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Design Challenges

Maker Stories

Chloe Bulpin’s Design Floats to the Top of our iPhone Case Design Challenge

June 27, 2013

Last year we hosted our first iPhone Case Design Challenge, offering artists a unique way to bring their art to a larger audience in a very accessible way. We wanted to put fine art in the pockets of our customers, and we did that with the winning piece and the semifinalists that our buyers loved so much they made them into cases too.

With as amazing as last year’s pieces were, this year gave them a run for their money. From mixed media collages with vintage photos to experimental photography, it was a close race. But the winning design came down to a mysterious subject swimming through cool waters. The judges and buyers were mesmerized by her asymmetrical beauty.

Meet Chloe Bulpin, artist of Swimming and the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family.

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I consider myself nomadic. I have lived in 5 different countries starting with Australia.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
From a young age, my family knew the best way to keep my toddler self occupied was to sit me down with a box of colored pencils and a stack of paper. In 4th grade, I joined my elementary school’s art club. I think the realization came when the principal visited the club and asked to have my painting for the school’s office. Prior to that point, art had always been something I simply did for myself. Receiving recognition for your work is always fulfilling and brings with it the drive to create more to share with others.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
My inspiration derives more often from conceptual, rather than visual, triggers. Recently, I have found interest in the environmental changes and influences that occur on global and local scales, as wells as within our bodies. I think of images as potent vehicles of communication because they can reach large audiences without having to be translated. For me, the inspiration comes from the larger issues which I aim to bring attention to. The art itself, then, visually communicates these issues.

Describe your artistic process.
The only routine of my artistic process is that I start with written notes of my ideas or inspiration from readings to establish a goal of what I’d like to communicate. I then go to my sketch book and work out composition and materials. I’m still experimenting with various mediums and techniques. But I think it’s a positive thing to keep experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what you expect a medium to do. The risks keep me engaged in the process and curious to see how to best execute my ideas.

Describe your work space.
Condensed Chaos. At the moment, being that it is summer, I have an easel and a table set up at home with images scattered about. However, during the academic year, I’m working in the Illustration Studies Building at the Rhode Island School of Design. Usually, I have an easel set up with a couple of drawing horses upright as tables, a huge stack of paint tubes, a glass palette, cups of paint brushes, reference images, and my laptop blasting music.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Enter your work despite your inhibitions. As an artist, you must realize that there is a continuous process of experimentation and practice to keep creating better results. Therefore, in a competition where you have an opportunity to enter your work with very little to lose and much to gain, it’s a waste to pass up the potential. I would advise that you enter the work which you really strove towards perfecting and don’t worry if you feel that you can do better. Although often infuriating, your drive to want to improve ultimately will lead you to doing so.

“As you think, so shall you become” – Bruce Lee.

Design

Advice from our Design Challenge Winners

June 18, 2013

Everyone always asks what my favorite part of our design challenges is. I really love sitting with the buyer and going through the entries and offering my unsolicited advice. I also love making that phone call to the grand prize winner letting them know the results of the judging session. But my absolute favorite part is getting to interview the winners for the blog post where we introduce them to our community.

Being able to be the one who makes that first personal connection with the UncommonGoods brand is really important to me. Learning what keeps these artists ticking and how excited they are to be a part of our community really warms me up! I tend to get really attached to my design challenge artists and develop design crushes on them!

Each time I ask an artist what advice they would give to someone considering entering a design challenge, I am blown away by their responses. Considering entering a design challenge yourself? Here are some of my favorite bits of advice.

Take a risk and enter. Be sure to rally up your friends and colleagues, they can be some of your best chances to filling in votes. But, above all, don’t let negative comments get you down. Constructive criticism is one thing, but personal preferences and insults are not necessary in the creative process.

Jeff Knight, Woodworking Design Challenge

This is a great opportunity it doesn’t cost anything to enter there is really nothing to lose! Even the opportunity for a jury to look at your work usually costs money; here you get a team of professionals to evaluate your design for free! The semi-finalists get great exposure on the website through the voting platform and there is another opportunity for honest feedback and insight into your work. We made a goal several years ago when looking at an UncommonGoods catalog to some day be featured in their collection, and it took this long to do it. Without ever having that thought or goal to begin with it never would have happened!

Patrick & Carrie Frost, Glass Art Design Challenge

My first bit of advice would simply be to enter the competition. Don’t prevent yourself from taking advantage of such an awesome opportunity by worrying about whether your art is good enough. Just enter it and see what happens. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those circumstances are not very common and should always be ventured.

My second piece of advice goes hand in hand with my first. I think Andy Warhol summed it up perfectly. He said, “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.” Whatever the outcome of this competition or any other artistic venture you attempt, don’t worry too much about the results. Just keep making more art. If you’re consistent, you’ll eventually stumble upon a great artistic breakthrough that someone will notice and adore.

Elise Wehle, 2013 Art Contest

Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

Sarah Nicole Phillips, Art Contest-May

Still not sure about your design challenge entry? Check out my advice to artists here.

