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Maker Stories

Self-taught Metal Artist Chris Crooks on the Danger & Pleasure of His Work

June 28, 2013

You could say that Chris Crooks’ art makes a lot of sparks! It’s true factually as well as metaphorically, as you can see in this photo of him at work on one of his 16-gauge steel creations. Chris loves working in metal because, as he says, “The possibilities are endless. If you can dream it, you can do it.”

He took a somewhat winding road to get to where is now, running his own successful metal art company. After graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 1984, he worked in advertising, then ran a printing business with his wife, while painting during his free time. Wanting a change of scene, the couple moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1990. There, Chris started a company making solid cast statuary. It was while collaborating with a metal art manufacturer that Chris met his true love, materially speaking: Metal, he realized, was so much more dynamic than plaster. It was in 2001 that he began designing and making his first line of metal sculpture, inspired from the southwest and the Sonoran desert. We were curious to know more about his path to creative fulfillment and success — so we asked him about it!

What’s your studio like? Do you do all the work yourself, or do you have assistants to help with certain tasks?
I rent a space in an industrial park. I started out from my garage, as the business grew, and my wife’s and neighbors’ patience stretched, it was time to move to an industrial space in downtown Tucson. There I can bang and grind at all hours of the night and stretch out a bit. It’s a 1000 square feet of pure metalworking nirvana.

Do you display your work in your own lawn or garden? If so, what kind of reaction have you gotten from it?
I really don’t display much of my garden art, but my friends and neighbors make up for it. I generally don’t give people my art as gifts unless they actually ask, since you are never really sure they like it as much as they are telling you, kind people as they are. With their response to the garden art though, I am never at a loss for a present.

How did you end up working in metal?
It seemed like a natural progression from sculpting in clay to working in metal. My first pieces combined the two, using the metal to augment the plaster, then the plaster to decorate the the metal, and then no plaster at all. Metal is just so fun and versatile, I feel like I’m just getting started.

Do you work regular hours, or do you work when you feel like it?
Well, when you work for yourself – you’re always motivated. OK, maybe not always. Generally, I work something like 60 hours a week. I really don’t have much say in the matter, especially when UncommonGoods comes calling! As a small business owner it really doesn’t feel like work.

What are the biggest challenges to doing this work?
Beyond the logistics of getting all the orders out the door, the biggest challenge is coming up with new designs. New designs and product is the lifeblood of an art company. Fortunately, coming up with new designs is also the funnest thing to do.

Is it dangerous sometimes? What do you do to keep it safe?
Yep, it certainly can be dangerous. I’ve learned my lesson more than once not to disregard safety precautions. Never the same precaution and never more than once. Whenever I’m training somebody, it reminds me how dangerous it can be.

How much metal do you go through in a year?
I use about 400 sheets of 4 x 8 foot metal a year of varying thickness.

How do you get it all to your studio?
It is both picked up and delivered.

You studied Fine Art in college – did you expect to be an artist, or did you think you’d always have a “day job”?
I always wanted to be an artist. I didn’t know if I could pull it off…didn’t really have a clear vision of what being an artist would mean for me. I got a day job at an ad agency out of college, that was fun for a while. Painting was not as rewarding as sculpting, and metal sculpting is completely enjoyable and engaging. It seems to be working so far.

What were your paintings like, back when you were in advertising — were they in any way related to the themes of your metal art? And do you still paint?
Here’s one of my Bar Fly paintings, and recent painting on metal.

How did you learn the skills of your metal art?
I am completely self-taught.

What do you like about living the artist’s life?
I always wanted to make a living doing something genuinely enjoyable. To get up in the morning raring to go, and never having enough time to do everything you want to do. I remember watching the Crocodile Man Steve Irwin cavorting about wrestling crocs and generally living life large. He was just so happy. What a way to live life. Crikey, now I got some of that.

Do you miss anything about having a regular job/working for somebody else?
Not really. Routine is nice, as long it’s not every day. Coworkers, company paid health care and a 401K are definitely positives.

