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Design

Design

How the Bike Tote was Born

April 30, 2014

When developing a product from scratch, we need to think through all of the details. We think about functionality and ask ourselves basic questions. When we created our Bike Tote those questions were: How will the bag hold objects? How much will it hold? How will it be secured? How will it be carried? What materials do we use to make sure the job gets done?

Here’s how we answered some of those questions.

Bike Tote | UncommonGoods

The tricky thing about this project was making sure the bag would fit the needs of a bike rider. Safety is integral. First, the bag needed to be well-secured to a bike’s handlebars without interfering with the front wheel.

How we made it happen: Sourcing the right buckles.

Bike Tote Buckles

This was our greatest sourcing challenge. We recognize that depending on the style of the bike or gears you have, strapping the bag on or off could be a challenge, so we made sure to source components that would work for as many bike styles as possible.

The buckles needed to open up so that we could completely detach the straps and fasten to any bike. They also needed to firmly and securely support the weight of the bag, without breaking, loosening, or slipping on the bike. After evaluating several different buckle and strap options, we chose these cam buckles.

In addition to securing the bag to the bike, we had to refine the cotton shoulder strap, making sure it made sense for a bike rider. We wanted to develop a true tote bag with a longer shoulder strap, but we didn’t want the strap to fly around in the wind or interfere with the bike in any way.

How we made it happen: A floating zipper.

Bike Tote Zippers

The zipper is isolated from the rest of the bag, which means the bag can be opened fully. It allows a bike rider to place the entire shoulder strap into the bag, with the zipper closed on top of it. The strap is securely tucked inside the bag, instead of hanging loose.

We know that when you’re on the road, dirt and gravel fly up, and things get pretty dirty pretty fast. We wanted to make sure the bike tote would stay as nice as possible, despite being an active bag.

How we made it happen: Black bottom panel.

Bike Totes| UncommonGoods

We lined the bottom of the bag with black fabric to hide any smudges. Remember – because of the buckles, the bike tote can’t be machine washed or dried, so hand-washing and line-drying are your best bets for keeping it in top shape.

As a final design touch, we wanted to help bike riders increase their visibility both from a distance and in the dark.

How we made it happen: Reflective tape around the bag. The strip of reflective tape allows for more visibility of riders as they cruise along and show off their very cool bike tote.

Safety first--reflective tape!

Testing the Bike Tote

Once the product met all of the criteria we outlined, we we needed to make sure it was truly road ready. To test it, one of our team members gave it a try on her road bike to make sure our claims were holding up. “I’m basically going to try and break it,” she informed us.

Weighs

In her words:

“I filled it with as much heavy stuff as I could. I started with books and when that didn’t break the bag, I tried weights (two 5 lb. weights) and large bottles (3 wine-sized bottles). The bag was a bit too big for the bike handlebars on the bike I was testing it on, so for the actual weight test I attached it to the bike cross bar and left it hanging overnight.”

The tote successfully held the weight, and we were pleased to find out that it is capable of transporting a lot of wine. (You never know when you might need to to perform just that function!)

Overall, creating the Bike Tote was fun, we got to work with awesome artists Jason Snyder and Briana Feola (who created the art featured on the tote’s fabric), and we can be proud that we developed a product that’s stylish, high-quality, and super functional.

Maker Resources

How To Make It: Instagram and Your Creative Business Videos

April 9, 2014

On March 25 we invited Ronen Glimer of Artists & Fleas, Ronda J Smith of In the Seam, and local members of our design community to a panel discussion about using Instagram to market your designs and build a following. The event was hosted at Union Hall in Park Slope and guests stuck around afterwards to swap business cards, meet our marketing and buying teams, and make connections.

If you’re ever in the hood you should check out one of our events, but watching the highlights are always a great back-up plan.

Design

Creative Design to the Rescue! (Of Homeless Cats)

March 7, 2014

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My cat Eddie thinking about cats who lack a nice warm bed like his

If you love cats–as we do–it’s painful to think of them having to brave the elements on their own during a freezing northern winter, especially this year. But here in New York City, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cats have no shelter. So, if you also love creative design, and believe in its potential as a force for good–as we do–it’s nice to learn about Architects for Animals’ “Giving Shelter,” a yearly funds-and awareness-raising initiative founded by animal lover Leslie Farrell.

