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Design

Ceramics Design Challenge Winner Announced!

May 29, 2014

In the past, the judging of our design challenges have occurred behind closed doors, either discussed through a conference call or in a room with our buyers and guest judges. Last night, we decided to take quite a different spin with our judging: to make it live for the public and contestants to watch via Google Hangout! (Yes, even including the critiques!) We’re a company that values transparency and we want all of our finalists to benefit from our judging as much as possible. Sure, we can jot down a few notes, and send the comments in an email the next day — but I think we all can agree that nothing beats hearing what the judges have to say in real time.

Below is our very first Google Hangout judging session for the Ceramics Design Challenge. The judges we invited to spill their expertise onto the table about each individual piece were Joanna Hawley, a designer and the voice behind the blog Jojotastic, and our Assistant Buyer, Hannah Weber. (Gaby and I joined in on the fun by moderating the conversation and putting in our two cents when we felt it was needed.)  Be sure to watch and see who our Ceramics Design Challenge winner is!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congrats, Ronald and Jeni! Your ceramic piece is beautiful!

Maker Resources

12 Tips For Making Your Instagram Great

February 19, 2014

Love it or hate it, we definitely live in a hashtag world. As a company who supports emerging artists, we know that most designers know that maintaining a professional website alone just isn’t quite enough these days. Building your brand or showcasing your designs on a social media platform is becoming more of a must than an option.  

Instagram

The beloved photo app, Instagram, is a social media favorite among designers and creative gurus. It has the strong effect of being able to bring your brand and designs to life through lifestyle shots and personable captions. (Captions that need to appeal to people other than just your mom.)  We know that reaching out to potential followers who have an interest in your work can be pretty tough. It definitely starts with engaging content, relatable topics, and let’s face it, beautiful snapshots — but that’s all easier said than done.  We decided to collect 12 great tips from a couple of our favorite Instagrammers, Mandi Johnson and Mark Weinberg, to help you take your Instagram content to the next level. Read on to #BecomeAnInstagramNinja.

1.  Take advantage of daylight. Improve the quality of your photos by primarily taking them during daylight hours. Natural-lit photos are oftentimes the prettiest. If you’re working on amping up the beauty-factor of your stream, but still want to be an active poster in the evening, try saving up photos from earlier in the day and posting them later as a #latergram. Helpful tip: I usually turn my poorly lit snapshots into black and white photos. -Mandi

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2. Frame up and wait.  I am always looking. When I find a scene I want to photograph, especially in the city or when traveling, I will frame up and take a few photos, but then I’ll wait. I’ll hold the camera in the same spot and wait for a person, a taxi, a plane, or something to show up. This can add a unique and dynamic element to your photos and take them beyond the basic snapshots.         –Mark

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3. Remember: quality not quantity. Limit your posts by sharing an image, at most, once or twice an hour. Posting  ten pictures all within ten minutes can come across as annoying as spam in an e-mail inbox. If you’re updating your shop and want to give people an enticing preview, select one or two of your best images and upload them with a bit of time in between.  Spacing out your posts also gives you some time to be productive or enjoy life without always having your eyes constantly glued to your phone. -Mandi

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4. Move closer vs. zooming in. Camera phone resolution is truly remarkable. But, zooming in digitally degrades the quality instantly. If you can, take a step closer instead of using the zooming option. Helpful tip: Also try to take a step back and see how it looks. Doing this forces me to move and interact with the scene and see it differently.  -Mark

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5. It’s okay to Instagram photos from your fancy camera. Using beautiful camera photos will not only beef up the visual appeal of your stream, but can be a good way to give a sneak peek of a photo shoot you’re editing or to showcase a nice photo that didn’t quite make it onto your website.  When I do this, I’ll usually edit a photo and resize it to an 800px square on my computer and then e-mail it to myself so I can open the e-mail and save the image to my camera roll on my mobile device. Just don’t upload too many DSLR camera photos onto your stream, or you may come off as overly styling your life, which makes you appear inauthentic. Helpful tip: Instagram etiquette suggests that you should use tags that will let your followers know why your photos are bangin’ and theirs aren’t. Try using #frommycamera or #notiphone. -Mandi

