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Artist

Maker Stories

Ricky Giacco’s Eco-Conscious Concrete Creations

April 4, 2014

An avid container gardener and all-around horticulture-lover, Ricky Giacco founded NativeCast in 2010 to create and sell his handcrafted concrete “functional sculpture” while following environmentally responsible business practices. His “green concrete” is amazingly light, yet strong, and made mostly of recycled materials.

Ricky Giacco | UncommonGoods

Giacco’s uniquely creative planters come from an illustrious family tree. The Roman Colosseum, the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, and this adorable Cupcake Planter are all made of concrete, the most widely-used building material in the world.

DIY Cupcake Planter

The production of concrete uses much less energy than other building materials, such as steel, aluminum, glass and wood. But it’s not carbon-neutral, and we Earthlings use 19 billion tons of it a year. That adds up. In fact, about 7 percent of human carbon emissions comes from concrete manufacture. So at UncommonGoods, we’re big fans of Ricky’s innovative, ecologically sound concrete, which he makes from scratch in Chadds Ford, PA.

The Mix | UncommonGoods
You could call Giacco a concrete mixologist. He concocts new recipes using ingredients native to his region. But unless you enjoy the taste of seashells, pine cones, and crushed, reclaimed roadway rock, you won’t want to drink these cocktails. Your plants will love drinking from them, though; concrete makes a great planting environment. Because it’s porous, it allows air and moisture to move into plants’ root structure; and it maintains a more stable soil temperature throughout the year, compared to plastic or metals.

NativeCast is a family affair: Giacco is its creative head, his father handles most of the business end, his wife works on trade shows, his mother works in the production studio once a week, and Giacco says each member of his “rather large” family “helps out in one way or another.”

We wanted to know more about every aspect of his business, and he graciously allowed us to indulge our curiosity.

Ricky's Studio

You “design” not only your objects, but the material they’re made of. Does that give you a special satisfaction?
Designing the material I work with is very cool, and I am happy with the results I am getting. There is satisfaction in knowing that my customers also enjoy what I’m doing. I do know the material’s limitations, so as I look to design new pieces and expand the business, I am exploring some new material ideas.

The most important breakthroughs have been in the mixing process. We have successfully replaced the typical heavy aggregates with lighter and more eco-friendly options while maintaining a good strength. This process is much easier said than done.

Ricky's workbench

Gun

Tell us a bit about the process of making your concrete.
Our green concrete is made by hand and is a fairly complicated process to mix. It is made of Portland cement, sand, lime, recycled concrete, post consumer plastic, shells and pine mulch. The ingredients are always the same, but the ratios tend to vary. This is due to a number of different factors; the biggest ones are air temperature and the technique being used to craft the pieces. We use different application processes depending on the individual product. This forces us to hand mix many small batches of concrete.

Is it a form of hypertufa?
It is not exactly hypertufa, but the concept of modifying the concrete mix for planters is the same.

Where and how do you get the recycled material you use? Is it pre-crushed? Do you treat it? Does it affect the color of the stone?
Our recycled content is all locally sourced. The reclaimed concrete is cleaned and crushed into very small pieces so we can properly incorporate into our mix. We do not treat the recycled content any further. The recycled content does not affect the color of the stone. It acts as filler so it is really contained within the concrete walls.

What factors come into play when making these decisions about materials and their suitability for a given piece?
The things I am trying to do with any given piece are fairly straightforward. The first is to make the container as strong as possible while using the smallest amount of concrete material. Then I look for the most efficient way to apply the concrete. And the last part is mostly using the best concrete mix to achieve the surface texture for the container. This process does take a bit of experimentation to get production rolling.

Ricky Giacco

MaterialsDo you actually hand cast every piece yourself? How do you do it quickly enough to fill the demand?
I do cast every piece myself and it is time consuming. I have the experience which allows me to move fast, but efficiency really comes down to making good molds and have a quick system to fill each one.

Your family helps a lot; that sounds lovely… depending! Do they all have a lot of these planters and other items in their homes?
Yes my family helps quite a bit and yes they all have planters in their homes. This is how we test out the product and improve others. I think working with family is a very special thing, if you can find a way to be productive. I’m sure it is not for most people. However, I am constantly surprised how much I like it.

