set up shop in Brooklyn where they design unique textiles that take their cues from the majesty and mystery of the universe.

Ali Bennaim and Ximena Chouza | UncommonGoods

The self-proclaimed “space-crazed” duo explore the vast archive of images captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. This invaluable astronomical tool orbits outside the distortion of Earth’s atmosphere, capturing high-resolution photographs that have led to many breakthroughs in astrophysics. Some of these luminous shots, such as the phases of the moon, were snapped close to home, while others that capture stellar celestial bodies and vast networks of gas clouds thousands of light years away offer us a deep view into space and time.

Hubble Telescope Milky Way Scarf | UncommonGoods

 Hubble Telescope Milky Way Scarf

 

Ali and Ximena say that working with these incredible views of space is the most rewarding part of their process. “These are very special and beautiful images and we are grateful to be able to work with them,” they say. After preparing the photographs digitally for printing, the designers apply the imagery to feather-light wool gauze scarves that are cut and finished by hand.

The starry-eyed pair is committed to sourcing their materials and producing everything in their home base of the Big Apple. “We always make sure that our materials are of the best quality we can get,” they say. “Most people are very impressed by the quality and vibrancy of our prints.”

Designing the Milkyway Scarf

Though they may have lofty ambitions, they also say that they’ll never forget their earthly beginnings and aim to remain environmentally conscious. They employ a waste-saving technique, carefully designing every accessory to make the most of every inch of fabric, leaving next to nothing for the landfill.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Richard Upchurch

March 12, 2015

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

As UncommonGoods photographer Emily and I made our way to visit Richard Upchurch’s studio, our cab driver quizzed us on some of the local neighborhood acronyms. “Do you know what Tribeca stands for?” he stared at us in his rear-view mirror. “Triangle below Canal Street,” we laughed. “What about Dumbo?” “Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” we said in unison. “Do you know why this neighborhood is called Red Hook?” he mused as we turned down a one-way street lined with rugged facades. We were stumped. “Because of all these brick buildings?” I guessed. “I don’t think so!” he teased. “But seriously, I’m not sure. Do you know?” he peered back in the mirror.

Out of guesses, I stared out the window at the jumble of modern and old-fashioned storefronts. With its scattered cobblestone streets and uncanny industrial vibe (a holdover from when it was a busy shipping center), I felt like I was back in my old Pittsburgh neighborhood. That is, until I saw the beautiful view of New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty directly across from the studio’s dome shaped doors. 

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

Richard introduced himself with a comforting flair of southern hospitality. As soon as he learned about Emily’s Georgia roots, he started describing his favorite Georgia venues where he had previously performed as a touring musician, setting the stage for an afternoon with one of the best storytellers either of us had met in a long time. He walked us around his studio and described how Lil’ MibZoots, and Loopy Lou grew from blocks of wood into sound recording gadgets. He related the first days of his business brandnewnoise, and how it’s grown to become an influential internship provider for inner-city students. He gave us the inside scoop behind the bright green frog in the center of his workstation. (A project that involved a crazy collaboration with Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips!) We pointed to his old wooden thumb piano, among other oddities, and he elaborated with charming, sentimental tales. He pointed toward his favorite barbecue joint across the street, distinguishing all of the clandestine spots that make Red Hook so special. With each new story, he built the kind of environment that made us want to settle into rocking chairs, crack open beers, and chat about life. After meeting Richard, I am not surprised that he decided to set up shop in a neighborhood that’s so full of history, character, and unexpected treasures.

Whether you’re looking for creative inspiration, or just hoping to get a sneak peek into an artist’s everyday life, you’re in good company. Pull up your favorite chair, sit back, and enjoy our tour of Richard’s Brooklyn Studio.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
My Weller soldering iron, table saw, drill presses, hot glue guns, needle nose pliers, hand sanders, 320 grit sandpaper, and my bike.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Mason jars filled with electronics, wood working equipment, found oddities, tools, workspace to build, and an espresso maker. I’m lucky this is what I call work.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoodsRichard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

