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Design Challenge Winners

Maker Stories

Rachel’s Celestial Bracelet Takes the Win!

December 11, 2013

Rachel is one of my favorite artist stories to boast about when the topic of ongoing Jewelry Design Challenges arises. She’s the perfect example of the saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Cliché? Most definitely. Overused? Perhaps. True? Without a doubt. Rachel first submitted her original Celestial Bracelet with a bit of a twist, she had her favorite quote etched onto the bracelet with diamonds embedded on top. We were fond of the piece and our jewelry buyers were impressed by the bracelet alone, but didn’t think that the embellishments would speak to our customers. They preferred a clean look that just focused on the unusual shape–inspired by celestial bodies orbiting planets–and design of the bangle. I reached out to Rachel to let her know exactly why that month she wasn’t a finalist, and wasn’t so sure if I would hear from her again. The next month, as I was checking all the jewelry submissions, I recognized Rachel’s familiar bracelet–but this time with our tips taken into consideration. The judges were surprised to see the beautiful, enhanced design again, and fell in love with the sleek yet unconventional bangle. Meet Rachel Vanatta, our latest jewelry design winner and an artist who wasn’t scared to develop her vision with ours.

Rachel Vanatta

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
I consider my hometown to be Chagrin Falls, Ohio. But since relocating to Savannah, GA at 18 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, I have considered Savannah very dear to me.  The longest portion of my career was experienced on a small 7 mile Gulf Coast island called Anna Maria Island, from 2003 to 2012.  This is where the Nectar Jewelry line was inspired and birthed. Towards the end of 2012 we relocated to Atlanta, GA.  Atlanta is new-ish to me but so far the friends and people I have met have been nothing but wonderful. An Uncommon Fact: I actually attended SCAD specifically for jewelry design, I was always interested in the craft and fine art, and SCAD’s jewelry programs are a perfect mix of both. I knew from age 16 on that the jewelry profession was the one I needed to be in.

Rachel Vanatta

Your bracelet is one of the most unique bangles we’ve seen come through at UncommonGoods, how did you come up with this specific design?
I am inspired by celestial and natural shapes, designs focused on forms that are present on a day-to-day basis, but that we may overlook without small reminders.  I aim to remind the wearers of my jewelry to pay homage to natural phenomenon.  Many take these wonders for granted in our everyday lives, but when reminded of, realize what a gift every being and object can truly be. The celestial bracelet’s shape is reminiscent of a planet’s orbiting moons and rings.  The construction of the piece itself also offers a great surface area to express additional designs, quotes, stones, and patina.


Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have kept and added to inspirational sketchbooks and scrapbooks for about 15 years, and refer to these regularly.  I was sparked to do this by a past professor of mine.  Through some group discussion, I was shared that I had too many ideas all at once, and could not fathom creating them all.  She responded that I should always record every idea and design in these sketchbooks, because there will be a time in the future where I will be searching ideas and inspiration and these books will be my solutions and a look into my past. On a day-to-day basis, I also love to use Pinterest boards, attend American Craft Council and judged craft shows, and art museums.  Any promotional or inspirational ads/cards/artwork I come across I either save or post on my studio walls.

Rachel Vanatta

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
I have very little down time, as I am mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Cozette, who is my number one priority, of course.  We have so much fun together, but my downtime is when she naps, is in preschool or asleep at night. This is when I work on my craft.  I love what I do so down time for me is equivalent to designing and creating jewelry.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
I was at the park with my daughter when I received the call, excitedly I gave her a big hug!  I then proceeded to call select family and friends, and celebrated with my husband over a dinner he made later that night.

Rachel Vanatta

How do you recharge your creativity?
Though it may sound cliché, I am ever interested in the human condition and what we all have in common.  I would love to create a series at some point focused on a specific aspect related to this subject with the creation of conceptual jewelry pieces.  As for now, I mainly listen to Ted Talks and listen/watch documentary pieces relating to people in their environment and their specific situations.

Other than being an artist, what are your other passions in life?
Becoming a mother has been such an amazing experience, and now that our daughter is a toddler, it has been wonderful meeting other families with children the same age, watching our kids play, interact, and learn from each other, while enjoying “parent/adult” time as well!  My husband is also an artist in illustration and graphic arts, so we have a lot in common as far as what we enjoy doing together.  He and I met in Savannah, GA our freshman year at art school and have been together ever since. In addition, I have a love of animals, most recently horses and riding.  I grew up riding English and have recently reignited my passion for it by introducing my daughter to horses, which she has taken on whole-heartedly.

Rachel Vanatta

Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
I do have one particular project which have been gradually working on and designing, and hope to “unveil” it this upcoming year!

What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
 My bench, where I execute most all designing and work, contain all the tools, torches, etc that I use regularly. Ironic it is mentioned; I must have my water bottles nearby…yes multiple bottles of water, and depending on the time of day, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  As I mentioned before, having a thought provoking discussion or inspirational talk to listen to is ideal as well.  Having my dog Holly decide to lay at my feet while I work is extra special, and on a nice day, the windows open for fresh air.

Rachel Vanatta

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
Contracts come and go, sometimes the work rolls in and other times it doesn’t.  As difficult as it may be during the slower times, a positive attitude and embracing the “personal time” to recreate yourself, your work, and finally finish those pieces you have been meaning to are priceless. Take the days as they come, the busy and the quiet, for there is something to be gained from both.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Let go and let God.”
Rachel Vanatta

Which artists do you look up to? 
Todd Reed’s work is inspirational to me, his choice and use of materials, and the way he joins traditional and contemporary stone settings.  In addition, he is self-taught, which is motivational for me to learn new techniques on my own.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
In hindsight, I would advise myself to reach out for the purpose of bettering yourself and building relationships, but also for the reasoning that you never know where it will take you.  There is nothing to lose by opening yourself up in a fun and professional way.

