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Inside the Artists’ Studio with David and Christopher Steinrueck

November 10, 2015

Christopher and David Steinrueck | UncommonGoods

 David and Christopher Steinrueck, Photos by Emily Hodges

Brother duo, David and Christopher Steinrueck, work out of their woodshop in the heart of San Francisco.  After spending just a few moments inside a space that invites noise from wood slicing tools and is spotted with patches of fallen saw dust, it’s not hard to see that sustainability, craftsmanship, and community are the values that build the very foundation of their business, Wood Thumb. David, Chris, and their team salvage reclaimed wood’s natural beauty when crafting it into everyday function and modern design. From their Wooden Beer Caddy to their Magnetic Bottle Opener – their beautiful craftsmanship is obvious and “there is no part that is unnecessary and everything is created with intention.” Read on to find out what community means to David and Chris and why you might want to pop in for one of the woodworking classes that they offer the next time you find yourself in San Francisco.

Wooden Beer Caddies by Christopher and David Steinrueck

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jen Pleasants

May 12, 2015

Jen Pleasants | UncommonGoods

On my right hand, I wear a ring every day on my index finger that reads “She believed she could, so she did.” This is my daily reminder that I’ve climbed mountains – and if I wanted to – I could climb 1,000 more. I was eager to visit Jen Pleasants’ studio, not only to tour her space, but to also personally thank her for designing something that I never take off and imprinting a mantra in my head that I’m sure I’ll never forget.

Before walking into her jewelry studio, Jen waved long crystals around me to take away any negative energy I might bring in. Although it was all in jest, I think this explained my time with Jen in a nutshell – quirky, positive, and radiating ultra hippie vibes.

Grow

Jen’s studio sits on a hill in Portola Valley, about 45 minute drive outside of San Francisco. It’s tucked in a quaint corner behind her home. Keeping it company is the beautiful backdrop of a classic Northern California view – trees, hills, more trees, and blue skies. My immediate thought was that Jen had the ultimate oasis that most designers would crave for to work on their craft. Although I was there professionally, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a mini getaway retreat.

If Jen’s pink-streaked hair and infectious positive spirit weren’t already enough of an excuse for me to sign up for a year’s worth of yoga classes, her studio space was. From the luscious hanging succulents, to her children’s precious painted hand prints on the walls, to the many inspirational printed quotes displayed – I could really feel and see the love she built within her surroundings. This is quite fitting to her company’s name, Show the Love. Show the Love’s recycled precious metal jewelry is hand sculpted by Jen herself and invokes beauty, magic, and girl power. Meet Jen Pleasants, jewelry designer, mother of three, and self-proclaimed hippie.

Hands

What are your most essential tools?

My hands, my mind, my team, and precious metal clay!

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I find inspiration just thinking of the people I meet who are doing great things or overcoming hardships.

Hands

Hands 2

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Between taking care of my three kids and running the actual business, I don’t get nearly as much time creating or resting as I would like.

Jen and Her Daughter

Jen's Dog

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It is really hard to sell your own artwork. It is embarrassing and tiring to put yourself out there, but you just have to do it. Otherwise, you don’t have a business, you just have a hobby.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I just combined my love of sculpting with my love of inspirational quotes and voila! Show The Love was born!

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Make time for more long walks.

Do Good | UncommonGoods

How do you set goals for yourself?
I just got a ‘Passion Planner’ as a gift (check them out on Kickstarter) and the first page was enormously helpful! You pretend the paper is magic and anything you write on it about your life will come true! I did the exercise with my kids too. It was awesome and insightful.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Very interesting question, because I tend to gloss over what should be victory celebrations, like being funded on Kickstarter in just four days. Instead, I quickly set a new goal that I immediately started working toward. I think it is a better quality to be able to celebrate and really soak up every big milestone. I am working to be more like that because I do like to celebrate, especially if it involves a dance party!