How did you develop the concept of your product?
I wanted my nephew to have the experience of an old tape machine. I couldn’t find one for cheap, so I just built him something that would simulate the experience. I ended up building him a simple voice recorder made out of wood where he could change the sound of his voice. He took it to show and tell, where his teachers inquired about purchasing some. So I made five for his teachers. I made 10 for my first online store at the insistence of my sister-in-law and, well, here I am still building them today.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

How do you believe that your past experiences have helped you develop your current business?
Everything we do is built on previous days and our ability to move forward into something positive. Those days add up. I studied art in college. I got out of college and toured playing music for 10 years. Now here I am at the intersection of art and music making sound gadgets.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
“Workflow”, “margins”, and the jargon can easily outweigh time spent doing what I do best, making art. It’s quite difficult to constantly step away from the business part and get back to that which I love: the process of creating, building and seeing a physical object materialize from inception. One must create time to create.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Walk through every open door. If you find yourself in a room that doesn’t seem to hold your attention then look for the open door. There is no dead end.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
A victory lap might include a good cappuccino, a movie while we work, cookies (always cookies), and some robot dancing. When? The goal is to find reason to do the robot every day.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I think this changes as events in our world change and certainly in my own personal life. So recently, I followed the story of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, the two guys who climbed Dawn Wall in Yosemite:

“I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.” – Kevin Jorgeson

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel. Live music. Dinner parties with interesting storytellers. Bike rides. Laughing really hard with friends. Looking at art. Taking things apart.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Collaboration is at the heart of my process. I am surrounded by talented, positive people who have different ways of seeing and are always ready to create positive change. I love throwing something into the universe and seeing it evolve.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am surrounded by other artists, woodworkers, electronics wizards, and musicians that constantly challenge me to be better. I try not to get overwhelmed and just keep honing my skills in lots of different areas. We are all here to encourage each other, so I keep my eyes open and my hands always ready to build something.

Maker Stories

Diving into Holly Hansen’s Winning Artwork

March 3, 2015

Swimming III | UncommonGoods

Simplistic as it may be, I firmly believe in Isak Dinesen’s philosophy that “the cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.”  I am happiest when soaking up vitamin D near any body of water. Growing up in south Florida triggered my deep love for the ocean and my fascination with marine life. Though I’ve grown to appreciate all landscapes, there’s no environment that I find more restorative than a pristine beach.

I was inevitably captivated by Swimming III, Holly Hansen’s winning Art Design Challenge entry. I was not surprised to learn that the young artist grew up around Cape Cod. Her ability to effortlessly reflect the layers of the ocean from dawn to dusk suggests that she shares a similar affinity for the sea shore. This piece made me feel instantly nostalgic for the days where I’ve freely floated in the ocean like a mermaid, trusting the waves to flow my body along the beach until my sun-kissed skin turned pruney at sunset. It’s because of this nostalgia that I admire the reason behind Holly’s decision to use a monotype method for this piece: its spontaneity allowed her to “let go of a lot of control” and gain more flexibility. This piece is an experiment that worked…swimmingly! At it’s core, it’s such a refreshing example of the dynamic energy within this beloved landscape. Read on to meet Art Design Challenge Winner Holly Hansen, and learn about her artistic influences, her go-to inspiration triggers, and her uncanny knack for spotting four-leaf clovers.

Holly Hansen | UncommonGoods

How did you come up with the concept of your winning piece?
Swimming III is the final piece of a triptych. With this series, I focused on creating mood and atmosphere in my landscapes in ways I hadn’t attempted before. Previously, I worked primarily in etching, but for this series I chose monotype for its spontaneity. I was able to work with landscape in a refreshing and flexible way. With such a responsive medium, I could let go of a lot of control. The series was an experiment, but it sent me off in the right direction.

Can you tell us 3 fun, random facts about yourself?
1. I am THE BEST at finding four leaf clovers. I will take any challengers, especially since people have given up on looking with me.

2. Most of us are familiar with synesthesia, that scene in Ratatouille where Remy sees dancing colors when he eats something delicious. I have visual motion-to-sound synesthesia. It’s like having sound effects to everything I can see, that only I can hear. Almost like a cartoon.