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6. Dabble with different angles. Phones are small and can often fit where a traditional SLR can’t. Put the phone on the ground. Hold it up over your head. Hold it out the window (very carefully). Hold it directly against the glass of a window. Trying different angles doesn’t only enhance your creativity for future posts, but it also creates a visual balance on your photo stream altogether. -Mark

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7. Download an editing app. Filters are often extremely overdone on Instagram, especially when using the built-in filters that the app itself offers. You can actually edit your mobile phone photos with a more tasteful touch by using editing apps like Afterlight or VSCO Cam. Those are my two favorites because you can adjust the strength of each filter and adjust the coloring, tones, brightness, and contrast. Look at it as a light version of Photoshop, but just on your phone. -Mandi

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8. Breaking the “Rule of Thirds.” I’m always on the lookout for “existing framing” or in other words, real world elements that frame an object or cut the scene in half. Just as good light is important, shadows and contrast are essential. Yes, the “rule of thirds”  (where the frame is split into a grid of three vertical lines and three horizontal lines, creating 9 quadrants) is often a good rule to keep in mind when framing up. But you can also produce successful images by breaking this rule whether it’s centering your object or placing your horizon line just right above the bottom of the frame. –Mark

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9. Tread lightly on hashtags. They can be a great way to engage with other users and perhaps find new followers, so I can understand their appeal, as annoying as some Instagram users might find them to be. Try limiting yourself to using hashtags as a way to gain visibility for a less broad term or to connect with a niche audience. For instance, if you’re trying to gain exposure for a holiday craft, #holidaycraft would be an appropriate hashtag, but you’ll be sure to get mega eye rolls if you also include a bunch of inane tags like, #glue #crafts #ornaments #paint #makestuff #ilovechristmas #hashtagsforever. Pick one or two hashtags that will get you the most mileage, and maybe consider creating a unique tag so your followers can cut to the chase and check out precisely what they want to see in your stream. -Mandi

instagram1Caption: I’m selling this #midcenturymodern #plycraftchair to anyone who can make it to Canton, Ohio to pick it up! Asking $175 for it.

10. Make use of negative space. Be willing to leave some air in the frame. It can help your viewer focus when you leave negative space around your subject. Take it to the extreme and make 90% of the frame negative space, you may be surprised with what you find. -Mark

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11. Interact with your followers. Always show courtesy and respect as your following grows. Even if you only become moderately popular, don’t let the fame go to your head. It can be difficult to notice every comment on every photo when new notifications are constantly popping up, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss comments on month-old photos. But please do check out your most recent uploads to see if people have asked questions about where you got your fabulous shoes or if you’re from Cleveland too. You don’t need to respond to every compliment or friendly comment, but if people ask you questions, be decent and answer them. There’s nothing more eye-roll-worthy than a popular Instagrammer who frequently ignores his or her friendly followers who ask simple questions. -Mandi

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12. Post what you like and don’t worry about what people think. It’s your Instagram account and this is reflecting who you are creatively. If there’s an everyday (or odd) object that you find to be interesting, cool, or funny — go for it! If you find yourself in a creative rut, take the time to be inspired by other Instagram accounts.  Don’t force yourself to photograph a popular concept (aerial shots of meals, text on top of images) if that isn’t your style. When you find an idea you like, give it a try and add your own personal touch to it. -Mark

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These 12 awesome tips were written by Mandi Johnson | Making Nice in the Midwest and Mark Weinberg | Mark Weinberg Photography. Follow them on Instagram @mandimakes + @markweinbergnyc.

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Maker Resources

5 Tips for Writing Better Product Copy

January 16, 2014

5 Tips for writing better product copy by UncommonGoods Copywriter KateWhen I tell people I’m a copywriter, their first question is whether I’m anything like Peggy Olson and if the world of Mad Men is alive and well. I tell them that while I do love a well-made Manhattan and I can see the Chrysler Building from my desk at night, my duties are much more akin to Elaine’s in Seinfeld. I’m given unusual, intriguing products and I describe them.