Rachel Vanatta

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I would love to become more proficient in particular stone settings as they would add to my current designs.  I would also love to learn more about grading diamonds and colored gems by attending GIA courses.  I have some knowledge of CAD, and would also like to further my education in computer aided rendering and 3-D printing.

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work to our Jewelry Design Challenge?
I recommend that any contestants state that they are open to critiques and suggestions on their designs, if they truly are.  UncommonGoods has been a complete pleasure to work with, and they know their customer and what they want, so be open and enjoy the feedback!

Maker Stories

Sarah’s “Deer Boy” Charmed Its Way To the Top

November 13, 2013

 7.1“I love Deer Boy. I want to hang him on my wall and pretend he is my boyfriend.” commented one of Sarah Constantino’s many admirers during the September Art Contest. This comment literally made me laugh out loud, partly because it was unexpected and partly because it was pretty much my feeling exactly. At first glance, Deer Boy is simply a bright and whimsical piece to hang in your bedroom for fun wall art decor. But when you take a second look, it starts to play with your eyes and you notice charming details that you perhaps didn’t notice at first: the double lips and ties, the wood-like back drop, the garland caught on his antlers. It’s one of those feel good pieces you could place anywhere in your household for that cozy touch. From her prints to her porcelain to her typography, Sarah’s overall work channels a child-like spirit that us adults sometimes forget we still have. Meet Sarah Constantino, our lastest Art Contest winner who fell in love with her husband through Twitter and mapped out her career choices while drawing unicorns  in her kindergarten class.

Deer Boy

What’s an uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
An uncommon fact about me… I fell in love with my husband in 140 characters on Twitter. (Okay, it took a bit more than that.) We met on Twitter, became friends, and after only meeting in real life for two weeks I decided to pick up my Iowa roots and move down to Florida. It was the craziest/best decision I’ve ever made. It’s been 3 years since I moved and I love my new hometown. An uncommon fact about Cape Coral that I found interesting is that this Gulf Coast city contains more canals than Venice, Italy!

Deer Boy is charming and playful. How did the idea of this design come about?
My husband and I had some holiday parties to attend. I kept noticing that the “wallflowers” of each party were the most interesting people to talk to at each event. As the night progressed things became a bit more surreal as well. I felt inspired when we got back home and I decided to break out the acrylics and paint. Deer Boy and Deer Girl were the end results. I normally don’t paint people, so this was an unusual subject for me.

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
I started drawing unicorns in kindergarten and I remember thinking that it was the only thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My goals have changed a bit since then, but the drive to create something every day is a strong one for me. I am a self-taught artist and have been able to make a living off drawing, painting, and creating art since I was 18. I used to design for an American craft furniture company and after about 10 years of that, and a lot of growing up,  I knew that I had it in me to go off on my own. Now I get to create whatever I feel like using whatever medium I want. Every. Single. Day. It fulfills that constant desire I have to make, make, make!

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Art Contest?
I jumped up and down for awhile. And then I went back to painting. Anyone that knows me personally knows I work a lot. I plan on celebrating later this month with some interesting cocktails and good friends.
Sarah Constantino

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have an inspiration board where I keep a lot of my favorite things (cards from family and friends, a photo of my mom as a little girl, artwork from other artists, color palettes, silly mementos) basically anything that recharges me and makes my eyeballs happy. I also love being able to look out the window and see the sunny Florida surroundings and the activity on the lake behind our house. So many birds! And sometimes a gator or two.

sewzinskitable1.1   studiowindow1

What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
  Coffee. Very, very strong coffee. Paint, markers, pencils, and a giant eraser.

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
Well, to be honest, right now there isn’t a ton of down time. I’m busy with holiday orders from my Etsy shop and need to stay focused to get my creations out the door. It’s my favorite time of the year! When things are slower I like to wake up early and walk around the neighborhood. I take a break here and there to pet my two weirdo cats that keep me company during the day.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft? 
I’m working on hand illustrated typography. I just keep writing out words and phrases and finding a letter shape to express the full meaning of each word. I have several empty notebooks that are now filled with these scribbles.

How do you recharge your creativity?
While I’m creating I like to listen to podcasts, burn through a TV series on Netflix, or listen to books on tape. I go through obsessive stages with my entertainment. Right now I’m really into a few different books on the history of Ancient Rome, Russia, and Genghis Khan. A few months back it was every Game of Thrones book I could get my hands on. Give me a series in sci-fi, history, or fantasy and I am a happy camper.

Other than being an artist, what else do you do? 
I started my own business called SEWZINSKI and have been lucky enough to stay busy and productive with that. It’s my full-time everything. It started with embroidered wallets that were completely sewn and stitched by hand. It’s evolved into hand painted ceramics and upcycled home decor. It will change into something else in the future as well. Experimentation is how I learn best and  there’s still so many things I’d like to try.

Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
Yes. They are secrets. It’s always good to have secret projects.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance artist?
Not everyone will like you or your art. Some might like both. Some might like one or the other. It sounds simple, but building a tough skin and taking criticisim about your work can be difficult. It can also be hard to separate yourself from your work. Both those things are important and are still daily struggles for me.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Hey Sarah of 2008, it’s okay to take that risk and go off on your own. Stop being so scared of failure. It keeps you from succeeding!

Which artists do you look up to?
Andy Warhol was one of the first artists I really remember relating to when I was younger. I will always be in love with him. Right now I am really inspired by Ashley Goldberg’s art and career path. I’ve been following her work for awhile and I’d like to develop that beautiful  relationship with color and space she seems to have with my own style of work.

