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Maker Stories

‘Tis the Season To Get Ready for the Holiday Season

November 9, 2012


‘Tis the season for the leaves to change color and the days to get colder–signs that the holidays are fast approaching! Our team here at UncommonGoods is getting ready for spending time with family, the merriment of holiday parties with friends, and lots of delicious family favorite foods.

But with all this planning at home, there’s still work to be done at UncommonGoods HQ. We’re preparing our warehouse with unique gifts and necessities for the season, so you can find the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for person (come on we all know one!). But of course, we’re not the only ones having fun preparing for the holidays. We asked our designers, Jim Martin of Green3 Apparel, Josh McGlothlin of Icebox Knitting, and Jamie Cornett of Instrumental Lighting to share how they get ready for the holiday season.

The holidays are a crazy time of year at Green3 with orders pouring in for their one-of-a-kind reclaimed products. Jim says the demand really “keeps our team hopping!” Despite the demand, the Green3 team is solid, knowing exactly what to expect during the holiday rush. The team gets an addition during the holiday season, in the form of energetic college students home for the holidays. As if getting ready for the holidays didn’t give Jim enough on his plate, he is also a judge in our Upcycling Design Challenge!

This holiday season, Jim is excited for items that use reclaimed Christmas sweaters and reclaimed men’s ties, like the Necktie Skirt and especially the Recycled Holiday Sweater Skirt. These fun products make a statement not only in their unique beauty, but also in their eco-friendliness. Jim sources the materials for the reclaimed products from vintage wholesalers, who are collecting these ties and sweaters throughout the year. But the team doesn’t let the wholesalers have all the fun in the collection process, they scour markets and resale shops for their own vintage apparel finds.

After all the ties and sweaters are found, the reclaimed products are skillfully crafted, and the many orders are placed, we asked Jim if he finally takes a vacation. His response, “I’m not familiar with that vacation word?” All jokes aside, come January Jim is at work on the trade show circuit traveling all across the country from Atlanta to Chicago to New York and more. But, it’s not all work during the holiday season; Jim looks forward to spending time with his family, especially his daughter, who will be home from college.

At Icebox Knitting, the team is getting ready for the holiday season by getting in the holiday spirit. Josh recalls that thousands of sweaters arrive at the factory throughout the year to prepare for the holiday rush. Some of the sweaters have their own “interesting styles.” This year, the crew has chosen their favorite holiday sweaters to wear. Josh loves the Icebox Knitting “formal wear” or as you might know them glitzy black and gold holiday sweaters. Perhaps this is the start of a beautiful new holiday tradition!

Aside from this new tradition, Josh is excited for the Reclaimed Sweater Link Scarf and the Upcycled Knit Handwarmers. Both products are artfully crafted and Josh particularly loves the recycled yarn component. The sweaters used to make these reclaimed and upcycled products come from a textile recycler in the United States, while the recycled wool yarn comes from a manufacturer in Europe. This manufacturer is unique, Josh says, since they have developed a “new patented process of recycling that is 98% more environmentally-friendly than making yarn from scratch.” Not only are the products artfully crafted and unique, but also eco-friendly!

After the fast pace of the holiday season, Josh and the Icebox Knitting team make “a concerted effort to stop the machines and turn off the lights for 10 days.” It’s a time for reflection and to recharge the system, before they are ready to hit the ground running for the trade shows in January. During that mini vacation and the rest of the holiday season, Josh looks forward to spending time with his family and enjoying the natural beauty of Colorado.

Over here in New York City, Jamie Cornett of Instrumental Lighting is getting ready in different ways. With an inventory of lamps made of reclaimed musical instruments and room for custom orders, Jamie has taken to craft shows, street fairs and flea markets to start getting his designs in the hands of thoughtful gift-givers in the five boroughs. We caught up with Jamie a couple weeks ago at a street fair in Chelsea to benefit a local elementary school. We didn’t stick around too long as his table was very popular among shoppers.

Although Instrumental Lighting is sold to customers across the US at UncommonGoods, a lot of our designers rely heavily on local trade shows and markets to sell their products. In fact, our buyers discovered Jamie and his original lamps last year at Brooklyn Flea, a local market that Jamie plans on attending this holiday season. While planning on setting up shop at markets in the city and being a stay at home dad, Jamie will also judge our Upcycling Design Challenge with Jim of Green3.