Design

Our 3rd Annual Jewelry Design Challenge

June 12, 2013

It’s that time of year again! Our buyers are itching to find the newest original jewelry design.

Send us your necklaces, earrings, bracelets, bangles, rings, cufflinks, and tiaras. Well maybe not the tiaras. Actually, throw them in too!

To submit your jewelry designs and read complete contest rules, visit the Jewelry Design Challenge page.

Maker Stories

Finding Security in Reclaimed Art – Meet Sarah Nicole Phillips

May 30, 2013

After an overwhelming response in March, we decided to keep our Art Contest running all year round. With twelve months to send in artwork, I was worried that the well might run dry with new ideas and exciting designs. Our first month proved me wrong with a collection of amazing submissions.

Our interim art buyer Melissa chose Security Blue Grass from the top voted semifinalists for its aesthetic, originality, and use of reclaimed materials. Those three elements make its designer, Sarah Nicole Phillips, the ideal Uncommon artist. Meet our newest artist and help us welcome her to our vendor family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
After high school, I traveled for two and a half years straight, during which all my possessions fit into a backpack.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
I knew I had become an artist when I purchased a used 54” 5-Drawer Steel Flat File from a guy on Craig’s List, to store my art. In New York City, space is a precious resource so my bed is lofted on top of the flat files. I do not believe this sleeping arrangement has affected my dreams.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
I draw inspiration from observing the tensions, conflicts and contradictions of contemporary life. I spend a lot of time consuming news media, but just as important is placing myself in situations where lives are smashing up against each other like crowded subways and commercial streetscapes at rush hour. I always carry a small notebook with me to jot down something I see, or draw something that catches my eye. I am conscious of the waste we create and how we manage it.

I have attended several artist residencies in bucolic, rural settings. These quiet places allow for ideas simmering on the back burner to boil over, but I need the background hum of a city to stimulate ideas for new bodies of work.

Describe your artistic process.
The process begins with me scribbling sketches in my notebook. Most of these sketches are fragments of ideas blurted onto paper and are never realized into final pieces. Once I hone in on an image I’d like to create into a collage, I make a full scale drawing that serves as an image template. I search through my supply of patterned security envelopes and select which ones I will use to construct the collage. I have several bankers’ boxes full of envelopes to choose from, sorted into categories according to imagery, color, tone, and other characteristics. The envelopes come from myriad sources; friends and family and sometimes strangers bring me discarded envelopes generated from their workplace or home office. I arrange a “dry assemble” before using adhesive to stick all the pieces down. The final step is to run the collage through an etching press to ensure the thousands of individual pieces are never going to become unstuck.

Describe your work space.
I have a bright, airy, live-work space on the edge of the industrial neighborhood of Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. Source photographs and sketches are tacked onto the walls. I work sitting at a long table, and pin works-in-progress onto a big white wall that I can stare at, or glance at passively as I walk by to refill my coffee mug. My indispensable tools are a self-healing cutting mat, metal rulers and various cutting blades. The windows are open, as long as the wind isn’t strong enough to blow apart works-in-progress. Public radio or podcasts are always playing.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

Maker Stories

Cloudy Mountainscape for the Win

May 9, 2013

I actually couldn’t wait to sit down to this year’s Art Contest judging-and not because I’m an uber fan of the Jealous Curator. I knew it was going to be a really close contest with every one of the top five voted pieces being so special and so unique.

And I was right. It came down to two paintings but eventually Katie, Danielle and Matthew arrived at a consensus–Elise Wehle’s Cloudy Mountainscape was too exceptional to pass up and its paper cut texture would make an incredible print. So meet Elise, the winner of our latest design challenge and help us welcome her into our artist family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I’m still an avid Mario Kart racer for the Nintendo 64.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
As a kid I used to love to draw animals. Everyone, including myself, thought I was going to grow up to be a zoologist. It wasn’t until middle school that I branched out and started drawing Star Wars characters (yeah, I was pretty nerdy). However, my nerdiness worked towards my benefit, and I realized I just loved drawing and making art more than even the subject matter. Soon after I decided I wanted to be an artist.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
I definitely find inspiration from city walls covered in old and new posters. I can almost see the history of the wall when I tear off one poster only to discover another one underneath. I love when all the different layers of posters turns into one giant collage. I think the way time weathers and tears the paper is very beautiful. I try to copy that look in a lot of my work.

Describe your artistic process.
I usually start an artwork by finding an image or a photograph that I really love online. I like the idea of taking something that only exists as bits and pixels and turning it into something real and tangible again. I materialize the image by creating a transfer of the photo. Sometimes this is done through intaglio, a printmaking process I learned while in college, or sometimes I use gel medium and transfer the photo directly to paper. I then try to incorporate some type of hand-intensive technique into the artwork, usually in the form of weaving, paper cutting, or embroidery.