What are your top three sites you think are essential for an artist to bookmark? 
The Jealous Curator
, My Modern Met, and Brain Pickings.

What quote keeps you motivated?
 “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” -Andy Warhol The more art I create, the better artist I become. If I get too caught up in people’s opinions, or the details in the piece not being perfect, I could lose the chance to create something new with the time I’ve wasted worrying. Keep making, keep moving forward. It’s a great way to finely tune the skills needed and attain new skills to perfect through proliferation.


What advice can you offer anyone who are submitting their work to our Ongoing Art Contest?
Go for it. I submitted a piece that is a different subject from the bright colors and crazy animals and folk art that I normally paint. Take a chance and you could discover a whole new direction to take your work.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Janelle Haskin

November 8, 2013

Janelle Haskin Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Living and working in the social media world, you make a lot of friends you never meet. You share Tweets, Pins, and like each other’s Instagrams, but your paths usually don’t cross for many reasons. Janelle was one of those friends of mine. I connected with her a couple years ago and let her know when we were hosting out Winter Accessories Design Challenge hoping she could share the opportunity with her crocheting friends and perhaps enter herself. As the fates (and our design panel judges) had it, she was destined to win the contest so we could finally meet (among many other great perks of winning a design challenge!).

Stepping into her home was not like stepping into a typical studio tour. I was greeted with brunch and mimosas – it felt more like a play date. An hour later I found myself on the floor of her spare bedroom where she stores her supplies and designs, playing with yarn, hooks, and a ukulele (of all things) and I thought I was going to have to call my mom to see if I could stay longer.

Janelle and I speak the same language – she too was taught to knit and crochet by her grandmothers and spends her evenings with a project on the sofa. Never wanting to have idle hands, she has come up with some beautiful designs to keep her fingers busy, one of which won over the judges of our design challenge. Meet Janelle and welcome to her Philadelphia home – a veritable crocheter’s paradise.

Janelle Haskin Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

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Maker Stories

Judi’s “A Tree Grows” Necklace is in Full Bloom

September 26, 2013


Haven’t we all daydreamed about quitting a job to pursue a creative passion full-time? Some of us only take it as far as that, simply daydreaming, while others actually take that deep plunge into the scary, unknown abyss of no longer being on payroll. Judi Powers was one of those people. She says, “After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible.” Judi had the courage to leave her stable career in publishing, yet she still had no idea where she was going in terms of making a living. She decided to dip her toes into different fields she felt like she’d be passionate about until she finally met her dream career match: jewelry making. “I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry.” When Judi realized that designing jewelry was her new calling, not once did she look back and regret her choice of leaving her first career.

Inspired by the combination of nature and art history, Judi’s stunning “A Tree Grow” necklace branched out to become our latest jewelry winning design. Read about what Judi did when she first heard the great news, her process of literally making her pieces stronger, and her advice for winning one of UncommonGoods’ design challenges.

What’s an Uncommon fact about yourself and your jewelry?

An Uncommon fact about my jewelry is that much of it is inspired by the paintings, sculptures, and architecture I studied as an art history student. For example, I’m currently working on a series of midi rings inspired by Rogier van der Weyden’s “Portrait of Isabella of Portugal”. And my “A Tree Grows” necklace is informed by nature as much as it is by Whistler’s “Portrait of Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland”. An Uncommon fact about me is that the first time I saw Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait”, about nine years ago, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by the intricate detail, the vivid color, and the rich texture. I’d only ever seen it in books or presentations and it’s even more spectacular in person. Totally geeky, yet totally true!


What were you doing before you decided to become a jewelry designer and what drove you into the jewelry field?

I had a wonderful first career in book publishing. I handled marketing and publicity for countless amazingly talented authors and illustrators. It was a great proving ground for learning about business, and it was also an incredible environment in which to forge lasting friendships.

After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible. So I started spending more time with friends and taking a variety of classes. We tried dancing (disaster!), flower arranging (wonderful, but too depressing once the flowers wilted), cooking (fabulous but fattening), and lastly, jewelry making.

From my first class at 92Y I was immediately hooked, though initially I took it slowly and took one class a semester or so over 10 years at the Y, SVA, and Jewelry Arts Institute. Once I decided that I wanted to become a professional jewelry maker I quit my publishing career and I attended FIT’s one-year jewelry design program. What drew me to jewelry were the materials, especially metal. I love its malleability, how it can have a huge variety of textures, the way it feels, and that it’s durable!

I have always loved jewelry.  I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry—a monogrammed silver locket my grandmother gave me for my fifth birthday. It’s my hope that my jewelry will tell special stories for those who wear it. In this way my publishing and jewelry careers truly intersect.


 What’s the first thing you did after you found out you were the winner of the Jewelry Design Challenge?

I jumped around my apartment, hugged my dog, and then called my mother. My mom has been my biggest champion in pursuing a career as a jewelry maker, and there are no words to express how meaningful her encouragement and belief in me has been.  She and I had endless conversations about whether I should follow my heart and pursue a jewelry career, or whether I should stay in a career that I liked but was emotionally outgrowing. I had a real crisis of conscience while trying to decide. So many people I knew were unemployed and looking for jobs, while I had a good, stable one. I felt both guilty for wanting to walk away from security and terrified to try something new and unstable.  It was during that period that one of the characters on Mad Men said something like, “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.” That really resonated with me. Soon after, I knew I would pursue a new career as a jewelry designer, risks and all.


It’s unanimous here at UncommonGoods that your “A Tree Grows” necklace is stunning. How did you come up with the idea to design such a realistic branch design for jewelry wear?

