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Tips for Creating a Winning Portfolio by Design Challenge Champ Tasha McKelvey

August 14, 2012

A great portfolio is a must-have in the visual world of design, but what’s the best way to build an eye-catching image collection? Ceramicist Tasha McKelvey captured our judges’ attention and won our first Ceramics Design Challenge with her uncommon piece. Here’s her advice on creating content to get the attention of art show judges, buyers like ours, and others in the art world.

Last fall I entered the UncommonGoods Ceramics Design Challenge on a whim. The holiday rush was already upon me, so I decided to take a few minutes and fill out the application right then. Otherwise, I knew I would end up forgetting and not enter at all.

Be Prepared

I already had an item to enter in mind. My Birdie Mini Dish would be a good fit for a catalog based on the size, price-point, cuteness factor, functionality and my studio’s ability to produce it both efficiently and in quantity.

Using relatively few images and words, I would need to effectively communicate all these details to the judges reviewing the applications for the Design Challenge.

With my entry decided on, I was able to pull my application together very quickly because I had already invested some time and thought into the process of portfolio presentation. The images I submitted for judging reflected the function, size and other options I offered for the mini-dish while still demonstrating the items’ consistent style.

This was the most specific mini-portfolio I have put together to date because it really only contains one piece of my work. I normally present a quite different group of images to craft show juries or gallery owners emphasizing the full scope of my work along with my particular style or voice.

Be Selective

Some time ago I created a Flickr portfolio of product images I had assembled for some indie craft show applications. I wanted to provide the show’s jury panel a link to a small selection of images I felt accurately represented my current ceramic work. Just sending a link to my website might have been overwhelming for a jury since it catalogs the entire diversity of my work. The smaller online portfolio I created on Flickr can also be a great resource to share with galleries, shop buyers, and the press.

Create a Cohesive Look

Additionally, the images are appropriate for uploading directly to an online craft show application that require image attachments for jurying. The individual images in my portfolio are actually composites; each jpeg consists of two images side by side. I combined the images using Photoshop, but there are lots of other programs available that can do the same thing. In order to better demonstrate the variety and relationships in my work, I chose to use two images in each “slide”. I put my bird bowls side by side with my ceramic bird necklaces, my ginkgo pottery with my ginkgo jewelry, my woodland gnome with my woodland mushroom mini-tray, etc.

Photos by Tasha McKelvey

Tell a Story

Take a look at the six “slides” that make up my portfolio. Notice the order I placed them in and the story such an arrangement tells. The first image is bold and eye-catching, while the last image references the subject matter as well as some of the colors in the first image (a little trick I also used with my UncommonGoods Design Challenge images too). Even though the backgrounds vary, each image shares the common themes of neutral colors and woodgrain — there is variety, but it is a consistent variety.

Know Your Audience

I use these images for indie craft shows and boutiques, but I do not always use these particular images for more traditional or upscale art and craft shows or galleries. For most non-indie shows I have a separate set of images with a gradient gray background. More traditional or high-end show juries have certain expectations for image presentation, and my casual woodgrain backgrounds might rub some of the more traditional art show jury members the wrong way. Also note that composite images are not recommended for non-indie shows in general.

Here are some examples of my images for non-indie art and craft shows.

Photos by Tasha McKelvey
The UncommonGoods buying team is always looking for great new designs. Check out our latest design challenge or show us your work through our new goods submission form.


Noteworthy Design: Wedding Wishes

June 8, 2012

Picking a personal wedding gift is tricky. It has to be sentimental, but not too cheesy. Functional, but with more appeal than the stereotypical kitchen appliance. And, of course, it should be something the couple will cherish for years to come. Our community agrees, David Voorhees’ Personalized Wedding Wishes Vase has it all.

Time and skill go into creating each of these wheel-formed, hand-decorated pieces, but using the finished product is actually quite simple. Each vase comes with a wedding poem (written by Voorhees) and blank sheets for writing your own wedding wishes.

The couple can use the vase instead of a traditional guest book, or place it near the guest book table. As guests enter the reception, they are asked to write their very own special messages to the couple and drop them into the vase for the newlyweds to read on their first anniversary. Since the bottom of the vase is perforated, the artwork doesn’t have to be destroyed for the messages to be enjoyed a year later.

Our buyers loved the handmade vase the moment they laid eyes on it, but wanted a little “relationship advice” before making the commitment to carrying this uncommon good. Our voters agreed that the custom creation is certainly something special.

“This is a really great idea, beautiful and made in the USA,” Christie told us.

Renee agreed, “I think it sounds like a great idea, and gives lots of warm thoughts on the 1st anniversary…”

“I love the idea of opening this on the couple’s first anniversary! The perforated bottom is fabulous, since I would hate to wreck the vessel otherwise,” said Alli.

Now Voorhee’s design is an UncommonGood, and it’s receiving fantastic reviews from those celebrating the marriages of loved ones in their lives.