Your materials are sustainably smart. Do you think construction or other types of companies, governments, etc. could use this kind of material on a large scale?
I certainly think it’s a good concept for an eco-friendly building material. However there is a lot of science involved in engineering concrete. What we make is intended for a craft application. I know there are plenty of scientist, engineers and universities working on the construction grade eco-concrete.

Concrete is alkaline, and very porous. Are your planters best used for alkaline-loving plants that don’t need a lot of water?
Yes, concrete is made from limestone, which is an alkaline rock, and therefore alkaline plants will do best in our containers. If you wish to put an acid loving plant in concrete, a liner is recommended. And it is porous, and is better for plants that don’t need a lot of water. In my opinion, porous is good all around; potted plants die because of over-watering.

How should one take care of these pots?
The concrete containers are fairly easy to care for. What I tell most people is to avoid standing water. It can stain over time and in freezing temperatures can crack concrete. Other than that, they are pretty easy to use.

Apple Bark Planter

Your Apple Bark Planter was cast from a crab apple tree that got sick and had to be removed. It sounds like you’re very sentimental about plants! What are your favorite things to grow?
I did know this tree for many years and was disappointed to see it go. I had this idea to make the planter, and I think it turned out pretty well. My favorite plants are cactus and succulents. They seem so exotic to me. I love how rugged and nearly indestructible they are. I wish I lived in a warmer climate to grow them beyond my containers.

Design

How to Write Your Artist Bio

February 10, 2014

How to Write Your Artist Bio | UncommonGoodsWhen I was first asked to write a blog post about writing about yourself, I got really excited because, like any 20 something year old girl who majored in writing, I’m pretty well versed in writing about myself/thinly veiling mortifying moments from my adolescence and calling it fiction.

Thankfully, the kind of bio-writing we’ll be discussing doesn’t require you to reveal that you wore braces to your senior prom. It has a lot more to do with selling yourself to potential vendors, sites that sell your goods, and customers who want to know all about you. Much less awkward for all of us.

You really are an extension of the product you’re asking people to buy or sell. When it comes to unique, handmade goods, people love being able to put a face with their new gift. People want to know:

  • where you’re from
  • what you do
  • how you got in to what you do
  • what inspires you to do that thing that you do
  • your plans for continuing to do these things in the future

In addition to being an excellent checklist, this is also a good order to put them in.

You don’t have to start with the fact that you were born in a barn on a balmy Tuesday morning under a double Pisces moon. However, the fact that you grew up in the country could say a lot about your influences. Can you remember any early inklings that you could become an artist? Who were your inspirations?

Now that we have the early stuff covered, how did you start your life as an artist? Did you start of with a 9-5 and then gradually turn your craft into a full time business? Did you start working with a local collective? How have you seen your style change throughout the years? What was a favorite project of yours?

If you want some extra personality, a short and sweet anecdote can complete your written image. When writing my own bios, the quirky facts that come to my mind are 1. I’m very scared of goats. And 2. I was the girl who wore braces to prom. These facts might not have anything to do with my craft, but it does give a little insight into the type of person I am–something a customer would be able to garner if they were able to talk to you at a craft fair or chat with you at the register.

Whatever you do decide to highlight, just remember to keep it relatively short–epic tales of heroism and metaphors on life are best suited for your memoirs (and preferably written from a small cabin in the woods, Thoreau-style.)

With these basic guidelines, you’ll be able to create a friendly, readable bio that will give your creations a more personal edge. Happy writing!

Here are some of our favorite artist bios:

Etta Kostick

Etta is compelled by glass in its many different forms and applications. She grew up in the woods and by the seashore in Massachusetts, in a family of glassblowers. After moving to Chicago in 2007 she started experimenting with stained glass, attracted to the many colors, textures, and its relationship to light.
Over the years Etta’s fascination with glass has grown and has lead her to pursue and experiment with different methods of manipulating glass. Torch fired enameling, fusing, and incorporating intricate solder work are some of the techniques that Etta uses. She loves the transformative properties that occur when integrating these materials and techniques into her glass work.

