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illustration

Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studios: A Year of Creativity

January 8, 2016

Inside the Artists' Studios | UncommonGoods

One of the most exciting things about serving as Editor of The Goods is that there’s always a Maker Story right around the corner. I am honored to get opportunities to meet talented artists, to see what they make and how they make it, and– when I’m extra lucky– to actually step inside their creative spaces. Over the past year, I had the pleasure of visiting several artists and seeing them in action, as did a few of our blog contributors, photographers, and buyers.  

From woodworking to weaving to jewelry making and beyond, we saw so much creativity last year that we couldn’t help but give our 2015 Studio Tours one more chance to shine before heading out with cameras and notepads to capture more inspirational moments in the year to come. Here are a few hand-picked highlights from those Studio Tours, complete with a few inspirational quotes, photos that made me want to drop everything and start a new creative project on the spot, and plenty of great advice. 

Continue Reading…

The Uncommon Life

This Just In-spiration: Meet Kimberly Hall

August 3, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Kimberly Hall, the artist behind the There Are Always Flowers Print.

PicMonkey Collage

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
It took me a long time to think of myself as an artist. I have had a very varied career with lots of different titles, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that having a kind of crazy career was really because I had the point of view of an artist.

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What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
This year I think it will be showing my print and pattern work in Paris this fall! I love how I never quite know where this path will lead…I love the surprises, the wonderful ones and even the losses are still so exciting.

What does your typical day in the studio look like?

They always seem to be a little different. I have two daughters and I usually drop them off at school in the morning which is the only real consistent part of my day. After that it could be anything from research & collecting inspiration for a job, or working on the continually growing collection of patterns I show twice a year at Premiere Vision Designs in New York, or prepping to teach a class in either fashion or illustration. I love to meet other freelance and artist friends for a coffee during the day and hear what people are up to. Philly has a great sense of community that I love.

NOTTENE selling cards

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I have a lot of trinkets and talismans! I love to draw them… right now I’m starting a series on my blog where I post many of the interesting postcards I have collected over the years. It’s something I always pick up wherever I go. Check them out here>>

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?
I have a kindergartner and she ALWAYS has an opinion when she sees my work!! Her favorite is one of my postcards that says “Join Our Club”, she likes to hand it out to friends and get people in the Nottene club!

NOTTENE join our club

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
I always think of the Voltaire quote “I have decided to be happy because it’s good for my health.” I illustrated it for Design Milk last year & you can see it on my site. It reminds me that being happy is a state of mind I can put myself in… and it’s good for me to do that!

KEHDesigner+Desk

What are your most essential tools?
Hands, mind, and heart. Everything else is cake!

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Maker Stories

Alyson Thomas’ Creative Cocktail Illustrations & Other Adventures in Art

June 18, 2015

Alyson Thomas | UncommonGoods

Attorney-turned-illustrator Alyson Thomas has always loved drawing, painting, and making things, but says she “didn’t think anything of it” until she was voted “most creative” in her college dorm. She didn’t exactly leap from law school to illustrating designs like the ones featured on our Cocktail Diagram Glasses, either.

Alyson’s career started in a very different place–the Department of Homeland Security. From doodling on sticky notes in meetings, to turning in her badge and spending a year on a drawing project, Alyson’s love of illustration grew and eventually blossomed into a full-time business. 

She took a break from diagramming delicious things, visiting “nerdy cocktail bars,” and generally being awesome, to answer a few questions about quitting her day job and the creative endeavors that followed.

Bloody Mary Diagram Glasses | UncommonGoods

Back when you were working as an attorney, did you ever find yourself doodling on documents or daydreaming about creating art when you were trying to prepare for a case? If so, what did you doodle and/or dream about?

