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Maker Stories

Meet Kim Jakum, Jewelry Design Challenge Winner

August 17, 2012

Each and every design challenge gives us the exciting opportunity to meet up-and-coming artists, reconnect with our favorite designers, and open our eyes to new and unique works of art. Coming off the success of the 2011 Jewelry Design Challenge, we simply could not wait to hold another call for jewelry entries. This year’s Jewelry Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and showcased the unique designs of artists, jewelry designers, and metalworkers.

Our judges worked through designs with bold patterns, fascinating stories, and unique mediums. They decided on pieces they thought would capture America’s eye with their delicate beauty and others with their intricate detail. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t take their eyes off of; they loved its concept as a keepsake to keep those you treasure close.


We simply can’t stop talking about the craftsmanship and attention to detail of Personalized Child Signature Necklace and are excited to introduce you to the designer, our Jewelry Design Challenge winner, Kim Jakum of Wisconsin. Kim thrives on designing one-of-a-kind pieces with her recently found love of PMC (precious metal clay) and she will soon be able to see those one-of-a-kind pieces being cherished by people all across the country. Here she is, Kim, the newest member to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover jewelry design?

I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 years. I first started making jewelry by just stringing beads. I was drawn to all the different shapes and colors. To this day, I’m still drawn to beautiful stones and the sparkle of crystal.

What is your favorite piece of jewelry?

My favorite piece of jewelry that I have made is my Tiger Maple and Fine Silver Cuff.

How did you realize that metalworking was your passion?

My work is primarily in PMC (precious metal clay). I love that it is made from recycled silver. About 16 years ago, while taking a traditional metal smith class, PMC was first introduced in the USA. The whole class got some and played with it. I didn’t really like it at the time, and didn’t give it any thought until about five years ago when I took a workshop just using PMC. I fell in love with it, and have not looked back since! The possibilities are endless…

What are your favorite pieces to design?

Besides the children’s signatures, I also take kids artwork, shrink it down and transfer it to fine silver pendants and key chains. I love that this makes an everlasting keepsake.

I have also recently been accepted into The Artisan Group. The Artisan Group is made up of small business artisans that gift celebrities with samples of their work. I’m having a great time designing jewelry for specific celebrities.

All in all, you could say that a lot of my work is very personalized, made specifically for the person receiving it.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I have been fortunate to take workshops from fellow jewelry artists who’s work I really admire. I find these workshops very inspiring, pushing me to continually learn a new skill and perfect what I already know.

How else do you express your creativity?

I like to pass what I know on, so I teach classes in jewelry making and PMC.

Also, if I see something I like in another medium, I usually think I can make something close to it myself, so there are a lot more projects other that jewelry making going on!

What attracted you to the UncommonGoods Jewelry Design Challenge?

I actually found out about this challenge from a fellow Artisan Group member and entered it on a whim.

What was the inspiration behind Personalized Child Signature Necklace?

The signatures on my Personalized Child Signature Necklace sample are actually my grand children’s. I have seen a lot of stamped name pendants and thought I could take that idea to a whole new level by using actual signatures! I also added a twist by texturing the back, so the necklace is reversible.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Just enter! Until this year I have NEVER entered a challenge or competition. I have entered four different challenges this year and have placed first, second or third in three of them!

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.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Aaron Ruff

July 3, 2012

Situated above a Brooklyn art gallery, in a space shared by artists of varying mediums, Aaron Ruff’s single room looked more like a museum at first glance than a jewelry studio. The creator of Digby & Iona and his four-legged friend, Nuki, took me in for the morning to chat about the creation of his new collection, how the price of commodities has impacted his business and how history plays a role in keeping him inspired.

What are your most essential tools?
The hammer and the foredom.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m a big collector, so the entire space is inspiration. I’m constantly rearranging and dragging in new stuff, so the space is constantly evolving.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It’s embarrassing to say, but just the basics of running a legit business were the hardest skills to master. Terms like W9 or EIN still make my head spin a little.

Does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Does Pinterest count as downtime? We think so!