Etta’s love of jewelry was initially inspired by tribal jewelry and adornments she had collected from South Asia. Strong shapes and the feeling of empowerment they give to the wearer are elements that inspire her. Her jewelry incorporates bold designs as well as more delicate and organic elements that emulates things she sees in nature. Etta is constantly exploring and developing new visions for her work in glass and jewelry.

Dolan Geiman

Dolan Geiman is a nationally recognized mixed media artist known for his Contemporary Art with a Southern Accent. Born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Dolan Geiman’s formative years were defined by outdoor adventures in his bucolic surroundings. Twenty-plus years later, the flora and fauna, found curiosities, and fading Appalachian culture still define Geiman’s contemporary-folk creations. Trained in printmaking and sculpture, Geiman’s mediums span painting, collage, silk screen, drawing, and 3-D assemblage. An advocate for green design and sustainable business, Geiman and his wife Ali Marie currently work from a green warehouse in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.

Fred Conlon

Raised in Colorado, Fred Conlon lives now in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he makes garden sculptures out of recovered objects. For his helmet sculptures, he uses real recovered World War II helmets. “It is very satisfying to transform something once used in war into a peaceful garden decoration,” he says. His work has been featured in Niche Magazine, the Salt Lake Tribune and HGTV. What would he be if he weren’t an artist? “Happy…just kidding!” he answers. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Maker Stories

Natha’s Eight Pointed Star Necklace Shines Bright

January 15, 2014

Natha Perkins

Natha’s Eight Pointed Star Necklace design is obviously beautiful, but I would have to say the message behind it shines a little brighter, just giving me more incentive to add the charming pendant into my very own jewelry box. The message that stands behind the design is all about finding clarity, direction, and seeking one’s path. When wearing it, it should remind you to trust your internal guidance, reassure yourself that you know your own answers and that you, indeed, know exactly where you want to go. As someone who has been bitten pretty hard by the travel bug and tends to live life a bit off the beaten path, I’m in love with the fact that the eight pointed star symbol was the first known compass in the history of humanity. Natha’s necklace is the first winning jewelry design I’ve come across with a resonating message that touches on both my personal hopes and fears. I hope to stay on the (very loopy and sometimes off-the-cliff) path that I’m currently still paving out for myself. I fear losing sight of that direction and hopping onto someone else’s already-made yellow brick road. The Eight Pointed Star Necklace is a pretty reminder to keep going and to never doubt oneself. Meet Natha Perkins, someone who definitely knew how to pave her way into becoming our latest Jewelry Design Challenge Winner.

Natha Perkins

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your jewelry?
I don’t  journal much, or keep a diary, but I have 30 rings that I’ve made through the years for myself.  Each ring has a specific story behind it and each design is totally relevant to something that was happening in my life when I made the ring.  (I’ve been metalsmithing for 13 years, so for those of you counting that’s approx. 2.3 rings a year)

I love that your necklace has a lot of meaning behind it, do you mind explaining it?
I love the symbolism behind this piece!  I wrote a blog post about it here, but in a nutshell, the Eight Pointed Star is an ancient and universal symbol, as well as the first compass in the history of humanity. It guides your way to a new life, giving you clarity of vision to see the future through a lens of hope, healing and beauty. It also bestows nurturing energies. A symbol of optimism, an eight pointed star assures you that unexpected help is coming and serves to help bring about a renewal of good fortune in the material world. Like with any of our pieces, wearing  this piece will help bring you clarity simply by providing you with a reminder that you are indeed supported.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
We did a lot of jumping up and down and screaming!

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
The studio itself is full of tools and stones and lots of different working areas but we have the most beautiful garden just outside with grape vines and a gurgling rock fountain and roses.  We’re also basically at the foot of a great big gorgeous mountain (Boulder is surrounded to the West entirely by mountains) so when we walk out of the studio, we’re surrounded by all of this natural beauty.  We can walk 2 blocks and hit a hiking trail that weaves its way up to an amazing vista of the cities of Boulder and Denver.  It really is heavenly and I feel very lucky. studio gardensWhere do you go/ what do you do to find inspiration when you find yourself in a creative rut?
This might sound strange, but when I’m not feeling creative, I go to see my acupuncturist.  In Chinese medicine, blocked creativity means some sort of imbalance in the qi and yin department.  If I’m feeling blah or feeling uninspired, I figure I need a body tune up.  (Did I mention I live in Boulder?  We’re kind of alternative here.)

