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Design Challenges

Maker Stories

Jeff Knight’s Dreamy Cutting Board Wins the Woodworking Design Challenge

April 4, 2013

It’s not news that we’re extremely proud of our artists, and our newest UncommonGoods artist is no exception. From almost 100 Woodworking Design Challenge entries, Jeff Knight’s Nimbus Cloud Cutting Board made our judges sigh, giggle and announce Winner!. But the more we learn about Jeff, the more we realize the breadth of his talents. Meet Jeff – woodworker, graphic designer, t-shirt entrepreneur, travel writer and the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family.

What is the most uncommon thing about you?
I think the most uncommon thing about me is my renaissance-man attitude toward projects. I’m the kind of guy who likes to roll up my sleeves and figure out a way to make a good idea happen. If that means learning a new tool or trade, then so be it. I have a pretty big range of hobbies and interests. I keep myself busy and always look forward to learning something new. This past year I’ve been involved in various projects from co-founding a design club to partnering in the launch of a pop-up t-shirt store.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by a variety of things; nature, comic books, toys, games, classic films, art, midcentury design, social events, friends, family, etc. I try to keep my eyes and ears open to things, and when inspiration strikes I’m usually prepared with a sketchbook close by. A weekly trip to a thrift shop sometimes helps rekindle my inspiration. You never know when looking at an old dinner plate or album cover will provide inspiration for a future project.

How did you get into woodworking?
My dad was a woodworker as long as I can remember, so naturally, as a child, I used to hang out in the wood shop and build little things from the scraps of his projects. Sometimes a block of wood could be a pirate ship or an airplane. Much later in life, I found making things from wood familiar and comforting because of my upbringing. My dad had everything to do with my love of woodworking.

How do graphic design and woodworking fit together in your craft?
Form and function are important in what I do for both design and woodworking. I’m heavily guided by both concepts. There’s a back and forth tendency of wanting to make things function as a usable object, but also to craft that thing into a beautiful form. I find both graphic design and woodworking require a mastery of certain tools, but they also both require a sense of wonder, creativity and imagination to produce engaging results that resonate with people.

How do you market your designs on the web?
I’m not a huge marketer of my own work. So far I’ve found the best success through social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo. Like this contest, I couldn’t have gone very far without a strong group of supportive friends and family. There are so many tools available online to help get your name out there, it just takes some time and a little bit of strategic planning. If people like your work, they’ll share it and pretty soon folks take interest in what you’re doing and eventually that turns into sales.

Describe your workspace.
Luckily my woodworking takes place at a co-op space called DIY Wood Studio. They help keep the place neat and tidy so whenever I need something, the right tool is in its place. My workspace for graphic, however, is a complete mess. I surround myself with good, inspiring design in the form of toys, posters, magazines, funky objects, books and tons of other stuff. Because of that, I have Post-Its, drawings and other notes all over because I get ideas often and need to write them down or sketch them out.

Any advice to artists and designers thinking about entering an UncommonGoods design challenge?
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.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Matthew Amey

April 2, 2013

It feels a little silly when we throw around the word “uncommon” so frequently here around the UG headquarters, but sometimes there just isn’t a better way to express how we feel. I first interviewed Matthew Amey when he won last year’s Art Contest. Being inked myself, I was overjoyed to learn his winning piece was a tattoo-turned-print. I was also completely baffled – was there a better word to describe the newest member of our artist family?

This time, take a look inside the Maryland studio of this design challenge alum to see how he transitions from painting on skin to paper.

What are your most essential tools?
I work primarily with tattoo machines but I also paint in oils quite a bit. I am fortunate to have a career (tattooing) that allows me to also work in other artistic mediums when time permits.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I work in my studio five days a week, eight hours per day. I find time between tattoo appointments to explore new ideas, mediums, do research for new projects and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is jammed with materials that I have collected throughout my travels. Much of my inspiration comes through interacting with other artists and discussing new ideas with prospective clients.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Being an artist is great but running a business, as an artist, is a daunting task. The creative mind is not one that worries about deadlines, bills, advertising. As an artist all I want to do is create work. Once I figured out how to shift gears from artist/creator to businessman/manager things got a lot easier. Once I found a ‘business manager’ it made my work much more enjoyable.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Trust your instincts; you’re making the right choices. Stay positive.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Much of my time is spent just thinking about projects. Once I decide on a project that I want to complete I am pretty adamant about following it through to completion. Some long-term projects get worked on little by little until completion. Ultimately I have to determine which projects are of utmost importance and work on those first. UncommonGoods has become one of my main goals this past year and I’ve been focusing much of my ‘free’ time on that work.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is fleeting. If/When I’m able to take time to reflect on my accomplishments chances are I’m thinking about what to do next. I’m not sure where I’ve heard this statement but it is very true that, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
My efforts flow through these three simple statements. Imagine; think outside the box, allow yourself to wonder. Create; make work, be creative and productive. Inspire; make work that inspires others to think, contemplate or produce work of their own. Repeat….

