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Inspiration

Maker Stories

Wishes Do Come True: Jill Davis’ Glass Globes

January 12, 2015

Jill Davis always knew she wanted to be in the business of creativity. Growing up just outside of Boston, MA, she was immediately drawn to the rich arts and culture resources the city had to offer. Visits to the Museum of Fine Arts in her stroller gave way to a summer internship in high school. “In retrospect, I can’t believe the museum staff hired me,” says Jill, “I was the only high school student—all the others were graduate students!” Despite her young age, Jill began working on a project to organize all of the exhibition photos in the museum archive. Her favorite part of the job, however, was exploring the decorative arts and period furniture sections.

Jill Davis | UncommonGoods

 

This sparked a lifelong passion in three-dimensional art. Before finding her way to glass, Jill worked with a variety of techniques and materials. From clay and metal to jewelry and paper, Jill eventually settled on fashion, making all of her own clothes. “It was the early ’80s and I wanted to look like I was in a rock and roll band, preferably Van Halen or KISS.” Jill went on to sell those clothes at small stores in Boston and Cambridge before enrolling at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.

During her freshman year studying fashion, Jill realized her clothes were more akin to wearable “sculptures” than they were “fashion.” She knew she wanted to stay at Parsons so she began exploring their different departments. The day she walked into the glass studio and saw molten glass for the first time, her search was over. “Glass is the most challenging and rewarding material I have ever encountered,” says Jill. “You can’t bully it—you are perpetually persuading and coaxing the glass into shape. Even the best living master glass blowers cannot always get the glass to do what they want! It’s this feisty streak that keeps me enchanted.”

Jill began working with the New York Experimental Glass Workshop, spending the next 15 years creating one-of-a-kind fine art sculptures. “It was absolutely great, and I didn’t mean to stop doing it—starting my company was a happy accident,” says Jill. After leaving New York and moving to rural Washington State, Jill realized that Washington was a bit lacking in terms of 24/7 public transportation. She needed a car and she didn’t want to take out a big loan to get one. Thus began her Car Project. “Glassblowers are lucky,” says Jill, “instead of waiting tables, we can blow Christmas ornaments, go set up a card table at a craft fair, and at the end of the day, you can generally count on having sold most of them.” She designed a small collection of affordably priced items and by the end of the year was able to buy a brand new car—in cash. She was also able to start her company, Henrietta Glass. Her innovative Wishing Ball followed shortly.

Wishing Ball | UncommonGoods

The Wishing Ball was inspired by an NPR story Jill was listening to while she blew some bud vases. A woman told a story about wishing on pennies as a way to heal a broken heart. Realizing that a penny couldn’t buy a wish these days, she began saving her wishes in a jar. Her wish came true at $4.73. Inflation much? This story inspired Jill to create a container for lucky pennies, though a container for pennies ended up amounting to a classic piggybank. Jill realized she was more interested in wishes than pennies, and so began to create a vessel that echoed both crystal balls and snow globes—“two other glass traditions that encourage us to gaze both inward and outward to explore new possibilities.”

The ball itself is hand blown from a blob of 2000 degree molten glass. The clear glass is rolled in bits of copper and cobalt glass called frit in order to produce an ethereal turquoise color. “It’s just like putting sprinkles on ice cream, only screaming hot,” says Jill. The glass is then carefully shaped with a bubble inflated within it. A separate bit of molten glass is affixed to the ball to form the foot. Once assembled, the whole piece slowly cooled in an oven over twelve hours.

Jill Davis Creating the Wishing Ball

The perfect spot to stow wishes, give thanks, or make a resolution for the New Year, the Wishing Ball presents an inspirational opportunity to put your hopes where you can see them. What’s Jill’s wish for the Wishing Ball? “I’d like people to see their Wishing Ball as a little bit of help or inspiration toward a positive future. Deciding what to write on each piece of paper may be an opportunity to focus and clarify your thoughts.” Her resolution for the New Year? To make sure she keeps doing things that make her uncomfortable, things that challenge her.