They usually follow this by pointing to a glass on the table or a decorative vase and saying: describe that! It’s become a very useful party trick. My most unusual on-the-fly copy was a salvage sale typewriter that had been refashioned to sport a doofy monster face in place of his keys. They thought they’d stumped me but I fired back with some metaphor about industrial intrigue and the bygone days of print.

Writing about products, especially products with a story can be challenging. You need to show what sets it apart from other pieces like it, how it will improve the buyer’s wardrobe/décor/daily routine, and sprinkle it with just enough alliteration and pithy dialogue that the reader doesn’t abandon you halfway through.

Whether you’re trying to write about your products for your website or potential vendors, selling the piece without sounding like you’re selling it can be the biggest challenge. Every writer has their process and through many years of trial, error, and woeful puns, I’ve come up with these rules of thumb to create a focused piece of copy that sells your story:

1. Decide who you’re selling it to. You wouldn’t speak to a new parent looking for a pair of baby booties the way you would a person looking for a necklace to give their best friend or a novice cook who needs a new set of chef’s knives before their big anniversary dinner. Once you’ve decided that, you can adjust your tone—be it funny, earnest, or inspirational.

2. Figure out your lead-in. What’s going to capture the attention of your reader? Remind a new parent of the memories their child will make taking their first steps in these handmade booties, highlight the expert hand craftsmanship of the jewelry, and list off some dishes the culinary hopeful will make one day—my go-to dish is always a spicy fra diavolo, only because it’s my favorite thing ever and just referencing it brings me joy.

3. Now that you have their attention, sell it. Just stay away from any infomercial talk. This means blanket promises (“this chef’s knife set will make cooking a breeze!” or “These comfy baby booties will have your little one running to the Olympics in no time!”), and wild comparisons (“this necklace shines the like sun, if the sun were brighter and more beautiful than the Mona Lisa!”)

4. Let the product speak for itself. People love handmade products so tell its story. Describe the materials used, the process, any inspiration that moved you to create this piece. When people buy a handmade gift, it’s because they want something different and out of the ordinary. That way when they’re giving it to a loved one, they can add, “and it was handmade from recycled materials in Nevada!” or “the artist was inspired by a meteor shower!” Give them a sneak peak into your studio or artistic process—it’ll feel like they’re right there at the craft fair or artist showcase, able to touch your product and find its interesting nuances that make it special.

5. Now focus on the reader. How can they incorporate this into their lives? Will it add a fresh pop of color to their living room? Shimmer to their ensemble? Sell the benefit and then get out of there before you make a pun about how that owl statue really gives a hoot about your décor.

So there you have it. It’s not scientific but I went to writing school specifically to avoid science and math. Mission accomplished. Happy writing.

Maker Resources

7 Tips for Setting Up at the NYNow Trade Show

August 23, 2013

Advice from our artists at the NYNow trade show | UncommonGoodsThis week New York City welcomed hundreds of designers and brands to the Javits Center for NYNow, nee NYIGF. This trade show is big time for designers as well as buyers since retailers are getting ready to stock their holiday assortments and are looking for products that are new and interesting.

With trade shows being so expensive for an exhibitor, there is a lot of pressure to make an impact on retailers walking the show. I walked through, visiting our UncommonGoods artists – some seasoned NY gift show veterans- asking them for their best advice for other exhibitors. Some of the tips they told me are truly golden!

Cat Studio's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods1. Be flexible with your display.
CatStudio, designers of beautifully illustrated geographical home wares, comes with a loose plan for the display of their booth and room and time for improvisation. When they get to NY from California, founder Terrell heads to a flea market in Chelsea for vintage props. The team heads in with an open mind and the result is a display that is personal and exciting.

Jeff Davis's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods2. Leave your booth in NYC.
Designer Jeff Davis knows he is coming to NYC twice a year to exhibit at the gift show, so instead of bringing his walls and props with him to and from Philadelphia, he leaves it all in a storage facility in Manhattan. Some storage facilities will even drop off your stuff at the Javits Center. This way you can focus more on packing your merchandise and marketing materials.