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am constantly challenging myself to experiment with new materials, techniques and styles both in tattooing and within my other artistic endeavors.

How do you recharge your creativity?
My artwork develops in cycles. During the warmer summer months I try to get outside and experience nature as often as possible. I live near the ocean and in the Summer I am very busy tattooing the tourists who frequent my town. In the Fall I start putting non-tattoo related projects together and in the Winter and Spring much of my time is spent working on completing those projects. I am currently getting ready for the summer season so I’m trying to wrap up some larger art projects that I started last Fall.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Much of my tattoo work is collaboration between myself and my clients. They come to me with an idea and I attempt to help them visualize their ideas in the most concise way possible. Occasionally I will collaborate with other artists in my studio to produce paintings.

Design

Call for Entries: Art Contest

March 8, 2013

From now until the end of March, we are hosting a call for entries for our Art Contest. This is a call for all original, 2 dimensional art work that UncommonGoods will print, frame and sell on our site in a limited run. The grand prize winner will win $500 and 5% royalties from the sales of their piece.

To learn the official rules of the contest, meet our talented judges and submit your work, visit the Art Contest page.

Maker Stories

Meet Beau Lyday, Garden Design Challenge Winner

March 4, 2013

Our busy year of design challenges started off with a call for garden decor in January. With entries from across the country of sculptures, planters and birdhouses, our judges Katie and Chris had the difficult task of picking a winner. They decided on a design they considered to be a triple threat- with beautiful craftsmanship; a creative, unique design; and functional. What they didn’t realize during their deliberation, that they were inviting Beau Lyday of North Carolina into the UncommonGoods artist family. Meet Beau, a carpenter whose skills were passed from generations and a philosopher whose view on art and life is sure to inspire.

What was the inspiration behind the Garden Tool Box Tote?
My wife loves Pinterest and she pinned a garden box on her “Projects for Beau” board. Using the rake for a handle was a really neat idea. I made her a gothic style garden box for a present. That got me thinking about my grandfather Pennington. He was a carpenter. He passed before I was born, but I remember playing with his tool box in the shed. Wooden tool boxes used to be a commonplace item, but are rare now. Using the handle idea and my memories of my granddads tool box, I came up with a strong serviceable garden tool box tote.

Who or what are some of your design influences?
My Father helped me make a stool when I was six. He was a teacher at school and at home. We worked side by side, repairing and refinishing antiques through high school and then whenever we could get together. He taught me how to work with my hands and to be safe with machinery. Most of all he instilled in me a pride in workmanship and if it was not right it was wrong.

After college, I studied the works of Palladio and Christopher Wren, learning the classical relationship of balance and proportion. Their rules have become my basic design building blocks and help me discern why something looks right or wrong and how to fix it.

My wife, Brenda, is a wonderful artist with a keen eye. We make a wonderful team. When she makes a critique she is seldom wrong and she does it with love. I am my own worst critic. She is my greatest influence.

How does designing fit into your lifestyle?
Designing/creating is how I uncover my authentic self and act on it. The quote “By the work one knows the workman” says it best. Whether a person appreciates what I do or they don’t is not as important as the act of bringing an idea, a feeling to life. Working with the creation process, understanding the challenges and overcoming them, creating something useful and pleasing is where my true vocation and occupation come together. So, my work is my full time job.

What are some of your other designs?
Brenda and I try to have breakfast and watch Sunday Morning each week. I love the sun art work. This inspired me to create a series of sun mirrors.

This week I have continued taking down an old barn. I made a checker board with a Celtic ribbon border out of some of the wood I repurposed from that barn. There were also several pieces of wonderfully aged red painted boards that I used to make Brenda a primitive one door 3 shelf wall cabinet. She showed me a strange table in a magazine that we figured out was kite shaped. It took me two tries to make one but it is a very unique small side table and it’s only Wednesday evening. My web site has over 70 items I have made this year.

I am always looking for new inspirations, experimenting, refining until I have it right.

Describe your workspace.
We live in an 1840’s post and beam farm house I restored. Behind the house Brenda and I have side by side studios with wood floors and good windows. My grandmother’s Warm Morning pot belly stove keeps my shop comfortable in the winter time. I am going to have to take a week off and fix up my studio. It’s functional but not too pretty. I have a blacksmith shop in a shed by my studio. Brenda’s description of my work space is sawdust, sawdust, sawdust.