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Invest in silver! This is my main material and it has gone crazy in the last 5 years. Then it was $13 an ounce and earlier this year it was almost $40. I definitely miss the days when I could cast absurdly huge pieces in silver without blinking and eye. It’s changed the way I design quite a bit, I don’t want to have to raise my prices significantly so I have to be a lot more conscious about designing lighter pieces.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m terrible at meeting the deadlines I set for myself, so I generally set yearly goals and hope all goes to plan.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m my own toughest critic, so celebration requires a pretty massive win.

What quote keeps you motivated?
I use historical quotes in my work quite a lot, most recently, ‘Don’t give up the ship’ which is a quote from Lee Hazard Perry during the War of 1812 (also the name of the collection). It’s pretty self-explanatory; it’s my version of the ‘hang in there’ kitten poster.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel as much as possible.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I generally collaborate with illustrators; my drawing skills are terrible, so I really enjoy turning 2d into 3d and vice versa.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’ve just come out with an engagement band collection, so I’ve had a recent crash course on diamonds and precious gems.

Aaron will be a judge in our Jewelry Design Challenge. Call for entries ends July 12th.

Maker Stories

Meet Naomi Meller, iPhone Case Design Challenge Winner

June 29, 2012

Every new design challenge fills us with such excitement! It is inspiring to see the passion, emotion, and wit in the artists’ stories behind their unique designs. The iPhone Case Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and the opportunity for artists to share the paintings, sketches, and graphic designs they have created.

Our judges worked through designs with unique mediums, bold colors, and uplifting stories. They decided on pieces that they thought America would love for their whimsy, and others they thought would inspire iPhone case envy. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t get off their minds; they loved its wit and clever juxtaposition of technology on technology.

We simply love the clever geeky chic of Computer iPhone and cannot wait for you to learn more about its designer, our iPhone Case Design Challenge winner, Naomi Meller of Rhode Island. Naomi recently rediscovered her love of art and designing through photography and will soon be able to see her designs on the backs of iPhones all over the country. Meet Naomi, the newest addition to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover art?

I’ve been involved with art for as long as I can remember. As a very young child, I drew elaborate pictures that often caught the attention of my teachers. This evolved into years of drawing and painting, usually for it’s therapeutic value. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t want to keep it all to myself.

How did you realize that photography was your passion?

Photography was one of the only mediums I had never experimented with. When I had my daughter over 2 years ago, I got very sick and came close to losing my life. The months following were difficult, and I was physically weak. I tried to walk around a lot to build stamina.

During my walks, I started taking pictures with my iPhone. I fell in love with these photo walks I’d take, and decided to buy a dSLR to take my photography to the next level. I’m stubborn, and sometimes that can be a good quality. I set out to learn how to properly use my camera, and I did. Since I started taking pictures, my passion for taking them has only grown.

What are your favorite things to design/photograph?

My number one favorite thing to photograph is my daughter. Kids grow so quickly that I just want to capture all the good/bad/and in between moments of her growth.

I also love to create characters in my self-portraits. This allows me to step outside of myself, become someone different, and express myself in a raw and comfortable manner that I hadn’t been able to in years.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I never stick to one style of photography. And I never stick to one type of subject. Some weeks I’ll take portraits of our family. Some weeks I’ll focus entirely on surreal self-portraits. On occasion I’ll do some photojournalism work for my husband’s news site. By always changing my subjects, I’m always changing my perspective. And it keeps me going.

I also love challenging myself in Photoshop. I taught myself how to use the program by way of trial and error. Sometimes I’ll take a picture, and work on it until I’ve succeeded in something I didn’t know how to do before sitting down. Currently I’m trying to master an old film camera that my dad gave me. I always keep things evolving, always keep learning – that way I avoid feeling stagnant.

How else do you express your art?

I’ve recently started a photography blog to help publicize my work, but also to inspire myself to start writing again. Writing is something that I did creatively for a long time, but haven’t much in the last several years.

I’ve also picked up a paint brush again. I have an earlier photograph in which I combined painting and a surreal self-portrait. I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in a long time. I still have several canvases in my house just calling my name!

What attracted you to want to take part in this challenge?

Aside from the fact that I’m a huge UncommonGoods fan, over the last few months I’d been feeling much more anxious about getting my work out there. I’ve been creating things for over 20 years, and the only person in my way has been me. I thought that this challenge would be a great opportunity with a great company.

What was the inspiration behind Computer iPhone?