Jenny Krauss's booth at NY Now | UncommonGoods3. Design a booth that doubles as storage.
Setting up a booth for Jenny Krauss is as simple as opening a trunk. She designed two large cases that open up into a display and hired a local contractor to build it. It wheels into the convention center full of props and merchandise and allows for an easy clean-up!

Jim Loewer's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods4. Lighting is everything!
Bad lighting could make or break your product display, and since your booth doesn’t come with lights of it’s own, lighting is all on you! Glassblower Jim Loewer understands the importance of light in his display so he constructed a light box to show off his sun catchers. Experiment in your home or studio by shining a flashlight over your product, if it looks better in the light, it should have a spotlight on it.

Melanie McKenney's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods5. Build some private space.
Things can get cramped in a small booth, so husband and wife team Justin and Melanie McKenney build a small room into the back of their booth where they store supplies, papers, and a chair for resting. I won’t show it to you, but the couple says it keeps them sane (and still married!) while exhibiting Melanie’s designs throughout the week.

great idea to get buyers to remember you at the next trade show | UncommonGoods6. Bring bottled water!
Melanie and Justin know from exhibiting more than once that water at the Javits Center is expensive and hard to come by. So they come prepared with cases of water they buy in bulk at home. It’s a nice gesture to hand a bottle of water to someone who is clearly parched and not interested in shelling out $3 for a bottle of water, but they make sure that retailers remember how special the gesture is by replacing the labels with custom labels with their brand name and booth number. I glanced at their logo so many times throughout the rest of the day and was even reminded of them when I got home and emptied my bag!

getting my caricature done at NYNow | UncommonGoods7. Offer an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
Back at the CatStudio booth they took advantage of their talented illustrators to offer caricatures to people visiting their booth. It got me to sit there for a bit and chat with founders Terrell and Carmel to learn more about their company. I also walked away with a great souvenir to have after the show. If you have the space and resources, try planning something creative that highlights what makes your brand unique and will leave a lasting impression.

Advice from designers at NYNow | UncommonGoodsAnd my advice for walking the NYNow? Wear comfortable shoes!

Maker Resources

8 Videos from How To Make It: Pitching Your Designs

August 15, 2013

How To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsLast week we had the pleasure of hosting another How To Make It event, this time, in the basement of Park Slope’s Union Hall. We love hearing from our artists and buyers on the panel, but especially love getting the chance to meet local designers.

How To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsThe conversation was all about getting the word out about your designs to the media and retail buyers. UncommonGoods Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson, jewelry designer Emilie Shapiro, and myself chatted about the dos and don’ts of email pitches, trade shows, and pr reps.

Even if you were unable to make it, there was some great information shared that you can benefit from as a designer and business person. Here are 8 great clips from the panel.

How to submit your designs to a design challenge.

How to create an email pitch that won’t get lost in the mix.

Bloggers and editors need different information than a buyer. Here’s what to send when pitching to the media.

Trade shows can be expensive, but are they a wise investment?

Some advice on setting up your booth at a trade show.

Erin shares how the UncommonGoods buying team schedules and organizes themselves during a trade show.

What kind of information should a designer share about their company and designs at a trade show?

Emilie shares her tips for keeping track of contacts at trade shows and following up after meetings.

Want more? Check out the entire talk.

The Uncommon Life

Luck of the Limerick Contest

February 13, 2013

We can’t be modest when it comes to our emails. Let’s face it, they’re awesome.

This month we want to give you the chance to get in on all the fun of creating one of our emails by helping us write a Limerick about one of our products. Here’s the contest: Write a Limerick for one (or all) of these four products. If we pick your poem, you’ll be featured in an upcoming email and win the item that inspired you!


Trinity Wooden Cuff Bracelet This eye-catching cuff cuts against the grain of traditional jewelry design–instead of metal or plastic, it’s crafted from natural hardwoods.

Warm or Cool Face Mugs Bring some color to those cheeks with this customer favorite!

Butterflies Pop Out Clock Time flies when you’re watching it pass on this dreamlike clock.

Spiky Owl Bird Feeder Day or night, this charming feeder is bound to be a hit–and a hoot–with backyard birds.