Thank you! I’ve always loved trees and branches: their lines are so graceful and elegant and they’re also a bit wild. In my second semester at FIT I took an amazing casting class. I learned that you can cast almost anything only if you can truly envision the outcome in metal and only if you can make the object thick enough to be sturdy.  Years ago, I had tried to model a tree branch in wax but it didn’t have the level of detail that an actual branch has. It just didn’t work. So when I took the casting class, I told my professor that I really wanted to cast a small tree branch and she said: “Go for it! Just be sure you reinforce it and make it durable.” I took her advice, found a small branch in my Brooklyn neighborhood, reinforced it with Mod-Podge, and took it to my caster. When I picked up the piece I was completely amazed!  All of the detail from nature was perfectly preserved. I had this delicate sterling silver branch that looked like the real thing. I actually choked up when I saw it.
You actually submitted your jewelry into one of our past jewelry design challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. You decided to not be discouraged, and submitted an entry again after joining one of our design events. Do you believe winning the challenge the second try was much more satisfying than if you were to win the first time?

The first time I submitted I was hoping to be selected but I didn’t expect it. The design challenge was the first competition outside of school that I’d entered, and I knew there’d be serious competition, both from my FIT classmates and  from countless talented designers whose work I’m still getting to know. After attending the design event, I learned the single-most valuable lesson: submit an image of someone wearing your piece! Winning the challenge was really satisfying, of course, but also really humbling because I was getting both positive and constructive feedback during the voting. I was competing against some extraordinarily beautiful pieces, all of which were so different and so special.


What’s the biggest advice you can give to our future design contestants after that specific experience?

Attend UncommonGoods’ design events. If you can’t get to them, attend any local events where you can meet professionals and peers. Take notes on what the speakers are saying because their advice will come in handy. Don’t be shy and ask questions! Be open to feedback because it’s all helpful. Take photos of your pieces on a person. Follow up, even if it’s just to say a very simple thank you. Always, and I really mean always, wear a piece of jewelry you’ve made. If you don’t want to wear your work, I think it’s a little unreasonable to expect someone else to want to wear it.


Do you have any silly trick or habits you do to keep yourself motivated? 

When I’m struggling to focus, I know it’s time to step away from what I’m doing. Literally. I get up and take my puppy for a nice long walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood and clear my head. In the warmer months, I stop and look at plants and trees for design ideas and in the cooler months I look at architecture and snowflakes for inspiration. I’ve learned the hard way that whenever I try to force something that it just doesn’t work, and jewelry really has to work. I also drink lots of water!

Can you describe the process of what you do to make your necklaces better, stronger, and more wearable. 

I’m so glad you asked this question! Some of the comments I received during the voting were concerns that my necklace looked like it might scratch the skin or bend. I’m glad people brought that up.  For every “A Tree Grows” necklace  I cast, I actually break off the more fragile parts and re-attach them onto the central line of the branch. By doing this I reinforce the structure of the necklace and build on it with a bit of additional solder.  After the branch is reassembled I tumble it first with stainless steel shot. Then I use soft pumice pellets to harden the metal and soften the edges of the leaves and branch ends. I believe jewelry has to be pleasing to wear and I personally road test every piece to make sure it’s both comfortable and has structural integrity. There is a bit of springiness to the metal in the finished piece, which enhances the organic nature of the necklace.


 Do you mind describing your studio to us and the materials that you use?

I work out of Brooklyn Metal Works, a wonderful, collaborative creative space for jewelers and metal smiths.  The owners, Erin Daley and Brian Weissman, are building a fantastic community there. They have regular exhibits, artists’ lectures, and classes. My personal jewelry education continues to grow there. I love being around other jewelers and artists because we bounce ideas off of one another, brainstorm about construction,  share new tricks and techniques we’ve learned, and we all respect each other. And there’s always great music in the background!

When I’m sketching and designing, I work from home at my father’s antique drafting table. It’s scarred with hundreds of pin holes where old blueprints had once been tacked. I’ve added a few more holes to it, as well as some paint splotches and ink stains! I love that it’s a piece that he, I, and others have used as a tool to support creativity. And he’s really proud that I’m using it, too.

In terms of materials, I use recycled metals in all my cast pieces and I source as much recycled material as possible for the pieces I fabricate.  I’m happy that I’m a professional jeweler now because I have ready access to recycled material. Ten years ago when I was first starting, that just wasn’t the case.  I save every shaving, filing, and sprue and recycle all of my scrap metals.


What’s one of your all-time favorite inspirational quotes? 

I have so many of them! It’s too difficult to pick only one, so here are two:

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” -Paulo Coehlo

And this one by Rabindranath Tagore always resonates with me: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”


 What does your jewelry illustrate about yourself?

My jewelry mirrors my two great loves: art and nature. I don’t have a specific philosophy per se, but I do want every piece to be wearable and beautiful. And because my own jewelry stories give me such joy, I sincerely hope that my customers will have their own happy stories to tell about my pieces for years, even decades, to come!


Maker Stories

Allison’s “Babe” Takes the Win!

September 17, 2013


Allison and Canine Inspiration

If you follow us closely, most of you know that this summer we proudly launched our Ongoing Art Contest. This means instead of just awarding a winner once a year, we are crowning an independent artist winner and awarding $500 smack-a-roos and a chance to sign a vendor contract to join our UncommonGoods family every single month. The first winner from our Ongoing Art Contest was appointed to Caribbean resident, Allison Gray. We received amazing entries from through out the nation, yet it was Allison’s lovely “Babe” that caught our art judges’ attention. Allison’s eye for detail, use of mixed media, and sweet, creative design of her very own pup landed her into the winning spot.  In her interview, Allison mentions that “it wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations.” We’re more than ecstatic that Allison experimented out of her comfort zone, because as a result “Babe” was created and now will be officially a part of our artist gallery!