“The wonderful American furniture artist Wendell Castle, a hero of mine, has a list of 10 ‘rules’ to live and make art by,” says Jill. “One of those rules is that if you hit the bull’s eye every time, you are standing too close to the target.” This inspiration to constantly push herself lends perfectly to the idea behind the Wishing Ball. Set goals, make a wish, and make changes.

People often ask Jill why the wishes can’t come back out, and her explanation can be summed up with birthday candles. “When you blow out you candles, you don’t tell the wish you made, otherwise it won’t come true.” Says Jill. “But more importantly, memories are always more beautiful than photographs, and the same is true of wishes. When you look at the little slips of paper accumulating in your Wishing Ball, I want you to think about the Big Picture those messages convey. Rereading the notes would be like looking backwards, or trying to step in the same river twice.”

Take home Jill Davis' Wishing Ball from UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Good Intentions: Alena Hennessy’s Affirmations in Art

August 12, 2014

Alena Hennessy | UncommonGoods

Words and art are two extremely powerful forces. Both can make us recall certain memories, impact our emotions, and even influence our decisions. That’s why Alena Hennessy only found it natural to combine these two important elements to create vibrant drawings, paintings, and mixed-media pieces featuring positive mantras, which she calls “intentions.”

One of these inspirational affirmations, “Don’t Quit Your Daydream,” is exceptionally fitting, because she never has. She’s been doing what she loves, creating art full time, for nearly 10 years.

Don't Quit Your Daydream | UncommonGoods

“For many years now I have viewed art-making as a kind of therapy or healing, one that brings us to quieter and more meditative states of being,” said Alena, who explained that writing positive intentions into her art is a way to capture those words and keep them as daily reminders.

“Writing intentions (or mantras) into my art feels beautifully affirming and became a natural part of my creative process,” she said. “I believe that words hold a certain power and when I am making art, the words or script that I place into my art sets an affirming tone for my life. I [also] think script is rather beautiful and artful in itself.”

Although Alena spends hours working in her Asheville, NC studio, art is just one of the therapeutic practices she embraces. Drawn to “the healing arts and natural forms of well-being,” Alena is also a certified flower essence practitioner, herbalist, and Reiki master.

Cultivating Your Creative Life by Alena Hennessy

She said that synthesizing the visual and healing arts in her work “seems inevitable and more reflective of my innate passions.” This comes through not only in her dynamic illustrations, but also in her many other creative endeavors. As an author, she encourages others to experiment with art and use it as a means for self-awareness and personal wellness. She also spreads inspiration through her blog, and facilitates several e-courses.

Alena Hennessy

While Alena always has many projects in the works, she makes sure to take her own advice and puts herself first, before business. However, in making her own wellness a priority, she finds that she is also better able to produce her art. “I become inspired by making sure I have enough rest and self-care of my body, mind, and spirit,” she said. “I find that the more I am in balance, the better my creative output.”

Just as Alena finds inspiration in nurturing her mind, body, and spirit, the cycle of creativity continues through the artistic process and on to those that bring her work home. The quotes and mantras working in harmony with Alena’s visual art encourage the new owner, and all that see the piece, to live each day to the fullest in a positive light.

Gift Guides

Your Graduation Gift Questions Answered

April 18, 2014

Graduation is a special time in one’s life, so I’m excited to answer a few questions finding the perfect gifts for students who are about to accomplish this important achievement.

What would you do paperweight

I’ve gained quite a bit of experience dealing with creatively designed gifts over the years—from my time as a strategy consultant overseeing a global internet retail research study (that’s when I met UncommonGoods founder Dave Bolotsky), to working in Customer Service (and reporting on company operations) for a holiday season at UncommonGoods in 2002, to joining the team full time (as opposed to consulting) as the head of Merchandising in 2006.

Somewhat out of necessity for creatively designed products that didn’t exist elsewhere, we began creating our own products in-house. As someone with a naturally questioning mind, an imagination for possibilities, a product instinct, and understanding of the creative design attributes that define an uncommon good, my responsibilities changed in the fall of 2011 when I become the Director of New Business and Product Development.