The Rules

  • Your poem must be a Limerick. Need some help writing a Limerick?

  • You can write one poem for each of the four products.
  • Leave your Limerick(s) in the comments below.
  • By submitting a poem, you’re giving us permission to post your name and Limerick throughout our site, social networks, emails and maybe even catalog!
  • Deadline to enter: 11:59 EST, February 27, 2013.
  • You must have a US mailing address to win this contest.
  • LIKE us on Facebook. We’ll be posting contest updates along the way, and expect to see some fun poetry gracing our wall soon!
  • We’ll announce the winner(s) by March 1, 2013. Each winning poet will receive the product they best objectified in their poem.

Happy rhyming!

UPDATE – To find out which limreicks won our contest, check out our email on March 14. Sign up for our emails here.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designers’ Studio with UncommonGoods Creative Team

February 4, 2013

(clockwise) Liz, Gaby, Hanna, Rebecca, Stephanie, Jessica, Adam and Thomas. Not pictured: Nathan, who works from Oklahoma.

 

Some of the most talented, creative minds we know are closer than we think, so this month we wanted to share the creativity within our own walls to help inspire you. The team, headed by Associate Creative Director Gaby Germaine is responsible for our catalog, emails, home page and everything else UncommonGoods sends out into the world.

UncommonGoods co-founder, COO and Creative Director Thomas Epting loves working with our Creative team. “I’m so proud of this group of absolute creative rockstars. Thrice weekly I get to hear them pitch and show innovative ways to present our product and delight our customers. They are unafraid to call me or each other out about how to improve our collective work. And while laughter is the most frequently heard sound in the studio, they are a crazy-hardworking group, who care deeply about our customers, our brand, great writing, photography and design. More than any creative group I’ve ever seen, they push their collaborators in marketing, merchandising and purchasing to help them react to the numbers behind our business.”

We interviewed Gaby and some of the other team members jumped in. Welcome to the studio!

What are your most essential tools?
The camera is the most obvious and regularly used one for me. It can feel like an extension of my arm at times. But also plain white paper. I need a spot to get the thoughts and images out of my head and down into a visual, tangible item. That can mean sketches, lists or even just scribbles of color and shape. My mind can be chaotic and I adore order. The lists and sketches provide that order.

Nathan, copy writer: My tools aren’t too fancy. All I need is a word processor and my imagination to do my work. But because I’m located in Oklahoma, I also need Skype and instant messaging to interact with the rest of the studio in real time.

Hanna, graphic designer: My Wacom tablet! I can’t work without it. And, of course, nothing beats a #2 mechanical pencil and some graph paper.

Adam, photographer: My most essential tools are the Canon 5D, Broncolor lights, Apple computers, Photohop, and the power of Gray Skull.

What was the toughest lesson you have learned working in the creative field?
The toughest lesson for me was to learn to embrace the concept of a cutting room floor (to steal a term from the film industry). It is one that I still struggle with. Sometimes the best way to get to a great idea or end product is to be willing to spend time making a lot of less-than-great work. It can be a fun process of testing and playing, but it can also be stressful when you tie in a deadline and obviously wanting all of my work to be at a high level of quality. It is a lesson worth learning though as some of my favorite work that I am the most proud of has come through this editing process.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
It is pretty much involved in every element of it. It can range from talking over a photo shoot idea with the Creative Director, or being on set with him to shoot covers, to working with the designers and copy writers to come up with the best photo/copy/design elements for an upcoming email. We brainstorm and plan together on all the emails we send. I also love how when we are shooting covers for the catalog everyone is involved. Everyone gets called over to look at set and the photo to give feedback on the image and copy. Sometimes I agree or disagree with the feedback and sometimes changes are made due to other suggestions and other times not. I just think it is a good practice to listen and think about how the customer might respond to the images I am presenting. Best way to figure that out is to be willing to present the images to others and work on any solutions needed.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love the front of the studio. The big conference table right by the bay of windows. The light is beautiful, and the space itself is open and airy. There is loads of room to craft, have a natural light photo shoot, brainstorm with the group and of course the studio favorite – a game of Apples to Apples!

