Browsing Tag

Artist

Design

Call for Entries: Garden Decor Design Challenge

January 18, 2013

We couldn’t wait to get this year’s design challenge calendar underway and are excited to announce the call for entries for the Garden Decor Design Challenge from now until January 31. This call is a search for garden sculptures, planters, bird houses and other accessories for an outdoor space and the winning design will be featured in our Spring catalog.

“Our customers love handmade, creatively designed garden décor,” says our home accessories buyer Katie Giannone. “With spring and summer right around the corner, we are entering our strongest sales period for outdoor items. This design contest is an exciting opportunity to showcase your work, gain exposure and a potential partnership with our brand.”

To learn more about the challenge and to submit your designs, visit the Garden Decor Design Challenge page.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Michelle Inciarrano & Katy Maslow

January 10, 2013

It only took a short subway ride to get from UncommonGoods headquarters to the Twig Terrariums studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, but when I got there I was surprised at how far away I felt. I stepped into a tiny forest of laughs, puppies, and Lady Gaga songs (OK, there was only one puppy–but you get the idea). It was very clear that the Twig brand is all about the things BFFs Michelle and Katy love most – making beautiful and whimsical living environments inside apothecary jars, achieving their goals, and having fun. Growing up in Brooklyn, they were childhood buddies and reconnected at a friend’s birthday party a decade later. They recharged their friendship with regular craft nights, and when Michelle suggested they try putting together terrariums, Katy had to admit that she didn’t know what one was.

I could give one of Michelle’s famous Braveheart-like speech about how much fun I had in their studio, but I’d rather you hear about why Twig is so successful in Michelle’s own words.

What are your most essential tools?
Our #1 best tool of all time is… wait for it… the “pokey stick.” Yes, a simple dowel. We absolutely love them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Where do you not find inspiration? We are obsessed with making these miniature gardens – and do not understand any other way since we started. We simply cannot fathom an end to creating them and the possibilities are endless. We revel in them.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Plan on needing more space than you think. Seriously. We moved studios 4 times in the last three years. Four times! And when you factor in that most of the stuff to be moved is made of glass, you understand our horror. Luckily, we made it through with surprisingly little broken, but jeez, that was a challenge. And then when you factor in the costs of moving, repairs, storage and design, the enormity of the situation becomes clearer. We still cringe when we think of it! But now we have 3,000 sq feet to play in, and although we still run out of room on occasion, we have an outdoor area to play in when we need a break. And did I mention the 14-foot paper mache tree we built in the middle of the studio? Yes, we now have a 14-foot paper mache tree!

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
I would write the “us of five years ago” a novel! Seriously. A novel. There is so much I’d like to say, but if I had to cut it short, I’d reassure myself by saying that everything is going to be okay, and to stay focused. I’d reassure Katy, too. We worry a lot.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I mind-map with Katy for all long-term goals – this is where we discuss the new things we want to do and create, then break them down into short-term goals, then break those down into to-do lists.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We celebrate everything here at Twig! The staff here are a small family. Or cult. We can’t decide. You can ask them yourself but I have a feeling they’ll say it’s a cult. We all believe in the team “work hard/play hard” philosophy, so while we are happy to have a Mimosa Monday, we may have had a late Friday. We are all self-driven. And finishing everything we had to do on Friday is a victory. It’s usually an impressive list. Taxes are a victory. So is being featured in a magazine, or a wonderfully fun event at New York Botanic Gardens, or winning an award (or four) at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The only rule is that we party after the work is done, but one of my favorite things to do during a long (or particularly packed) day is surprise everyone with a picnic style bbq feast on top of our picnic tables (underneath our paper mache tree, of course). Ribs, fried chicken, mac n cheese, creamed spinach… you get the idea.

Putting together the Unchartered Territory Terrarium.


What quote keeps you motivated?
Katy and I are both English majors (hers in poetry, mine in fine art and classic literature). Never ask English majors for quotes. We’ll inundate you. We can’t help it. There are too many.