Meet Allison Gray, a fellow animal lover and our latest Art Contest winner.

Babe submit-a

Tell us an uncommon fact about yourself.

I have very vivid dreams.  They actually inspire a lot of my work.  I may not necessarily dream about a scene and then wake up and paint it, but the images and emotions that are remnants of my dreams can serve as the stepping stones or foundation of my craft.

I don’t know if the vividness of my dreams is a factor in my sleep pattern, but about 75% of the time, I start sleeping by violently waking up.  It’s called a myoclonic jerk  and of course everyone’s familiar with it—that sudden waking burst of panic preceded by a falling sensation.  What’s uncommon in this case is that it’s become routine.  I drift off, spasm awake and think, “Oh good, that’s done.  Now I can really get started on sleeping.”  And, without fail, I have these brilliant dreams, saturated with emotion and light.

(I hope I haven’t confused uncommon with odd.)

What different techniques do you use when creating your art?

I hate to pigeonhole myself when it comes to craft media.  For a long time, I only worked with oil paints and I only recreated realistic images.  With the difficulty of transporting necessary oils and thinners to continue my oil painting in Grenada, I opted to instead try a different medium.  So I began working with watercolors and from there, branched out further.  I began using charcoal, India ink, pen and pencil, and masking techniques.  I use bleach, salt and even coffee grounds for different textures and effects.

It wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations.  One of the first paintings I did in Grenada was of a local boy.  The painting was from a photograph I’d taken of him.  I already had the picture, so I knew I wanted something more than the photo could offer me.  So I filled my palette and painted him with every color that was missing from the photo.  When I finished, I knew I’d moved somewhere in my capacity as an artist.  And I’ve been moving in that same direction since.

In summary, I have and will continue to use whatever techniques I can to perpetually evolve my artwork and myself as an artist.

Colorful Boy Painting

Describe your daily life in Grenada.

Without an actual career, that varies from day to day.  I always try to allot myself a few hours a day to devote to a craft (painting, writing, knitting, photography, etc.).  The rest of the time is spread out over responsibilities and recreation.

Of course I’ve got domestic responsibilities.  With a medical student for a husband, all household chores sort of fall on me.  I’m not totally won over by the cleaning part of the duties, but I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat.  It’s hard to complain about having absolute control over the menu.

I run in the mornings.  Sometimes I go to the beach during the day and play Frisbee in the sea.  I might walk a couple miles to our favorite fruit stand and get our produce for the week from “Fireman,” our fruit vendor.  On Saturdays, we go on hashes.  (A hash is an all-terrain [mostly off-road] hike, followed by food and drinks and music, that draws hundreds of participants per week and takes place anywhere on the 132-square-mile island.)  Occasionally I’ll take a local bus into town and pick up fresh fish from the fish market.  I am an executive board member for St. George’s University Photography Club and perform duties as liaison for the organization.  On special occasions, we tour the island, go snorkeling, visit the forts or the cocoa plantation.  I spend a lot of time experimenting with my photography and looking for ways to intertwine it with my painting and other crafts.

Of course, sometimes, I just lounge around with my husband and watch movies with a little popcorn and wine.

Allison and Ivan beachside

It’s probably every artist’s dream to travel and live abroad, but does living in the Caribbean have its downfalls?

Absolutely it does, but most people don’t want to hear about it.  I live in the Caribbean; what business do I have complaining?  Even so, this life comes with its own set of difficulties and to reinforce that argument, I actually posted an essay on my blog about the pros and cons of being a married couple in the Caribbean, living on student loans, and following the twisted path to our goals.

In short, yes, life in the Caribbean has its downfalls, but the benefits—measured in memories and experiences—far outweigh the comparatively insignificant drawbacks.  (I’m writing this from the sandy shore of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world: La Sagesse.)

Grenada is A-OK2

Where exactly do you go to catch inspiration? 

I love running.  I run almost every day.  I’m not remarkably good at it.  The only records I have or ever will break are my own.  But that’s not particularly discouraging to me because it’s the act itself that I enjoy and the reward that I get. Specifically, I like going for longer runs (one hour plus).  And while I’m running, I have no obligations to pay attention to anything other than my own wandering mind (except perhaps not tripping).  That’s a golden time for me to come up with all sorts of ideas for my art.  And the only distractions I have are my mind’s own erratic imaginings.

I could probably have a similar experience if I just sat quietly in my apartment, but then I’m usually surrounded by reminders of all my obligations and responsibilities.  When I’m running, I’m both metaphorically and literally getting away from “it all” and with that sense of freedom comes a euphoric rush of creativity.

Studio Desk w Light

 What’s your all-time favorite quote that keeps you going?

Not including about everything Dr. Seuss ever said (how many genius simple truths did he make catchy with a little rhyme?), I’m quite fond of William Faulkner’s “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Besides its apropos metaphor, Faulkner’s wisdom rings true in light of our ever-changing future.  Without the courage to leave everything behind, we never would have found ourselves living a surreal life in the Caribbean.

Faulkner Quote

When exactly did you discover your talent?

I can’t help but feel at least marginally narcissistic going on and on about my talent and my history leading up to the showcasing of my creations!  For a very long time, people have been commending me for my talent and while I can and have admitted (does that imply guilt?) that I have an artistic ability that not everyone has, it’s still humbling to come right out and say, “Well, hello, my name is Allison and I am a talented artist.”  No matter if I say that out loud or in my head, I always wind up finishing it in a snooty accent.