Hanna: Hahaha. But seriously would not turn down a game of Apples to Apples in lieu of the catalog meeting.

How do you set goals for yourself and the team?
We make a yearly plan as a studio that aligns with the companies over all yearly goals and then break that down into work by quarter with what we can get done… and then we adjust as new projects and goals come up. It is really important that we assign ownership also to keep projects moving along. It is really about breaking everything down into smaller easy to manage steps.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time… I should get me some of that. No seriously, I think down time is a hard thing for anyone in the creative field to understand. I think just so much of our thoughts wander back to our projects be it work, or personal. We do have some really talented bakers and cooks in the studio though, so inevitably each week someone has brought a treat in to share. We will often gather around the table for a taste test and chat. And of course Pinterest research has a special place in all of our hearts.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We all pretty much love anything involving confetti and glitter. You can always tell when it is someone in the studio’s birthday by the loud explosion of a confetti cannon (popper).

What quote keeps you motivated?
“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work” Thomas A. Edison

In college I was in a visiting artist lecture and the speaker told the class that it is not the most talented artist that make it in this industry. It is those who don’t lose interest due to work that is needed. Those that are willing to work the hardest and longest. Like most in a creative field I struggle (and especially in school with the daily critiques that compared me to some really talented student in my program) with seeing my worth and vision as an artist. I remember sitting in that lecture and thinking, “Oh, I can totally do that! I know I can work hard and long.” It was a great moment for me. It was the first time I really felt like there was potential for me to succeed not just a hope for it.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft
I feel like I am constantly working to improve my styling for photographs. How to lay objects down and have them look beautiful and not too organized that they don’t look natural, but still can tell the story of the items clearly. It seems so simple, but there are hours that can go into a shot to make it look effortless. I try to keep up on “research” by looking over blogs with great photography, Pinterest, magazines and sometimes even how sets from some movies are styled. I also have some friends who are stylists and I will trade my photo services with them for their styling services. When we work together on a test shoot I end up learning so much about how to lay down fabric to show motion, or how to stack blocks or plates so they are a little less than a perfect tower, with some shape and motion to draw you in.

Hanna: Currently I’m on a mission to become a web development guru. I’ve been taking classes at NYU and working towards getting my certificate. So far, they have been great! Being in school makes me feel nostalgic and presenting to my classmates keeps me on my toes design-wise. I have to bring my A-game to class!

How do you recharge your creativity?
I have to walk away at times. I have to have interest and goals outside of work and creativity… although they all seem to find a way back into creativity somehow. I was prepping to run a 10k for my birthday last year (a bunch of my friends in the studio ran it with me also. So I went running while on press to print the Holiday Catalog in Wisconsin. I was running to train and recharge from work and was totally pulled into the amazing beauty of the landscape. I ended up having a terrible day as far as running was concerned, but some of the best photos as I would run 10 ft then stop to snap a shot of another amazing view!

Other times I just need to learn something new or create something just for me. I love knitting, embroidery, bookbinding, cooking, decorating, etc. And I love learning about people who do these things. I live in a great city that gives me the opportunity to go to loads of lectures or meet artist at street fairs. Sometimes hearing someone else talk about something they are passionate about helps me to refocus on my passions.

Adam: Lunchtime walks through the industrial district. And playing ukelele while I wait for files to load.

Nathan: I make sure that, outside of work, I use my creativity for the things I love. I write musical theater, play violin, do craft projects, and whatever else that I can so that I don’t ever feel like my talents are just limited to use at work.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Oh man! That advice is probably the same advice I need today…. lol. Worry less, play more. Seriously, I spend a considerable amount of time concerned and focus on missing a press deadline- or any deadline really. Things generally work out. Even if we go with a back-up plan, we all work hard and find a way to get the job done.

Hanna: You don’t know it all.

