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Maker Resources

How to Write Your Artist Bio

February 10, 2014

How to Write Your Artist Bio | UncommonGoodsWhen I was first asked to write a blog post about writing about yourself, I got really excited because, like any 20 something year old girl who majored in writing, I’m pretty well versed in writing about myself/thinly veiling mortifying moments from my adolescence and calling it fiction.

Thankfully, the kind of bio-writing we’ll be discussing doesn’t require you to reveal that you wore braces to your senior prom. It has a lot more to do with selling yourself to potential vendors, sites that sell your goods, and customers who want to know all about you. Much less awkward for all of us.

You really are an extension of the product you’re asking people to buy or sell. When it comes to unique, handmade goods, people love being able to put a face with their new gift. People want to know:

  • where you’re from
  • what you do
  • how you got in to what you do
  • what inspires you to do that thing that you do
  • your plans for continuing to do these things in the future

In addition to being an excellent checklist, this is also a good order to put them in.

You don’t have to start with the fact that you were born in a barn on a balmy Tuesday morning under a double Pisces moon. However, the fact that you grew up in the country could say a lot about your influences. Can you remember any early inklings that you could become an artist? Who were your inspirations?

Now that we have the early stuff covered, how did you start your life as an artist? Did you start of with a 9-5 and then gradually turn your craft into a full time business? Did you start working with a local collective? How have you seen your style change throughout the years? What was a favorite project of yours?

If you want some extra personality, a short and sweet anecdote can complete your written image. When writing my own bios, the quirky facts that come to my mind are 1. I’m very scared of goats. And 2. I was the girl who wore braces to prom. These facts might not have anything to do with my craft, but it does give a little insight into the type of person I am–something a customer would be able to garner if they were able to talk to you at a craft fair or chat with you at the register.

Whatever you do decide to highlight, just remember to keep it relatively short–epic tales of heroism and metaphors on life are best suited for your memoirs (and preferably written from a small cabin in the woods, Thoreau-style.)

With these basic guidelines, you’ll be able to create a friendly, readable bio that will give your creations a more personal edge. Happy writing!

Here are some of our favorite artist bios:

Etta Kostick

Etta is compelled by glass in its many different forms and applications. She grew up in the woods and by the seashore in Massachusetts, in a family of glassblowers. After moving to Chicago in 2007 she started experimenting with stained glass, attracted to the many colors, textures, and its relationship to light.
Over the years Etta’s fascination with glass has grown and has lead her to pursue and experiment with different methods of manipulating glass. Torch fired enameling, fusing, and incorporating intricate solder work are some of the techniques that Etta uses. She loves the transformative properties that occur when integrating these materials and techniques into her glass work.

Etta’s love of jewelry was initially inspired by tribal jewelry and adornments she had collected from South Asia. Strong shapes and the feeling of empowerment they give to the wearer are elements that inspire her. Her jewelry incorporates bold designs as well as more delicate and organic elements that emulates things she sees in nature. Etta is constantly exploring and developing new visions for her work in glass and jewelry.

Dolan Geiman

Dolan Geiman is a nationally recognized mixed media artist known for his Contemporary Art with a Southern Accent. Born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Dolan Geiman’s formative years were defined by outdoor adventures in his bucolic surroundings. Twenty-plus years later, the flora and fauna, found curiosities, and fading Appalachian culture still define Geiman’s contemporary-folk creations. Trained in printmaking and sculpture, Geiman’s mediums span painting, collage, silk screen, drawing, and 3-D assemblage. An advocate for green design and sustainable business, Geiman and his wife Ali Marie currently work from a green warehouse in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.

Fred Conlon

Raised in Colorado, Fred Conlon lives now in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he makes garden sculptures out of recovered objects. For his helmet sculptures, he uses real recovered World War II helmets. “It is very satisfying to transform something once used in war into a peaceful garden decoration,” he says. His work has been featured in Niche Magazine, the Salt Lake Tribune and HGTV. What would he be if he weren’t an artist? “Happy…just kidding!” he answers. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

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

Rachel’s Celestial Bracelet Takes the Win!