A popular quote by Pablo Picasso is “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  Children have this perishable fearlessness to create anything and then share it with everyone.  But at some point the fear of judgment and criticism makes an unwelcome and permanent guest of itself and we hide our creativity.

Maybe it was my peculiar creative courage that gave me the boldness to keep on drawing and painting and creating despite the crushing potential of failure.  Or maybe it was because I just didn’t like math class.  The truth is, I find solace in artistic expression and am bemusedly stunned every time someone comments on my apparent talent.  And when someone does, I think the most appropriate response is to give credit where credit is due.  (I never would have submitted my art to this contest if it weren’t for my friend, Cat.  I never would have thought to create a paper collage of my beloved dog if it weren’t for my friend, Patty.  I wouldn’t have had the heart to create this piece if Babe hadn’t had a foster home while we’re abroad, Lisa.

My direct response to this question—when exactly did you discover your talent: every time someone reminds me.

Grenada is A-OK3

Do you have any major projects you are working on now? 

I’m afraid I’m going to seem a little boring here, but no, I really don’t.  We live as minimalists for the most part and are living in a studio apartment.  Working within my means involves smaller projects that are inexpensive and can be tucked away at a moment’s notice.  I dream of someday when I can really plan larger-than-life projects.

Beas Submitx

Are there any particular artists you look up to?  What is it about their work that you like?

At the risk of sounding trite, I’m going to go ahead and say Bob Ross.  I know my work doesn’t exactly radiate the spirit of the amazingly gifted painter, but he did inspire me to pursue painting and to do so with an almost absurd amount of cheerfulness.  He’s part of the reason I began painting with oils and stuck with it for so long. It would be a blatant lie to suggest Bob Ross is the only artist who has inspired me and influenced my work.  Modern art, with its shifting genres and techniques, influences the decisions I make when searching for a new approach to a usual subject.  I don’t have a secret list of artists whose techniques I use as a paradigm when creating my own pieces, but draw from methods I’ve seen and admire.

What’s one thing you use/see every day that you couldn’t live without?

Well, if I’m being materialistic, it’d probably be a draw between the air conditioning or my morning coffee.  Probably the coffee, though. If I’m being crass, it would be sarcasm. If I’m being poetic, it would be love.  If I’m being optimistic, it would be humor. But if I’m being honest, it would be Supporter Extraordinaire and Husband, Ivan.  (Cue collective aw.)  There’s plenty I can go without, but I haven’t been without him for seventeen years and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.

Allison and Ivan climbing Grenada Mt.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to aspiring design challenge contestants, particularly our Art Contest?

Have the confidence in yourself that all of your supporting friends have.  Chances are, they’re right.

Babe the Pig Dog

Maker Stories

Meirav is Crowned the Art Contest Winner

September 12, 2013


Our Art Contests are my favorite design challenges to orchestrate because they attract the biggest range of diverse talent. Art gives each individual artist a chance to not illustrate their personality or thoughts with words, but also with brush strokes, color combinations, and image creation. With Meirav Gebler’s “Human Landscape: A Disappearing People,” it was more than just strokes, color, and image that spoke out to me. I connected with “A Disappearing People” beyond the painting itself, a message that left me in a bittersweet state; it opened up wounds that I didn’t even think existed anymore.  Maybe it’s not exactly what Meirav intended her art to do, but I do believe artists create work based on their personal ideas and emotions, knowing that their audience might capture something a little bit differently.  

Meirav is a young, spiritual artist who is based in Brooklyn and who has recently graduated from art and design school. She’s traveled to India and Israel and quickly fell into inspiration through “the colors and patterns, the smells of the streets, the market places, the people, and the food.” Her creative use of watercolors and gunpowder are the core of her masterpieces. At first glance it’s playful with your eyes, but the  dripping silhouettes stand behind a stronger idea that Meirav not only wanted to explore on her own, but share with you.

Meet Meirav Gebler, our latest Art Contest Winner. 

Q1. travel- india

After you graduated from Art & Design school, you spent half a year traveling. Can you tell us about that experience and how it’s affected you as an artist? 

Traveling was a wonderful adventure. I was in India for five weeks with my best friend and then spent a couple of months in Israel. India is such an amazing place. Everyday was an insane, crazy experience! Everything is so vibrant and stimulating—the colors and patterns,  the smells of the streets, the market places, the people, and the food! I brought travel paints and a sketchbook with me but since we were constantly on the move I found myself snapping more photos than sketching.

After India, I went to Israel for a couple of months to farm and spend time with friends—a huge contrast from the hustle of India. I did a drawing a day, which is a big deal for me since I am awful about keeping a sketchbook. I realized during these months how necessary it was to take the time to breathe, reflect and understand where I wanted my life to go post the college bubble.

 You’re currently setting up a studio in Brooklyn. Can you describe it?

I move into the Brooklyn space next week, so I’m still in the process of packing up my old studio (a makeshift studio in a corner of my parents’ house). I’m super psyched to have my own space for art again. So, as of now, the new space looks like an empty box, but soon enough it will be filled with my paints and everything else I’ve collected along the way for potential projects. I always have to have breathable space. I feel blocked when things start to pile up and become cluttered so I need to maintain a sense of open space. And I always have one of those fancy dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s lying around.

Q2b old studio

What inspired your Human Landscape series?

The series started as an exploration into an idea I’ve been grappling with over the past couple of years: how do we as physical beings, existing in a physical world elevate ourselves to a level of spiritual beings. I felt that the idea of a human landscape illustrated both an intimate personal context of the individual’s search yet illustrates the need to connect within the context of a larger universe as well. I find that coming to terms with my spirituality in such a materialistic physical world is an ongoing struggle, so this series is simply the beginning of that exploration.

a dissappearing people 

What materials do you use daily?

