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Designer

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Ana Talukder

April 7, 2014

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsHere at UncommonGoods, we work with amazing vendors who constantly wow us with their creativity, artistry, and love of their craft. We don’t always get to meet the artists with whom we work; often relationships are forged through email and over the phone. Recently I was lucky enough to travel from our Brooklyn headquarters to Seattle to visit the studio of Ana Talukder , the super talented designer behind our beloved Latitude/Longitude jewelry collection.

Arriving at the studio, I was greeted with a big hug by Ana, and was immediately charmed by her bubbly and vivacious presence. I could not wait to see her studio and it was just as I imagined from hearing her description of it over the phone–a spacious and bright room with walls awash in her favorite color: purple. Her studio is a happy place, with touches of her personality everywhere–a purple peg board with small metal buckets to keep her organized, a board of inspirational quotes, and my personal favorite: an indoor window box of pansies (in purple of course!).

Ana and I looked at her new designs and talked about her process. I was wowed by how prolific she is, and how many new ideas she is constantly hatching. It was a great afternoon together and time flew by! Meet Ana and welcome to her colorful and inspirational world!

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat are your most essential tools?
Get ready for the cheese alert: A positive attitude!!! Oh, and coffee, which helps with the positive attitude.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
People that you know and love are going to look at you like you sit around your kitchen table stringing beads all day. Until they see you in a magazine (or 10 all at once – that’ll shut them up real fast).

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Don’t ever, ever, ever underestimate yourself (and don’t whine).

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m really goal-oriented. I like to make lists and to check stuff off lists and feel all accomplished by doing so.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
There are a lot of “happy dance-offs” in the studio. When we’ve met an impossible deadline, created a prototype that we’re in love with, or met a desired revenue goal… there is going to be a dance off. And we eat a lot of victory pho.

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat quote keeps you motivated?
You always have to be looking to be better, you always have to be working at being better, and you always have to put all your heart in it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m working on a new collection that goes back to my first love: quotes. Jewelry with quotes on it has been done several different ways, so I’m working on coming up with some fresh ways to present text–which is requiring me to really move out of my comfort zone and explore new mediums and techniques. I learn best by doing and experimenting, so I’m just gathering materials, drawing a ton of sketches, and creating as much as possible.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I get the heck out of the studio. Far, far away from it. When I’m in a creative slump, I don’t go into the studio for a few days and after just a bit of time, I really, really need to get back in so I can create again.

Nyna, Ana's Production ManagerWhere does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I used to not collaborate, or even discuss my ideas with anyone. My very first employee, my production manager, Nyna, has been the GREATEST sounding board ever. It’s amazing how much more creative I can be with her added creative energy.

I also have two pretty amazing kids (11 & 8) who come into the studio with all sorts of opinions and suggestions–mostly opinions–and I’m married to an entrepreneur, as well, who always has great (and blunt) business advice and is probably my biggest cheerleader, so that helps a ton!

Katara the Studio CatKatara the Studio Cat

Ana Talukder Collection | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Ricky Giacco’s Eco-Conscious Concrete Creations

April 4, 2014

An avid container gardener and all-around horticulture-lover, Ricky Giacco founded NativeCast in 2010 to create and sell his handcrafted concrete “functional sculpture” while following environmentally responsible business practices. His “green concrete” is amazingly light, yet strong, and made mostly of recycled materials.

Ricky Giacco | UncommonGoods

Giacco’s uniquely creative planters come from an illustrious family tree. The Roman Colosseum, the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, and this adorable Cupcake Planter are all made of concrete, the most widely-used building material in the world.

DIY Cupcake Planter

The production of concrete uses much less energy than other building materials, such as steel, aluminum, glass and wood. But it’s not carbon-neutral, and we Earthlings use 19 billion tons of it a year. That adds up. In fact, about 7 percent of human carbon emissions comes from concrete manufacture. So at UncommonGoods, we’re big fans of Ricky’s innovative, ecologically sound concrete, which he makes from scratch in Chadds Ford, PA.

The Mix | UncommonGoods
You could call Giacco a concrete mixologist. He concocts new recipes using ingredients native to his region. But unless you enjoy the taste of seashells, pine cones, and crushed, reclaimed roadway rock, you won’t want to drink these cocktails. Your plants will love drinking from them, though; concrete makes a great planting environment. Because it’s porous, it allows air and moisture to move into plants’ root structure; and it maintains a more stable soil temperature throughout the year, compared to plastic or metals.

NativeCast is a family affair: Giacco is its creative head, his father handles most of the business end, his wife works on trade shows, his mother works in the production studio once a week, and Giacco says each member of his “rather large” family “helps out in one way or another.”

We wanted to know more about every aspect of his business, and he graciously allowed us to indulge our curiosity.

Ricky's Studio

You “design” not only your objects, but the material they’re made of. Does that give you a special satisfaction?
Designing the material I work with is very cool, and I am happy with the results I am getting. There is satisfaction in knowing that my customers also enjoy what I’m doing. I do know the material’s limitations, so as I look to design new pieces and expand the business, I am exploring some new material ideas.

The most important breakthroughs have been in the mixing process. We have successfully replaced the typical heavy aggregates with lighter and more eco-friendly options while maintaining a good strength. This process is much easier said than done.