CatHaus

“CatHaus” by Francis Cauffman Architects was voted the favorite of the 2014 attendees

Since 2010, every year, Farrell, Director of Client Development at architecture firm Francis Cauffman, has convinced a handful of top-notch architectural design firms to design, build and donate innovative outdoor winter shelters for homeless cats. Their creations are put on public display as a one-night benefit event for the Mayor’s Alliance for NewYork City’s Animals. Attendees vote for their favorite, then all the shelters are donated to caregivers who work with needy animals.

CatHive

“Cat Hive” by Incorporated Architecture & Design

Carlton

by Carlton Architecture PC

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“Time Machine for Kittens,” by Two One Two Design

Hairball

“Hairball,” by M Moser Associates

The creative designs of these shelters help the cause architecturally (they generate good ideas for future shelters) and in other ways, too, as Michael Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance, points out. “The media coverage with pictures of the flashy shelters is an eye-catcher that many people examine with interest, whereas they will skip over an article about the plight of cats abandoned to the streets through no fault of their own.”

petunia

Homeless cat in Brooklyn (rescued and adopted a few days after this photo was taken)

Nobody knows how many homeless cats there are in NYC, but estimates range from tens of thousands up to a million. Most of them are scared of us, so they keep out of sight, which makes counting them difficult. While people often think of cats as natural loners, they actually tend to form colonies near food sources such as garbage bins near apartment buildings. Some feral moms could very well be teaching their kittens to scrounge your leftovers as you sleep. (I’ve witnessed this, a sight both adorable and sad.)

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African Wild Cat at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa. Photo: Sonelle

These felines are all trying to survive in what, for them, is an unnatural habitat. It’s not just that it’s so urban and industrial, but also that they’re not native to this part of the world. All of the world’s domestic cats are descended from a type of wildcat that lives in the deserts of the Near East. These cats are not designed to live in the NYC climate; those pretty fur coats are not enough protection during the winter, no matter how thick they get.

They need our help, especially as it’s humans’ fault that they’re out there in the first place. This population is made up of of strays, who are lost or abandoned tame pet cats (some of whom have regressed to a not-so-tame state), and ferals, the essentially wild (that is, not socialized to humans) offspring and descendants of non-neutered strays and pets who were allowed to roam. They have neither a consistent and healthy food source, nor shelter from the elements, nor protection from urban dangers such as cars, rat and other poisons, and cruel humans.

NYFeralCatInitiative

New York Feral Cat Initiative logo

Fortunately, there are many (though never enough) animal-lovers all over NYC who work hard to rescue tame, adoptable cats and kittens, and feed and protect the ferals. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters whose joint mission is “to raise awareness about the thousands of… community cats living outdoors throughout NYC’s five boroughs, to offer solutions to prevent the number of homeless cats from increasing, and to successfully manage existing colonies.”

outdoorshelter

Standard outdoor cat winter shelter design by Ashot Karamian

Building shelters that enable these critters to avoid freezing misery or death during inclement weather is part of the last part, managing colonies. (To read about solutions to prevent increases in the number of homeless cats, start here.) Of course, it’s not really necessary to build shelters that are more than just functional. As far as we know, cats aren’t offended by a styrofoam-and-duct-tape aesthetic. Phillips described the minimal structural guidelines as follows: “No heavier than two people can lift easily. Inner space should be no higher than 16 inches to retain the body heat of the cats with room for straw bedding.Waterproof. Constructed with weatherproof construction materials.” He added, “Water is the most destructive force. Snow does not normally damage shelters or enter shelters in comparison to driving rain or flooding.”

rubbershelter

Rubbermaid container cat shelter by by Ashot Karamian (photo by Ashot Karmanian used with permission)

“You could use a basic Rubbermaid container for a cat shelter, which is quite common and perfectly fine because it works,” says architect Sofia Zimmerman, who, along with her husband and business partner, Adam, has participated in Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter three years in a row. “But as designers,”she continues, “we love the idea of someone walking down the street and coming across something that is artful, unusual, or even beautiful. Cat shelters are often found in alleyways, parking lots, and other places where finding something delightful is rare. But here’s a chance to do something nice looking–for the cats, their caregivers, and the people that might catch a glimpse.”

zimmerman

by Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design

“This third one, that we did this year, is perhaps the simplest, but in many ways our favorite. It was all about upcycling. We re-used a cardboard box and sealed it with duct tape. Inside, we lined it with styrofoam that came as packaging material for a lamp. And then we had to add another layer of insulation. This was the chance to do something delightful! We collected nine pairs of old jeans, cut them into long strips, and created a very very long braid. We wrapped it around and around the box, using as inspiration braided rag rugs–the ones you see in storybooks all the time with cats curled up on them!”