Describe your work space.
Oh boy, my work space is nothing fancy. Right now my studio is a small corner of my bedroom. In that corner I have a desk, a lamp, and a little stool, all three of which are covered in art supplies. Usually and inevitably, my creative process begins to spread all across the bedroom until the bed and floor are covered. Luckily, my husband has the patience of a saint and hasn’t complained about all the little pieces of paper we end up tracking across the house.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
My first bit of advice would simply be to enter the competition. Don’t prevent yourself from taking advantage of such an awesome opportunity by worrying about whether your art is good enough. Just enter it and see what happens. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those circumstances are not very common and should always be ventured.

My second piece of advice goes hand in hand with my first. I think Andy Warhol summed it up perfectly. He said, “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.” Whatever the outcome of this competition or any other artistic venture you attempt, don’t worry too much about the results. Just keep making more art. If you’re consistent, you’ll eventually stumble upon a great artistic breakthrough that someone will notice and adore.

Check out The Jealous Curator‘s post about Elise’s art!

Design

How to Win a Design Challenge

May 1, 2013

After facilitating 11 design challenges over the past year, I consider myself our company expert. I sit with the buyers as they sift through the entries to decide on the semifinalist designs that will make it to our community voting app, moderate the final judging session, and communicate with the designers throughout the entire process. I am to the point now where I can anticipate what the buyers will say about each entry and finalist design so I thought it would be helpful for me to share some of my observations.

Of course the final decision always comes down to the design and how well the buyers think it will sell at UncommonGoods, but keeping this advice in mind will help you avoid some road blocks that I have seen make or break the final decision.

PRICING I thought I’d start with the technical stuff to get it out of the way and because this is a really important factor in most design challenges. UncommonGoods is a retailer so we buy artist’s goods at a wholesale price. After we buy your design from you, we still need to make a profit, so we need to have a retail price set with a fair profit margin. We measure gross margin % to gauge profitability. We calculate this with (retail price – wholesale price)/retail price x 100 = GM%.

But if you have only been selling on Etsy and at flea markets, you might not have a wholesale price figured out yet. Many independent sellers are currently selling their items retail at a wholesale price! Stores like UncommonGoods will need to charge almost two times that amount to make a profit, and we won’t want to sell your design at a much higher price than a customer can get it on your site. This might mean going back to the drawing board but a strong pricing structure could really benefit you in the future.

Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson advises, “Research what is out there in the market place and understand the range of retail prices for similar products. Be sure to note the materials and how something is produced (handmade vs. manufactured) in order to understand where the cost is coming from.”

To understand pricing a little more, check out this really informative forum discussion between Etsy sellers.

Tell your product story well and completely! Some artists do a great job telling the story of their design in the Product Description field on our online submission form. Some artists don’t and it can really hurt them. This is the space to let us know all about your inspiration, your artistic process and how the design makes you feel. This is the space to tell our buyers everything you want them to know about you and your art.

If your design is chosen to be a semi-finalist, this is the copy we will edit for grammar and punctuation to use in the community voting stage-so this story won’t just attract our buyers, but also the thousands of voters who will be viewing your design. Good product copy can make or break your chances with the voting community, the buyers, and the rest of the judging panel.

Our buyers love collections. When I sit with a buyer and go through design challenge submission, more often than not we are also visiting an artist’s website to see what else they have. Not because we’re nosy, and not because we don’t like what we see. Our buyers want a sense of an artist’s future as a vendor at UncommonGoods. They’re looking for an artist that will be able to create a collection of similar products. Check out Valerie Galloway and Etta Kostick – former design challenge participants with robust collections.

Be prepared for our inventory demands. Our inventory requests for each design are always different depending on price and category, and our buyers work to create a plan with each designer that is beneficial to both parties. One common question you should be able to answer is “how many of these can you make in a week’s time?” Don’t know the answer to that question because you’ve only ever made one? That’s ok too, but have a plan in place for scaling up. (Get some advice from our current vendors here!)

Send a product sample, NOT a prototype. Most challenges require the semifinalists to send in their design for the buyers to review. Even if a design doesn’t make it into the top five designs that are judged, the buyers will review all the samples that come in. So many other artists are eager to get their designs into our buyers’ hands-but so many times I see samples with unfinished edges and chipping paint. Who knows when you will get another chance.

Send them something that shows the true extent of your talent. Before you send out your sample think, is this something I would send to a paying customer? Remember, when our buyers have your design in their hands they are thinking the exact same thing.

Stay tuned to our Twitter to learn about new design challenges and enter our Art Contest all year round!

Design

Art Contest – The Fun Will Never End

April 4, 2013

The call for entries for the 2013 Art Contest ended on Sunday night with close to 200 amazing submissions. We were blown away with the response and the caliber of work that was entered, so we went back to the drawing board. Seeing your artwork only once a year is not enough. With a customer base that loves art prints and buyers who love picking them out even more – we decided to keep the Art Contest going… all year long! Keep coming back to send us your brand new pieces every month and get more involved in our design community.

For the most part the rules and prizes are still the same. Midnight on the last night of every month is the deadline for that month and the buyer’s picks will make it into our community voting app.

Check out the Art Contest page for more details.

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