Ricky's workbench

Gun

Tell us a bit about the process of making your concrete.
Our green concrete is made by hand and is a fairly complicated process to mix. It is made of Portland cement, sand, lime, recycled concrete, post consumer plastic, shells and pine mulch. The ingredients are always the same, but the ratios tend to vary. This is due to a number of different factors; the biggest ones are air temperature and the technique being used to craft the pieces. We use different application processes depending on the individual product. This forces us to hand mix many small batches of concrete.

Is it a form of hypertufa?
It is not exactly hypertufa, but the concept of modifying the concrete mix for planters is the same.

Where and how do you get the recycled material you use? Is it pre-crushed? Do you treat it? Does it affect the color of the stone?
Our recycled content is all locally sourced. The reclaimed concrete is cleaned and crushed into very small pieces so we can properly incorporate into our mix. We do not treat the recycled content any further. The recycled content does not affect the color of the stone. It acts as filler so it is really contained within the concrete walls.

What factors come into play when making these decisions about materials and their suitability for a given piece?
The things I am trying to do with any given piece are fairly straightforward. The first is to make the container as strong as possible while using the smallest amount of concrete material. Then I look for the most efficient way to apply the concrete. And the last part is mostly using the best concrete mix to achieve the surface texture for the container. This process does take a bit of experimentation to get production rolling.

Ricky Giacco

MaterialsDo you actually hand cast every piece yourself? How do you do it quickly enough to fill the demand?
I do cast every piece myself and it is time consuming. I have the experience which allows me to move fast, but efficiency really comes down to making good molds and have a quick system to fill each one.

Your family helps a lot; that sounds lovely… depending! Do they all have a lot of these planters and other items in their homes?
Yes my family helps quite a bit and yes they all have planters in their homes. This is how we test out the product and improve others. I think working with family is a very special thing, if you can find a way to be productive. I’m sure it is not for most people. However, I am constantly surprised how much I like it.

Your materials are sustainably smart. Do you think construction or other types of companies, governments, etc. could use this kind of material on a large scale?
I certainly think it’s a good concept for an eco-friendly building material. However there is a lot of science involved in engineering concrete. What we make is intended for a craft application. I know there are plenty of scientist, engineers and universities working on the construction grade eco-concrete.

Concrete is alkaline, and very porous. Are your planters best used for alkaline-loving plants that don’t need a lot of water?
Yes, concrete is made from limestone, which is an alkaline rock, and therefore alkaline plants will do best in our containers. If you wish to put an acid loving plant in concrete, a liner is recommended. And it is porous, and is better for plants that don’t need a lot of water. In my opinion, porous is good all around; potted plants die because of over-watering.

How should one take care of these pots?
The concrete containers are fairly easy to care for. What I tell most people is to avoid standing water. It can stain over time and in freezing temperatures can crack concrete. Other than that, they are pretty easy to use.

Apple Bark Planter

Your Apple Bark Planter was cast from a crab apple tree that got sick and had to be removed. It sounds like you’re very sentimental about plants! What are your favorite things to grow?
I did know this tree for many years and was disappointed to see it go. I had this idea to make the planter, and I think it turned out pretty well. My favorite plants are cactus and succulents. They seem so exotic to me. I love how rugged and nearly indestructible they are. I wish I lived in a warmer climate to grow them beyond my containers.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist Studio with Stacey Lee Webber

March 5, 2014

Stacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsPhiladephia jewelry designer, Stacey Lee Webber, creates her pieces from pennies and small coins—making art from what could easily be overlooked and discarded. The same can be said for her incredible studio and living space. Situated within the former Globe Dye Works factory–a space she calls home, work, and the location of her wedding–her space is one of the most uncommon I’ve ever visited. Aside from having been saved from scrapping and recycled, the factory is home to many other designers and just oozes creativity. Stacey’s studio also serves as storage for her creative friends’ projects that won’t fit anywhere else.

After I was done drooling over the space, I got to know one of our artists in a deeper way. Behind the beautiful necklaces and cufflinks on our site is a process of sawing, filing, and tiny metal splinters, creating the kind of dichotomy that makes handmade pieces like hers so special. When I see a coin, I see an opportunity for a Tootsie Pop. When Stacey sees a coin, she sees art–just another reason why it’s so fun to try to get inside the mind of our designers.

Take a stroll around Stacey’s creative space and get to know this Uncommon Artist.

Stacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsStacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsStacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsWhat are your most essential tools?
Jeweler’s saw, ring clamp, files.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
The factory walls, doors, and textures.

Stacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsStacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsStacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time… what’s that?

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Don’t say yes to everything!

Stacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsStacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsStacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsWhat advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Stay positive, it’s a long road ahead.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Because I teach, goals are generally broken down into fall, spring, and summer semesters.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I usually celebrate when I sell a big piece of artwork with a great meal and a relaxing night of friends and drinks.

Stacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsWhat quote keeps you motivated?
Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hussle. -Abraham Lincoln

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am always looking at new techniques in technological advances–3D modeling, laser cutting. I haven’t used or learned these skills yet, but know that I will need them in the near future.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Go to NYC- see exhibits, go to artist studios, and have friends that are making things and are active artists.

Stacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsStacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsWhere does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Generally, collaboration doesn’t come to play very often. I make most all of my work, although I currently have a collaboration series with artist , a ceramicist, where I making metal lids and he is making jars.

Stacey Lee Webber Collection | UncommonGoods

Design

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.”

Design

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.