She adds that “During that process, we actually learned about the environmental impact associated with creating a pair of jeans….don’t get us started!”

fiberglasspod

“Fiberglass Pod,” by Elham Valipay and Haleh Atabaki, co-founders of MishMish, an example of a structure built with camouflage in mind

Different situations may call for specific architectural strategies. Phillips describes varying and “colony needs,” such as “camouflage; difficult specific dimensions to fit an exact spot; or fitting in visually with the design of a building nearby to please a particular property owner willing but not thrilled to have shelters placed on his property.”

If you want to help feral cats where you live, Phillips says, “Offering of your time to assist a local caretaker in your neighborhood is the best way to contribute to the long-term welfare of a community cat colony. The more widespread the support in a neighborhood the more likely the cats will accepted. Volunteering to feed the colony one or more days a week is a great help, when so often only one or two people shoulder the care for an entire colony.“

Or, if you’re crafty and love the idea of experimenting with small-scale architectural design that will actually be used, here’s your chance to do it, fur real! (sorry…)

vernacular1vernacular2vernacular3

Above three photos: “Feral Vernacular” by deSoto studio architecture + design

All photos copyright Marisa Bowe, unless otherwise indicated.

Design

What To Do When Your Design Isn’t Accepted

February 28, 2014

What To Do When Your Design Isn't Accepted | UncommonGoods

Was your design not accepted by a buyer? Or were you not the winner for an UncommonGoods Design Challenge that you thought was in the bag? Yeah it sucks, but it happens to the best of us. Being rejected is part of growing as a designer. I once heard a story about a salesman who got excited every time he was rejected because he had figured out that for every 9 no’s he would get one yes. So how can you use the no’s as an opportunity to get more yes’s? And how do you know whether to move on and contact different companies rather than pushing your designs to the same seller?  Here are a few tips to use post-rejection to become a better designer.

Don’t take it personally. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to not take anything personally. You really don’t know why they said no unless they tell you.It could be a variety of factors, even that it’s just not the right time, that they have strong relationships with the ties they already carry or they don’t have the budget to pick up a new line. If you lost a competition, it just may have been that there were a lot of entries or similar submissions to yours. This gives you an opportunity to become more individualized in your design and your style!

Do something nice for yourself. Post rejection, it’s really important to keep your energy level up. Go for a walk, buy yourself a treat or do something else that makes you happy and feel good.The key to keeping your energy up and staying on track is to stay positive. Treating yourself well always helps.

Ask for and listen to feedback. You may or may not get the opportunity for feedback, but it’s a great idea to ask for it. Even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, understanding why a buyer said no is a great way to improve your brand. Try to listen to the feedback from an objective manner. Think: “How can I become a better designer?” Remember a no may not be a no forever, but just a no for right now.

Send a thank you note. An unexpected touch for a buyer is to receive a thank you note when they have turned down your line. This is key to staying top of mind even if they didn’t buy. It also opens you up to referrals and creates opportunity for potential down the road.

Keep in touch. Keeping in touch is important! If your assortment changes or something changes in the store assortment, you may have a chance to work together down the road. There is a statistic that it can take up to 7 times before a buyer notices and actually purchases a line. Keep that in mind.

Consider: Am I right for this store? Buyers and curators consider many factors when looking for designers. They are looking at budgets, current product assortments, price points, and their clients as well as many other factors. If they passed on your design, take an honest look at your collection as it is now. Is it really right for this account/store/contest/person? Sometimes, your energy is freed up if you aren’t wasting time barking up the wrong tree. Invest your time on the right types of stores where your dream clients are hanging out and shopping. Rejection isn’t always a bad thing. When you can use the information you receive to improve your line and grow, you are always in the right place.

