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Design Challenge Winners

Maker Stories

Meet Susan, Winner of the Upcycling Design Challenge

December 11, 2012

Earlier this month, our Upcycling Design Challenge judges met at UncommonGoods headquarters, some in person and others via Skype, to pick a winner from the top five voted designs. After and hour of discussing five unique designs made of reclaimed materials, the judges decided Susan Harbourt’s Forget Me Not Necklace made of recycled copper was the best choice to join our collection of upcycled goods. Meet Susan and help us welcome her to the UncommonGoods artist family.

How did you first get into designing?
As fate would have it, my husband had an amazing opportunity to move half way across the county. This meant leaving my engineering career behind and beginning what I thought was a new chapter in my life, little did I realize it was actually a whole new book!

We moved to Illinois and purchased a large Edwardian Era home out in the country that had not been maintained since the 1950s. It was a lovely home full of grace and charm and was in need of reviving. One fateful night, I was helping my husband update the original electrical system installed during the 1930s as a part of the Rural Electrification Act. Scattered all over the floor were piles of lovely aged copper wire that we had just removed from the walls of the old house. In an absent-minded gesture, to pass the time while waiting for the next instruction on how to help, I picked up a few scraps and wove them into a bracelet. A spark was ignited and a new passion was born in that very moment. Little did I know how much that moment would redefine the rest of my life.

What was the inspiration for the Forget Me Not Necklace?
The inspiration for my Forget-Me-Not line of jewelry actually stems from a mishap that occurred on the first Valentine’s Day my husband (then boyfriend) celebrated 20 years ago. He tried so hard to be romantic and surprise me by buying a special bouquet of flowers that were to be delivered to my dorm room. The flowers arrived, but they were three days late. He was so traumatized from that single event that he swore off buying flowers forever, so he switched to buying me jewelry instead. Now that I make jewelry, my husband no longer enjoys buying it for me. I do miss getting flowers and jewelry as gifts, so I had to do something about it! So I must admit, I designed the Forget-Me-Not jewelry line to fulfill my desire to receive flowers and jewelry again.

What is your favorite upcycling tip?
Don’t let what something was limit your mind to what something can become…

What do you enjoy about designing with materials that would otherwise be discarded?
I enjoy showing others, through my art, that there is more than one way to view the world around them and to not take things for granted because of how they seem at first or the labels placed upon them. It’s like a metaphor for life that applies both to objects and for relationships.

Is designing a full-time job or a hobby?
My official full-time job is being mommy to two very creative and inquisitive little boys. Designing jewelry started out as an accidental hobby for me. It then became something that allowed me to earn enough money to pay for the occasional babysitter and date night with the hubby. After a few years of teetering on that edge of hobby versus business I decided it was time to commit to taking my passion to the next level. I have spent the past year redefining and refining my business and vision. It is amazing to look at where I am now versus a few years ago. I am proud to tell people that I am now a full time work-at-home entrepreneur and mom!

Describe your work space.
My studio is a work space dream come true! It is a large well lit space that I set up with a great flow that allows me to be organized, efficient, creative and productive. As you enter there is an office area and bookcase full of books and items to inspire me. From there it continues into my material storage and metal prep area that is filled with some amazing tools with great history. I have a large chest of drawers that once housed geological samples in a museum at the University of Illinois and there is a variety of large industrial tools that are from the 1940s. Beside that area I have my soldering and metal forming stations followed by the area where I do my finishing and assembly work. The last stop in my studio is my shipping station that makes me feel like every day is a holiday – it’s full of ribbons and boxes and items I made that are ready to start their journey out into the world and begin their new life with someone new.

The thing I love most about my studio is that I have a well-stocked creative play area set up where both of my boys can explore their artistic minds along side of me as I work. I enjoy watching them have the freedom to create and express their individuality. My husband also has a wonderful metal and wood shop set up on the other side of the wall which has a large window in it so we can feel more like we are working together.

What challenges do you face as an artist who designs with reclaimed materials?
The big challenge that I face [is running] out of my unique materials. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of copper wire that I removed from my house. I feel like I have hardly put a dent into it. I have also found that once people realize that I like to create with reclaimed materials, they become very generous in bringing over there project scraps. That is how I came across the copper roofing materials I have started to incorporate into my work.

The other big challenge I have with my work is that some people just don’t get it. I feel that I often have to educate people about the significance of using recycled and reclaimed materials. There are always the people that feel that copper is a low end metal and don’t understand why I don’t work with gold and other designer metals. Not that I am opposed to using the other metals, and at times I do use them, it is just that I love my old copper wire!

