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Artist

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Audrey Heller

December 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Jenny Krauss

November 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Uncommon Life

A Humongous Pinterest Collection of Candy Art

October 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Portraits” of candy

Art made of candy


Art about candy

Candy-themed tattoos


Art made of candy wrappers


Halloween candy corn art

And finally…

A candy toothbrush

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

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

Maker Stories

Meet Laura White, Bike Lovers Design Challenge Winner

October 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio: Tiffany Threadgould of TerraCycle

October 12, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maker Stories

Classic Collaboration: Classic Hardware & Born Free USA

October 8, 2012

Our new Royal Panda and Polar Bear cases aren’t just cute and practical. Yes, they feature original art by Kelly Vivanco. Yes, they’re made of brushed stainless steel, so they help protect your “smart” credit card data. And, yes, they are the latest design from Karyn Cantor, head designer and owner of Classic Hardware. But, they’re also helping to support Born Free USA’s mission to keep wildlife in the wild.

Kelly Vivanco & Karyn Cantor

As part of the Endangered Creatures Collection, a portion of the proceeds from the Panda and Polar Bear Cases goes to Born Free USA. According to Karyn, who founded Classic Hardware in 1995, the Born Free/Classic Hardware collaboration started with a connection through an artist.

Karyn explained: “They actually found us through one of the artists we work with, Caia Koopman. We have contributed to some of their auctions over the years and they are connected with the pop surrealist/lowbrow style art we love! I was talking with another artist about adding Endangered Creatures to the Classic Hardware collection; I knew I wanted to give a percentage of the profit to an organization that helps wildlife. I did some further research and decided they were the best match for our company on many levels. They have a great mission and they understand the modern art style and I think their donors will, too.”

Karyn then reached out to some of the artists she often collaborates with. The artist behind the Royal Panda and Polar Bear, Kelly Vivanco, was a natural choice.

“I wanted to leave it up to the artists what they wanted to draw, but I did send them all the Endangered Species official list, which is huge,” Karyn said. “With Kelly I was encouraging about adding the crowns. She often paints animals that have a lot of personality and sport cute hats, so this fell into place nicely.These animals are royal and regal and deserve a crown and caring!”

Caring for those animals that need it most is what Born Free USA is all about. “Our mission is to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife — including highly endangered species — in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally,” said said Sharie Lesniak, Creative Director at Born Free USA. “We work to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild.'”

One way the organization helps animals is through the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas. According to Sharie, the sanctuary is “home to more than 600 primates, many of whom were rescued from abusive situations in laboratories, roadside zoos and private possession. We provide a life in as natural an environment as is possible, with minimal human interference, on almost 200 acres. ”



“This kind of partnership helps contribute to the funds we need to continue doing our work to save the lives of wild animals,” Sharie said. “It helps us reach people outside of our current circle of friends and engage new supporters beyond the initial purchase with information about our organization and what they can do to help wildlife. It also provides Born Free USA with an opportunity to give current members new and different ways to support the organization.”

Sharie also explained that the this collaboration helps the organization reach a new demographic, who might not be familiar with the cause. “With the Endangered Creatures Collection, we are also able to take the unique images of endangered animals out of the galleries and into the world,” she said.”So not just the people who buy the items can be inspired, but also people who see [the Wallet Case and Business Card Case]. They can be moved to ask about the species, the artist, and the two organizations behind it: Born Free USA and Classic Hardware.”

Since the cases are compact, stylish, and can be used for a variety of small personal items, it isn’t hard to imagine taking them on the go.

Karyn said she actually uses both the Wallet Case and the Business Card Case in often in her own life. “I have a large wallet in my bag, but when I go out at night or even out for a walk or bike ride, I will take my ID and some cash and a credit card and use the Card Case or Wallet Case as my wallet,” she said. “I also keep a Card Case in my bag that keeps my business cards nice and neat. I will also use it to hold other people’s business cards that I collect. There has been some concern about identity theft via new “smart” credit cards in your regular wallet. It has been advised to use a stainless steel wallet to protect against this. I’m glad that these cases are stainless steel and it’s a great to play it safe with all the new technology constantly changing, plus they look so cool and we are donating to a great cause!”