It’s your turn! We want to hear from you! In the comments below, tell us the following:

1. What have you done in the past when you have been rejected?

2. How have you overcome rejection and turned an awkward situation into an awesome situation?

This post was written by the creators of Flourish & Thrive Academy, Robin Kramer and Tracy Matthews. For specific sales & marketing advice to get your jewelry into the hands of your dream clients, head on over to Flourish & Thrive Academy.

TracyRobin-about

Maker Stories

Sean and Armelle’s Glass Design Wins Upcycling Challenge

February 7, 2014

It can be said that with every creative couple, the ultimate dream is to one day collaborate and use their talents and ideas together to create something pretty special. Sean O’Neill and Armelle Bouchet O’Neill did exactly that with their genuine love of glass making. The O’Neills proudly run Studio Manufact and push themselves to the limits to perfect their craft and to supply well-designed glass products to their community. We received dozens of unique and clever entries for our annual Upcycling Design Challenge, yet it was Sean and Armelle’s Upcycling Glass Tumblers design that caught our eyes. The tumblers are sleek and simple, it’s a product that can be used everyday while still appreciating the actual design itself by not just looking at it, but holding it. Starting to design a new glass collection, the couple decided to scavenge glass bottles from around their neighborhood venues. Sean says, “It is really refreshing to create something unique out of something as ubiquitous as a beer bottle. We have been so encouraged by the positive response from our community that we are really excited to share our design with the wider world.” Meet The O’Neills, our Upcycled Design Challenge Winners.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your hometown?

Sean: I went to four different high schools in three different states.

Armelle: I grew up on a farm in the south of France. An uncommon fact about our neighborhood park is that it was designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of the designer of Central Park. Seattle is covered in parks, over 10% of the city is either a park or open space.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

Your Upcycled Glass Tumblers are an elegant and beautiful design, how did the idea of recycling bottles and to make them into a product come about?

Sean: I have been making a line of glasses I call “crinkle cups” for years, that design lent itself seamlessly to use recycled bottles as the starting point. We are planning to move into a new studio and bring our production capabilities in-house rather than continually handing over large sums of money to rent a studio for the hot glass component of our production. By designing objects that we can create using existing glass we can cut out the glass melting part of the equation. With the reclaimed bottles, we have a consistent supply of materials that would, otherwise, be destined for the waste stream. So it was a progression that came as a result of wanting to make affordable, unique designs that we could produce consistently and be able to offer them to a wider audience.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

How long have you been working with glass?

Sean: I got into glass making in high school in 1997, I moved around quite a bit over the years, but I have found a way to work with glass everywhere I’ve lived since then.

Armelle: I started while I was a student in Art School in 2001 and fell in love with the material. A few years later, I went to school at the Danish Design School to specialize in glass and moved to Seattle in 2009.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?

Armelle: We collect many objects for their texture, form and color that as inspiration for our fine art work and our business, Manufact. Working with materials and and refining processes also inspires us, so the more we work in the studio the more ideas we get. We are also really fortunate to share a space with over a dozen other makers. So being in that proximity to so many other creative people is very inspiring.

studiomanufact_5

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?

Sean: Between making artwork, starting a new business and having a young family I can’t honestly say that downtime is a daily occurrence. But now that we have the wheels turning on so many facets of our life that we are passionate about, the next step is to organize them in such a way that downtime takes some priority.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

How do you recharge your creativity?

Sean: If I feel like I need to recharge I make sure that I disconnect from the internet and look through my photos and sketchbooks where I inevitably find lots of ideas to revisit and explore.

Armelle: Ideally, by going on excursions, observing, and taking pictures. But lately it has been difficult to find the time to go on field trips.

jakestangel1
Other than working with glass, what else do you do?

Sean: As for me, in the midst of pursuing a career as a glassmaker, I started a business designing and building self-watering garden beds, mainly the byproduct of building six of them on the roof of our studio. I am also a technician in the School of Art at the University of Washington.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

IMG_7318

Armelle: We have a two year old little girl, spending time with her after working with glass is our favorite occupation. We also teach, ride our bikes, and garden!

Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works?

Armelle: I’m preparing for two group shows with my artwork, one in Seattle and one in Chicago.

Sean: I’m designing the layout and new equipment in preparation for our move into a new studio!

What are your most essential tools that you must have on your side while you design?

Sean: A camera is an essential tool for me to document and translate a lot of what I see in the world around me.