If you have a great idea for a design and want to pursue it, what’s your first step?
When I was in art school, our professor required us to have 40 sketches of a single design before we could finalize our idea and start on a piece.  Thank God I’m not designing my pieces in art school any more!  I honestly just dive in.  I have an idea, I gather the metal, the tracing paper, some saw blades and I get going.  This has led to many an end result that was really different from the original idea but like any medium, the materials co-create with the artist and it’s fun to see what comes through. Natha PerkinsOther than being an artist, what else do you do?
I’m a mama, I’m a life and entrepreneurial business coach, I teach art and jewelry classes.  I went and got certified to coach because I wanted to teach people how to make intentional art.  Art is such a beautiful way to get in touch with who you are on a deep level.  Talk therapy is great but its heady.  We all have our old stories that we tell over and over and it’s hard to see past them to the truth.  Art and intentional making incorporates head, heart and hand and opens you up to new types of insights and understanding about yourself and your process.  I feel really called to help guide people to this place.

When (and how) did you realize you wanted to be a jewelry designer?
When I was 20, I searched high and low for  a juicy red, heart shaped ring and I couldn’t find what I was looking for anywhere.  I don’t know why, but I felt such a  longing for this red heart shaped ring.  I dreamed about it.  Fast forward 2 years and I took a small class in a strange warehouse next to a strip club (which isn’t relevant to the story at all but it’s an interesting fact nonetheless).  The teacher was this eccentric man who  taught me the basics of metalsmithing.  I was hooked in the first class because I realized that I could actually make my heart ring.  It  took me 5 years to get good enough to make my ring but I still treasure it because it was the inspiration that started my jewelry career before I even understood it to be that. Natha PerkinsDo you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that are floating around in your brain right now?
I’m actually knee deep in a handful of  projects right now that I’m really excited about.  Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been coaching and working on some art classes that involve intentional making.  Myself and two other women; a life coach and a photographer, are formulating a curriculum that we’re planning to take into local high schools.  The idea involves working with young women and teaching them empowerment tools through a combination of intentional making, student led photo documentation and teaching of emotional skills.  I’m also working to develop some cool art classes to offer to the participants of  The Boulder Tattoo Project, a large scale community art project involving a”love poem” to the city of Boulder and 200+ residents (including me) who got bits and pieces of the poem tattooed on their bodies.  My friend Chelsea (who spearheaded BTP) and I are collaborating on the classes and they will include making art that centers around the actual words that each person chose to get inked with.   Everyone involved chose words that were particularly meaningful to them in some way and we want to offer a venue for them to explore that on a deeper level. teachingWhat are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design? 
I do most of my designing in my head, usually when I’m walking in nature, alone.  I come up with a word or a line from a poem or song and the piece takes shape around that.  I also love to design using stones and stone colors.  I will go through my 15 or so boxes of stones just pulling out shapes and colors, just to see how the colors play against each other.  I’m fascinated with color play and color theory and it shows up often in  my pieces.

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
Funny you should use that word productive.  It’s  been on my mind a lot lately because I realized that I have this uncomfortable tendency to feel unproductive if I’m just relaxing.  So to answer your question:  I practice yoga 4 times a week, I walk the dogs, I read lots of articles and books, I cook food for my kids.  All of which sound suspiciously productive, don’t they? Natha PerkinsWhat was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
I hired a press company that cost an absolute fortune.  They promised me more than they were actually able to deliver and they kept about $5,000 in samples too (that were supposed to be be returned).  But I had my part in it as well;  I wasn’t prepared for the experience.   I didn’t have  the fundamentals in place, like line sheets and tight production collections.  Knowing what I know now about editorial coverage, media, wholesale, retail and business in general, I see clearly that my approach was doomed to failure.  I was trying to build a mansion on a slippery foundation.  It was a disaster but I learned so much, I would never make those same mistakes again!  Today in fact, I’m a much stronger and more savvy business woman which is a very different skill set than ‘artist’ but a necessity when you’re trying to sell art. piles of SpellBound RingsWhat advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
You create your own reality.  If you can’t learn to relax, the world will meet you with un-relaxing situations.  If you don’t appreciate the things you do and create, the people around you won’t be able to either.  If you’re constantly trying to control the world, you will will exhaust yourself trying to make the impossible possible.  Everything is perfect.  You are loved.  You are amazing and strong and more powerful than you will ever know. (Okay, I’m getting teary now, but it’s all true.  Again, the old stories that we tell ourselves about not being good enough, smart enough, not being enough…such lies.  But I’m getting it now, I’m seeing the truth.)
Natha Perkins
Which artists do you look up to?
I’ll say this: I look up to anyone who has the courage to make their art, to express themselves in that way and to put themselves out there.  Our art, our creations; no matter the medium, comes from the depths of our individual souls and anyone who has the courage to show up like that, to lay themselves open to the appraisal and opinions of others has my respect. Natha Perkins