Ha! Kind of. My attorney job was as an Asylum Officer for the Department of Homeland Security, where I’d interview people seeking political asylum here in the United States. (Yes, I had a badge.)  As you might imagine, it was a pretty intense and emotionally-draining job, so I didn’t have downtime while working. But, during a mandatory 6-week training program on a federal base in Georgia, I did do a fair amount of drawing on Post-Its during our 8-hour/day classes. At that point, I had been already doing the job for months, so drawing helped me stay sane during the often repetitive classes. That training period was also the first time I received feedback on my artwork from strangers, and it was overwhelmingly positive. I remember being pretty surprised at the time; they were just pen doodles on Post-Its!

A lot of my old notes from in-house training also have doodles — a little sad character named Blocky, smoke explosions, jars–on them. I’ve always been the type of person who can pay attention a little better when my hands are busy. Looking back on the doodles I made during that time though, and I’d have to say they were a little dark. Well, at least a weird hybrid of cute and dark.

Alyson's Food Diary

What inspired you to take that leap and “quit your day job” to pursue art full time? How did you initially become interested in illustrating?

In all honesty, leaving my day job had absolutely nothing to do with any sort of dream to be a full-time artist. I was burnt out from the work and needed to quit. I had saved up 6 months of living expenses and my husband was still working, which gave me some runway for what I began calling my “sabbatical.” Honestly, I wasn’t sure what my next path was going to be. I applied for some other legal positions, and did some contract brief-writing here and there.

Before starting with the Asylum Office, I had been unemployed for over a year out of law school, so I knew from that experience that to keep my spirits up, I needed a project to work on to at least give some structure to my days. Drawing was fun, relaxing, and helped pass the time. So when I began my “sabbatical” in 2010, I also started a daily drawing project called “Meat Sections.” Food has always been a source of interest and obsession for me, and a project creating butchery-style diagrams of, well, anything, had enough legs to last me for 365 days. I joined the 365 project group on Flickr, signed up for a blog, started a Twitter account, and began creating and posting artwork every day.

The response was pretty immediate. By mid-February, someone contacted me via Flickr to buy a print, so I activated my Etsy shop in order to accept the order. During SF Beer Week that year, I created a diagram of a great beer from The Bruery I had sampled, and then shared it with them via Twitter. A few hours later, they emailed me with an offer to create artwork for all of their beers! So these early positive responses really fueled my work, and by July, I really felt like this could be a viable business after my first craft show – IndieMart.

Alyson's Studio

Paints

 

You describe yourself as self-taught. Could you elaborate on that a bit? What steps did you take to teach yourself your craft, and how did you develop your skills over time?

As a student, in high school or in college, I never took an art class. I’ve always been a creative person I suppose – drawing, painting, cooking, sewing, making videos – but I really didn’t think anything of it. I kind of thought that’s how everyone was (until I was voted “most creative” in my college dorm). The period of unemployment after law school is when I started watercoloring for the first time, using a book my then-boyfriend/current-husband Steve bought me. (Why he bought it, I have NO idea.) I also checked out a ton of books from the local library to teach myself basic drawing and painting techniques. I started just doing illustrated journals, and was really inspired by Danny Gregory, both his books and his blog. I might have some innate talent, but I really think so much of succeeding in art and in life is just about putting in the time and effort. I had a lot of time on my hands back then and used it to be creative.

And then, with the Meat Sections project in 2010, having a self-imposed schedule of doing a daily drawing really accelerated my skills. It’s easy to see when I go back and look at my work from that year. Since that time, I have taken two adult art classes, both at Root Division here in San Francisco. One on drawing and one on acrylic painting.

Fresh Herbs | Alyson Thomas

What gave you the idea to incorporate classic drink recipes into your designs?

The first cocktail artwork I did was for my second solo art show in 2012, entitled “Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ.” I made 4 cocktail pieces, all featuring bourbon – Mint Julep, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Boulevardier. The originals all sold fast and then I knew I was on to something. Most of my artwork is inspired by my desire to research and learn more about food and drink, and then share that information with others. It is really quite helpful to have a visual representation of what goes into various cocktails, and in their (generally) correct proportions. You can understand more about how drinks come together – like how a whiskey sour, a margarita, and a sidecar are all basically constructed the same with slight tweaks.

