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Creative

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 Designer’s 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.

Design

Behind the Scenes of our Clay Animation Email and Video

December 13, 2012

UncommonGoods is sending something special to your inbox this weekend, something our Creative team has worked very hard on and we can’t be more excited. For the past couple weeks, our email designers have taken a step away from their Wacom tablets and Adobe Suite to build this email by hand.

When the Creative team was talking over the Holiday email plan they got on a nostalgic tangent on classic Christmas shows and their memorable characters – Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, the Island of Misfit Toys, Heat Miser and Yukon Cornelius. Add a deep love of animated gifs and stop-motion photography, and the enticing chance to play with clay all day – and our clay animation email was born with a shareable video close in tow.

Normally our emails take a couple days to create – designs are hand-drawn and scanned, photos are taken of products and textures – and are primarily done on a computer. But this email required building a set and sculpting individual figures that took 4-5 hours each to create. It was an all-hands-on-deck experience with every team member getting involved.

“We turned our conference table into to a craft station and had piles of clay and tools to work with”, says Gaby Germaine, Associate Creative Director. “We had photographers, designers and copywriters all making different elements. Then once all the items were constructed we created the snowy home for everyone.”
Once the design of the email was complete, photographer Adam and graphic designer Hanna got to work on the animated video with input from the entire team as to what figures would be moving and talking. “The studio was literally filled with smiles and laughter during this whole process and had so many visitors from around the company stop by multiple times just to see what was going on. We have not even had the heart to take down the set yet,” says Gaby.

We hope you love it as much as the Creative team enjoyed making it and the rest of our team enjoyed watching. And for your pure entertainment, here is the video starring our little clay stars.

http://youtu.be/N_01tb_I5Gw

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Dolan Geiman

June 4, 2012

With artists throughout the 50 states, being able to visit the studio of each designer is a valuable, but more often unlikely opportunity. However, sometimes an opportunity lends itself to step inside the mind of an artist without ever setting foot in their hometown. Dolan Geiman is a mixed media designer who marries found objects and iconic imagery in his pieces. He generously takes us on our first remote studio tour and shares his tools, tricks and inspirations through photos of his space and in his owns words.

What are your most essential tools for creating your art?
The tools I find most essential for creating my artwork are as follows, in this order:
apple pie, crisp warm days, cool nights, bluegrass and country music, a clear mind, and a vision of the finished project. Other tools are easier to obtain.

Where do you find inspiration within your workspace?
I keep artifacts around my studio that give me energy and creative power: a turtle shell, a cow skull, a box of fasteners my sister sent me from Prague, a collection of pine cones and bird nests, a box of civil war buttons and old watches. Things that have energy and I can plug into them like one might plug a Norelco into a bathroom socket.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Well, there is not a whole lot of downtime for me. I think it’s that way when you run your own business. A lot of peers tell me in in their wispy yoga voices “Ahh, you just have to make time for yourself.” Yeah, it ain’t that easy. So, I take time at the end of a few months of hard labor. I’m trying to eek out a few moments early in the morning to walk and look at birds. But for now, while the work is there, I will be there holding its hand or holding its head while it throws up.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I never learned how to say “no” earlier in my career. It’s nice to say no. It helps you to stay sane. It’s hard if you are broke, but don’t ever let people take advantage of your creativity in that way.

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Charge more for your services. And stop smoking cigarettes. And move to the country. And get a damn haircut.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I basically keep this little treasure chest in my head and on the front of the chest is a goal. When I complete the goal I get to open the treasure chest. It’s usually full of wine and beer and a few days of fly fishing in the mountains. I try to set goals that are attainable but very difficult. And I do weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Well, I used to celebrate more but then I married my business partner and that put a damper on the celebrations… haha. I like to celebrate after I complete a successful project or a milestone in the business. I think I appreciate these things because I’m more of a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of person. And it also helps mentally, and mental health is something I take very seriously. If you just keep doing these cool things and then don’t stop to look at what you’ve done and where you’ve been then five years goes by and you are just older and not any happier.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I have this quote that I say to myself which is like my mental tattoo – “make art or die” – because if I stop making art I will most likely die. Like a pancake without syrup. Useless and not making anyone happy.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am trying to learn more about woodworking and creating antiqued finishes. I rely on the spoken advice of my peers and colleagues for this. There are two nice woodworkers in the basement studio below my studio so I often pick their brains for advice.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I go fishing or hiking or camping or bird watching or anything in the woods for at least several days. I’m trying harder and harder to re-charge my creativity these days, since I feel like I am working harder and harder. I have had several mental breakdowns in the past five years, due mostly to the fact that I work way too much. But this is the burden of being a Libra blessed with creativity. It’s a blessing and a curse… and a curse. I find the best recharging happens when I am far from other people and just staring at something like a cloud or an ant or a cloud that is shaped like an ant. I often meditate in nature and will create an entire novel in my mind which I try to slowly erase until there is nothing but… nothing. Meditation is hard.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I am not really sure. I like to collaborate with other folks, but I think mostly the collaboration is more conversational. When I am around other artists that I enjoy, we often create nice mind energy conversations and the mood is good and so I feel like we are all collaborating on a conversation and it’s like we are pooling our positive energy into the physical space. It’s more of a Jungian thing. When you leave the space of being around good people, smart and interesting people, there is energy there and you can draw on that later. It’s a similar feeling to déjà-vu, perhaps a cousin of déjà-vu. But in reverse.


photos by Dolan Geiman, Eric Grimes, Chris Nightengale, David Schalliol, and Paul Zimmerman