What is most uncommon about you?
I am a unique individual. My uncommonness stems from spending most of my life observing. How do the lines come together and work with each other. Which colors are present and how do they blend. What are the effects of textures and light. Can I identify the functions and understand how it works. I question how these observations relate to each other. I debate with myself why objects are pleasing or unsettling to me. These conclusions have become my memory library that I draw from to see things, to create and to interact.

I made a whirligig base on a child’s antique rocking horse and carriage and showed my dad. The horse’s head rocked up and down, the carriage following along. My dad said he remembered riding in a carriage like that when he was three (he was 80 at the time). I asked him what he thought of the whirligig and he said, “Son there is a fine line between crazy and genius. He did not tell me which side of the line I was on, but he had a smile on his face.

Design

Call for Entries: Garden Decor Design Challenge

January 18, 2013

We couldn’t wait to get this year’s design challenge calendar underway and are excited to announce the call for entries for the Garden Decor Design Challenge from now until January 31. This call is a search for garden sculptures, planters, bird houses and other accessories for an outdoor space and the winning design will be featured in our Spring catalog.

“Our customers love handmade, creatively designed garden décor,” says our home accessories buyer Katie Giannone. “With spring and summer right around the corner, we are entering our strongest sales period for outdoor items. This design contest is an exciting opportunity to showcase your work, gain exposure and a potential partnership with our brand.”

To learn more about the challenge and to submit your designs, visit the Garden Decor Design Challenge page.

Design

A Year’s Worth of Winning Designs

January 4, 2013


Happy New Year! We’re excited to see what 2013 will bring, and we have big plans for the next 12 months. We’re planning more sneak peeks Inside the Artist’s Studio, interviews with designers from across the country, behind the scenes looks at what goes on here at UncommonGoods, great gift ideas, and of course, brand new design challenges! But, before we announce our first challenge of the year, we’re taking a look back on the great designs that came to us through our 2012 design challenges and the people who created them.

Last Spring we were already thinking Summer! Our first design challenge focused on sustainable picnic ware from Susty Party. We asked illustrators to send us their summer picnic-themed art, and we saw a big batch of submissions celebrating fun in the sun!

Denae Douglas’ Bicycle design was the judges’ favorite, earning her the grand prize. Her blue bike was stamped on eco-friendlier disposable bagasse plates and cups perfect for picnicking. (We know it’s still January, and it’s cold outside, but we do have a few sets left if you’re looking to stock up for Spring!)

All of the illustrations that came rolling in with the Summer Picnic Challenge had us in the mood for great art, so for our next call for entries we asked artists to send us their artwork for the Art Contest. We asked our online community to pick their favorites, then sent the top 5 designs to our judges for review. In the end, Mathew Amey’s “Jump Off” leaped into our lineup.

Matthew’s piece was limited edition, and didn’t take long to sell out, but art fans need not worry; our buyers loved his work so much, they’re adding more of his illustrations to our assortment.

After the Art Contest we switched it up just a bit, from art you hang to art you take on the go! Our iPhone Art Case Design Challenge was a huge success. We received a slew of votes and comments in the semi-final round and heard some wonderful feedback from the judges in the finals.

The judges loved the techie feel of Naomi Meller’s computer design and chose it to win the grand prize, but our buyers weren’t quite ready to let go of all of that other great artwork! Several design challenge submissions were selected for our iPhone Art Case Collection and became uncommon goods!

Speaking of art on the go, we couldn’t have a year of design challenges without including a call for wearable art–A.K.A. Jewelery–entries! The winner of our 2012 Jewelry Design Challenge was a little different. Not only do we love Kim Jakum’s excellent craftsmanship and fine attention to detail, we also couldn’t stop talking about the unique (and oh-so-sweet!) personalization element of the piece. Kim’s Personalized Children’s Signature Necklace gives the wearer a chance to capture their little ones’ own handwriting in sterling silver.

Then, last Fall, we switched gears again and asked our design community to think bicycles! Submissions to our Bicycle Lovers Design Challenge included helpful bike tools, custom pieces to deck your ride, cycling wear, and art made out of reclaimed bicycle parts, like Laura White’s winning Bicycle Cog Suncatchers.

Laura’s pieces aren’t only beautiful, they also celebrate the sport of cycling and are made from reclaimed materials, which is always a plus here. In fact, we love reclaiming, recycling, and reusing so much that we decided to build a design challenge around the idea. Our final design challenge of the year focused on upcycling, and we saw some seriously clever creations made from materials that would have otherwise been discarded.