“This was the perfect answer for a wedding gift for a couple who were older, found love again, had two households to contend with and needed no more appliances or other like items,” explained Judy the aunt from Long Beach, CA. “Family and friends were able to write notes they will open in a year. What a nice way to wish a new happy couple on their way.”

Mary from Ashville, NC also shared a 5-star review: “This is my absolute favorite wedding gift to give! It is a beautifully hand thrown vase that has a personalized message on one side with a floral design hand painted on the other side. At the reception, guests are encouraged to write a personal hand written message to the couple on paper and put it into the Wedding Wish Vase. Then, a year later, on the couples first wedding anniversary, they open the vase and read all the messages the guests wrote to them on their wedding night! How awesome!! This is such a lovely, unique, personalized, meaningful wedding gift.”

We’re proud to see such wonderful feedback coming in for such a clever and beautiful handmade piece. We’re looking forward to feedback from happy couples as they open their Wedding Wishes Vases to read warm messages and words of wisdom in years to come!


Designs that Shine: Uncommon Design Challenge Winners

February 20, 2012

There’s only one more week before our 2012 design challenges begin. Before we announce the next big call for entries, we’re taking a moment to share a few of the success stories from our 2011 challenges!

Although we could only award the grand prize to one winner in each challenge, many finalists also became uncommon goods. The Uncommon Jewelry Design Challenge help us discover some fantastic designers.

Wesla Bay Weller’s Cymbal of Love Pendant received more votes from our community than any other entry and was chosen by our judges to receive the grand prize. Made from recycled cymbals and guitar strings, and hung from a gold-plated bronze chain, the pendant is a great gift for music lovers and musicians.

Voters–and our judges–loved the recycled materials story, the combination of textures, and simple but meaningful design. Now available for purchase, Wesla’s piece is a hit. One reviewer told us, “I am a drummer and received this necklace as a gift. It’s very well-made with adequate length and can be worn with a variety of outfits. I get many compliments every time I wear it.”

The necklace is on it’s way to becoming a best seller. In fact, Wesla’s design has been such a hit, a whole page of our latest catalog is devoted to her story!

And the jewelry design challenge runners up that became uncommon goods? Maryann Dolzani’s Custom I Am…Pendant is inspiring women to be true to themselves (we also recently decided to feature additional charms, since customers pointed out that “I am” often more than one thing), Deb Soromenho’s Heart and Arrow Lariat makes a great gift for someone you love, Tina Tang’s Customized Name Necklace and Bracelet let you celebrate your name or a word with special meaning to you, and Irene Cheung’s Teardrop Stacking Rings are a unique take on the double-band look.

Lee from NH loves her I Am necklace so much she told us, “I absolutely love it! I haven’t taken it off since. I like the sound it makes when it jingles…Came really fast and in a little brown sack. I think it’s beautiful and very meaningful. I bought a couple extra charms to put on it.”

Our first design challenge winner from 2011 is also getting some great feedback. We teamed up with City Harvest, a non-profit organization that helps to feed New York City’s hungry and asked illustrators to help us create a new Plate with a Purpose.

Graphic designer Michael White’s winning plate design was called a “Very cool design. Great gift for charitable minded and design minded people who like to entertain,”by Dinah in Atlanta. Mo in Washington, DC said, “Great design, lovely color and it makes a great gift.”

Michael’s modern skyline design is a warm depiction of city living. His clean lines, creativity, and message won over our community and our judges. Now $5 of every City Harvest Plate with a Purpose directly benefits New York’s hungry men, women, and children and Michael’s design continues to get five star reviews.

Our Ceramics Design Challenge winner is also getting some wonderful feedback.

Tasha McKelvey’s petite stoneware Birdie Mini Dish was chosen to win for its functionality, unique design, and craftsmanship. To create the little bowls, Tasha presses the clay against a century-old barn door to give it a texture imitating the grain of aged wood.

This dish makes a great gift for many occasions. And it’s not just limited to a jewelry holder. The little tray can also be used as a spoon holder after stirring coffee or tea.

“My wife could not believe that her husband could find something so neat for her,” a customer told us. “Great find!”

We loved the Birdie Dish so much we also decided to carry Tasha’s Tiny Mushroom Ring Dish.

Tasha wasn’t the only designer to find success through the pottery challenge,either. Semi-finalist Mitzi Davis’ Bird and Cloud Dinnerware Set was chosen for the unique shape, imaginative imagery, and off-beat practicality of the bowl and plate.

Another set, Kathy Gorg’s Calla Lily Pitcher and Cups also entered our assortment. We love the symbolism of the calla lily (purity and innocence), and that the set makes a great wedding gift.

From gorgeous handmade jewelry, to fun plates for a good cause, to creative ceramics, we found some great new products through our 2011 design challenges. We’re also thrilled to welcome such talented designers into our family of artists!

Will your unique design be our next uncommon good? Stay tuned for our next call for entries!