What advice would you offer someone interested in entering an UncommonGoods Design Challenge?
The best piece of advice I can offer someone interested in entering an UncommonGoods Design Challenge is to find your own voice and perspective first and have confidence in it. It does not have to be exotic and elaborate; it just has to be uniquely yours and fresh.

Maker Stories

Meet Kim Jakum, Jewelry Design Challenge Winner

August 17, 2012

Each and every design challenge gives us the exciting opportunity to meet up-and-coming artists, reconnect with our favorite designers, and open our eyes to new and unique works of art. Coming off the success of the 2011 Jewelry Design Challenge, we simply could not wait to hold another call for jewelry entries. This year’s Jewelry Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and showcased the unique designs of artists, jewelry designers, and metalworkers.

Our judges worked through designs with bold patterns, fascinating stories, and unique mediums. They decided on pieces they thought would capture America’s eye with their delicate beauty and others with their intricate detail. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t take their eyes off of; they loved its concept as a keepsake to keep those you treasure close.

We simply can’t stop talking about the craftsmanship and attention to detail of Personalized Child Signature Necklace and are excited to introduce you to the designer, our Jewelry Design Challenge winner, Kim Jakum of Wisconsin. Kim thrives on designing one-of-a-kind pieces with her recently found love of PMC (precious metal clay) and she will soon be able to see those one-of-a-kind pieces being cherished by people all across the country. Here she is, Kim, the newest member to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover jewelry design?

I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 years. I first started making jewelry by just stringing beads. I was drawn to all the different shapes and colors. To this day, I’m still drawn to beautiful stones and the sparkle of crystal.

What is your favorite piece of jewelry?

My favorite piece of jewelry that I have made is my Tiger Maple and Fine Silver Cuff.

How did you realize that metalworking was your passion?

My work is primarily in PMC (precious metal clay). I love that it is made from recycled silver. About 16 years ago, while taking a traditional metal smith class, PMC was first introduced in the USA. The whole class got some and played with it. I didn’t really like it at the time, and didn’t give it any thought until about five years ago when I took a workshop just using PMC. I fell in love with it, and have not looked back since! The possibilities are endless…

What are your favorite pieces to design?

Besides the children’s signatures, I also take kids artwork, shrink it down and transfer it to fine silver pendants and key chains. I love that this makes an everlasting keepsake.

I have also recently been accepted into The Artisan Group. The Artisan Group is made up of small business artisans that gift celebrities with samples of their work. I’m having a great time designing jewelry for specific celebrities.

All in all, you could say that a lot of my work is very personalized, made specifically for the person receiving it.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I have been fortunate to take workshops from fellow jewelry artists who’s work I really admire. I find these workshops very inspiring, pushing me to continually learn a new skill and perfect what I already know.

How else do you express your creativity?

I like to pass what I know on, so I teach classes in jewelry making and PMC.

Also, if I see something I like in another medium, I usually think I can make something close to it myself, so there are a lot more projects other that jewelry making going on!

What attracted you to the UncommonGoods Jewelry Design Challenge?

I actually found out about this challenge from a fellow Artisan Group member and entered it on a whim.

What was the inspiration behind Personalized Child Signature Necklace?

The signatures on my Personalized Child Signature Necklace sample are actually my grand children’s. I have seen a lot of stamped name pendants and thought I could take that idea to a whole new level by using actual signatures! I also added a twist by texturing the back, so the necklace is reversible.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Just enter! Until this year I have NEVER entered a challenge or competition. I have entered four different challenges this year and have placed first, second or third in three of them!

Maker Stories

Meet Naomi Meller, iPhone Case Design Challenge Winner

June 29, 2012

Every new design challenge fills us with such excitement! It is inspiring to see the passion, emotion, and wit in the artists’ stories behind their unique designs. The iPhone Case Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and the opportunity for artists to share the paintings, sketches, and graphic designs they have created.

Our judges worked through designs with unique mediums, bold colors, and uplifting stories. They decided on pieces that they thought America would love for their whimsy, and others they thought would inspire iPhone case envy. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t get off their minds; they loved its wit and clever juxtaposition of technology on technology.

We simply love the clever geeky chic of Computer iPhone and cannot wait for you to learn more about its designer, our iPhone Case Design Challenge winner, Naomi Meller of Rhode Island. Naomi recently rediscovered her love of art and designing through photography and will soon be able to see her designs on the backs of iPhones all over the country. Meet Naomi, the newest addition to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover art?

I’ve been involved with art for as long as I can remember. As a very young child, I drew elaborate pictures that often caught the attention of my teachers. This evolved into years of drawing and painting, usually for it’s therapeutic value. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t want to keep it all to myself.

How did you realize that photography was your passion?

Photography was one of the only mediums I had never experimented with. When I had my daughter over 2 years ago, I got very sick and came close to losing my life. The months following were difficult, and I was physically weak. I tried to walk around a lot to build stamina.