December 11, 2013

Rachel is one of my favorite artist stories to boast about when the topic of ongoing Jewelry Design Challenges arises. She’s the perfect example of the saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Cliché? Most definitely. Overused? Perhaps. True? Without a doubt. Rachel first submitted her original Celestial Bracelet with a bit of a twist, she had her favorite quote etched onto the bracelet with diamonds embedded on top. We were fond of the piece and our jewelry buyers were impressed by the bracelet alone, but didn’t think that the embellishments would speak to our customers. They preferred a clean look that just focused on the unusual shape–inspired by celestial bodies orbiting planets–and design of the bangle. I reached out to Rachel to let her know exactly why that month she wasn’t a finalist, and wasn’t so sure if I would hear from her again. The next month, as I was checking all the jewelry submissions, I recognized Rachel’s familiar bracelet–but this time with our tips taken into consideration. The judges were surprised to see the beautiful, enhanced design again, and fell in love with the sleek yet unconventional bangle. Meet Rachel Vanatta, our latest jewelry design winner and an artist who wasn’t scared to develop her vision with ours.


Rachel Vanatta

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
I consider my hometown to be Chagrin Falls, Ohio. But since relocating to Savannah, GA at 18 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, I have considered Savannah very dear to me.  The longest portion of my career was experienced on a small 7 mile Gulf Coast island called Anna Maria Island, from 2003 to 2012.  This is where the Nectar Jewelry line was inspired and birthed. Towards the end of 2012 we relocated to Atlanta, GA.  Atlanta is new-ish to me but so far the friends and people I have met have been nothing but wonderful. An Uncommon Fact: I actually attended SCAD specifically for jewelry design, I was always interested in the craft and fine art, and SCAD’s jewelry programs are a perfect mix of both. I knew from age 16 on that the jewelry profession was the one I needed to be in.

Rachel Vanatta

Your bracelet is one of the most unique bangles we’ve seen come through at UncommonGoods, how did you come up with this specific design?
I am inspired by celestial and natural shapes, designs focused on forms that are present on a day-to-day basis, but that we may overlook without small reminders.  I aim to remind the wearers of my jewelry to pay homage to natural phenomenon.  Many take these wonders for granted in our everyday lives, but when reminded of, realize what a gift every being and object can truly be. The celestial bracelet’s shape is reminiscent of a planet’s orbiting moons and rings.  The construction of the piece itself also offers a great surface area to express additional designs, quotes, stones, and patina.

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Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have kept and added to inspirational sketchbooks and scrapbooks for about 15 years, and refer to these regularly.  I was sparked to do this by a past professor of mine.  Through some group discussion, I was shared that I had too many ideas all at once, and could not fathom creating them all.  She responded that I should always record every idea and design in these sketchbooks, because there will be a time in the future where I will be searching ideas and inspiration and these books will be my solutions and a look into my past. On a day-to-day basis, I also love to use Pinterest boards, attend American Craft Council and judged craft shows, and art museums.  Any promotional or inspirational ads/cards/artwork I come across I either save or post on my studio walls.

Rachel Vanatta

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
I have very little down time, as I am mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Cozette, who is my number one priority, of course.  We have so much fun together, but my downtime is when she naps, is in preschool or asleep at night. This is when I work on my craft.  I love what I do so down time for me is equivalent to designing and creating jewelry.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
I was at the park with my daughter when I received the call, excitedly I gave her a big hug!  I then proceeded to call select family and friends, and celebrated with my husband over a dinner he made later that night.

Rachel Vanatta

How do you recharge your creativity?
Though it may sound cliché, I am ever interested in the human condition and what we all have in common.  I would love to create a series at some point focused on a specific aspect related to this subject with the creation of conceptual jewelry pieces.  As for now, I mainly listen to Ted Talks and listen/watch documentary pieces relating to people in their environment and their specific situations.

Other than being an artist, what are your other passions in life?
Becoming a mother has been such an amazing experience, and now that our daughter is a toddler, it has been wonderful meeting other families with children the same age, watching our kids play, interact, and learn from each other, while enjoying “parent/adult” time as well!  My husband is also an artist in illustration and graphic arts, so we have a lot in common as far as what we enjoy doing together.  He and I met in Savannah, GA our freshman year at art school and have been together ever since. In addition, I have a love of animals, most recently horses and riding.  I grew up riding English and have recently reignited my passion for it by introducing my daughter to horses, which she has taken on whole-heartedly.

Rachel Vanatta

Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
I do have one particular project which have been gradually working on and designing, and hope to “unveil” it this upcoming year!