Armelle: My coffee cup, living in Seattle has made me addicted to coffee!

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

What was the toughest lesson you learned working with glass?

Armelle: That you can’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched, meaning that you can’t get attached to material things that has to endure such extreme and exacting processes because there are so many opportunities for something to go wrong.

Sean: The realization of the occupation that I have chosen as my path in life, working with glass takes a long time to master and it’s very energy intensive. This is one reason why the Upcycled Glass Tumblers are so exciting, with them we have found a way to offer a product that is unique and efficient by using recycled materials.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

What advice would you offer the Sean and Armelle of 5 years ago?

Sean: To trust that if you pursue your passion your efforts will be acknowledged and rewarded. The most important thing is to be true to yourself and if you do that, the rest will begin to fall into place. It seems really easy to focus on the byproducts of success and attempt to attain those rather than aiming for the essence of what makes something work well and creating that for yourself.

Armelle: Do it right the first time! This advice can be applied in so many circumstances and it most often holds true. You must really take care to do things well so as not to waste time fixing them later, that way you have the freedom to move forward.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

Are there any particular artists or similar businesses you look up to?

Armelle: I got my start working in a studio called Glassmedjen Denmark. They have been a model business for me ever since. In addition, there is a Finnish artsit, Anu Penttinen, who I have always looked up to as an example of what is possible if you stay true to an aesthetic and continue growing and pushing forward with your designs. Here in the states I would say I look up to Joe Cariati. He is a talented artist who has also created a successful business making really refined handmade objects.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Upcycling Design Challenge?

Sean: We got pretty giddy and congratulated each other but to be honest, we’re still waiting to celebrate…

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you? 

Armelle: “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” -Confucius

Sean:  “Everybody does better when everybody does better.” I feel a little silly because I saw this quote on a bumper sticker and I’m not sure who actually said it but it really resonates with me. I think that when you thrive, those around you thrive and vice versa. It is also a reminder that you can’t wait around for other people’s success to rub off on you, you have to go out and create it for yourself.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?

Sean: I am trying hard to hone the business side of the equation these days, by spreading the word about our business and getting people excited about it and meanwhile trying to be diligent in our record keeping and the less glamorous side of working for yourself.

Armelle: I am excited about utilizing technology to compliment my handmade process, so I am learning various design programs to translate my ideas and images into the objects I create.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

What are the pros and cons of being business partners and married at the same time?

Sean: We really complement each other by offering a different perspective to one another. It always helps to see something with a fresh set of eyes and that is sort of built in when you work with a partner. We both excel in different areas so we are able to cover a lot more bases than we would working alone. The cons come with the territory of sharing everything… home, business, and studio. Work is always part of our life, it is hard to stop and not think about it once we leave the studio.

Sean & Armelle O'Niell

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work to the next Upcycling Design Challenge?

Sean: Love it! Share it! Offer something you believe in and inspire other people to get behind it.

We are pleased to announce that the Upcycled Glass Tumblers are now available at UncommonGoods.com!

Maker Resources

5 Tips for Writing Better Product Copy

January 16, 2014

5 Tips for writing better product copy by UncommonGoods Copywriter KateWhen I tell people I’m a copywriter, their first question is whether I’m anything like Peggy Olson and if the world of Mad Men is alive and well. I tell them that while I do love a well-made Manhattan and I can see the Chrysler Building from my desk at night, my duties are much more akin to Elaine’s in Seinfeld. I’m given unusual, intriguing products and I describe them.

They usually follow this by pointing to a glass on the table or a decorative vase and saying: describe that! It’s become a very useful party trick. My most unusual on-the-fly copy was a salvage sale typewriter that had been refashioned to sport a doofy monster face in place of his keys. They thought they’d stumped me but I fired back with some metaphor about industrial intrigue and the bygone days of print.

Writing about products, especially products with a story can be challenging. You need to show what sets it apart from other pieces like it, how it will improve the buyer’s wardrobe/décor/daily routine, and sprinkle it with just enough alliteration and pithy dialogue that the reader doesn’t abandon you halfway through.