Watercolors, gunpowder, and my pens for illustration works.  Depending on the painting, I switch off between painting with paintbrushes or eye-droppers like the Dr. Ph Martin watercolors. Dr. Ph Martin’s are awesome because they’re super saturated, and I love the way they react to the gunpowder.  I mix the gunpowder with water to make it into a liquid-ey substance for painting. When I’m lacking inspiration I’ll burn the gunpowder and fuse it onto paper. It’s like an instant pick-me-up and the results are beautiful. (But really don’t go trying that at home!)

Q3 materials

 What is one of your favorite inspirational quotes?

“You open your hands and satisfy the needs of all living beings.” Psalm 145:16.  This quote grounds me, reminding me that ultimately things always have a way of working out.

Q5 quote

 Which artist gives you that motivational push that you need whenever you look at their work?

Cai Guo-Qiang’s fire drawings make me pretty giddy. To stand in front of them is pretty awe-inspiring (his works are huge!). But it’s not every day you can do that, so I find motivation just by visiting galleries or even artists’ tables at flea markets because it reminds me that artists are out there working it and I want to be one too.

Q3 materials

You say that you “paint to breathe.” Can you go into detail of what that exactly means to you?

There was a point a few years ago that I hit a creativity dead zone; I felt everything I was making was just awful, like I forgot how to draw. It was pretty bad that I felt like I forgot how to breathe. I was blocked because I thought each artwork needed to be a precious masterpiece (which they were far from!) so my art became stiff.  Soon after, I started working with gunpowder and fire, which reminded me that art is messy and unpredictable and that’s what makes it alive. I realized that to make art I needed to just go for it. Make something, anything and learn from my explorations and sometimes you get something worth saving. So I paint to breathe because painting is a constant reminder for why I live. Art inspires me to wake up every morning ready for whatever future explorations await me.

more mountains

Being an artist means living in a constant roller coaster of ups and downs, can you describe a moment when you were on cloud nine and then the next day experiencing the lowest low? (Or vice versa?)

I have a pretty laid-back attitude so I’m generally not one to experience extreme highs and lows, but it’s been a pretty crazy year. I spent half of it across the world living out of a little red suitcase, then spent my summer bopping all over the states and now I’m finally moving to Brooklyn. I’d say last week was pretty close to cloud nine when I found out I won the contest, found an apartment and a studio and a job all in one week—yea that was pretty crazy! But of course I still have the uncertainty that follows in all of these new changes, like making it as an artist.

painting- mountains

 How do you deal with life’s discouragements or negative vibes?

I try and avoid them! But seriously, when discouraging things happen I think it comes down to making the decision if you want to wallow in the negativity or find a way out of it. It’s about surrounding yourself with positive energy and thankfully I have an amazing support system of friends and family who are always there for the extra push.

Are you pursuing any special projects or joining any events?

Right now I’m just focusing on getting back into my large scale paintings and experimenting with new works.

forest fire

What’s one piece of advice you have for artists who would like to have their designs make it through to UncommonGoods’ design challenge semi-finals?

Just go for it. Trust your art, and the support of your friends and family will follow because they want to see you succeed. It also doesn’t hurt to blast every social media outlet available either!

studio_ materials

Why would you say your work differs from all the rest?

Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. My experience making art is still so young and I wouldn’t want to claim some aesthetic skill or perspective that’s totally groundbreaking.   But I think as individuals we all come along with our own unique set of life experiences and context and perspectives.  As an artist, I’m able to channel that perspective into visual experiences that communicate some aspect of who I am and where I come from.  My art is different because each work is an attempt to be honest about some reflection or observation that is ultimately my own.

colorful souls

Maker Stories

Katie’s Fern Frond Hoops Take the Win

August 14, 2013


We had over two hundred submissions to our 2013 Jewelry Design Challenge, and although we saw many amazing pieces we wanted to put in our own personal jewelry box, Katie Lime’s Fern Frond Hoops truly stole our judges’ hearts. The design holds a simple elegance for everyday wear, yet Katie’s innovative touch is undeniable. From the mixed metals of brass and sterling silver to the design’s geometric, whimsical shape, these nature-inspired earrings are more than just jewelry. They’re tiny pieces of art. And because it’s no secret that we are such big animal lovers, Katie donating a part of her proceeds to animal shelters was a huge cherry on top. (Details of where she donates to are below the interview.)

Meet Katie Lime, the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family, and read about her jewelry-making journey from taking classes in high school to creating her very own jewelry company. 


Give us an uncommon fact about you and your hometown. 

An uncommon fact about me is that I’m a Science Fiction/Fantasy fan and a huge Harry Potter nerd. An uncommon fact about Carmel, Indiana is that they absolutely love roundabouts.  There are over 80 of them!

When did you realize that jewelry design was what you wanted to do?  

I took some jewelry classes in high school and absolutely fell in love.  When I went to college for Art History I realized that I could study Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design.  After that first semester in metals I realized it was what I wanted to do so I stayed in school an extra year and double majored in Art History and Metals.


What was the biggest message you took with you when you finished school for metalsmithing? 

I learned to really explore my ideas and to play around with materials.  I learned to not be afraid of trying something new and different and not to be afraid of failure.  I also learned that having a network of peers can be a wonderful resource.  We are very lucky these days to have outlets such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter to meet like-minded people who will be there to support, answer questions, share knowledge and constructively critique our work.


When was the moment and how did you feel when you made your first sell?  