What does it mean to you being a design challenge winner?
I’m thrilled to be the winner of this challenge!  My studio assistant Whitney and I had so much fun working on our newest collection Divine ~ Align.  We put so much thought into the symbolism and meaning of each piece. So to be recognized in such a prestigious way for one of the pieces in the collection is a huge honor.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“You set the standard for how you are treated.  People will treat you the same way that you treat yourself.”  It’s lovely and it’s true.  I’m not sure where I found this quote but I came across it during my certification program with The Secret to Life Coaching Company  (with whom I got certified) and I’ve learned to see the world through a new lens.  We really are responsible for everything in our lives, we create everything, which is actually a really empowering notion. quoteWhat are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Management tools!  I adore metalsmithing and my business Luscious Metals.   I love to create art but I’m transitioning my business into something that’s bigger than just me and my personal skills.  My amazing studio assistant, Whitney, is ready and willing to take on more responsibility and wants to help me grow the business and this is just the beginning. I know that in order for this to work out, I need to transition from artist and designer to manager and  leader.  I’m ready and excited to see where we go next! Natha PerkinsWhat advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work into our Jewelry Design Challenge?
Some of the best business advice I’ve ever gotten was from a book called The Science of Getting Rich, by Wallace D. Wattles (great book!). “Act now.  There is never any time but now and there will never be any time but now.  If you are ever to begin to make ready for the reception of what you want, you must begin now.”  In other words, make sure your ducks are in a row (good product, great pictures etc.) and then GO FOR IT!  You can’t win if you don’t enter right?

Find Natha and her business Luscious Metals on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Meghan Ellie Smith

December 13, 2013

Meghan Ellie Smith

Clutter Castle is what Meghan calls her eccentric home studio, tucked away in the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn. When I saw the odd, yet beautiful, string installation hanging from the ceiling, a collection of wooden instruments displayed on the wall, and a creepy plastic hand sitting on its own mini mantel, I fully understood how the Clutter Castle earned the honor of its name. But it’s funny, although I was like a kid in a candy shop in her vintage oasis — oohing and ahhing at every corner, I didn’t find it overwhelmingly chaotic. I felt as if the odds and ends of all the clutter were actually masterfully organized to push the use of imagination and a creative atmosphere. Which made perfect sense, because those were my exact thoughts about Meghan’s winning art piece, Chaos Mountain. The bright and earthy colors bleed into one another with no particular pattern, yet the shaped splices are meticulously placed. I love it. Perhaps the juxtaposition between the crashing watercolors and structured mountain reminds me a little of myself: a bit messy, a bit random, a bit chaotic, but in the end of the day, I know what I want to do and exactly where I want to go. “Not all who wander are lost,” a favorite quote by many free spirited individuals, resonates within the illustration of Chaos Mountain. Meghan Ellie Smith,a true free spirit herself, is not only the Queen of Clutter Castle, but officially wears the crown of our latest Art Contest. 

Meghan Ellie Smith I absolutely love your aesthetic and design. How exactly did you decide on the concept of Chaos Mountain?
Thank you! I’ve been very inspired by nature lately, especially mountains. I guess being in the city all the time can make one feel a little desperate for the great outdoors. Working on Chaos Mountain was a really nice way to get some simulated nature time. Meghan Ellie SmithIMG_0289

Where do you find inspiration within your space?
I’ve got 7 roommates! All of whom are musically, artistically, and creatively talented. Being surrounded by wonderful, passionate friends is an amazing source of inspiration.