During my walks, I started taking pictures with my iPhone. I fell in love with these photo walks I’d take, and decided to buy a dSLR to take my photography to the next level. I’m stubborn, and sometimes that can be a good quality. I set out to learn how to properly use my camera, and I did. Since I started taking pictures, my passion for taking them has only grown.

What are your favorite things to design/photograph?

My number one favorite thing to photograph is my daughter. Kids grow so quickly that I just want to capture all the good/bad/and in between moments of her growth.

I also love to create characters in my self-portraits. This allows me to step outside of myself, become someone different, and express myself in a raw and comfortable manner that I hadn’t been able to in years.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I never stick to one style of photography. And I never stick to one type of subject. Some weeks I’ll take portraits of our family. Some weeks I’ll focus entirely on surreal self-portraits. On occasion I’ll do some photojournalism work for my husband’s news site. By always changing my subjects, I’m always changing my perspective. And it keeps me going.

I also love challenging myself in Photoshop. I taught myself how to use the program by way of trial and error. Sometimes I’ll take a picture, and work on it until I’ve succeeded in something I didn’t know how to do before sitting down. Currently I’m trying to master an old film camera that my dad gave me. I always keep things evolving, always keep learning – that way I avoid feeling stagnant.

How else do you express your art?

I’ve recently started a photography blog to help publicize my work, but also to inspire myself to start writing again. Writing is something that I did creatively for a long time, but haven’t much in the last several years.

I’ve also picked up a paint brush again. I have an earlier photograph in which I combined painting and a surreal self-portrait. I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in a long time. I still have several canvases in my house just calling my name!

What attracted you to want to take part in this challenge?

Aside from the fact that I’m a huge UncommonGoods fan, over the last few months I’d been feeling much more anxious about getting my work out there. I’ve been creating things for over 20 years, and the only person in my way has been me. I thought that this challenge would be a great opportunity with a great company.

What was the inspiration behind Computer iPhone?

Most of the work that I’m most proud of has come from a quick decision. When I over think and over analyze, it usually harms the outcome of a piece. Computer iPhone came about because my husband had recently dismantled a broken computer. Pieces were surrounding the office we share. I had submitted some other designs, but they were very portrait based. For Computer iPhone, I thought, “what would look cool, hold up well to wear, and still portray the irony that I always have in my work?”. And so I decided on a piece of the computer.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Don’t doubt yourself. If you enter a future challenge, and don’t make it through, the worst case scenario is that you can try again. I did.

All photos courtesy of Naomi Meller


The Judges, the Lunch and the Winner!

April 25, 2012

 Last week the judges of the Summer Picnic Design Challenge met at Eat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to discuss the top five voted designs and decide on a winner. Around the table were Candace, the tabletop buyer for UncommonGoods, Ian Yolles from RecycleBank, and Jessica and Emily of Susty Party. The food was farm fresh, the weather had us in the mood for a summer picnic and the judges were ready to deliberate.

Blown Dandelions by Kendall Walker won the popular vote. The design reminded Candace of being a little kid and blowing dandelions in her back yard. Jessica loved the simplicity of the lines yet thought the image had movement.

Jessica loved that Watermelon by Tanya Alexander was such a solid design that would use a lot of ink and look really bold on a cup and plate.

Jitterbugz by Caty Batholomew was a favorite of Candace. She thought it was a great design for a family and had a fun illustrated style. To her it screamed summer and she thought it would get people excited about the warmer months and upcoming picnics.

Bonnie Christine’s Nature Walk- Bird made us all want to “put a bird on it”. Emily thought it was a very pretty design and would look nice on anything, especially sustainable dinnerware.

But the design that stole the judge’s hearts was Danae Douglas’s Bike. Ian loved that Danae’s design promoted sustainable living and made him happy as an avid biker. Emily thought the design made living an eco-friendly lifestyle look very glamorous. Jessica loved the clean, crisp lines and Candace reaffirmed that UncommonGoods shoppers love bicycle designs and thought it would be a big hit.

 We asked Danae about the inspiration behind her design. “I wanted to show a picnic as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, as well a chance to travel greenly to get there. Biking is an excellent way to stay healthy, to take in your surroundings, and to get you where you’re going without doing any harm to the environment (and it’s also really fun!).”

To stay creatively inspired, Danae peruses books and magazines in addition to staying on top of local and global issues. “As a designer I think it’s really important to be globally minded and try to take in as many different perspectives as you can.”

Help us congratulate Danae on her victory in the comments below. She won $500 and will see her Bike design stamped onto sustainable cups and plates from Susty Party and sold at UncommonGoods.


Designs that Shine: Uncommon Design Challenge Winners

February 20, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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