What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
 My bench, where I execute most all designing and work, contain all the tools, torches, etc that I use regularly. Ironic it is mentioned; I must have my water bottles nearby…yes multiple bottles of water, and depending on the time of day, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  As I mentioned before, having a thought provoking discussion or inspirational talk to listen to is ideal as well.  Having my dog Holly decide to lay at my feet while I work is extra special, and on a nice day, the windows open for fresh air.

Rachel Vanatta

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
Contracts come and go, sometimes the work rolls in and other times it doesn’t.  As difficult as it may be during the slower times, a positive attitude and embracing the “personal time” to recreate yourself, your work, and finally finish those pieces you have been meaning to are priceless. Take the days as they come, the busy and the quiet, for there is something to be gained from both.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Let go and let God.”
Rachel Vanatta

Which artists do you look up to? 
Todd Reed’s work is inspirational to me, his choice and use of materials, and the way he joins traditional and contemporary stone settings.  In addition, he is self-taught, which is motivational for me to learn new techniques on my own.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
In hindsight, I would advise myself to reach out for the purpose of bettering yourself and building relationships, but also for the reasoning that you never know where it will take you.  There is nothing to lose by opening yourself up in a fun and professional way.

Rachel Vanatta

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I would love to become more proficient in particular stone settings as they would add to my current designs.  I would also love to learn more about grading diamonds and colored gems by attending GIA courses.  I have some knowledge of CAD, and would also like to further my education in computer aided rendering and 3-D printing.

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work to our Jewelry Design Challenge?
I recommend that any contestants state that they are open to critiques and suggestions on their designs, if they truly are.  UncommonGoods has been a complete pleasure to work with, and they know their customer and what they want, so be open and enjoy the feedback!

Maker Stories

Sarah’s “Deer Boy” Charmed Its Way To the Top

November 13, 2013

 7.1“I love Deer Boy. I want to hang him on my wall and pretend he is my boyfriend.” commented one of Sarah Constantino’s many admirers during the September Art Contest. This comment literally made me laugh out loud, partly because it was unexpected and partly because it was pretty much my feeling exactly. At first glance, Deer Boy is simply a bright and whimsical piece to hang in your bedroom for fun wall art decor. But when you take a second look, it starts to play with your eyes and you notice charming details that you perhaps didn’t notice at first: the double lips and ties, the wood-like back drop, the garland caught on his antlers. It’s one of those feel good pieces you could place anywhere in your household for that cozy touch. From her prints to her porcelain to her typography, Sarah’s overall work channels a child-like spirit that us adults sometimes forget we still have. Meet Sarah Constantino, our lastest Art Contest winner who fell in love with her husband through Twitter and mapped out her career choices while drawing unicorns  in her kindergarten class.

Deer Boy

What’s an uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
An uncommon fact about me… I fell in love with my husband in 140 characters on Twitter. (Okay, it took a bit more than that.) We met on Twitter, became friends, and after only meeting in real life for two weeks I decided to pick up my Iowa roots and move down to Florida. It was the craziest/best decision I’ve ever made. It’s been 3 years since I moved and I love my new hometown. An uncommon fact about Cape Coral that I found interesting is that this Gulf Coast city contains more canals than Venice, Italy!

Deer Boy is charming and playful. How did the idea of this design come about?
My husband and I had some holiday parties to attend. I kept noticing that the “wallflowers” of each party were the most interesting people to talk to at each event. As the night progressed things became a bit more surreal as well. I felt inspired when we got back home and I decided to break out the acrylics and paint. Deer Boy and Deer Girl were the end results. I normally don’t paint people, so this was an unusual subject for me.

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
I started drawing unicorns in kindergarten and I remember thinking that it was the only thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My goals have changed a bit since then, but the drive to create something every day is a strong one for me. I am a self-taught artist and have been able to make a living off drawing, painting, and creating art since I was 18. I used to design for an American craft furniture company and after about 10 years of that, and a lot of growing up,  I knew that I had it in me to go off on my own. Now I get to create whatever I feel like using whatever medium I want. Every. Single. Day. It fulfills that constant desire I have to make, make, make!

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Art Contest?
I jumped up and down for awhile. And then I went back to painting. Anyone that knows me personally knows I work a lot. I plan on celebrating later this month with some interesting cocktails and good friends.
Sarah Constantino

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have an inspiration board where I keep a lot of my favorite things (cards from family and friends, a photo of my mom as a little girl, artwork from other artists, color palettes, silly mementos) basically anything that recharges me and makes my eyeballs happy. I also love being able to look out the window and see the sunny Florida surroundings and the activity on the lake behind our house. So many birds! And sometimes a gator or two.