Cocktail

Speaking of classic drinks, you mentioned on your blog that you patronize nerdy cocktail bars. What makes a cocktail bar nerdy? Is this research for your work, or just for fun? Or both?!

Good question! In my mind, a nerdy cocktail bar has an interesting menu, uses somewhat esoteric ingredients, has impeccable technique, and last but not least, knowledgeable bartenders who are obviously passionate about the cocktail world. I think in the last 3 years or so, cocktail bars have really raised their game when it comes to these criteria, so finding nerdy cocktail bars is easier and easier. If a bartender can not only answer your question about a particular drink ingredient, but also will expound on the history of it, how they like to use it, or maybe give you a sample taste, that’s a nerdy bartender in my book. The ultimate nerdy cocktail book in my opinion is Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence. Definitely advanced, science-based, knowledge, but amazing.

I’ve also had the great fortune to work with several bars, either making custom artwork for them, or illustrating their menus, like Padrecito in SF. [Shown above.] Oh, and my barfly habits are definitely both for fun and research!

What’s your best advice for someone looking to switch career paths to follow their dreams of becoming an artist?

Do your work consistently and regularly, and then put it out there. You aren’t going to know if you can make it until other people can see your work and respond to it.

See Alyson's Collection | UncommonGoods

 

 

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Phil Thompson

January 14, 2015

Phil Thompson | UncommonGoods

Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, Jeanne Gang—some of the greatest, most renowned names in architecture–have marked their space on the Chicago skyline. Their skyscrapers, public buildings, and homes in the Windy City have shaped modern design over the centuries. It is no wonder, then, why illustrator Phil Thompson finds inspiration in Chicago’s Prairie Style bungalows, classic six-flat brick Craftsman buildings, and skyscraping architectural landmarks. As a recently departed Chicagoan, I can attest that Phil and his wife and studio mate, Katie, live in one of those architecturally remarkable apartments that most of us dream of finding. Built in 1912, the Craftsman flat has many of its original Deco fixtures and warm, comforting wood detailing.

A colleague here at UncommonGoods tipped me off to Phil’s intricate custom home portraits. The cleanliness of his structured, blueprint-like approach suitably matches the sparseness of his studio. He surrounds himself just with what he needs: drawing paper, a basket full of trusty micro-pens, and drafting tools. There are a few exceptions to the sparseness—all of which are largely contained within a small bulletin board—a calendar, the usual lists of to-dos, and some inspirational quotations. Phil also prominently displays a beautiful postcard-size watercolor by his grandmother to remind him of his artistic roots.

I am always thoroughly impressed and warmed by artists that are able to seamlessly and successfully blend their passions and skills. Phil and Katie are two of those artists. He pairs his discerning eye and exacting hand with a passion for accurately rendering architectural styles and the home. Phil’s Classic Home Portraits honor those places where we build memories, families, and community.

Phil's Studio

What are your most essential tools?
Micron Pens, down to their smallest size, and Strathmore drawing paper. But the pens in particular. If I ever find out that company is going out of business, I will buy their entire inventory of pens.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My home/studio is in brick 6-flat building built in 1912. Our unit has most of the original woodwork, leaded glass, and some of the original lighting fixtures. It was done in the Craftsman style, which I find have the most beautiful, warm and inspiring interiors.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Lunch is my best downtime. It’s my time to get out to one of the great places in Ravenswood, especially those along the historic railway “corridor” behind our backyard.

Phil Thompson at work

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Always plan to pay more in taxes than you anticipate. If you’re transitioning from employee at a 9-5 to a business owner, you’ll get well-acquainted with sales tax and payroll taxes.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
If you want to earn more money, forget about trying to outsmart the housing market or real estate market. Focus on finding a business that blends your passion, your skills, and customer demand, and take it one step at a time.