Design

Bike Lovers Design Challenge Call for Entries

September 12, 2012


We are hosting a call for entries for our newest and most exciting design challenge, the Bike Lovers Design Challenge, until September 15th at midnight. Send us your jewelry, accessories, gadgets, doo-dads and gizmos that could make their way into the hearts of any cycling enthusiast or weekend cruiser.

If you have a product that is geared towards our latest challenge, check out the full contest rules and submit your designs here!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Emily Rothschild

September 4, 2012

Studio tours have opened up so many new views into the lives and creative minds of our artists. In visiting with Emily Rothschild last month, I learned that her jewelry line was only the tip of the artistic iceberg. A designer who is always excited to learn, Emily constantly challenges her mind with lessons and classes, expanding her talents and perspective.

We thought her well-rounded attitude would serve well on the judging panel for the Bike Lovers Design Challenge and couldn’t wait to see inside her Fort Greene home-studio.

What are your most essential tools?
A few of my most essential tools are my camera for documenting inspiration for new work as well as completed projects, a radio for constant NPR streaming, and a pair of jeweler’s pliers which always seem to come in handy. My most loved tool is a pair of glassblowing jacks. The jacks have an excellent weight, feel, and history: it’s easy to imagine the years of hard work they endured before I owned them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I find inspiration from the objects around me all of which have a story: tools I inherited from my father, a workbench from RISD, design books and culled images, a kitchen spatula from the 1940s… I find it is important to be surrounded by loved objects.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
My two dogs remind me to step away and take a walk; they make me slow down and refresh. It’s often hard to remember to step back but it is necessary to see things from all angles: sometimes you need distance in order to get closer to a solution. I’m also settling into my new role as a mom and know that I will be spending as much time as possible with three-month-old Otto between projects. I’m often guilty of working too much but for him I’m willing to slow down and clear my head completely.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I learned that I need to push myself beyond my comfort zone, seek advice when needed, and find solutions in a variety of ways. I enjoy working in new areas of interest and with new materials which means that I have to reach out often to others. I am lucky to have found a great community of designers who work in the same way and are just as curious. Sharing information goes both ways and is key to making it on your own – it means you’re never really alone.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Love what you do. And find a community of people with similar interests and goals whom you can share ideas (and gripes) with. Community is key.


How do you set goals for yourself?
I usually have a variety of projects going on at any given time which helps me to stay focused and continue moving forward. The goals I set often seem unreachable when I first set out – I’m generally completely intimidated when starting a new project and also raring to go. The only way I can make anything happen is to dive in and take risks.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
My husband reminds me to reward myself after working hard and wrapping up a project. It’s easy to run right into the next job when you work for yourself, I’m lucky to have someone to celebrate victories with – both big and small. I try hard to remind him of the same!


What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I think about something my father always said: “Why is a duck when it spins?”. I figure if I can unlock that life mystery, I can make just about anything. My father was a great source of inspiration, information, and humor and someone who had a great hunger for investigating and learning. His wide spanning interests helped to form my curiosity about people and my perspective on design.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
This past year I took rhino, wax carving, and quilt making classes at Third Ward, Fitzjerald Jewelry, and Pins and Needles respectively. There is always some new skill I want to acquire for a project; I love learning to work with different materials and getting lost in the process.


How do you recharge your creativity?
I recharge my creativity by working on a diverse range of projects at a variety of scales – both client-based and self-generated. I work on research-based design work with my team, Hello. We Are _____., and more product-based work on my own. This combination of experiences and opportunities makes for a well balanced and never boring workweek. I also try to remember to get out of my studio often and look around – studio visits, museums, jogs, a trip out of the city, anything that keeps me looking at and talking about design.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’m lucky to have the support of an excellent design team as well as a strong local design community and access to any number of makers and manufacturers. I have been working as part of a team of designers (helloweare.com) for the past few years and we are excited to be growing our team and outreach this year. I find it is impossible to design alone.

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