3. I’m 23 and I still order Shirley Temples at bars.

What different techniques do you use when creating your art?
I am very attracted to mark making. A large portion of creating an image is finding the most exciting pairs of marks to sit next to each other. I use several different tools to create marks. I push myself the most when I’m drawing. I try many techniques to push myself out of my comfort zone. At one point I was standing above my desk with a .005mm Micron pen taped to my longest brush, drawing on a 22” x 40” piece of printmaking paper. Whether it’s flying through drawing after drawing, or having four pieces of Bristol taped to the desk and one palette of gouache, nothing was said in one articulate statement. It feels more like pulling adjectives out of no where and throwing in nouns you had no idea mattered to you in a stuttering, clumsy, and heartfelt argument. After all that’s said and done, I have the right momentum to approach my primary piece at that time.

Holly Hansen | UncommonGoods

Describe your workspace.
I made Swimming III while I was still in school, and could utilize their extensive print shop 24/7. Now I’m just working at my desk at home or out in observation. I don’t have access to a print studio, but things are much more spontaneous and open minded. I’m in a phase where I’m less focused on creating finished images as finding new things that interest me. I went through a phase where I was picking up whatever fabric I had left on the ground near my desk and scanning it. It’s just a baby seal plush and some fake furs pressed against glass, but I’m having so much fun.

Who or what are your influences?
Anyone who is really pushing themselves to make something they haven’t done before. In that way, I studied the way artists progressed over time, specifically focusing on Sally Mann and Andrew Wyeth. You could do the same with with Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift. I love seeing the determination and passion in those who seek growth.

Holly Hansen | UncommonGoods

Can you walk us through the step by step process of creating Swimming III?
Swimming III was specifically a search for different ways to use a large roller to create an image in monotype. Instead of using a small roller to cover the plexi, or a large roller in one big sweep, I challenged myself. I found the biggest roller I could physically hold. Doubling back and layering with the roller unintentionally led to the four distinct segments of the piece. The series involved several experiments with a large roller, each piece having multiple layers of monotype, drypoint on plexi, and hand-drawing.

Holly Hansen | UncommonGoods

What’s your favorite feedback that someone has said about something you created?
A gallery owner who had never seen my work began one of my school final reviews with: “I had no idea there were young artists interested in landscape. I mean landscape? It’s refreshing to see someone try and make their own voice in something so well established.” That was the first time somebody had recognized my intentions. It’s hard to gain respect working in landscape, but I see it as a challenge to create your own voice in a popular genre.

Holly Hansen | UncommonGoods

What are your hobbies outside of art?
I love cooking. You’re learning a skill through experience, just like making art, except you get to eat it. And if you mess up? There’s no one to disappoint but some taste buds. It can be very meditative, focused, or carefree. Whatever you need to do to end your insane day and please your stomach. And I love to take care of my plants and succulents.

Creative people all have those days (or weeks!) when we feel lost, unmotivated, or stuck. How do you keep yourself inspired when you’re in a rut?
I hang everything I’ve been working on around the studio and look. Then I go to an artist’s supply store and look. If that doesn’t work, I leave the city, go back to the Cape, and look.

Holly Hansen | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Fernanda Sibilia: The Tango, Fileteado, and Freedom From Fashion

February 27, 2015

While some artists and designers have to go out of their way to find inspiration—venturing out to museums or into breathtaking natural settings to rekindle their creative spark—Argentinian jewelry maker Fernanda Sibilia says “inspiration is easy in Buenos Aires” where she has her studio. It’s in the Abasto district, named for the Mercado de Abasto, which was the main fruit and vegetable market for the city for nearly a century. Now a fashionable mall, it remains a focus of tradition and vibrant urban life for Buenos Aires.

Fernanda Sibilia | UncommonGoods

Fernanda observes that Buenos Aires offers many layers of inspiration—natural, architectural, and cultural. “The sky is blue almost every day, and the trees have a different color each season,” she says. “My favorite month is November, when our trees bloom…Jacaranda, Palo Borracho, and Tipas, one after the other.” This vivid natural palette is rivaled only by the colorfully decorated buildings of the fileteado porteño style, where entire facades are adorned with elaborate ribbons, fanciful dragons, and floral arabesques. The spirit of fileteado also finds its way into the patinated floral surfaces of some of Fernanda’s jewelry.