Instead, Michelle and Katy shared Twig’s motto “an easily maintained, easily contained life”, something that describes their work ethic as well as their terrariums. They believe that being maintained and contained includes strong goal-setting and super-sized list making–but also playing as hard as you work.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Oddly, we argue. Then we cry. Then we hug. We are happy. Then we create. This happens only every four months or so.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
That’s the thing; there isn’t much down time here during the day. We are a growing a small business here! But once the day is done, there is always beer in the fridge, chips and dip laying about, and stories to share.

Michelle and Katy sat in Prospect Park one day trying to figure out what the name of their creative company would be. The mulled over many choices until Katy reached down, picked up what she refers to as the most perfect twig she has ever seen and made one simple suggestion that stuck. That fateful twig now rests inside this antique apothecary jar in their store.



Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
We collaborate with a few glass blowers to design pieces for us, as well as visualize our designs. We love it!

After spending an hour or so with Michelle and Katy, it was really easy to understand why their terrariums are so popular, why the press can’t stay away, and why fans flock to their studio for workshops and classes. They are all about having fun and getting the work done – especially the really fun work.

Maker Stories

Meet Susan, Winner of the Upcycling Design Challenge

December 11, 2012

Earlier this month, our Upcycling Design Challenge judges met at UncommonGoods headquarters, some in person and others via Skype, to pick a winner from the top five voted designs. After and hour of discussing five unique designs made of reclaimed materials, the judges decided Susan Harbourt’s Forget Me Not Necklace made of recycled copper was the best choice to join our collection of upcycled goods. Meet Susan and help us welcome her to the UncommonGoods artist family.

How did you first get into designing?
As fate would have it, my husband had an amazing opportunity to move half way across the county. This meant leaving my engineering career behind and beginning what I thought was a new chapter in my life, little did I realize it was actually a whole new book!

We moved to Illinois and purchased a large Edwardian Era home out in the country that had not been maintained since the 1950s. It was a lovely home full of grace and charm and was in need of reviving. One fateful night, I was helping my husband update the original electrical system installed during the 1930s as a part of the Rural Electrification Act. Scattered all over the floor were piles of lovely aged copper wire that we had just removed from the walls of the old house. In an absent-minded gesture, to pass the time while waiting for the next instruction on how to help, I picked up a few scraps and wove them into a bracelet. A spark was ignited and a new passion was born in that very moment. Little did I know how much that moment would redefine the rest of my life.

What was the inspiration for the Forget Me Not Necklace?
The inspiration for my Forget-Me-Not line of jewelry actually stems from a mishap that occurred on the first Valentine’s Day my husband (then boyfriend) celebrated 20 years ago. He tried so hard to be romantic and surprise me by buying a special bouquet of flowers that were to be delivered to my dorm room. The flowers arrived, but they were three days late. He was so traumatized from that single event that he swore off buying flowers forever, so he switched to buying me jewelry instead. Now that I make jewelry, my husband no longer enjoys buying it for me. I do miss getting flowers and jewelry as gifts, so I had to do something about it! So I must admit, I designed the Forget-Me-Not jewelry line to fulfill my desire to receive flowers and jewelry again.

What is your favorite upcycling tip?
Don’t let what something was limit your mind to what something can become…

What do you enjoy about designing with materials that would otherwise be discarded?
I enjoy showing others, through my art, that there is more than one way to view the world around them and to not take things for granted because of how they seem at first or the labels placed upon them. It’s like a metaphor for life that applies both to objects and for relationships.

Is designing a full-time job or a hobby?
My official full-time job is being mommy to two very creative and inquisitive little boys. Designing jewelry started out as an accidental hobby for me. It then became something that allowed me to earn enough money to pay for the occasional babysitter and date night with the hubby. After a few years of teetering on that edge of hobby versus business I decided it was time to commit to taking my passion to the next level. I have spent the past year redefining and refining my business and vision. It is amazing to look at where I am now versus a few years ago. I am proud to tell people that I am now a full time work-at-home entrepreneur and mom!