What do you do for inspiration?
I get back to nature as often as possible to recharge. Honestly, whenever I find the time to be creative there’s generally tons of ideas ready to go.

See Chris' Collection | Uncommongoods

Maker Stories

Chloe Bulpin’s Design Floats to the Top of our iPhone Case Design Challenge

June 27, 2013

Last year we hosted our first iPhone Case Design Challenge, offering artists a unique way to bring their art to a larger audience in a very accessible way. We wanted to put fine art in the pockets of our customers, and we did that with the winning piece and the semifinalists that our buyers loved so much they made them into cases too.

With as amazing as last year’s pieces were, this year gave them a run for their money. From mixed media collages with vintage photos to experimental photography, it was a close race. But the winning design came down to a mysterious subject swimming through cool waters. The judges and buyers were mesmerized by her asymmetrical beauty.

Meet Chloe Bulpin, artist of Swimming and the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family.

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I consider myself nomadic. I have lived in 5 different countries starting with Australia.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
From a young age, my family knew the best way to keep my toddler self occupied was to sit me down with a box of colored pencils and a stack of paper. In 4th grade, I joined my elementary school’s art club. I think the realization came when the principal visited the club and asked to have my painting for the school’s office. Prior to that point, art had always been something I simply did for myself. Receiving recognition for your work is always fulfilling and brings with it the drive to create more to share with others.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
My inspiration derives more often from conceptual, rather than visual, triggers. Recently, I have found interest in the environmental changes and influences that occur on global and local scales, as wells as within our bodies. I think of images as potent vehicles of communication because they can reach large audiences without having to be translated. For me, the inspiration comes from the larger issues which I aim to bring attention to. The art itself, then, visually communicates these issues.

Describe your artistic process.
The only routine of my artistic process is that I start with written notes of my ideas or inspiration from readings to establish a goal of what I’d like to communicate. I then go to my sketch book and work out composition and materials. I’m still experimenting with various mediums and techniques. But I think it’s a positive thing to keep experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what you expect a medium to do. The risks keep me engaged in the process and curious to see how to best execute my ideas.

Describe your work space.
Condensed Chaos. At the moment, being that it is summer, I have an easel and a table set up at home with images scattered about. However, during the academic year, I’m working in the Illustration Studies Building at the Rhode Island School of Design. Usually, I have an easel set up with a couple of drawing horses upright as tables, a huge stack of paint tubes, a glass palette, cups of paint brushes, reference images, and my laptop blasting music.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Enter your work despite your inhibitions. As an artist, you must realize that there is a continuous process of experimentation and practice to keep creating better results. Therefore, in a competition where you have an opportunity to enter your work with very little to lose and much to gain, it’s a waste to pass up the potential. I would advise that you enter the work which you really strove towards perfecting and don’t worry if you feel that you can do better. Although often infuriating, your drive to want to improve ultimately will lead you to doing so.

“As you think, so shall you become” – Bruce Lee.

Maker Stories

MG Stout on Moving, Staying Motivated & Making Art

June 24, 2013

Artist Mary Gallagher Stout (Also known as MG Stout) not only captures animals’ unique personalities though her stylized pet portraits, but also conveys a bit of her own personality though each of these soulful pieces, which seem to be dripping with warmth and emotion.

Mary admits that she’s faced some challenges on her way to becoming a professional artist, and she graciously spoke candidly with me about discovering her passion for art, using her work to promote social change, and making the decision to transition to a new studio space in order to put her paintings in prime public view.

You mentioned in your UncommonGoods artist bio that you studied philosophy in school. How did a philosophy degree turn into a career in art?
Here are the cliff notes-I never felt like I was good at anything. I doodled privately and I studied philosophy because I wanted to learn how to think. My ambition was to become a professor. University life seemed to suit me. After I received my BA, I applied to a few graduate programs and moved to RI with my fiance. The following year brought a wedding, a new baby and a severe case of postpartum depression. The love of my family and ART saved me.