Embossed Patina Cuff Bracelets | UncommonGoods

Fileteado | Wikimedia

Buenos Aires, rue Jean Jaures 709 (Paseo del Filete) façade painted by Tulio Ovando, Wikimedia Commons

Fernanda’s Abasto neighborhood is also associated with the blossoming of the tango in Buenos Aires, a sensuous tradition of music and dance that can be glimpsed in some of her designs where the gestural twisting and layering of metals produces alluringly sinuous forms. She says that she “feels like an alchemist” when combining the qualities of different metals, and “love[s] mixing the green of patina, the red of copper, the yellowish brown of brass, and the iridescences of oxides.”

Cerro Statement Necklace | UncommonGoods

Whatever the influences on her work, Fernanda makes an intriguing distinction between modes of inspiration, saying, “I try to be near art rather than fashion. This makes me enjoy simple things without being aware of trends, so I’m aesthetically independent.” Essentially, she’s pursuing a timelessness in her designs, steering them away from the mercurial influence of fashion, avoiding the limited shelf life of ever-shifting trends.

Maker Stories

A First Look at Sarah Janece Garcia’s First Light

February 19, 2015

Sarah Janece Garcia's Studio Space | UncommonGoods
I’ve always loved nature-inspired art, and when I saw Sarah Janece Garcia’s Design Challenge entry, I knew I was looking at something special. Not only is Sarah inspired by nature, she’s also motivated by an unstoppable urge to create. That drive from within helps her start fresh pieces with enthusiasm, building with colors and abstract shapes until her work transforms into recognizable images of plants and animals.

Her winning piece, First Light, is a beautiful example of how Sarah draws from nature to combine realism and abstraction. Allowing what she describes as “the movements of wind and water” to guide her brush, the self-taught artist creates solid forms that seem to flow like liquid. Read on to meet the artist, learn more about her process, and see why she believes it’s important to follow your passion.

Sarah Garcia | UncommonGoods
How did you celebrate when you found out that you won our design challenge?
I am very appreciative that my painting First Light got to be a part of the Art and Design Challenge. I was so honored that it received such positive feedback and so many votes from the public. When I received the call that UncommonGoods had awarded the painting as the winner, I was thrilled. As an artist, my wish is to create work that others are drawn to and thus connect with. So, to know this piece reached out to others in such a positive way was very encouraging.

My husband, who is certainly my number one fan and supporter, is in fact who told me about this challenge, so fittingly he was the first person I told and celebrated with. He was beyond happy for me, as were all the wonderful art supporters I have that offer me continuous inspiration. Being able to inform those that are a part of my artistic journey that First Light won really brought the happiness full circle.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
A moment that sticks out in my mind occurred in 5th grade where the class was asked to make an illustrated short story on what we wanted to be when we grew up. In that story, on the last page, I wrote, “When I grow up I will be an artist” and drew a picture of myself at an easel painting on a canvas. The reason this story has never faded from my memory is because I find it to be a constant reminder of the fact that I am getting to make my dream come true on a daily basis. I have gotten this wonderful opportunity to fulfill a wish I grew up believing I could do and every day that I get to paint is a day that I am accomplishing what I feel I was meant to do.

Paints and Brushes
Painting Materials


How did you teach yourself to paint and how are you continuing to develop those skills?

My upbringing was one in which creative expression was very much encouraged. I grew up with art and music being created all around me and I was always provided with the tools to express myself creatively. I can remember my mom telling me stories [when I was growing up] about artists that bravely traveled the world to create their beautiful paintings, and learning about artists that had come before me. I experimented in many different styles of art for many years, all of which I would delve into and learn as I went along. I was never shown how to draw or paint certain things, but the fact that I had all the encouragement and tools to try the out different mediums or styles were invaluable to me growing as an artist. Once I found my style of painting nature in the mediums of oil and watercolor, I saw real growth as an artist. I reached a point that I knew my artistic voice and style had arrived, which enabled me to guide the direction of my work and learn my craft in a better way.

I found that being self-taught was a wonderful first step for me. However, there is always more to learn in the world of art and countless possibilities to explore. I feel that instructional classes, art workshops, subject research, and a great deal of experimenting are all fantastic tools to advancing artistically. I am a true believer in working hard at what you feel passionate about, putting in the hours to develop your skills, and seeking out any knowledge that can be gained in bettering yourself as an artist. I find the endless possibilities in art to be so exciting.