Describe your work space.
My studio is a work space dream come true! It is a large well lit space that I set up with a great flow that allows me to be organized, efficient, creative and productive. As you enter there is an office area and bookcase full of books and items to inspire me. From there it continues into my material storage and metal prep area that is filled with some amazing tools with great history. I have a large chest of drawers that once housed geological samples in a museum at the University of Illinois and there is a variety of large industrial tools that are from the 1940s. Beside that area I have my soldering and metal forming stations followed by the area where I do my finishing and assembly work. The last stop in my studio is my shipping station that makes me feel like every day is a holiday – it’s full of ribbons and boxes and items I made that are ready to start their journey out into the world and begin their new life with someone new.

The thing I love most about my studio is that I have a well-stocked creative play area set up where both of my boys can explore their artistic minds along side of me as I work. I enjoy watching them have the freedom to create and express their individuality. My husband also has a wonderful metal and wood shop set up on the other side of the wall which has a large window in it so we can feel more like we are working together.

What challenges do you face as an artist who designs with reclaimed materials?
The big challenge that I face [is running] out of my unique materials. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of copper wire that I removed from my house. I feel like I have hardly put a dent into it. I have also found that once people realize that I like to create with reclaimed materials, they become very generous in bringing over there project scraps. That is how I came across the copper roofing materials I have started to incorporate into my work.

The other big challenge I have with my work is that some people just don’t get it. I feel that I often have to educate people about the significance of using recycled and reclaimed materials. There are always the people that feel that copper is a low end metal and don’t understand why I don’t work with gold and other designer metals. Not that I am opposed to using the other metals, and at times I do use them, it is just that I love my old copper wire!

What advice would you offer someone interested in entering an UncommonGoods Design Challenge?
The best piece of advice I can offer someone interested in entering an UncommonGoods Design Challenge is to find your own voice and perspective first and have confidence in it. It does not have to be exotic and elaborate; it just has to be uniquely yours and fresh.

Maker Stories

Natural Beauty: Nancy Nelson’s Forest-Inspired Jewelry

December 10, 2012

Take one look at Nancy Nelson’s jewelry and it’s obvious that she’s deeply inspired by nature. The organic shapes, earthy feel, and, in some cases, the actual natural elements used—such as the raw semi-precious stones in her Aquamarine Branch Ring –all celebrate Nancy’s love of the outdoors.

The ring, and her beautiful Blue Pinecone Necklace, were both featured in our community voting app, where they received some fantastic feedback from our online community. But before the designs made their way to our buying team, and even before the first pieces of brass and silver used were cast, these creations started as found objects in the forests near Nancy’s West Virginia home.

“I live in a small town 2.5 hours west of Washington DC,” Nancy told us. “It is an area filled with nature trails, state parks, and adventurous outdoor activities. Our family spends much of our time exploring the outdoors. It was during one of our adventures in the Appalachian Mountains that I spotted the twig for the Aquamarine Branch Ring.”

While the ring doesn’t actually contain this original twig, it does feature the exact likeness of it, because the sterling silver band is hand-cast by Nancy from a mold made of that very piece of wood.

Like that perfect twig, the pine cone that became the model for the Blue Pinecone Necklace was also selected on a family outing, while visiting the place Nancy’s children like to call the “Magic Forest,” Swallow Falls.

“We collected tiny pine cones from the forest floor as we hiked,” said Nancy. “With our pockets full, we took the pine cones back to my studio where we examined each one. I then selected the one I felt was the most beautiful in form, shape, and texture. When choosing the perfect pine cone, I took into consideration [its] size and weight. Since all my castings are solid, this is one of the most important aspects in choosing a good model. The pine cone had to be lightweight enough to hang comfortably from a necklace.”