What the what? Art saved you? How so? Among the laundry list of psychological issues from which I suffered, and there were many, I became agoraphobic. I was terrified to leave my house, and heaven forbid it should rain–I’d cry all day. *I was a delight to be around.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law knew that I wanted to paint the sanitarium white walls of my home and suggested that I grab a brush. I painted practically every surface in the house. I did murals, faux finishes and furniture. I think I even painted a few shades! To my surprise, people were really impressed with my work. When my faculties returned and the anxiety passed I started a decorative painting business and have been painting ever since.

*My company actually was the opposite of delightful.

What lead you to start painting animals? How did the custom aspect come into play?
I used animal imagery as an analogy to raise awareness of the vulnerability of the arts and art programming. Endangered species, the environment, and the arts need community support to thrive and flourish. The National Endowment for the Arts budget is the first to be cut when funding is being dispersed. I wanted to demonstrate how art impacts and enriches our lives and so I co-produced a free community event at the Workhouse Arts Center called ART OUT LOUD- a fusion of art and music.

I painted my first pet portrait in honor of my cousin’s dog, Mattie, who passed away unexpectedly. She was old, but seemingly healthy. The whole family was so upset and I wanted to celebrate the life of an amazing dog. I worked on the piece in my studio, which is a public space, and started getting orders and requests from visitors. I knew then that I was onto something.

How many pets do you own? Do they spend much time in your studio?
I had two dogs. Champ died of bone cancer last year and nearly broke my heart. Scottie is 15 years young and while his skin is much looser, he is a sweetie pie. Neither spent time in my studio because they like to misbehave when they are not home.

Would you consider your studio an extension of your home, or do you prefer to keep work and your personal space separate?
My husband prefers that I keep my studio work separate as I seem to get paint everywhere!

How did you know it was time to transition to a new studio space?
I set professional goals for myself and made a 5 year plan. I juried into the Workhouse Arts Center and became a full-time studio artist. I spent the months before I moved into my studio in VCU’s [Virginia Commonwealth University] Summer Studio Graduate Residency Program there. It was intense and kicked my ass into gear. I signed a 3 year lease and dedicated that time to finding my voice. I gave myself permission to paint a lot of crap. As a decorative painter, lacking a fine art degree, I felt like a big phony baloney. So I painted a bunch of introspective stuff and experimented with various media. I had my aha moment when I started my *REAL Life Drawing series. Pastel on newspaper! Drawing my observations of the city. I found my groove.

Year 4 was about making sellable artwork. Yikes! Did I just speak of money? Heck yeah I did. Artists have bills that need to be paid too. As a professional artist you need to have work that pays the bills so that you can afford a studio to make art just for art’s sake. The problem with my old studio was that I was making decent work, but nobody was seeing it. Truth be told, most of my sales happened off site. It just seemed logical to move.

*Sunbury Press published my DC inspired artworks in a book titled REAL Life Drawing, My Eye on Washington DC, by Mary Gallagher Stout

What do you look for in a studio space?
The first concern is location. Is it metro accessible? My atelier needs to be in a place that people can get to by hopping on a bus, train, trolley, or bike. The studio also needs to have good lighting, and enough space for to be divided into a workroom and gallery. Finally I need to be able to have 24-hour access. One can’t ever be certain when a thunder-bolt of creativity may strike!

What was the last thing you packed? What was the first thing you unpacked when you got to your new space?

It was the same thing- my paint palette.

How far is your new studio from your old? Did you have to move all of your supplies and works in progress a great distance?
I’ve added about 20 miles to my drive so it is a bit of a hike, but completely worth it. Old Town Alexandria is a destination. This town is buzzing with art enthusiasts, and animal lovers! The marina is literally one block from my new spot and there are dozens of local eateries and shops.

I’m in heaven. I share this space with two other prolific professional artists, John Gascot and Gina Cochran. We make a great team. We inspire and support each other and are eager to produce community-centric exhibitions and creative workshops.