Classic Home Portrait | UncommonGoods

How do you set goals for yourself?
I have an annual sales goal that keeps me going. Daily, I write down a matrix dividing work and personal tasks into “important/urgent” and “important/non-urgent.”

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
When I get a big custom commission or get a big flurry of print orders, it’s usually dinner out with the wife–on a weeknight (gasp).

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
It’s on the bulletin board in front of me: “Success is not final, failure not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”- Winston Churchill

"Success is not final..." Churchill Quote

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft? 
I want to apply the type of line-heavy stuff I do with pen and ink, to traditional etching/linocuts,and create prints. There are two local shops that teach this type of skill, and I’m planning to take a class there.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Podcasts about people’s personal stories and struggles. I’m fortunate in being able to work and listen at the same time, so I’ve listened to months’ worth of podcasts like this. Hearing about how other people are inspired and come up with stuff, how they worked around roadblocks, gets me charged up.

Phil and Katie Thompson

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
My wife is like the Roman emperor giving the thumbs up or down when I show her a finished product. She’s honest. Sometimes the result stings but over time it makes my work better. She also is a cornucopia of ideas about new ways to present my work and new subject matter.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Matthew Amey

April 2, 2013

It feels a little silly when we throw around the word “uncommon” so frequently here around the UG headquarters, but sometimes there just isn’t a better way to express how we feel. I first interviewed Matthew Amey when he won last year’s Art Contest. Being inked myself, I was overjoyed to learn his winning piece was a tattoo-turned-print. I was also completely baffled – was there a better word to describe the newest member of our artist family?

This time, take a look inside the Maryland studio of this design challenge alum to see how he transitions from painting on skin to paper.

What are your most essential tools?
I work primarily with tattoo machines but I also paint in oils quite a bit. I am fortunate to have a career (tattooing) that allows me to also work in other artistic mediums when time permits.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I work in my studio five days a week, eight hours per day. I find time between tattoo appointments to explore new ideas, mediums, do research for new projects and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is jammed with materials that I have collected throughout my travels. Much of my inspiration comes through interacting with other artists and discussing new ideas with prospective clients.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Being an artist is great but running a business, as an artist, is a daunting task. The creative mind is not one that worries about deadlines, bills, advertising. As an artist all I want to do is create work. Once I figured out how to shift gears from artist/creator to businessman/manager things got a lot easier. Once I found a ‘business manager’ it made my work much more enjoyable.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Trust your instincts; you’re making the right choices. Stay positive.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Much of my time is spent just thinking about projects. Once I decide on a project that I want to complete I am pretty adamant about following it through to completion. Some long-term projects get worked on little by little until completion. Ultimately I have to determine which projects are of utmost importance and work on those first. UncommonGoods has become one of my main goals this past year and I’ve been focusing much of my ‘free’ time on that work.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is fleeting. If/When I’m able to take time to reflect on my accomplishments chances are I’m thinking about what to do next. I’m not sure where I’ve heard this statement but it is very true that, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
My efforts flow through these three simple statements. Imagine; think outside the box, allow yourself to wonder. Create; make work, be creative and productive. Inspire; make work that inspires others to think, contemplate or produce work of their own. Repeat….

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am constantly challenging myself to experiment with new materials, techniques and styles both in tattooing and within my other artistic endeavors.

How do you recharge your creativity?
My artwork develops in cycles. During the warmer summer months I try to get outside and experience nature as often as possible. I live near the ocean and in the Summer I am very busy tattooing the tourists who frequent my town. In the Fall I start putting non-tattoo related projects together and in the Winter and Spring much of my time is spent working on completing those projects. I am currently getting ready for the summer season so I’m trying to wrap up some larger art projects that I started last Fall.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Much of my tattoo work is collaboration between myself and my clients. They come to me with an idea and I attempt to help them visualize their ideas in the most concise way possible. Occasionally I will collaborate with other artists in my studio to produce paintings.