Adam: Try to get an internship during college. Work as much in your field as possible, especially with people who are good at what they do.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Michelle Inciarrano & Katy Maslow

January 10, 2013

It only took a short subway ride to get from UncommonGoods headquarters to the Twig Terrariums studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, but when I got there I was surprised at how far away I felt. I stepped into a tiny forest of laughs, puppies, and Lady Gaga songs (OK, there was only one puppy–but you get the idea). It was very clear that the Twig brand is all about the things BFFs Michelle and Katy love most – making beautiful and whimsical living environments inside apothecary jars, achieving their goals, and having fun. Growing up in Brooklyn, they were childhood buddies and reconnected at a friend’s birthday party a decade later. They recharged their friendship with regular craft nights, and when Michelle suggested they try putting together terrariums, Katy had to admit that she didn’t know what one was.

I could give one of Michelle’s famous Braveheart-like speech about how much fun I had in their studio, but I’d rather you hear about why Twig is so successful in Michelle’s own words.

What are your most essential tools?
Our #1 best tool of all time is… wait for it… the “pokey stick.” Yes, a simple dowel. We absolutely love them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Where do you not find inspiration? We are obsessed with making these miniature gardens – and do not understand any other way since we started. We simply cannot fathom an end to creating them and the possibilities are endless. We revel in them.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Plan on needing more space than you think. Seriously. We moved studios 4 times in the last three years. Four times! And when you factor in that most of the stuff to be moved is made of glass, you understand our horror. Luckily, we made it through with surprisingly little broken, but jeez, that was a challenge. And then when you factor in the costs of moving, repairs, storage and design, the enormity of the situation becomes clearer. We still cringe when we think of it! But now we have 3,000 sq feet to play in, and although we still run out of room on occasion, we have an outdoor area to play in when we need a break. And did I mention the 14-foot paper mache tree we built in the middle of the studio? Yes, we now have a 14-foot paper mache tree!

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
I would write the “us of five years ago” a novel! Seriously. A novel. There is so much I’d like to say, but if I had to cut it short, I’d reassure myself by saying that everything is going to be okay, and to stay focused. I’d reassure Katy, too. We worry a lot.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I mind-map with Katy for all long-term goals – this is where we discuss the new things we want to do and create, then break them down into short-term goals, then break those down into to-do lists.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We celebrate everything here at Twig! The staff here are a small family. Or cult. We can’t decide. You can ask them yourself but I have a feeling they’ll say it’s a cult. We all believe in the team “work hard/play hard” philosophy, so while we are happy to have a Mimosa Monday, we may have had a late Friday. We are all self-driven. And finishing everything we had to do on Friday is a victory. It’s usually an impressive list. Taxes are a victory. So is being featured in a magazine, or a wonderfully fun event at New York Botanic Gardens, or winning an award (or four) at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The only rule is that we party after the work is done, but one of my favorite things to do during a long (or particularly packed) day is surprise everyone with a picnic style bbq feast on top of our picnic tables (underneath our paper mache tree, of course). Ribs, fried chicken, mac n cheese, creamed spinach… you get the idea.

Putting together the Unchartered Territory Terrarium.


What quote keeps you motivated?
Katy and I are both English majors (hers in poetry, mine in fine art and classic literature). Never ask English majors for quotes. We’ll inundate you. We can’t help it. There are too many.


Instead, Michelle and Katy shared Twig’s motto “an easily maintained, easily contained life”, something that describes their work ethic as well as their terrariums. They believe that being maintained and contained includes strong goal-setting and super-sized list making–but also playing as hard as you work.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Oddly, we argue. Then we cry. Then we hug. We are happy. Then we create. This happens only every four months or so.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
That’s the thing; there isn’t much down time here during the day. We are a growing a small business here! But once the day is done, there is always beer in the fridge, chips and dip laying about, and stories to share.

Michelle and Katy sat in Prospect Park one day trying to figure out what the name of their creative company would be. The mulled over many choices until Katy reached down, picked up what she refers to as the most perfect twig she has ever seen and made one simple suggestion that stuck. That fateful twig now rests inside this antique apothecary jar in their store.



Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
We collaborate with a few glass blowers to design pieces for us, as well as visualize our designs. We love it!

After spending an hour or so with Michelle and Katy, it was really easy to understand why their terrariums are so popular, why the press can’t stay away, and why fans flock to their studio for workshops and classes. They are all about having fun and getting the work done – especially the really fun work.

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