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive.
I pretty much just go on reddit.com/r/aww and look at cute animal photos whenever I’m waiting on paint to dry. That and watch Parks and Rec, and take the occasional nap when the mood strikes.

Meghan Ellie Smith IMG_0302

What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
Pretty much just acrylic paint, brushes, paper towels, scissors, duck tape, laptop, and very important- CANDY.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance artist?
Lots of people will tell you they can’t pay you, “but you’ll get great exposure.” This is a load of crap.

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Other than being an artist, what else do you do?
First and foremost, crazy cat lady. I took that to the next level recently and started volunteering at an animal shelter called BARC in Williamsburg- they’re awesome, I highly recommend volunteering and/or adopting from there. I’ve also just been named the talent booker for a new bar/music venue in Williamsburg called Kingsland which I’m crazy excited about!

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Where do you picture yourself and what will you be doing in 5 years?
If all goes according to plan, bottle feeding baby tigers. And making a legit living being an artist.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
DON’T LIVE IN THE DORMS; you’re gonna have a weird roommate who doesn’t flush.

Meghan Ellie Smith

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
One time I was in the car with my mom and I asked her, “How many birds are there in the world?” She responded, “Seven. It’s all mirrors.” Both hilarious, and amazing. It’s way more fun to let your imagination bend reality and see the world however you want. IMG_0331

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft? 
I’d love to learn about screen printing! I’ve got some friends that can teach me, so it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it. Also photoshop…very daunting.

How do you recharge your creativity?
The aforementioned nap times are pretty great for that, and hanging out with my friends and laughing about all things ridiculous puts me in the  greatest mood, which is when I’m at my creative best.

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Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that are floating in your brain right now?
I’m currently working on my biggest painting yet! It’s 3ft.x4ft. and sort of a surreal, illustrative mountain scene. I’ve always been pretty scared of doing large format work so it feels really good to be confronting this challenge. I’m happy to report- so far, so good.

Meghan Ellie Smith

 

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Maker Stories

Rachel’s Celestial Bracelet Takes the Win!

December 11, 2013

Rachel is one of my favorite artist stories to boast about when the topic of ongoing Jewelry Design Challenges arises. She’s the perfect example of the saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Cliché? Most definitely. Overused? Perhaps. True? Without a doubt. Rachel first submitted her original Celestial Bracelet with a bit of a twist, she had her favorite quote etched onto the bracelet with diamonds embedded on top. We were fond of the piece and our jewelry buyers were impressed by the bracelet alone, but didn’t think that the embellishments would speak to our customers. They preferred a clean look that just focused on the unusual shape–inspired by celestial bodies orbiting planets–and design of the bangle. I reached out to Rachel to let her know exactly why that month she wasn’t a finalist, and wasn’t so sure if I would hear from her again. The next month, as I was checking all the jewelry submissions, I recognized Rachel’s familiar bracelet–but this time with our tips taken into consideration. The judges were surprised to see the beautiful, enhanced design again, and fell in love with the sleek yet unconventional bangle. Meet Rachel Vanatta, our latest jewelry design winner and an artist who wasn’t scared to develop her vision with ours.


Rachel Vanatta

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
I consider my hometown to be Chagrin Falls, Ohio. But since relocating to Savannah, GA at 18 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, I have considered Savannah very dear to me.  The longest portion of my career was experienced on a small 7 mile Gulf Coast island called Anna Maria Island, from 2003 to 2012.  This is where the Nectar Jewelry line was inspired and birthed. Towards the end of 2012 we relocated to Atlanta, GA.  Atlanta is new-ish to me but so far the friends and people I have met have been nothing but wonderful. An Uncommon Fact: I actually attended SCAD specifically for jewelry design, I was always interested in the craft and fine art, and SCAD’s jewelry programs are a perfect mix of both. I knew from age 16 on that the jewelry profession was the one I needed to be in.