Whether you’re trying to write about your products for your website or potential vendors, selling the piece without sounding like you’re selling it can be the biggest challenge. Every writer has their process and through many years of trial, error, and woeful puns, I’ve come up with these rules of thumb to create a focused piece of copy that sells your story:

1. Decide who you’re selling it to. You wouldn’t speak to a new parent looking for a pair of baby booties the way you would a person looking for a necklace to give their best friend or a novice cook who needs a new set of chef’s knives before their big anniversary dinner. Once you’ve decided that, you can adjust your tone—be it funny, earnest, or inspirational.

2. Figure out your lead-in. What’s going to capture the attention of your reader? Remind a new parent of the memories their child will make taking their first steps in these handmade booties, highlight the expert hand craftsmanship of the jewelry, and list off some dishes the culinary hopeful will make one day—my go-to dish is always a spicy fra diavolo, only because it’s my favorite thing ever and just referencing it brings me joy.

3. Now that you have their attention, sell it. Just stay away from any infomercial talk. This means blanket promises (“this chef’s knife set will make cooking a breeze!” or “These comfy baby booties will have your little one running to the Olympics in no time!”), and wild comparisons (“this necklace shines the like sun, if the sun were brighter and more beautiful than the Mona Lisa!”)

4. Let the product speak for itself. People love handmade products so tell its story. Describe the materials used, the process, any inspiration that moved you to create this piece. When people buy a handmade gift, it’s because they want something different and out of the ordinary. That way when they’re giving it to a loved one, they can add, “and it was handmade from recycled materials in Nevada!” or “the artist was inspired by a meteor shower!” Give them a sneak peak into your studio or artistic process—it’ll feel like they’re right there at the craft fair or artist showcase, able to touch your product and find its interesting nuances that make it special.

5. Now focus on the reader. How can they incorporate this into their lives? Will it add a fresh pop of color to their living room? Shimmer to their ensemble? Sell the benefit and then get out of there before you make a pun about how that owl statue really gives a hoot about your décor.

So there you have it. It’s not scientific but I went to writing school specifically to avoid science and math. Mission accomplished. Happy writing.

Maker Stories

Natha’s Eight Pointed Star Necklace Shines Bright

January 15, 2014

Natha Perkins

Natha’s Eight Pointed Star Necklace design is obviously beautiful, but I would have to say the message behind it shines a little brighter, just giving me more incentive to add the charming pendant into my very own jewelry box. The message that stands behind the design is all about finding clarity, direction, and seeking one’s path. When wearing it, it should remind you to trust your internal guidance, reassure yourself that you know your own answers and that you, indeed, know exactly where you want to go. As someone who has been bitten pretty hard by the travel bug and tends to live life a bit off the beaten path, I’m in love with the fact that the eight pointed star symbol was the first known compass in the history of humanity. Natha’s necklace is the first winning jewelry design I’ve come across with a resonating message that touches on both my personal hopes and fears. I hope to stay on the (very loopy and sometimes off-the-cliff) path that I’m currently still paving out for myself. I fear losing sight of that direction and hopping onto someone else’s already-made yellow brick road. The Eight Pointed Star Necklace is a pretty reminder to keep going and to never doubt oneself. Meet Natha Perkins, someone who definitely knew how to pave her way into becoming our latest Jewelry Design Challenge Winner.

Natha Perkins

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your jewelry?
I don’t  journal much, or keep a diary, but I have 30 rings that I’ve made through the years for myself.  Each ring has a specific story behind it and each design is totally relevant to something that was happening in my life when I made the ring.  (I’ve been metalsmithing for 13 years, so for those of you counting that’s approx. 2.3 rings a year)

I love that your necklace has a lot of meaning behind it, do you mind explaining it?
I love the symbolism behind this piece!  I wrote a blog post about it here, but in a nutshell, the Eight Pointed Star is an ancient and universal symbol, as well as the first compass in the history of humanity. It guides your way to a new life, giving you clarity of vision to see the future through a lens of hope, healing and beauty. It also bestows nurturing energies. A symbol of optimism, an eight pointed star assures you that unexpected help is coming and serves to help bring about a renewal of good fortune in the material world. Like with any of our pieces, wearing  this piece will help bring you clarity simply by providing you with a reminder that you are indeed supported.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
We did a lot of jumping up and down and screaming!