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What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
  Coffee. Very, very strong coffee. Paint, markers, pencils, and a giant eraser.
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Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
Well, to be honest, right now there isn’t a ton of down time. I’m busy with holiday orders from my Etsy shop and need to stay focused to get my creations out the door. It’s my favorite time of the year! When things are slower I like to wake up early and walk around the neighborhood. I take a break here and there to pet my two weirdo cats that keep me company during the day.
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What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft? 
I’m working on hand illustrated typography. I just keep writing out words and phrases and finding a letter shape to express the full meaning of each word. I have several empty notebooks that are now filled with these scribbles.

How do you recharge your creativity?
While I’m creating I like to listen to podcasts, burn through a TV series on Netflix, or listen to books on tape. I go through obsessive stages with my entertainment. Right now I’m really into a few different books on the history of Ancient Rome, Russia, and Genghis Khan. A few months back it was every Game of Thrones book I could get my hands on. Give me a series in sci-fi, history, or fantasy and I am a happy camper.
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Other than being an artist, what else do you do? 
I started my own business called SEWZINSKI and have been lucky enough to stay busy and productive with that. It’s my full-time everything. It started with embroidered wallets that were completely sewn and stitched by hand. It’s evolved into hand painted ceramics and upcycled home decor. It will change into something else in the future as well. Experimentation is how I learn best and  there’s still so many things I’d like to try.
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Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
Yes. They are secrets. It’s always good to have secret projects.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance artist?
Not everyone will like you or your art. Some might like both. Some might like one or the other. It sounds simple, but building a tough skin and taking criticisim about your work can be difficult. It can also be hard to separate yourself from your work. Both those things are important and are still daily struggles for me.
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What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Hey Sarah of 2008, it’s okay to take that risk and go off on your own. Stop being so scared of failure. It keeps you from succeeding!

Which artists do you look up to?
Andy Warhol was one of the first artists I really remember relating to when I was younger. I will always be in love with him. Right now I am really inspired by Ashley Goldberg’s art and career path. I’ve been following her work for awhile and I’d like to develop that beautiful  relationship with color and space she seems to have with my own style of work.
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What are your top three sites you think are essential for an artist to bookmark? 
The Jealous Curator
, My Modern Met, and Brain Pickings.

What quote keeps you motivated?
 “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.” -Andy Warhol The more art I create, the better artist I become. If I get too caught up in people’s opinions, or the details in the piece not being perfect, I could lose the chance to create something new with the time I’ve wasted worrying. Keep making, keep moving forward. It’s a great way to finely tune the skills needed and attain new skills to perfect through proliferation.

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What advice can you offer anyone who are submitting their work to our Ongoing Art Contest?
Go for it. I submitted a piece that is a different subject from the bright colors and crazy animals and folk art that I normally paint. Take a chance and you could discover a whole new direction to take your work.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Janelle Haskin

November 8, 2013

Janelle Haskin Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Living and working in the social media world, you make a lot of friends you never meet. You share Tweets, Pins, and like each other’s Instagrams, but your paths usually don’t cross for many reasons. Janelle was one of those friends of mine. I connected with her a couple years ago and let her know when we were hosting out Winter Accessories Design Challenge hoping she could share the opportunity with her crocheting friends and perhaps enter herself. As the fates (and our design panel judges) had it, she was destined to win the contest so we could finally meet (among many other great perks of winning a design challenge!).

Stepping into her home was not like stepping into a typical studio tour. I was greeted with brunch and mimosas – it felt more like a play date. An hour later I found myself on the floor of her spare bedroom where she stores her supplies and designs, playing with yarn, hooks, and a ukulele (of all things) and I thought I was going to have to call my mom to see if I could stay longer.

Janelle and I speak the same language – she too was taught to knit and crochet by her grandmothers and spends her evenings with a project on the sofa. Never wanting to have idle hands, she has come up with some beautiful designs to keep her fingers busy, one of which won over the judges of our design challenge. Meet Janelle and welcome to her Philadelphia home – a veritable crocheter’s paradise.