Rachel Vanatta

Your bracelet is one of the most unique bangles we’ve seen come through at UncommonGoods, how did you come up with this specific design?
I am inspired by celestial and natural shapes, designs focused on forms that are present on a day-to-day basis, but that we may overlook without small reminders.  I aim to remind the wearers of my jewelry to pay homage to natural phenomenon.  Many take these wonders for granted in our everyday lives, but when reminded of, realize what a gift every being and object can truly be. The celestial bracelet’s shape is reminiscent of a planet’s orbiting moons and rings.  The construction of the piece itself also offers a great surface area to express additional designs, quotes, stones, and patina.

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Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have kept and added to inspirational sketchbooks and scrapbooks for about 15 years, and refer to these regularly.  I was sparked to do this by a past professor of mine.  Through some group discussion, I was shared that I had too many ideas all at once, and could not fathom creating them all.  She responded that I should always record every idea and design in these sketchbooks, because there will be a time in the future where I will be searching ideas and inspiration and these books will be my solutions and a look into my past. On a day-to-day basis, I also love to use Pinterest boards, attend American Craft Council and judged craft shows, and art museums.  Any promotional or inspirational ads/cards/artwork I come across I either save or post on my studio walls.

Rachel Vanatta

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
I have very little down time, as I am mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Cozette, who is my number one priority, of course.  We have so much fun together, but my downtime is when she naps, is in preschool or asleep at night. This is when I work on my craft.  I love what I do so down time for me is equivalent to designing and creating jewelry.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
I was at the park with my daughter when I received the call, excitedly I gave her a big hug!  I then proceeded to call select family and friends, and celebrated with my husband over a dinner he made later that night.

Rachel Vanatta

How do you recharge your creativity?
Though it may sound cliché, I am ever interested in the human condition and what we all have in common.  I would love to create a series at some point focused on a specific aspect related to this subject with the creation of conceptual jewelry pieces.  As for now, I mainly listen to Ted Talks and listen/watch documentary pieces relating to people in their environment and their specific situations.

Other than being an artist, what are your other passions in life?
Becoming a mother has been such an amazing experience, and now that our daughter is a toddler, it has been wonderful meeting other families with children the same age, watching our kids play, interact, and learn from each other, while enjoying “parent/adult” time as well!  My husband is also an artist in illustration and graphic arts, so we have a lot in common as far as what we enjoy doing together.  He and I met in Savannah, GA our freshman year at art school and have been together ever since. In addition, I have a love of animals, most recently horses and riding.  I grew up riding English and have recently reignited my passion for it by introducing my daughter to horses, which she has taken on whole-heartedly.

Rachel Vanatta

Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
I do have one particular project which have been gradually working on and designing, and hope to “unveil” it this upcoming year!

What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
 My bench, where I execute most all designing and work, contain all the tools, torches, etc that I use regularly. Ironic it is mentioned; I must have my water bottles nearby…yes multiple bottles of water, and depending on the time of day, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  As I mentioned before, having a thought provoking discussion or inspirational talk to listen to is ideal as well.  Having my dog Holly decide to lay at my feet while I work is extra special, and on a nice day, the windows open for fresh air.

Rachel Vanatta

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
Contracts come and go, sometimes the work rolls in and other times it doesn’t.  As difficult as it may be during the slower times, a positive attitude and embracing the “personal time” to recreate yourself, your work, and finally finish those pieces you have been meaning to are priceless. Take the days as they come, the busy and the quiet, for there is something to be gained from both.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Let go and let God.”
Rachel Vanatta

Which artists do you look up to? 
Todd Reed’s work is inspirational to me, his choice and use of materials, and the way he joins traditional and contemporary stone settings.  In addition, he is self-taught, which is motivational for me to learn new techniques on my own.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
In hindsight, I would advise myself to reach out for the purpose of bettering yourself and building relationships, but also for the reasoning that you never know where it will take you.  There is nothing to lose by opening yourself up in a fun and professional way.

Rachel Vanatta

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I would love to become more proficient in particular stone settings as they would add to my current designs.  I would also love to learn more about grading diamonds and colored gems by attending GIA courses.  I have some knowledge of CAD, and would also like to further my education in computer aided rendering and 3-D printing.

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work to our Jewelry Design Challenge?
I recommend that any contestants state that they are open to critiques and suggestions on their designs, if they truly are.  UncommonGoods has been a complete pleasure to work with, and they know their customer and what they want, so be open and enjoy the feedback!