Coco Chanel Quote

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
The short answer is nature. Like the human spirit, nature has this amazing ability to not only grow but flourish amongst such varying circumstances. As people, we rely on nature for life sustaining necessities as well as its provision of beauty that we get to enjoy. I find abundant inspiration from what grows from this earth and what takes flight above me in the sky. My abstractions are produced with stories of nature in mind, the movements of wind and water being the most predominant. For subject matter, my thoughts always go to flowers and flying creatures. The delicate mix of strength and gentleness that both flowers and small creatures possess really fascinates me. I become inspired to explore this balance in my work. I find the beauty of nature to be incredible powerful in my life. Nature’s beauty enriches my soul and continues to bring me comfort and happiness at the precise moment I need it. I feel very strongly that when I show love and respect nature, nature always returns the favor.

Inspiration for Sarah's Work
Greenery Around Sarah's Home

What’s your artistic process?
My artistic process always begins with an abstract creation. I use either oil or watercolor to create my initial abstraction. Often, my abstractions are inspired by the elements of wind and water. For the structure of my abstractions, I often look to the beauty and movement of glass art. I find glass art contains a fluid, interweaving movement, which allows me to lay abstractions down in a more effortless and clear manner. My color choices always come from what is inspiring the piece. For me, every painting has a story and that story dictates my color palette.

As I paint, my story builds and the colors in which I feel continues to better tell the story are what I place on the canvas or paper. In my artistic process, I never truly know where my abstraction will end up and that abandonment of control is what I feel gives my work the movement and freedom that I hope to capture in each piece. Once the abstraction is at a place where I feel confident with it, I place my subject matter. The subject matter I like to work with is the wonderful natural elements that surround us all. I always let the abstract direct what will be placed on it and I place the subject on when the abstraction is wet. I find this enables the subject to move with the abstraction while still remaining the focal point of the piece.

Once the elements are positioned, I am able to come in with the necessary details to define the subjects on the painting. From the beginning to the end of the painting I am able to explore nature in both a literal and abstract way. To me, this process fulfills my artistic need to express my vision while still being relatable to others that have a soulful love for nature.

Sarah's Oil Painting Space

Describe your work space. Is there anything there that’s particularly inspiring to you?
I work in a home studio and I find that being surrounded by the things I love in my home helps inspire me to paint beauty. My in-home studio is equipped with all the tools I need to either paint in oil or watercolor and I often will rotate the location I paint in depending on the medium.

I am a constant night owl, so painting in my home studio is the most agreeable route. I find the night time to be the most inspirational, due to the fact that while most of the world rests I am able to find my center and concentrate solely on my work. I keep my workspace minimally lit, because it enables me to better paint the light in my work. I often lean towards dark colors as a preference, so keeping my studio workspace a bit more dim allows me to elevate my saturation of color while painting brighter brights. Also, I find when new inspiration or a fresh perspective is needed a change in scenery is all it takes.

Due to painting natural elements in my work, I sometimes take my painting outside in the sunlight where nature surrounds me. When choosing our home, we made sure that it had beautiful established greenery everywhere. We have numerous crape myrtle and fruit trees along with big rose bushes and a variety of flowering plants. I keep bird baths and feeders available to make sure our lovely little hummingbirds abound and the beautiful birds are able to find a sanctuary along with us in our backyard. By surrounding myself with the things I love, both inside my studio and outside in the environment, I am able to continuously be motivated and better able to incorporate these much-loved elements in my work.

Generations |Sarah Janece Garcia

What’s your best advice for aspiring artists?
I believe maintaining an exuberant passion for creating is an imperative necessity for all artists. Sure working, learning, and growing in your craft is very important, but just as essential is a passion for your work. I find that a deep passion for the creative process continues to be the driving force behind my work. I once read that you should never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about. If crafting art falls under this category in your life, then by all means never give up on that love of artistic expression. I find this love for art and painting continuously keeps me striving to develop my skills and encourages me to experiment in the creative process.

See Sarah's Collection | UncommonGoods