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
The studio itself is full of tools and stones and lots of different working areas but we have the most beautiful garden just outside with grape vines and a gurgling rock fountain and roses.  We’re also basically at the foot of a great big gorgeous mountain (Boulder is surrounded to the West entirely by mountains) so when we walk out of the studio, we’re surrounded by all of this natural beauty.  We can walk 2 blocks and hit a hiking trail that weaves its way up to an amazing vista of the cities of Boulder and Denver.  It really is heavenly and I feel very lucky. studio gardensWhere do you go/ what do you do to find inspiration when you find yourself in a creative rut?
This might sound strange, but when I’m not feeling creative, I go to see my acupuncturist.  In Chinese medicine, blocked creativity means some sort of imbalance in the qi and yin department.  If I’m feeling blah or feeling uninspired, I figure I need a body tune up.  (Did I mention I live in Boulder?  We’re kind of alternative here.)

If you have a great idea for a design and want to pursue it, what’s your first step?
When I was in art school, our professor required us to have 40 sketches of a single design before we could finalize our idea and start on a piece.  Thank God I’m not designing my pieces in art school any more!  I honestly just dive in.  I have an idea, I gather the metal, the tracing paper, some saw blades and I get going.  This has led to many an end result that was really different from the original idea but like any medium, the materials co-create with the artist and it’s fun to see what comes through. Natha PerkinsOther than being an artist, what else do you do?
I’m a mama, I’m a life and entrepreneurial business coach, I teach art and jewelry classes.  I went and got certified to coach because I wanted to teach people how to make intentional art.  Art is such a beautiful way to get in touch with who you are on a deep level.  Talk therapy is great but its heady.  We all have our old stories that we tell over and over and it’s hard to see past them to the truth.  Art and intentional making incorporates head, heart and hand and opens you up to new types of insights and understanding about yourself and your process.  I feel really called to help guide people to this place.

When (and how) did you realize you wanted to be a jewelry designer?
When I was 20, I searched high and low for  a juicy red, heart shaped ring and I couldn’t find what I was looking for anywhere.  I don’t know why, but I felt such a  longing for this red heart shaped ring.  I dreamed about it.  Fast forward 2 years and I took a small class in a strange warehouse next to a strip club (which isn’t relevant to the story at all but it’s an interesting fact nonetheless).  The teacher was this eccentric man who  taught me the basics of metalsmithing.  I was hooked in the first class because I realized that I could actually make my heart ring.  It  took me 5 years to get good enough to make my ring but I still treasure it because it was the inspiration that started my jewelry career before I even understood it to be that. Natha PerkinsDo you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that are floating around in your brain right now?
I’m actually knee deep in a handful of  projects right now that I’m really excited about.  Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been coaching and working on some art classes that involve intentional making.  Myself and two other women; a life coach and a photographer, are formulating a curriculum that we’re planning to take into local high schools.  The idea involves working with young women and teaching them empowerment tools through a combination of intentional making, student led photo documentation and teaching of emotional skills.  I’m also working to develop some cool art classes to offer to the participants of  The Boulder Tattoo Project, a large scale community art project involving a”love poem” to the city of Boulder and 200+ residents (including me) who got bits and pieces of the poem tattooed on their bodies.  My friend Chelsea (who spearheaded BTP) and I are collaborating on the classes and they will include making art that centers around the actual words that each person chose to get inked with.   Everyone involved chose words that were particularly meaningful to them in some way and we want to offer a venue for them to explore that on a deeper level. teachingWhat are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design? 
I do most of my designing in my head, usually when I’m walking in nature, alone.  I come up with a word or a line from a poem or song and the piece takes shape around that.  I also love to design using stones and stone colors.  I will go through my 15 or so boxes of stones just pulling out shapes and colors, just to see how the colors play against each other.  I’m fascinated with color play and color theory and it shows up often in  my pieces.