I made my first big sale at my senior thesis show in a formal gallery setting.  The necklace that sold was a big show stopping piece, not really all that functional but more sculptural.  It felt great!  It gave me confidence in my work and made me feel like I was headed in the right direction.

We love your earrings, but we also love the amazing fact that you donate to two animal shelters. When was the moment that you decided this was going to be something you would be a part of?

My boyfriend and I have rescued three dogs in our adult lives.  They are the sweetest, most loving and giving souls in this world and we don’t know what we would do with out them.  I wanted to do more for other animals in need, so I started donating money from my company.


What inspires you the most when you create your designs? 

I am inspired by the natural world surrounding me.  I like to examine all the beautiful and small things in our world and take inspiration from them.  I’m also inspired by all the people in my daily life and all the makers in this world who create for a living.

What’s your favorite part of the design process?

I love creating new designs, playing around with new ideas and making pieces with gemstones.  I also really enjoy working on custom pieces for my customers.  I love that I’m creating something just for them!

How exactly was Moira K. Lime Jewelry born?  

When I moved to Chicago I was designing and producing for another jeweler and creating my own jewelry in my spare time.  I realized that I could really make a living off of my designs when my work started to sell consistently and I began running out of time to make my own creations.  It’s great to be able to be your own boss and create things that you like for other people to cherish.


Creative people all have those days (or weeks!) when we feel unmotivated, lost, or stuck. What do you usually do when you catch yourself in this frustrating rut?  

I usually step away from my studio and give myself some time off to get that creative mojo flowing again.  I’ll also go for day trips, hikes, or places in the city that inspire me.

Are there any interesting future projects you’re pursuing or currently working on? 

I’ve always dreamed of opening my own storefront/showroom/workshop space.  I’d like to use the space as my working studio, a place to meet customers to work on custom designs, a small show room and a place to teach workshops.  I’m really hoping to make this happen one day soon!


If you could give away one of your secrets to all those who want to win a design challenge, which secret would it be?  

Be yourself and your designs will be truly unique and eye catching.

If you’re inspired to read more about Katie’s favorite animal shelters, visit Chicago Pit Stop RescuePAWS Chicago, and One Tail at a Time

Maker Stories

Love Letters from Your Pet by Karen Jones

July 9, 2013

Usually when it comes to design challenges, we adhere to the rules. (Mostly because I’m a relentless stickler!) But every once and a while a submission comes along that makes you think twice. Our Art Contest is usually call for a digital rendering of a piece of art that we will reproduce and sell framed. However, Karen Jones entered a piece that wouldn’t fit that model. She entered her Love Letter Custom Pet Portraits that are oil paintings on a piece of steel of your beloved canine or feline, with a little note expressing their love to you. Since each piece is made to order, we wouldn’t be able to print and frame the paintings but the call was for art and that is exactly what Karen sent us. She also must have known we have a soft spot for our pets.

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I have a twin brother who is an artist also. On the surface we are not the same, he is a tall red headed cowboy and I am a short, high heeled, glitter loving city dweller. We were born artists and luckily enough had great art teachers when we were growing up in Arizona. We were in a lot of the same art classes in school which was fun because I always had a painting buddy. I still like to paint with other people around me, but that doesn’t happen anymore. I had to learn to love to be alone with my art. Now I look forward to being alone with just me and my art. Well, sort of alone. I paint with my dog, Ruby next to me.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
Last week. Funny, but I think we as artist have an internal idea of what being an artist is. I was an artist to the outside world since kindergarten. Art was always fairly easy for me. Awards, lots of art classes, going to art school… none of those made me feel like I was an artist. Three years ago, I became a full time, money making artist. That didn’t even make me feel like an artist.

When I started painting from my heart and giving more of myself and accomplishing paintings that I felt were ‘hard to do’ or challenging and I did it… that’s when I realized I was an artist.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
Everywhere. I try not to walk through life with too much singular focus. I am always looking around, letting things grab my attention. I look at other people art, that can often trigger an idea in myself. I love to travel, ideas often come to me while driving down the road. I look for things to spark my interest and then process them through the mill of my mind, letting the idea develop a little before making it real. I’ve started writing down ideas I have in the middle of the night but that doesn’t work. I wake up wondering what, ‘I’m human in pink chalk’ means.

Describe your artistic process.
On Sunday nights, I get my canvases for the week ready. I paint on steel, so I get my steel ready. I get the image drawn on, make sure I have a photo printed to work from and enough paint.

Then on Monday morning, after coffee, a little time on the internet and a load of laundry, I head to the studio in my house. I put a ’70s tv program like, ‘Hawaii Five-O’ on and start painting. Once I get started, I sort of go in a zone and before I know it, it’s 4pm and time to get on the treadmill and make dinner. To me setting up my environment so I am not distracted and able to go into the zone is key. My focus stays clear and singularly focused. Sometimes when I need more emotion in my painting, I put on loud love music or on Fridays, Disco.

Describe your work space.
Today my studio is my 1968 vintage Airstream. We love going places, so sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to paint while on the road.

Normally, I paint in my studio at home. My house is very modern and open. My studio is on the second floor with a big oval window with a nice view and good light. My studio isn’t big and is oddly for an artist, very clean. The only things in my studio are my painting easel, my paint table, a table for the computer so I can watch ’70s tv and a big chair and ottoman for me to sit back and ponder over what I need to do the painting. Only the things I need, nothing more. It keeps my mind uncluttered.

And of course, my dog, Ruby. She stairs at me while I paint.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Enter. You never know unless you try. Use your already developed support group of friends, family and customers and ask them every day to vote for you. Use social media and don’t worry about bugging people. They want to support you, let them.

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