Advice from our Design Challenge Winners

June 18, 2013

Everyone always asks what my favorite part of our design challenges is. I really love sitting with the buyer and going through the entries and offering my unsolicited advice. I also love making that phone call to the grand prize winner letting them know the results of the judging session. But my absolute favorite part is getting to interview the winners for the blog post where we introduce them to our community.

Being able to be the one who makes that first personal connection with the UncommonGoods brand is really important to me. Learning what keeps these artists ticking and how excited they are to be a part of our community really warms me up! I tend to get really attached to my design challenge artists and develop design crushes on them!

Each time I ask an artist what advice they would give to someone considering entering a design challenge, I am blown away by their responses. Considering entering a design challenge yourself? Here are some of my favorite bits of advice.

Take a risk and enter. Be sure to rally up your friends and colleagues, they can be some of your best chances to filling in votes. But, above all, don’t let negative comments get you down. Constructive criticism is one thing, but personal preferences and insults are not necessary in the creative process.

Jeff Knight, Woodworking Design Challenge

This is a great opportunity it doesn’t cost anything to enter there is really nothing to lose! Even the opportunity for a jury to look at your work usually costs money; here you get a team of professionals to evaluate your design for free! The semi-finalists get great exposure on the website through the voting platform and there is another opportunity for honest feedback and insight into your work. We made a goal several years ago when looking at an UncommonGoods catalog to some day be featured in their collection, and it took this long to do it. Without ever having that thought or goal to begin with it never would have happened!

Patrick & Carrie Frost, Glass Art Design Challenge

My first bit of advice would simply be to enter the competition. Don’t prevent yourself from taking advantage of such an awesome opportunity by worrying about whether your art is good enough. Just enter it and see what happens. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those circumstances are not very common and should always be ventured.

My second piece of advice goes hand in hand with my first. I think Andy Warhol summed it up perfectly. He said, “Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” Whatever the outcome of this competition or any other artistic venture you attempt, don’t worry too much about the results. Just keep making more art. If you’re consistent, you’ll eventually stumble upon a great artistic breakthrough that someone will notice and adore.

Elise Wehle, 2013 Art Contest

Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

Sarah Nicole Phillips, Art Contest-May

Still not sure about your design challenge entry? Check out my advice to artists here.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kasia Wisniewski & Nicholas Foley

June 3, 2013

Living in New York City you learn very quickly not to judge a book by it’s cover – every door hides a secret in this city. Upon walking up to Kasia Wisniewski and Nicholas Foley’s building I had no idea what was in store. Only a few blocks from my own place, and on a block with manicured brownstones, Kasia and Nick’s door was gated and uninviting. But upon being greeted and swept upstairs to their apartment by Kasia, I was surprised to be standing in the treasure hidden from the street. Their home is what I imagine Marie Antoinette’s place would look like if she were a Brooklyn artist – a mix of Baroque accessories, Mid-Century furniture, antique sewing machines, dress forms. And right there, among their beautiful furniture and artifacts, was an industrial laser cutter, taking up what I imagine could be a sizable second bedroom.

That’s another thing about New York City – you have to make it happen by any means possible. For Nick and Kasia that mean taking out a wall, building a ventilation system, and giving up precious real estate to fit the laser cutter that helped Kasia leave her job in luxury fashion design and start working for herself. But nothing is wasted – they have used the cutter to create Kasia’s wall art and jewelry, to cut stencils to create other designs, and Nick even used it to cut wood to create a suspended indoor garden. Getting to tour their space and talk about their work was truly inspiring and a reminder that nothing is earned in this city without a little sacrifice.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
We are collectors! We’re surrounded constantly by reminders of things we love- from books and photographs to piles of fabric and knick-knacks from our travels. Living in Brooklyn has forced us to be creative with a limited space, so we’ve put our passions front and center. Nick is starting an indoor vegetable garden in the corner of our living room, so a lot of it is creating our own inspiration as well.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Working from home means we’re working on and off from the time we get up to the time we go to sleep – but when you’re doing stuff you like, it’s not work. I usually take an hour or so to go for a run around midday and we always watch something funny during dinner at the end of the day.