Comments of the Week

October 14, 2011

This week our top comments come from voters telling us what they think of a little book that lets kids have fun with food, porcelain bowls that look good enough to eat, a kit that’s sure to be a cup of tea, and special pillows to celebrate new babies.

We’re glad you love Melanie Mckenney’s Salsa Bowl Trio, Karen! Although we don’t have a bell pepper bowl up for voting, we do have another scrumptious design– her Cantaloupe Bowl Set.

Speaking of scrumptious, another item up for voting this week, My Food Passport , makes trying new foods fun. But Kimberley isn’t so sure it would do the trick.

If it were full of foods like ice cream and pizza, you probably wouldn’t need the passport. Although some of the foods may seem strange to kids, they’re worth a try! We think this handy book might just help your picky eater discover that they love mangoes, mushrooms, or avocado. We’re glad to see that Liane and Cassandra agree.

Since we’re on the topic of having fun with food, we’ll also take a look at a comment from Patricia, who’s ready to have fun with a drink.

Thanks for the comment, Patricia! We want to see your vote as well. If you love the Tea Leaf Reading Kit don’t forget to give it a “Thumbs Up” in our voting app. You can also leave your email address, if you’d like, and we’ll let you know if we decide to carry this product.

We offer the notify feature on all of the products up for voting, but Summer isn’t interested in an announcement.

It didn’t take long for Jana to step in and explain why these Birth Announcement Pillows would make great gifts.

Which of our top commenters do you agree with? We’d love to hear your opinions on these (and many more) potential products up for voting in our community voting app this week!


Fresh, Clean Style

October 5, 2011

Artist Bo Jia developed an admiration for smooth lines and understated beauty by taking in traditional Chinese architecture and landscapes while spending time in the Chinese countryside as a youth. While living in China, he studied fine arts, learning both traditional Chinese decorative arts and Western painting techniques. These influences are clear in his latest designs, Porcelain Dish and Laundry Detergent Vases


These designs are a collaboration with his wife, Alison, who studied Chinese culture extensively. The couple aims to create designs that emphasis the beautiful craftsmanship involved in creating traditional Chinese ceramics, while bringing the art form to a new generation through modern design.

These striking vases are the perfect example of this modern execution of a traditional craft. The bold, colorful pieces are cast from actual detergent bottles. Although the vases are unique porcelain sculptures and have a coarse, unrefined texture–quite opposite of the texture of a plastic bottle–they embody well-known shapes.

Handmade in the Washington, D.C. area, Porcelain Dish and Laundry Detergent vases are now up for voting in our community voting app. If you love Bo and Alison’s ceramic bottles vote now.

Maker Stories

Udon Noodles and Buddha Bowls

September 30, 2011

Our first ever Uncommon Ceramics Design Challenge is underway! You can enter your unique creations by Oct. 31 for a chance to win $500 and a vendor contract with UncommonGoods.

Since we’re so excited to see all of your entries, we couldn’t wait to start talking ceramics! Copywriter Nina Mozes got the conversation going with Élan McPherson to learn more about how the designer develops her sleek, functional pieces.

It’s immediately apparent to anyone who encounters Élan McPherson that she is an inspired artist who looks at lemons and sees lemonade. And if you’ve ever held one of her bowls and felt how perfectly it fits in your hands, you know that Élan’s artistic goal is to take ordinary objects and bring out the beauty and utility in them.

Continue Reading…

Maker Stories

Love by the Bucket

September 27, 2011

When West Virginia University art students Noelle VanHendrick and Eric Hendrick met in pottery class more than a decade ago, who knew that one day they’d be running a pottery business together?

The budding ceramicists both completed degrees in fine arts, served in apprenticeship, and wanted to make a living doing what they loved. According to Noelle, in one year, the couple graduated, got married, started a family, and jumped into the professional art world.

Continue Reading…

Maker Stories

Terra-bly Delightful Design

September 22, 2011

Ed. note: Next month we’re hosting a ceramics design challenge here at UncommonGoods, and we can’t wait to see all your beautiful, clever and unique creations. But ceramics can be a somewhat broad category. If you’re wondering what sorts of product entries we’re looking for– well, would it be fair to say everything? We love pottery and ceramics– plates, cups, vases, decorative objects, all of it. Especially pieces that make you start talking. And there’s no doubt that Michael Terra’s designs are conversation starters.

If you’re a frequent reader of our blog, check out our product stories, or subscribe to our emails, you’ve probably noticed that we don’t shy away from wordplay. So, when we heard that ceramicist Michael Terra’s new products were taking puns to the another level–the third dimension–we couldn’t resist.

“I like looking at what everyone else is doing and then look in another direction and look at what no one else is looking at,” Michael explains. “I love puns at any time, and as I was thinking about word conversions I realized that there was a multiple way of seeing/hearing the sounds of language that we use everyday.”

His Writer’s Block and Ceramic “Reading” Glasses play on the multiple ways we see and hear language.

Continue Reading…

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