The story behind winner Susan Harbourt’s Forget-Me-Not necklace is almost as compelling as the piece itself! The beautiful copper flowers and the wires keeping them in place actually started out as part of the original electrical wiring in her Edwardian era country home. When she and her husband renovated the house, Susan saved the copper and turned it into a winning design.

Susan’s story of creating something new out of something old is surely inspiring, as are the stories of many of our 2012 winners and semi-finalists. If you’re interested in learning even more about what it takes to be design challenge champ, check out our previous roundup for more success stories or check out these tips from a former design challenge winner.

We hope this stroll around the winner’s circle put you in the mood for creative new creations, whether you’re a designer yourself, or a just someone who loves uncommon design! We’re certainly looking forward to a new year full of new goods. If you’re interested in taking part in an uncommon design challenge, see what we have coming up in the next couple months and stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook to see when and how to submit.

January – Garden Decor Design Challenge
February – Woodworking Design Challenge
March – Art Contest 2013

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 Laura White, Bike Lovers Design Challenge Winner

October 15, 2012

The entries to our Bike Lovers Design Challenge ranged from the beautiful (stunning and evocative art about bikes) to the practical (sturdy and useful bike accessories). We were delighted by all of them. Perhaps because winter is coming, the entry that tickled our fancy the most was a suncatcher.

Laura White’s Bicycle Cog Suncatchers are lovely pieces of everyday art. They creatively combine upcycled metal bike parts with colorful, translucent inlays to harness the sun’s light and create a stained glass effect.

We asked Laura about her crafty, bike-y life.

What’s the weather like where you live? Is there a lot of sun?

For the last four years I’ve lived in Southwestern Virginia, prior to that I had spent my entire life in Michigan. The biggest draw to this area was the mountain biking. It is an outdoor lover’s heaven. We have some of the best mountain biking in the world. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the edge of town, so there is also great road cycling.
The weather is very mild, at least compared to Michigan. Lots of sun and blue skies.

How did you first get into making things and being crafty? What kinds of things did you make back then?
I think I’ve always been into crafting. As a kid my favorite part of school and day camps was the arts and crafts. I was also heavily influenced by my grandmother, who did a lot of crafting. She taught me to knit, and one summer we sewed a doll. She was also good at saving household items that would normally be discarded, and using them in craft projects.

How did you get into biking, and when did it turn into a major passion?
I rode my bike a lot as a kid, both for recreation and as a way to get around before I could drive. I left it behind once I got a car. But then in my 30s I attended a bike race with a friend and decided that I had to do that. So I bought a bike and began training and racing. My love of cycling has grown from there. I don’t race much anymore, but cycling as a lifestyle and as transportation has become something that I am passionate about.

What was the inspiration for your Bicycle Cog Sun Catcher?
I had been making items out of recycled bike parts for several years. Several years ago, I had a daydream. Fast forward almost three years, I now I have a beautiful daughter (and a piano). I still have to work a regular job, but supplement with crafting.

I had made bike chain stars for several years and was growing tired of making the same thing and wanted to make something more “fun.” Something that would be colorful and cheerful instead of just metallic and hard. I had a sun catcher hanging above my daughters changing table that she loved. I liked the way the sun hit it. One of those fun craft projects I did as a kid was to make suncatchers in the oven. I decided to try to use the cogs as a medium for the suncatchers.

What other things do you like to make? What are you best at? Worst?
I really like anything that’s art or crafty. I love to knit, that is probably one of the things I am best at. Painting is probably the thing I am “worst” at. I love to paint but find that I am too much of a perfectionist when it comes to painting and tend to ruin the pictures by trying to making them look real and perfect. If I could embrace the abstract a little better I would probably be better at painting.

Is there any common theme, style, approach, or thought process to most or all of your craftwork?
Biking tends to be a common theme in my craftwork. I think I just love biking so much that I try to incorporate it into my life. Even my knitted items tend to have a bike theme or little bikes knitted into them. I also try to make things that are practical and I can use. That’s typically how a project starts. I’ll see something that I need and my first thought will be “can I make that?”

Do you enjoy making things out of things that would otherwise be discarded?
I do. I try very hard to live a sustainable lifestyle, which is part of the reason why I love cycling as opposed to driving. I try to limit the amount of waste I create by reusing and recycling items. I often find myself saving things that would typically be discarding, thinking, “I bet I can make something with that.”

What’s your favorite thing that someone has said about something you made?
When someone responds to something I’ve made by first being impressed that it was crafted for them and then saying “You should sell these.”
I recently received a picture from a mom that purchased a couple of suncatchers. It was of her daughter admiring them. I like when other people find joy and beauty in the things I’ve made.

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