We also have a blog where we detail our food and design experiments, so working on that is sort of a treat for us as well.

What are your most essential tools?
Our most essential tool is our laser cutter- we use it not only to create products like our You Are Here map, but we also use it to create tools for our other projects, from stamps and stencils to jigs and frames. My industrial sewing machine (a birthday gift from Nick to me) is another Collected Edition MVP.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Transitioning from a full-time job in a high stress fashion company to being my own boss was terrifying. I think the hardest part was really realizing how fast time goes by when you’re working on projects by yourself. At first I would beat myself up if I didn’t have something solid and concrete at the end of the day – but mistakes and revisions are 95% of the design process.

What advice would you offer yourself of 5 years ago?
I would encourage myself to follow my instincts and believe in my vision. I think all designers suffer from insecurity, but if you focus on making good work and being true to your aesthetic, others will get onboard.

How do you set goals for yourself?
We both have a very clear idea of what we want our lives to be like in 5 years or 10 years – but the path to get there is still developing! We are both big fans of lists – both small detail and big picture. I try to set manageable goals I know I can reach, while always keeping in mind the endgame.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Every victory is celebrated by figuring out how to win the next victory.

What quote keeps you motivated?
This Samuel Beckett quote pretty much sums up creative entrepreneurship. I think there are very few designers that ever feel completely satisfied with their work – you should always be aiming to “fail better” on the next go-round.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m starting to experiment with casting. I love using tutorials from sites like Instructables to inform my experimentation. We also have an electroforming set-up that we both worked with some in college but is now lying dormant – that’s another avenue we have been exploring and requires a lot of trial and error to perfect.

How do you recharge your creativity?
The only time I can ever really relax is when we go away – whether on a proper vacation or just a day trip. A change in scenery does wonders for the mind.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Since so much of what we do is custom, each piece is really a collaboration with the client. My favorite thing is to work closely with a customer to bring an idea to life – it’s a beautiful thing to know that what you do brings happiness to another life.

Maker Stories

Finding Security in Reclaimed Art – Meet Sarah Nicole Phillips

May 30, 2013

After an overwhelming response in March, we decided to keep our Art Contest running all year round. With twelve months to send in artwork, I was worried that the well might run dry with new ideas and exciting designs. Our first month proved me wrong with a collection of amazing submissions.

Our interim art buyer Melissa chose Security Blue Grass from the top voted semifinalists for its aesthetic, originality, and use of reclaimed materials. Those three elements make its designer, Sarah Nicole Phillips, the ideal Uncommon artist. Meet our newest artist and help us welcome her to our vendor family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
After high school, I traveled for two and a half years straight, during which all my possessions fit into a backpack.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
I knew I had become an artist when I purchased a used 54” 5-Drawer Steel Flat File from a guy on Craig’s List, to store my art. In New York City, space is a precious resource so my bed is lofted on top of the flat files. I do not believe this sleeping arrangement has affected my dreams.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
I draw inspiration from observing the tensions, conflicts and contradictions of contemporary life. I spend a lot of time consuming news media, but just as important is placing myself in situations where lives are smashing up against each other like crowded subways and commercial streetscapes at rush hour. I always carry a small notebook with me to jot down something I see, or draw something that catches my eye. I am conscious of the waste we create and how we manage it.

I have attended several artist residencies in bucolic, rural settings. These quiet places allow for ideas simmering on the back burner to boil over, but I need the background hum of a city to stimulate ideas for new bodies of work.