Jen Pleasants' Studio with Living Roof

Studio Space

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“She Believed She Could, So She Did” is one of my favorites as I honestly believe that if you are persistent and don’t give up, you can visualize your end goal, then you can attain it. So that leads to another one of my favorite quotes, from Dory in the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

She Believed She Could | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I really want to create huge Rodin-like sculptures and right now I make figures on a smaller scale. It is an art in itself just taking a small figure and making it at scale. I would love to learn to do that.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I like to lay on a hot rock in the sunshine like a turtle and take a nap. That will definitely recharge me!

Jen Pleasants Crafting Her Designs | UncommonGoods

I Speak Up Rose Gold Necklace | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
We like to collaborate with charities and make pieces that honor the work they are doing. They act as vehicles to help promote and raise money for causes. Show The Love exists to uplift the lives of millions through our inspirational messages and through donations to causes we believe in.

bracelet

See Jen Pleasants' Collection at UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Opposites Attract: Michael Stromberg’s Magnetic Art

July 9, 2014

Designer Michael Stromberg | UncommonGoodsOpposites attract as designer Michael Stromberg brings new concepts to life. “I realized that there was an entirely unexplored artistic outlet waiting to be defined,” says Michael of his eye-catching magnetic sculptures and games. “I also enjoy pondering the invisible forces that make these so unique.”

A magnet simply isn’t a magnet without forces that attract and forces that repel. Michael uses this principle in different ways, depending on his ultimate design. For games, he uses strictly repulsive powers as an added hurdle for skill. His art and sculpture, however, utilizes the power of attraction.

Michael began his journey into magnetic art after planning a tournament for a magnetic shuffleboard set he’d designed in the early 2000s. It seemed appropriate to have a magnetically-suspended trophy as the grand prize. After finding nothing on the market that fit the bill, he decided to create his own. “As soon as I began to work on the award, a fairly simple geometric design, my mind began exploring where I could go with this.”

25337_zoom1His sculptures always begin by establishing a focal point for the new piece. Once this has been decided, the frame and ancillary parts are designed as a complement. Everything eventually works together so that touching just one piece of the sculpture causes the other parts to come to life as if by magic.

Fascinated by how the magnetic attraction creates a fluid work of art, Michael says that his designs blend left-brained precision with right-brained imagination. Working with magnetics typically takes hours of re-balancing in order to ensure that the parts move the way he envisions. “Many artists use only gravity and wind to manipulate their work, both of which are predictable, natural forces. Adding magnetism causes new and fresh interactions.”

While his primary medium is wood, chosen for its unique grains and aesthetics, Michael has begun working with clay, fabric, and polymer resins—an exciting turn for his inspired takes on environmental sculpture. “As far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed making things,” says Michael, “from acoustic and electric guitars to snowshoes, I’ve enjoyed creative endeavors my entire life.” And with his beautiful kinetic pieces, his creative evolution continues.

Michael Stromberg's Designs

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Boombox Touch Speaker

July 2, 2014

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Product: Boombox Touch Speaker, a portable speaker that’s cord free and will blast out your tunes by simply setting a smartphone on top of it.

Research: 
I love to jam out (preferably to Motown, MJ, or the Rent soundtrack ) while taking my morning showers, prepping dinner, or cleaning my apartment. And although I could play music out loud with my iPhone, it’s never quite loud enough. As a temporary solution, I used to walk around with my iPhone in my back pocket and wear headphones in my apartment, but that quickly became a nuisance. So I decided to search for a convenient speaker that I could use with my iPhone. I wanted something that I could easily bring from room to room without a hassle of setting up or constant plugging and unplugging.

Then I discovered the Boombox Touch Speaker while browsing UncommonGoods at work. I have to admit when I heard that this speaker could play music if I just simply placed my iPhone on top of it, I was definitely skeptical. Trust me, I’m usually a glass-half-full type of gal, but I felt like this little tech discovery was too good to be true. The description claimed that there was no need to set up Bluetooth and no cords were needed. For such a great price, what exactly is the catch? Poor sound quality? Needing to download a $3 smartphone app? Will it break easily?