With the hustle-and-bustle of the holiday season, a season that started a couple months ago for the UncommonGoods team and our vendors, we are so glad to get to check in and celebrate our hard efforts. We can’t help but believe in Santa with all these hard-working elves!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Jenny Krauss

November 8, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit longtime UncommonGoods artist and former How To Make It panelist, Jenny Krauss in her new Manhattan studio. Jenny’s space is a combination between a warehouse and mission control, where she sends out her vision to artists in Peru who turn her ideas into reality. Her designing happens all over – at her desk, at home on the sofa – wherever she feels inspired. Her pieces are a combination between the traditional weaving techniques of the region in Peru that she employs and her modern visions of design.

I was there just in time to see her package up a shipment of her new Hand Embroidered Pillows to send to UncommonGoods in time for the holidays. Take a look inside of the work space of this incredibly talented designer and entrepreneur.

What are your most essential tools?
Pencil, paper, yarn charts, and laptop.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Inspiration comes from thinking and seeing; the space where that happens can be anywhere. This is an office, warehouse, and studio. I wouldn’t say the space inspires me. I do the work here.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
It generally doesn’t. We work hard all day and only stop for lunch.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Making and selling things is a lot harder than designing them.

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Don’t give up.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Entrepreneurs are often people who need a challenge. I’m always thinking about how I can make the product and company better.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m not a big celebrator. Maybe I should become one!

What quote keeps you motivated?
I heard this when I was a kid and have never forgotten it. “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Since I work with impoverished women who live in remote areas without opportunity, I am grateful for everything.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Instead of sending drawings to Peru to get samples made I wish I could make the samples myself. I’m not exactly making progress though.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I don’t get to be creative all that much. We introduce new product twice a year so I have to meet those deadlines. Most of my time is devoted to running a business, so when I have to think up new designs, I’m thrilled that I can sit down and draw. My dream is to be able to design full-time, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’m always bouncing ideas off of Janet, my co-conspirator. She has a background in fashion and a great eye.

The Uncommon Life

A Humongous Pinterest Collection of Candy Art

October 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Portraits” of candy

Art made of candy


Art about candy

Candy-themed tattoos


Art made of candy wrappers


Halloween candy corn art

And finally…

A candy toothbrush

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

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

Maker Stories

Meet Laura White, Bike Lovers Design Challenge Winner

October 15, 2012

The entries to our Bike Lovers Design Challenge ranged from the beautiful (stunning and evocative art about bikes) to the practical (sturdy and useful bike accessories). We were delighted by all of them. Perhaps because winter is coming, the entry that tickled our fancy the most was a suncatcher.

Laura White’s Bicycle Cog Suncatchers are lovely pieces of everyday art. They creatively combine upcycled metal bike parts with colorful, translucent inlays to harness the sun’s light and create a stained glass effect.

We asked Laura about her crafty, bike-y life.

What’s the weather like where you live? Is there a lot of sun?

For the last four years I’ve lived in Southwestern Virginia, prior to that I had spent my entire life in Michigan. The biggest draw to this area was the mountain biking. It is an outdoor lover’s heaven. We have some of the best mountain biking in the world. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the edge of town, so there is also great road cycling.
The weather is very mild, at least compared to Michigan. Lots of sun and blue skies.

How did you first get into making things and being crafty? What kinds of things did you make back then?
I think I’ve always been into crafting. As a kid my favorite part of school and day camps was the arts and crafts. I was also heavily influenced by my grandmother, who did a lot of crafting. She taught me to knit, and one summer we sewed a doll. She was also good at saving household items that would normally be discarded, and using them in craft projects.

How did you get into biking, and when did it turn into a major passion?
I rode my bike a lot as a kid, both for recreation and as a way to get around before I could drive. I left it behind once I got a car. But then in my 30s I attended a bike race with a friend and decided that I had to do that. So I bought a bike and began training and racing. My love of cycling has grown from there. I don’t race much anymore, but cycling as a lifestyle and as transportation has become something that I am passionate about.

What was the inspiration for your Bicycle Cog Sun Catcher?
I had been making items out of recycled bike parts for several years. Several years ago, I had a daydream. Fast forward almost three years, I now I have a beautiful daughter (and a piano). I still have to work a regular job, but supplement with crafting.

I had made bike chain stars for several years and was growing tired of making the same thing and wanted to make something more “fun.” Something that would be colorful and cheerful instead of just metallic and hard. I had a sun catcher hanging above my daughters changing table that she loved. I liked the way the sun hit it. One of those fun craft projects I did as a kid was to make suncatchers in the oven. I decided to try to use the cogs as a medium for the suncatchers.