Describe your artistic process.
The process begins with me scribbling sketches in my notebook. Most of these sketches are fragments of ideas blurted onto paper and are never realized into final pieces. Once I hone in on an image I’d like to create into a collage, I make a full scale drawing that serves as an image template. I search through my supply of patterned security envelopes and select which ones I will use to construct the collage. I have several bankers’ boxes full of envelopes to choose from, sorted into categories according to imagery, color, tone, and other characteristics. The envelopes come from myriad sources; friends and family and sometimes strangers bring me discarded envelopes generated from their workplace or home office. I arrange a “dry assemble” before using adhesive to stick all the pieces down. The final step is to run the collage through an etching press to ensure the thousands of individual pieces are never going to become unstuck.

Describe your work space.
I have a bright, airy, live-work space on the edge of the industrial neighborhood of Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. Source photographs and sketches are tacked onto the walls. I work sitting at a long table, and pin works-in-progress onto a big white wall that I can stare at, or glance at passively as I walk by to refill my coffee mug. My indispensable tools are a self-healing cutting mat, metal rulers and various cutting blades. The windows are open, as long as the wind isn’t strong enough to blow apart works-in-progress. Public radio or podcasts are always playing.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

Maker Stories

Tavia Brown’s “Industrial Delicate” Rings to Last a Lifetime

May 20, 2013

“I very clearly remember being six years old and knowing I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. And it never changed,” said jewelry artist Tavia Brown. “I ventured down my artistic journey in my childhood and ended up in college discovering metalsmithing.”

That drive, discovery, and dedication lead Tavia to found taviametal in 2001, and stay true to her craft through business ventures, marriage, and motherhood. Fittingly, her latest collection celebrates one of those special occasions in life–saying “I do.”

Tavia incorporates metals not traditionally used in wedding jewelry, like titanium and rose gold, and textural elements into her original designs to create unique rings for men and women. She calls her style “industrial delicate,” referring to the juxtaposition of tenacious metals with elegant design, and although her pieces are a bit bolder than some wedding bands, they are perfect for making the statement, “our love is solid.”

“In my first jewelry class I found my match in this small-scale, three-dimensional medium,” Tavia said. “I knew then that this was what I was going to do.”

The artist now creates her pieces in her own Charlottesville, VA studio, but before setting out on her own she worked as a bench jeweler for a high-end jewelry designer. “I worked in the jewelry studio and daydreamed about having my own studio business,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it; I didn’t have a concrete plan. I just knew I was going to do it.”

Taviametal started out as a part-time endeavor, but grew over time as Tavia transitioned from exhibiting her own work at small shows while still working full-time at her bench job. Over the next few years, she got married, cut back her day job hours, and started planning for her future while helping her husband, who is an entrepreneur himself, with his business.

“Eventually, I knew kids would be the next step and I quit my job for the jewelry designer to get accustomed to not having that paycheck,” Tavia said. “I wanted to ensure that I would still follow my dream and take that big leap after having kids. So I worked part-time for my husband and part-time for taviametal, nurturing both businesses. I eventually switched and made taviametal my full-time commitment in 2007. Since then, my husband and I have continued to support each other in our individual business adventures, helping each other grow.”

Along the way, Tavia also discovered the joy of working with titanium–which is now her signature metal.”I had a very close-knit group of metalsmithing/blacksmithing friends and we would have these Monster Metal weekends during which we would take turns at each other’s studios learning a new technique or trying out a new material,” she explained. “Well, one weekend we tried our hand at titanium. I found that I really liked the color and the weight; and I loved the industrial feel and look to it, which fell right in line with my aesthetics.”

“I discovered that I could use the titanium for my rings, taking advantage of that natural gray color to contrast with other materials and continue the layering of textures that I like to create in these rings,” she continued. “I also found I could apply a heat patina which adds even more color – blue, purple, bronze – to the recesses of the designs. Titanium definitely has its challenges. Some basic metalsmithing techniques cannot be used with it, such as soldering – which is a main practice. So I fabricate my titanium jewelry by cold joining contrasting materials and friction fitting the layers, with an emphasis on textures and design. I really love these challenges about titanium. It keeps me creating in ways that take me outside the box. It pushes me to come up with new and interesting designs, and I am constantly exploring.”