Skeptical and hopeful at the same time, I’ve decided to test it out on my own to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis: 
I was sure that the product would work, but definitely with a couple of setbacks. I was expecting to hear a bit of static or that the music wouldn’t be as loud as I would want it to be. (And super loud Billie Jean is always better than I-could-kinda-hear-you Billie Jean.)

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Experiment: 
I planned to test out the Boombox Touch Speaker at my neighborhood park for a nice little lazy Sunday. Nothing at the time sounded better than flipping through fashion magazines, snacking on guacamole and chips, and chit chatting with my good friend, Christina, while listening to a few Motown favorites in the background.

When I got the speaker I was immediately surprised by three things: the size, the weight, and the feel. I expected it to be bigger because in my mind “big sound equals big speakers.” But I guess we’re not living in the ‘80s anymore and this doesn’t necessarily need to happen anymore. It was nice to know that I could pop it into my tote bag and still have room for other gadgets and gizmos.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

The weight was lighter than I expected as well, even after seeing its small size – I thought it would still be a bit heavier than it was. That was a relief because it would have been a hassle if I had a heavy speaker weighing down on my shoulder during my commute or if I had to complete errands. I hate being slowed down!

The last thing I noticed was the feel of the entire speaker. It’s surprisingly soft, smooth, and easy to hold and carry around. I could place it on my nightstand, fireplace mantel, kitchen counters, or on the shelf in my bathroom. I love that it’s so versatile and doesn’t necessarily need a specific spot to live in my home. So far, I was definitely impressed. (But still skeptical!) I was ready to test the speaker! Off to the park we go.

IMG_1110

IMG_1125

The next step was simply to just turn on the speaker. I turned it on from the switch in the back, and a blue light popped up. I was happy I didn’t need to charge it or place batteries in.  I was like a kid opening up her birthday gifts. I wanted the toy to work – no time for other nonsense!

In the photo below I was so excited that the speaker weighed less than the bag of tortilla chips I was holding!

IMG_1121

Now, for the moment I’ve been waiting for! Without reading directions, I placed my iPhone on top of the speaker… and….I didn’t hear one sound come out of the speaker. I knew it! Too good to be true! I turned the switch back on and then off. Tried again. And again. And again. Nothing.

But right when I turned the phone around, I heard good ol’ Marvin Gaye crooning loud and clear, literally. The sound quality was amazing. Success! It was a lot louder than I expected it to be and I actually had to turn down the music through the volume control on my iPhone. (Although, I’m sure others at the park wouldn’t have had any objections to Marvin being a part of their Sunday!)

Boombox Touch Speaker | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Conclusion: 
I’m glad I was very skeptical of the Boombox Touch Speaker because I feel if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been as eager to test it out. I’m 100% happy with it, and would recommend it to any music lover. (AKA: everyone!) My only tip is to make sure that your phone is facing the right way. For the iPhone, make sure the top of the phone sits closest to the speaker, its screen facing up. (Seen in the photo above.)

Now I am able to listen to loud music at home in any room (headphone free!). Also, it’s always a fun to bring out  and show off to my friends on any of our rooftop parties or afternoon picnics. I honestly had three people ask me in absolute awe “How is that even possible?” And just as the description advises to do here, I shrugged and said, “It’s magic.”

Watch me test out the speaker and bust a couple of moves in the video below. Happy grooving!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: I Think I Scan

February 6, 2014

Angie | UncommonGoods

Product: Smartphone Film Scanner

Research:
I take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I own approximately seven cameras. While most of us now have a camera in our pockets, along with our bank books, train schedules, maps, concert tickets and everything else smartphones have condensed into portability, I still appreciate photographic film. I have appreciated it over the years to the tune of a box full of developed negative sleeves.
Negatives
The Makerof the Smartphone Film Scanner, Lomography, has an awesome reputation for designing super-cool photography products that stimulate visual creativity (three of which I already own), so I was excited to test this one.

Hypothesis:
Using my Apple iPhone 4S, the Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner should provide me a way to preserve and use my developed negatives, and add these previously printed photos to my online digital albums.