Janelle Haskin Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora

October 18, 2013

Nikhil and Alejandro of Back to the Roots | UncommonGoodsWe call ourselves “uncommon” and pride ourselves on the uniqueness of our products, artists, and customers, and this month I wanted to feature a studio tour that was uncommon compared to its peers. Nikhil and Alejandro are two entrepreneurs who discovered while studying together at UC Berkeley that delicious oyster mushrooms are easily grown from discarded coffee grounds. Deciding not to keep that secret for too long, they created their first design to bring their brand of recycling to homes, offices, and classrooms across the country. When they launched their second product a couple months ago, a symbiotic ecosystem housed in a fish tank, it became clear that they sat at the intersection where science meets creative design.

Knowing that Alejandro and Nikhil were not the typical UncommonGoods designers, I wanted to take a closer look at their team dynamic and work space to see how they work. And although their products are not our typical handmade wares, I find them to be a strong representation of the hard work and creativity that these two friends share. Meet Alejandro and Nikhil, truly uncommon designers.

Back to the Roots studio tour | UncommonGoods

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Maker Stories

Thomas Both & The Art of Tableless Dining

October 14, 2013

Thomas BothMix and mingling at cocktail parties, couch lounging on movie night, and eating Sunday breakfast in bed just got a whole lot easier with Thomas Both’s Ooma Bowl design. “It struck me that all the plateware we use is designed for tables, yet often we eat without a table.  So my point of view was to design something that is suited for eating without one, and to do it in an elegant way.”

Thomas earned his BS in Engineering at Harvey Mudd College and shortly after worked as a mechanical engineer for three years.  Yet as a person who was a bit more right-minded, Thomas recognized that he held a creative heart, and wanted to finally wear it on his sleeve. He was admitted to Design School at Stanford University, which paved his way to teaching innovative designs at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. “Now, I work much more as a designer than an engineer, but both play a part.”

Thomas BothObserving small living spaces was how Thomas’ inspiration behind the Ooma Bowl came about. After speaking to people living in small apartments he was inspired by the idea of tableless dining. Thomas realized that most non-table plateware lacked a level of elegance, such as bad TV dinner trays or strange party plates. Soon, he turned these discussions and observations into a real life design solution.

oomabowl hospitalThomas believes that a strong perspective helps design a unique product.  He didn’t want to just make a cool looking bowl; he wanted the design to be tied in with a direct purpose. In the early stages of designing the bowl, a friend of Thomas’ broke his leg and was stuck in the hospital for a quite a while. Because the Ooma Bowl was “a bowl that’s designed to be held” without the use of a table, Thomas took this opportunity to have his bedridden friend become one of his first experimental guinea pigs. “I called him up. While everyone else was checking if he was okay and visiting him, I asked him if he’d test out my prototypes. He liked the feeling of being locked into the bowl, not holding it but the bowl holding you.”

Thomas brought his designs to the next level of actual production. At first, he had no experience with ceramics. “Except maybe in grade school messing around with clay. It was a dining design project that just so happened to end up in a ceramic piece.” He had to learn about slip casting, working with clay, glazing, and firing all at once. After rough prototype after rough prototype, including failed plastic forming attempts, Thomas finally made the first buck out of REN shape into two pieces. “One side on a lathe, and the other just sort of by eye and feel.” He then glued the sides’ backs together and made adjustments. The next iteration he worked on was stacking and getting a nice feel in the hand, which was much more work than he ever anticipated.

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thomasboth3Once the design was perfected into its brilliant form, Thomas found a manufacturer in Los Angeles, but just as it was a difficult process to design the perfect bowl, it was probably an even more nerve racking time to manage the products. “Selling and managing production, storage, sales, and shipping is a lot of work. I had way too many boxes in our living room for a long time. That part wasn’t so much fun for me; it was more of an on-going nuisance.”

Yet, after only a short hiatus, Thomas is proud to see that the Ooma Bowl sought its way back out into the world, licensed, and it’s now an exclusive item on the UncommonGoods site. Sarah Stenseng, our Senior Product Development Associate who attended Stanford with Thomas, worked with him to get the Ooma Bowls back into production. Thomas says, “The Ooma bowl would probably still be sitting on the sidelines if it wasn’t for UncommonGoods.”

thomasboth4 Thomas’ advice for designers who are producing a product from just a simple idea is to “get engaged and excited about how people do things and how they think within a certain domain , and pay attention.  Opportunities will emerge.  Then you have to try things.  Make stuff.  It can be crappy, you’re just working on the concept. Work your way to a product idea that you’re excited about and other people love.  Then you can bring more refinement to it and move toward manufacturing.”

Thomas Both

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