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Design

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Laura Lobdell

April 16, 2012

We want to give you an exclusive look inside the minds of our uncommon artists. Our second artist visit features Laura Lobdell, who makes our Sterling Silver Guitar Pick Necklace and Kiss Ring. Trained as a fine artist–she holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and studied Chinese calligraphy in Hong Kong–Laura has a beautiful, tiny shop in Greenwich Village, where she sells her exquisite and utterly original jewelry. For Laura, there is no real division between her shop and her art; it all comes from the same place in her imaginative mind. Collections of objects which seem to have drifted together out of their desire to express Laura’s poetic sensibility share shop space with pieces of her art–and of course, her jewelry.


What are your most essential tools?
My most essential tool is actually a state of mind. Being present, open to ideas and creative moments. That’s a way of being able to have more creative ideas, for me. Of course, that’s the struggle–ideally, we’re all always present and open, right? In New York, it’s a great city because if you’re open and present when you’re on the subway you can see something or experience something in these banal moments that become really good inspiration for something creative.

For example, once some friends of mine were playing in their band. And they’d lose their pick and call out, “Does anyone have a quarter or nickel?” And just kind of being present and open, I thought, “Oh, I could make them something” and that’s what led me to make the guitar pick, which is something that could be worn or played with.

As for physical tools–I have a pair of pliers that I particularly like. They’re not really very special, except for me they just work really well. The tip is really pointy so they’re great for wire wrapping and just holding things, forming things. And the grip is really nice; there’s a little bit of texture on the rubber handle. It’s funny that something so simple it makes such a big difference but it does.

And my calligraphy brushes. Having studied Chinese Calligraphy in Hong Kong, I love calligraphy brushes in general; he natural fur bristle, I just love the way they hold the pigment. And also that they come to a really fine tip, so I can shift the line weight really beautifully. I use that for my illustration.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
The color of the walls. I use in my studio as well. It’s “Skylight” by Farrow & Ball. I love it. It’s a really old formula of paint. It doesn’t have synthetic pigments in it, it’s mineral based. It’s very calming, and it changes with the light of the day, the way the sun is hitting it. The light plays across it because of the minerals in it, and it has an ambient effect. It’s a really beautiful paint and I think it fits me. It’s also a good, neutral color to see my work against.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
1) Trust your…call it guts or your intuition or whatever. The voice of your instinct can get crowded out by all these other things. But it’s usually right. And trust in that can keep you out of a lot of the other troubles.
2) Get a credit card machine! Although now, I’d say, get a Square Up.


What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m learning how to work with precious stones, because they’re beautiful, and knowing more about them opens up a lot of possibilities. Stones are a way to bring something unexpected, some color, and of course sparkle and luminosity to the work. Like for example, with a cigarette butt, setting it with orange sapphires creates an embers glow, bringing that piece to life. It’s pretty cool without it, people like it; but it’s a whole different piece when you essentially ignite it with the orange soft fires and leave it smoldering, it’s a really nice piece of jewelry.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio? And how do you recharge your creativity?
I definitely always feel better when I have made the time to do yoga or exercise. And cooking and talking to friends. Seeing art is really important to me.  But it’s definitely challenging. My shop is open 6 days a week, officially 1 to 7, but I try to get here a little bit earlier. And I’ve usually been working in a studio in the morning. Then running around the city, I go get supplies and silver and, you know, go to the engraver and go over projects and go to pick them up. So, I’m constantly recharging. The year before last, I wrote a little survival guide to myself to get through the holidays, and it really applies all the time.

Holiday Survival Guide for LL to stay clear and energized (circa 2010)
Yoga
Keep Store Hours 12-7, Sun 1-6
Be discerning about events to attend
Stay in at least one night per week
Be in bed by midnight Sunday to Wednesday
Two Cocktails on weekend nights
One glass of wine other nights – unless it’s just the best party on the planet.
Drink Water

How do you set goals for yourself?
I write a lot of stuff in my little Moleskin book. It usually start with a little bit of a notebook-ey, thinking, drinking some tea kind of process. I use occasions to look at where things are in progress: at New Year, my birthday in June, and back to school…seasons and occasions are good times for me to get the notebook out and start to think about things.

