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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Her first Christmas as a new mom is a very special one, so she deserves something memorable. Big City Moms hand-picked their favorite gift ideas for mom’s first Christmas here.
Families come in all shapes and sizes nowadays and we have the perfect gift for the uncommon kin. Our warehouse area manager Cynthia picked out some gift ideas for any unique family.
For more gifts for your dad, visit Cynthia’s entire collection.
I’m inspired by….
My girlfriend, my family, and people who achieve greatness through hard work.
I’m passionate about…
Traveling and experiencing new cultures, great music, doing the right thing, and the New York football Giants.
My favorite process in the warehouse is
Developing team members into great leaders and seeing them own the process themselves.
Something I’ve done in my life that I’m especially proud of is
Recently, my brothers and I have set up a charity organization in honor of my mother, who passed away from terminal breast cancer this past January. Our goal is to provide financial support to families who are dealing with a terminal or life threatening illness. Our first annual golf outing helped us to raise over $15,000, which will go towards a family in need during the holidays.
An uncommon fact about me
I played high school football with Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno.
Working at UncommonGoods I’ve learned
Many things, but one thing that stands out so far to me is that it’s possible to run a company where the bottom line is not the top priority at all times.
Would you rather… Have a great personal chef, or a great personal trainer (assuming money was no object)?
Personal chef, all the way. I would recruit one of our team members, Roland Glenn, who tears it up in the kitchen!
Everyone has a special friend or family member with a wild case of wanderlust. Genevieve Shaw Brown of ABC News picked out her favorite UncommonGoods for the avid traveler. Visit her entire collection here.
Marketing team member Gaby (actually, that’s me) has some ideas that will really wow Pops this holiday.
For more gifts for your dad, visit Gaby’s entire collection.
Lilliana of Cheap Chicas picked out her favorite gift ideas under $50 that would be perfect in any stocking! For her entire collection, click here.