“There are times where I get inspiration simply from the material… its challenges, limitations, and look intrigue me,” said Tavia. “Other times it’s just texture, the juxtaposition and tactility of different textures together, and the manipulation of the materials into amazing surfaces… Another impetus for me is family. This is a recurring theme in my work since college.”

Now, as a mother of two, Tavia is inspired by her children and says that over the years she’s been lucky to be able to mold her schedule around what’s best for her whole family.

“I want my kids to see that you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to,” she said. “I want them to know that they can dream as big as they want… On days where I must work longer than the usual I take my kids to the studio with me after school. I have carved out a kid area in my office, complete with easel, art supplies, toys, TV, movies, hula hoops, snacks, and more. Even though I am working, it is fun to be together at the studio.”

Tavia says that one of the biggest lessons she’s learned so far is “to breathe and be kind to myself and know that it will all work out.” She explained, “If I do my best, my kids will be their best. That’s not to say the ride hasn’t had its moments of difficulty; some days just have tears and other days are full of laughter. Each day is a new day of parenting with new challenges, so I am constantly learning – not just as a mom but also as a metalsmith and business owner.”

Maker Stories

Cloudy Mountainscape for the Win

May 9, 2013

I actually couldn’t wait to sit down to this year’s Art Contest judging-and not because I’m an uber fan of the Jealous Curator. I knew it was going to be a really close contest with every one of the top five voted pieces being so special and so unique.

And I was right. It came down to two paintings but eventually Katie, Danielle and Matthew arrived at a consensus–Elise Wehle’s Cloudy Mountainscape was too exceptional to pass up and its paper cut texture would make an incredible print. So meet Elise, the winner of our latest design challenge and help us welcome her into our artist family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I’m still an avid Mario Kart racer for the Nintendo 64.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
As a kid I used to love to draw animals. Everyone, including myself, thought I was going to grow up to be a zoologist. It wasn’t until middle school that I branched out and started drawing Star Wars characters (yeah, I was pretty nerdy). However, my nerdiness worked towards my benefit, and I realized I just loved drawing and making art more than even the subject matter. Soon after I decided I wanted to be an artist.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
I definitely find inspiration from city walls covered in old and new posters. I can almost see the history of the wall when I tear off one poster only to discover another one underneath. I love when all the different layers of posters turns into one giant collage. I think the way time weathers and tears the paper is very beautiful. I try to copy that look in a lot of my work.

Describe your artistic process.
I usually start an artwork by finding an image or a photograph that I really love online. I like the idea of taking something that only exists as bits and pixels and turning it into something real and tangible again. I materialize the image by creating a transfer of the photo. Sometimes this is done through intaglio, a printmaking process I learned while in college, or sometimes I use gel medium and transfer the photo directly to paper. I then try to incorporate some type of hand-intensive technique into the artwork, usually in the form of weaving, paper cutting, or embroidery.

Describe your work space.
Oh boy, my work space is nothing fancy. Right now my studio is a small corner of my bedroom. In that corner I have a desk, a lamp, and a little stool, all three of which are covered in art supplies. Usually and inevitably, my creative process begins to spread all across the bedroom until the bed and floor are covered. Luckily, my husband has the patience of a saint and hasn’t complained about all the little pieces of paper we end up tracking across the house.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
My first bit of advice would simply be to enter the competition. Don’t prevent yourself from taking advantage of such an awesome opportunity by worrying about whether your art is good enough. Just enter it and see what happens. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those circumstances are not very common and should always be ventured.

My second piece of advice goes hand in hand with my first. I think Andy Warhol summed it up perfectly. He said, “Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” Whatever the outcome of this competition or any other artistic venture you attempt, don’t worry too much about the results. Just keep making more art. If you’re consistent, you’ll eventually stumble upon a great artistic breakthrough that someone will notice and adore.

Check out The Jealous Curator‘s post about Elise’s art!

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