When I’m planning events I do a timeline. For other things I don’t necessarily put dates because, I think you can spend too much time planning, and I think that that in that becomes, I think, a barrier to accomplishing the goal.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
One of the nice things about my mom is that she really celebrated pretty much everything and so I take a page from that notebook. When something good happens, I try to appreciate it, because it’s a way to stay motivated and—why not? Why not celebrate something that’s positive, like you get an order from a store that’s really exciting, or I ship my bracelets to St. Barth. So, you know, call a friend and have a glass of Prosecco, or maybe make something especially nice for dinner. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but I think it is really nice to acknowledge these moments.
That’s kind of the whole point of the champagne and the champagne rings, the idea of champagne every day, celebrating. I mean that not necessarily literally in terms of champagne every day, but that feeling of trying to celebrate something in every day. And then that ties into my work, too, about the everyday objects that aren’t essentially celebrated, by transforming them into precious metal. The jewelry is jewelry, but it’s also the idea of celebrating and making people happy–that’s what I do. I guess that’s kind of what gives my work meaning, is that I do something that makes people happy even in a small way.

Design

Community Comments: Praise for Uncommon Designs

April 9, 2012

When a brand new creative design comes our way we get pretty excited. What could be better than the thrill of discovering a new uncommon good? Seeing our community get just as excited as we are!

We love seeing those “thumbs ups” in our community voting app followed by feedback explaining what you love about the designs.

Of course, commenting isn’t just for the voting app. If you own an uncommon good, we want to know why you love it! Here are a few examples of community comments that make us smile.

Made of polished silver plated aluminium, this Row Boat Salad Bowl is charming and functional. The intricately-grained sheesham wood oars are actually serving utensils.

It was a hit in our voting app, floating into our assortment with 465 votes.

pema8684 from New Hampshire proved Mary’s point by gifting the salad set to her boat-loving dad.

The Nerd Herder Gadget Wallet also makes a great gift. Of course, it’s a great gift for yourself, too!

The wallet was originally designed by Brook Kirk to help her musician husband stay organized. Mandi was excited about the Nerd Herder’s potential to stash guitar picks (and other daily necessities for the nerd on the go).

Post-purchase, blueorder from Phoenix, AZ confirmed that the gadget wallet is an awesome design.

The Nerd Herder is perfect when you’re out and about, but this next design by Jill Henrietta Davis is made for a relaxing night in.

Penelope’s comment made us dream of sinking into a hot bubble bath and enjoying the ambiance created by the handmade glass Lotus Bud Oil Candles.

And while Mona from East Providence, RI bought her candles for use at work, she’s in the business of helping other unwind.

Reading commentary like this gets us excited about the goods in our assortment, but it also puts us in the mood to find more clever, uniquely designed products. Would you love to hear what our community has to say about your work? Share your designs with our buyers and your creation could become an uncommon good.

Design

Secondhand Saris, Firsthand Fair Trade Fashion

April 8, 2012

This new sari handbag was brought into our assortment with the feedback and support of 558 customers.

Indian women have worn saris, beautiful, often embellished sheets of fabric, for hundreds of years. The traditional garment can be worn in many ways, but every sari, no matter how lovely, will eventually be draped a final time.

Fortunately, the gorgeous fabrics don’t have to go to waste when the sari no longer serves its traditional purpose. Artisans in India wash and repair the cottons, rayon, and silks from secondhand saris, then transform them into fashionable, functional handbags.

The one-of-a-kind creations are handmade by skilled craftswomen who are given a fair wage, allowing them to earn a living while staying in their villages near family instead of having to travel to bigger cities.

After the fabric is cleaned, the craftswomen cut it into vibrant strips and organize it to ensure that each bag expresses rich color combinations, from bright jewel tones to deep earth tones. Since saris are often patterned, sometimes quite elaborately, each bag also features interesting details within individual fabric strips.