Most of the work that I’m most proud of has come from a quick decision. When I over think and over analyze, it usually harms the outcome of a piece. Computer iPhone came about because my husband had recently dismantled a broken computer. Pieces were surrounding the office we share. I had submitted some other designs, but they were very portrait based. For Computer iPhone, I thought, “what would look cool, hold up well to wear, and still portray the irony that I always have in my work?”. And so I decided on a piece of the computer.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Don’t doubt yourself. If you enter a future challenge, and don’t make it through, the worst case scenario is that you can try again. I did.

All photos courtesy of Naomi Meller

Maker Stories

Matthew Amey’s ‘End of Innocence’ Jumps into our Collection

May 23, 2012

With every new design challenge comes the chance to step into the minds and lives of some of America’s budding designers. The Wall Art challenge brought in over 100 entries and an opportunity for artists to tell a personal story through the paintings, sketches and digital graphics they have created.

Our judges worked through art with sentimental stories, unusual mediums and contemporary themes. They decided on some pieces that they could see hanging in the homes of many Americans yet others they loved for their niche attraction. But the piece that stole their heart was one about the uncertainty in change and straddled a fine line between hopeful and ominous.

The more we learn about Wall Art Challenge winner Matthew Amey of Maryland, the more we love End of Innocence: Jump Off and can’t wait to share its story with customers. Matthew heard about our design challenge from his wife who encourages him to share his work with others in new and exciting ways and will soon be able to say that his work is on the walls of homes across the country. Meet Matthew, our Wall Art Design Challenge winner and the newest addition to the Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover art?
As a young child I took art classes during summer camp and was thrilled with the freedom that was afforded us to create whatever we wanted. My older brother was much more astute at drawing than I was so, as a challenge to myself, I set out to be a better artist than him. I believe I was 7.

What are your favorite things to design/illustrate?
My interests are many and diverse. I’ve spent the last four years studying fine art at the University of Delaware where I’ve been exposed to a plethora of techniques, materials and insight into the concept of a fine art profession.

Recently I have been enamored with cephalopods; octopuses especially but I’ve been researching and becoming more interested in cuttlefish and squid.

How do you keep yourself inspired?
I am constantly thinking of what to do next. Dwelling on past achievements, while ingratiating, can be burdensome. The process of making art, the actual moving of paint around on canvas, pushing a pencil across paper, or drawing with a stylus on a drawing tablet to create digital works, is what drives me to create more. While I enjoy the finished pieces and I’m excited to see how others react to my work, I am more enamored with the actual creation of the work. I started out as a doodler and dabbler but that has turned into a profession that is quite fulfilling.

How else do you express your art?
I have been a professional tattoo artist since 1991 and much of my work is informed from that experience. Tattoos are a very personal expression for my clients. I have built a reputation for creating high quality work in the skin and my clients know that my work excels when they give me artistic freedom to work within their design parameters.

As a tattoo artist it is very apparent that my job is to help my client express their ideas on their body. Often it is an opportunity for me to explore many different ideas, compositions and concepts that I wouldn’t normally investigate.


What attracted you to want to take part in this challenge?
My wife knew that I was searching for outlets to show my non-tattoo related artwork and she turned me on to this contest. I happened to have these illustrations that are part of a series that I recently created.


What was the inspiration behind End of Innocence?
In 2008 I returned to college after a 20 year hiatus. While studying fine art at the University of Delaware it became apparent that I was surrounded by young, soon-to-be adults who were going through some major emotional and physical changes. One day a tattoo client of mine requested an image of his daughter on a rope swing under the silhouette of a tree. After doing the tattoo on him I started to think about the image and how it had the potential to tell a more compelling story. I started putting together images of different trees with children on rope swings and ended up with a series of 5 disparate images.

Each image has a tree, a child either on the swing or jumping off, and varying types of birds either in flight or perched on a branch. The tree represents stability, safety, comfort, excitement and all the positive attributes of a loving family. The child is enjoying the ride and seems oblivious to what lies just outside of the trees reach, the future. The birds represent the varying societal norms that the child could eventually grow into.

Any advice for someone interesting in taking part in a future challenge?
Take a chance. You’ll never know how your work will affect others until you put it in front of them.

All photos courtesy of Matthew Amey.