Smartphone Film Scanner | UncommonGoods

Experiment:

Out of the box, the scanner seemed simple enough to assemble; there’s a small instruction manual that points out the key components of the scanner unit, including the stackers, the base, the clamps and the LomoKino Mask (which you must lift and remove, lest your initial scans will be 1/3 of their intended size).

*The fine print: requires 2 AA batteries! (Pause. This launched a house-wide search for fresh batteries.) Battery door is a bit difficult to open; I needed to use a paper clip to lift.

3Batteries

The instructions noted to use only two stackers with an Apple iPhone 4/4S. (Stackers allow you to adjust the distance from your smartphone to the film to maximize the resolution.) So, I removed one stacker and assembled the unit.

4Stackers

Next, the directions were to attach the smartphone to the scanner by placing the phone between the clamp winged platform on top of the scanner. Once the phone is camera-lens side down on this platform, you’re supposed to close the clamp wings to secure the phone onto the scanner, with the lens squarely on top of the scanning chamber. However, while the scanning chamber’s opening is centered, the phone’s camera lens is not; the iPhone camera lens is to the left of the phone. So, you have to manipulate the entire top of the platform to also move left or right, after you’ve clamped the phone in place. This was not immediately understandable from the instructions given. (In fact, I’m not even sure it’s understandable here; just know that you will need to maneuver the platform around a bit to get your phone directly over the scanning chamber, i.e. hole on top where the camera lens must be.)

Clamp

I then inserted my negative strip using the film advancing wheel on the base of the unit and flipped the “on” switch to illuminate the light panel for viewing the negative. I enabled the camera feature on my iPhone, worked on centering the negative with the lens, and snapped a photo. The photo saved to my camera roll. Cool!

Negatives 2

Now for scanning!

The instruction manual suggested visiting a site to get the app to scan.
I logged on to the website:
http://microsites.lomography.com/smartphone-scanner/#app

I initially downloaded the free LomoScanner App EVEN THOUGH there is a bit of a disclaimer on the page about technical issues that have been experienced by early users.

7App

And sure enough, on both my iPhone and my boyfriend’s Android, the LomoScanner apps crashed. (Luckily it was easy to fix, but I decided not to try the app again.)

Returning to the drawing board, I download one of the other many suggestions for apps that were given on the Lomography site. (Not all of them were free, ranging from .99 to $4.99.) The Photoshop Express app (by Adobe) is FREE, and took seconds to download.

Photoshop Express

Nothing to sign into or request to trade your email address for access, the PS Express app simply offered the choice of “take a picture” or “open from camera roll” upon opening. I chose to access my camera roll, where I selected the picture I previously snapped of the negative.

10Dashboard

Once the photo was chosen, it was opened in a dashboard, where all the scan edits take place. First, I chose to crop the image, to rid the photo of the notched side framing. I also rotated it into a vertical portrait. Next, I chose “invert,” which essentially makes a negative out of the negative, “inverting” the original image. Since I started with a negative (the absence of color), the inversion actually deposits color. The result, in this case, was a color photo with a bluish tint. Using the brightness and contrast tools, I “warmed” up the photo, adjusting the tint, vibrance, highlights and other varying degrees of sharpness and clarity to improve the photo quality. But, alas, for some reason, my beloved “red” shiba inu, Kobe, remained blue in the photos. Below is the best I could get. I saved it to my camera roll , but it looks like there’s more I can do with photos in the future to get different results. (Check out this video for some ideas.)  Some more experimenting is required!

BlueKobe

 

11ahhh

Conclusion:
Overall, what was  produced by the LomoScanner wasn’t exactly what I was expecting–especially after the process of assembling everything and downloading apps, editing, etc., but it does beat my throwback Thursday (#tbt) habit of taking pictures of photographs (which result in a slightly blurry, glassy-eyed view).  As with all Lomography products, the LomoScanner has a loyal, even cult-like fan base, and the Lomographic community even offers tutorials, classes and online support to share tips and tricks. So, if you have the time or are into experimenting with photography, I’d say go for it.While the product is fun, if you just wanted a quick way to rid yourself of a box full of old negatives like I did, this might not be for you.