What other things do you like to make? What are you best at? Worst?
I really like anything that’s art or crafty. I love to knit, that is probably one of the things I am best at. Painting is probably the thing I am “worst” at. I love to paint but find that I am too much of a perfectionist when it comes to painting and tend to ruin the pictures by trying to making them look real and perfect. If I could embrace the abstract a little better I would probably be better at painting.

Is there any common theme, style, approach, or thought process to most or all of your craftwork?
Biking tends to be a common theme in my craftwork. I think I just love biking so much that I try to incorporate it into my life. Even my knitted items tend to have a bike theme or little bikes knitted into them. I also try to make things that are practical and I can use. That’s typically how a project starts. I’ll see something that I need and my first thought will be “can I make that?”

Do you enjoy making things out of things that would otherwise be discarded?
I do. I try very hard to live a sustainable lifestyle, which is part of the reason why I love cycling as opposed to driving. I try to limit the amount of waste I create by reusing and recycling items. I often find myself saving things that would typically be discarding, thinking, “I bet I can make something with that.”

What’s your favorite thing that someone has said about something you made?
When someone responds to something I’ve made by first being impressed that it was crafted for them and then saying “You should sell these.”
I recently received a picture from a mom that purchased a couple of suncatchers. It was of her daughter admiring them. I like when other people find joy and beauty in the things I’ve made.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio: Tiffany Threadgould of TerraCycle

October 12, 2012

This month we have the pleasure of hosting our fourth design event, How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, at which Tiffany Threadgould will speak on our panel. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at TerraCycle, a long time vendor of UncommonGoods with a penchant for turning trash into treasure. Now operating in 20 countries across the globe, Terracycle offers recycling services to large companies and creative products for consumers, like our Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Tiffany leads the team of designers who are tasked with taking an unwanted product or package and creating a piece that will impress.

We were unable to take train ride across the river to Trenton, New Jersey to visit the TerraCycle headquarters first hand but Tiffany was willing to share her studio with us. Enjoy!

What are your most essential tools?
The industrial sewing machine and heat press machine are two machines we can’t live without. Just about any solution from flexible waste can be solved with one or both of those machines.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?
Inspiration often starts with the material itself. We work with a lot of waste that has logos and branding on it so we’re always tying the original purpose of the material back into the finished product. Colgate toothpaste tubes can be transformed into a travel kit. Baby food pouches become a diaper bag or bib. Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There’s not a lot of down time in the office. If we don’t have urgent sample requests for our brand partners, then we’ll refocus on new, upcycled décor for the office. [Decorating with repurposed materials] is not only an inexpensive way to refurnish our office, but is also the best sales tool to demonstrate our commitment to what we do. An old bowling alley was turned into a conference table, soda bottles and vinyl records became room dividers. Nothing is waste to us. It’s all material for our next project.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer?
Measure twice, cut once.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Try to get the word “NO” out of your vocabulary. I’ve worked at TerraCycle for over 4 years and it really has taught me to push the upcycled envelope on waste materials. Prior to working here I was always choosier about the materials I worked with. At TerraCycle there is a need to find a solution to everything that comes our way – yogurt lids, cigarette butts, you name it. My job is to make sure we find an upcycled product for any material that comes to us.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Goals come directly from our project assignments. We hit a goal whenever we finish a big project like an office makeover; complete a challenging project for a brand partner, or creating a new product line for our awesome retail partners like UncommonGoods.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Our CEO, Tom Szaky, started a tradition of “gong hits”. We have an actual gong in the office and whenever something major is accomplished you actually ring the gong and then send an email to the company. TerraCycle is in over 20 countries now, so we can share good news and positive energy with our distant offices this way.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Traditional crafts techniques can always be applied to new waste materials. I recently learned to braid with bread bags and food wrappers and that was a fun “twist” on an old technique.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This quote came to me from Daniel Freitag when I was working on my graduate thesis titled Trash Nouveau – “Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products.”

How do you recharge your creativity?
Caffeine is always the perfect tool to help recharge.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work with an amazing design team at TerraCycle. We all bring different skills and talents to the table (a table made from upcycled wine barrels and doors, of course). We do a great job of blending our backgrounds of Industrial Design, Textiles, Architecture, and more to create unique design solutions for recycled materials. Hurray for upcycling!