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
Funny you should use that word productive.  It’s  been on my mind a lot lately because I realized that I have this uncomfortable tendency to feel unproductive if I’m just relaxing.  So to answer your question:  I practice yoga 4 times a week, I walk the dogs, I read lots of articles and books, I cook food for my kids.  All of which sound suspiciously productive, don’t they? Natha PerkinsWhat was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
I hired a press company that cost an absolute fortune.  They promised me more than they were actually able to deliver and they kept about $5,000 in samples too (that were supposed to be be returned).  But I had my part in it as well;  I wasn’t prepared for the experience.   I didn’t have  the fundamentals in place, like line sheets and tight production collections.  Knowing what I know now about editorial coverage, media, wholesale, retail and business in general, I see clearly that my approach was doomed to failure.  I was trying to build a mansion on a slippery foundation.  It was a disaster but I learned so much, I would never make those same mistakes again!  Today in fact, I’m a much stronger and more savvy business woman which is a very different skill set than ‘artist’ but a necessity when you’re trying to sell art. piles of SpellBound RingsWhat advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
You create your own reality.  If you can’t learn to relax, the world will meet you with un-relaxing situations.  If you don’t appreciate the things you do and create, the people around you won’t be able to either.  If you’re constantly trying to control the world, you will will exhaust yourself trying to make the impossible possible.  Everything is perfect.  You are loved.  You are amazing and strong and more powerful than you will ever know. (Okay, I’m getting teary now, but it’s all true.  Again, the old stories that we tell ourselves about not being good enough, smart enough, not being enough…such lies.  But I’m getting it now, I’m seeing the truth.)
Natha Perkins
Which artists do you look up to?
I’ll say this: I look up to anyone who has the courage to make their art, to express themselves in that way and to put themselves out there.  Our art, our creations; no matter the medium, comes from the depths of our individual souls and anyone who has the courage to show up like that, to lay themselves open to the appraisal and opinions of others has my respect. Natha Perkins

What does it mean to you being a design challenge winner?
I’m thrilled to be the winner of this challenge!  My studio assistant Whitney and I had so much fun working on our newest collection Divine ~ Align.  We put so much thought into the symbolism and meaning of each piece. So to be recognized in such a prestigious way for one of the pieces in the collection is a huge honor.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“You set the standard for how you are treated.  People will treat you the same way that you treat yourself.”  It’s lovely and it’s true.  I’m not sure where I found this quote but I came across it during my certification program with The Secret to Life Coaching Company  (with whom I got certified) and I’ve learned to see the world through a new lens.  We really are responsible for everything in our lives, we create everything, which is actually a really empowering notion. quoteWhat are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Management tools!  I adore metalsmithing and my business Luscious Metals.   I love to create art but I’m transitioning my business into something that’s bigger than just me and my personal skills.  My amazing studio assistant, Whitney, is ready and willing to take on more responsibility and wants to help me grow the business and this is just the beginning. I know that in order for this to work out, I need to transition from artist and designer to manager and  leader.  I’m ready and excited to see where we go next! Natha PerkinsWhat advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work into our Jewelry Design Challenge?
Some of the best business advice I’ve ever gotten was from a book called The Science of Getting Rich, by Wallace D. Wattles (great book!). “Act now.  There is never any time but now and there will never be any time but now.  If you are ever to begin to make ready for the reception of what you want, you must begin now.”  In other words, make sure your ducks are in a row (good product, great pictures etc.) and then GO FOR IT!  You can’t win if you don’t enter right?

Find Natha and her business Luscious Metals on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Meghan Ellie Smith

December 13, 2013

Meghan Ellie Smith

Clutter Castle is what Meghan calls her eccentric home studio, tucked away in the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn. When I saw the odd, yet beautiful, string installation hanging from the ceiling, a collection of wooden instruments displayed on the wall, and a creepy plastic hand sitting on its own mini mantel, I fully understood how the Clutter Castle earned the honor of its name. But it’s funny, although I was like a kid in a candy shop in her vintage oasis — oohing and ahhing at every corner, I didn’t find it overwhelmingly chaotic. I felt as if the odds and ends of all the clutter were actually masterfully organized to push the use of imagination and a creative atmosphere. Which made perfect sense, because those were my exact thoughts about Meghan’s winning art piece, Chaos Mountain. The bright and earthy colors bleed into one another with no particular pattern, yet the shaped splices are meticulously placed. I love it. Perhaps the juxtaposition between the crashing watercolors and structured mountain reminds me a little of myself: a bit messy, a bit random, a bit chaotic, but in the end of the day, I know what I want to do and exactly where I want to go. “Not all who wander are lost,” a favorite quote by many free spirited individuals, resonates within the illustration of Chaos Mountain. Meghan Ellie Smith,a true free spirit herself, is not only the Queen of Clutter Castle, but officially wears the crown of our latest Art Contest. 

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