The artisans hand-sew the fabric strips to the white cotton lining, creating the light, ruffled look of the bag. To add to the functionality of the piece, a wooden toggle and a fabric cord are both attached for fastening.

The finished product caught our attention, but this product story really pulled us in and we couldn’t wait to share it with our community. We were thrilled to find that our community voting app users stood behind the product, too.

“I think this is a beautiful bag and the cost is very reasonable,” Michelle told us via the voting app. “I plan on buying it and knowing that each bag is different make it even better! I will not see this bag coming and going.”

Nataly drew on her own experiences to add her feedback. “Reminds me of my travels in India, how I always noticed that no matter how remote the location and how outdoor the environment, they keep their Saris SOOO vibrant and beautiful,” she wrote. “Every where you look–bold statement making colors.”

We also saw a ton of Facebook and Twitter love for the Sari Bag. “Love this bag! I think saris are so beautiful. What better way to reuse them?” @kellyatate tweeted.

We love seeing such enthusiastic support for our potential products and we’re pleased that this fair trade, handmade, upcycled bag is now an uncommon good!

Maker Stories

From Soup to Scents: Hart Main’s Man Candles

April 3, 2012

Having a great idea is only the first step in building a successful business as a product designer. Hart Main took that step when he was just 13 years old. Hart’s idea came to him while his sister was selling heavily-scented candles in common fragrances for a school fundraiser. He took a whiff of the wax and wondered why no one was making candles in scents that everyone could enjoy.

Now, the young entrepreneur and his family are not only running a business producing Man Candles, candles with less perfumed, flowery smells, they’re also helping to feed the hungry.

Hart is pretty busy, with his business, school, and the swim team, but he took a moment to tell us more about his candles, donating soup, and how kids (and adults) with great ideas can follow in his footsteps.

Q.) What was it like starting a business at a young age?

I was 13 when I got the idea for ManCans, it was late October of 2010. I was really excited at first to get my ideas down on paper and then trying to find ways to accomplish them. At times, though, it can be frustrating when things don’t work out like you planed. Being young, and looking younger, also works against me sometimes. It’s hard to get some adults to take you serious. I can’t drive places without my parents so adults want to talk to them about my business instead of me. And I am not allowed to legally own the business, because I am a minor, so my parents currently own it.

Q.) What was the first scent you developed and why did you choose that scent?

A scent list was my first list of ideas that I wrote down on my laptop. I don’t remember what ones were at the top of that list, but the first three that we bought to start making candles were Fresh Cut Grass, New Mitt, and Campfire.

Hart making candles.

Q.) Why did you decide to make the candles in used soup cans?

I wanted them to be different than most candles you find at a store, in glass jars. This was another brainstorming process and I knew I wanted something that was recycled and easily accessible. We talked about pop cans, sports drinks bottles, and a few other things, but the soup can was just sitting there from the dinner the night before. At the time it seemed a perfect size and easily accessible and inexpensive. At that time there were no plans of donating thousands of cans of soup, that came out of necessity. Looking back, this was a really lucky find for the business, but it has become a core part of my business. All containers that have the ManCans logo on them are recycled food containers [from soup] donated to people who need a little extra help.

Hart opening cans to serve at a soup kitchen.

Q.) What’s your favorite ManCan scent at UncommonGoods?

My favorite scent is Fresh Cut Grass. I like being outside, playing baseball, and playing with friends, and it reminds me of that when I smell it.

Q.) Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?

I get asked this question a lot through email from kids my age that want to start a business or make a difference. I try and answer their questions the best I can related to what they are doing, but I always tell them two things. 1.) Find a way to solve a problem with your business and people will buy your product. 2.) Find a way to give back to your community and they will support you.

‘Manly’ smells: New York Style Pizza, Sawdust, and Fresh Cut Grass

Hart’s creative candles are also available in Coffee, Campfire, and Dirt smells that men (and women) are sure to enjoy.