Once cast, the brass incarnation of the pine cone is given a blue patina, which Nancy hand-paints. Nancy explained why she chose to add this hint of blue, “It stems from my love of lichen that grows on the trees, rocks, and fallen pine cones throughout the moist forest which is dominated by tall Hemlocks. I wanted to transform the pine cone and add color but I wanted it to be a little more controlled, which is why I decided to patina the edges.”


While these majestic hemlocks, fallen pine cones, and the other wonders of nature that surround her definitely influence Nancy’s work, she does have other muses. “Being a mom, I usually do not have to look far for inspiration,” she said. “My young children’s growing imagination and quest for exploration inspires me to think outside of the box and challenge myself to create something timeless yet interesting in form—something uncommon.”

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Audrey Heller

December 6, 2012

I remember the sample meeting (where each week our buyers present uncommon products they’re considering for our line-up) when Audrey Heller’s fantastical photographs were first introduced. The team was immediately captivated by the whimsical scenes, and not a buyer could wait to add her work to our collection.

Remembering the excitement around her creative pieces like End Well, Ripened, and my personal favorite, Bound, I couldn’t wait to get a tour of the studio where Audrey brings her miniature models to life. Since Audrey is in San Francisco, I couldn’t visit her workspace in person; but being a photographer and all, Audrey was happy to snap some photos of her own to provide virtual tour of her studio.

What are your most essential tools?
Eyes. Light. Focus. Patience. NPR. Coffee. And then a bunch of tech stuff.

I was a lighting designer and director for theater, and I use those skills all the time. I create and light my little scenarios, using many of the same design theories that I used on a big stage, but adjusting my tools to tiny scale. So what I would do with a 400 pound follow spot in the theater, I might do with a flashlight in my studio.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love to be surrounded by evidence of creative thinking, reminders of unique places I have been, and objects with histories.

I’ve spent the last twelve years traveling to art shows across the country. That connects me to a huge variety of artists, people who present and support the arts, and arts educators. All of those connections, combined with the array of sublime and ridiculous experiences I have on the road, remind me that there are always new things to explore.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I’ve started to learn to play the ukulele. I have absolutely no musical training or aptitude, so I’m just dreadful. But I’m slowly getting less dreadful, and that’s really amazing. It is hard, it takes a lot of focus, progress is slow…but it is such a sweet and silly little sound that I can’t get too worked up about how bad I am. Working on a three chord song is a great way to reset my brain.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Ha. I usually set goals by committing to an external deadline. Deadlines are great for me, because without them, I would never consider anything finished. So I look for things that will stretch me, maybe scare me and then I say yes. From there, it’s the calendar and lists!

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Theater is the ultimate collaborative art, and I struggle with working alone. I really love working with people, incubating and nurturing ideas.

In this series my collaborators are silent, but essential. The figures I use are made for model train sets, and they all come from the same manufacturer. They are crafted with incredible precision and care, and have made it possible for me to create work with much more depth than if they were not, in themselves, so fascinating.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is its own reward, right? When it’s not, ice cream!*

* San Francisco is the home of some mighty fine purveyors of frozen treats, but I travel a lot, so I’m always interested to hear of new places to try..feel free to offer your suggestions!

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“You are here.”

It is simple, and profound. Sometimes it’s just a locational fact, sometimes it is great ponderable wisdom of the ages. It is a reminder that I often need. My curiosity can become a liability and lead to distraction. When I remind myself to be present just where I am, I get a lot more out of what is in front of me and who I’m with. It’s delightful that the phrase appears in the world, unlooked for. When I see it, even on a map in a subway station, it reminds me to stop and look around.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Serious play is the best recharger for me. Learning, experimenting, trying out new things, can put me in that childlike state of mind where I’m open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I don’t mean “childlike” to sound simple, or superficial. I mean REAL child-like: when the world is fresh and full of wonder, and a little scary and mystifying and out of control.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes. I don’t get better by figuring out how to do things right; I get better by doing things. Jump in.