Many of the goods we develop here, as well as many of the items from the talented artists and designers we work with, make great gifts for graduation. Here’s my personal take on grad gifting and some suggestions for special gifts your grads are sure to love.

DIY Embroidery Cards | UncommonGoods

How is choosing a graduation gift different than picking out a gift for another occasion?
Unlike any other occasion, graduation, whether it is high school, college or a graduate degree, is a one-time event in any individual’s life—it is a specific accomplishment and also a milestone marking the end of one stage in a life and the beginning of the next.

What are some personal graduation gifts you’ve given in the past? What made them special?
I try to give gifts that have some meaning to the person—it may be something with an inspirational message, or a personal connection to the individual–and something I hope the person will want to keep.

My “go-to” item is often an inspirational paperweight—some of the ones that I’ve given more than once have been in our assortment for many years, like the What Would You Attempt Paperweight and the Be the Change Paperweight.

When my oldest nephew, a die-hard Yankee fan, graduated from college, he received a pair of Authentic Stadium Seat Cufflinks.

Yankee Stadium Seat Cufflinks | UncommonGoods

For the daughter of a close friend who graduated from high school I chose the Growth Necklace by Mary Steratore. It got a rave review!

Growth NecklaceNecklace Review



What could I give to my graduate’s good friends/classmates who are also graduating that is meaningful, but won’t break the bank? (From our Facebook friend Lora Frye Ross)

My suggestion is the 5: Life Playbook. Because it is a book, you have the option to inscribe a personal note on the inside. This is something that can be given for either high school or college graduation, with thought-provoking quotations and real-life examples that are both a spark and a road map for the next chapter.

5: Life Playbook
5: Life Playbook

Do you have a favorite new product (or products) that you think would make a great grad gift? What do you choose and why is it a great gift?
The Road to Success Paperweight is my favorite new paperweight we created–the combination of the road imagery as part of the design is inspiring and understanding of what life is about.

The Home Plate Paperweight is another great choice, for the same reasons, for someone who is also a baseball fan.

Paperweights | UncommonGoods

The most recent grad gift I’ve given was actually one of our newer products. I gave the She Believed She Could Bangle to the daughter of one of my best friends, who I’ve known all her life when she graduated from college. I felt that a bangle bracelet with this empowering quote was truly a keepsake for her.

She Believed She Could Bangle | UncommonGoods

For more inspiring goods to congratulate grads, visit our entire Graduation Gifts Collection.

Design

8 Quotes that Keep Makers Motivated

January 10, 2014

Everyone has those days when pulling the covers up a little higher and staying in bed a bit longer seems like the best possible decision. Some people are also prone to getting cozy on the couch with visions of video streaming in their heads these days. We all have moments when we lack motivation, but sometimes getting out of that lull, or avoiding it from the start, isn’t so hard. Keeping a meaningful quote in mind can bring inspiration, help you stay motivated, and make all the difference in the world when you’re feeling down.

Many of our artists and designers have sayings that hold special places in their hearts, so each time we go behind the scenes for a studio tour we ask for the featured artist to share the words that keep them primed to create. Here are a few of our favorites from 2013.

 Samuel Beckett Quote

Kasia Wisniewski & Nicholas Foley have an industrial sized laser cutter in their apartment. They use it to create their beautiful art, and they used it to share their favorite Samuel Beckett quote with us. They also shared their own words of wisdom on our studio tour: “You should always be aiming to ‘fail better’ on the next go-round.”

Susan Jeffers Quote

Illustrator Adrienne Vita took her quote from the title of a self help book by Susan Jeffers, but uses it to stay motivated when it comes to trying new things.

Amey Quote

Tattoo artist turned UncommonGoods Design Challenge winner Matthew Amey’s favorite quote is made up of three little words with big meaning. “My efforts flow through these three simple statements,” he said. “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…”

Paulo Coehlo
“The most amazing part about my job is creating every single day and doing what I love,” said jewelry artist Emilie Shapiro when we stopped by her studio in Queens. We’re glad she’s found her treasure!

Thomas Edison

Etta Kostick creates beautiful stained glass pieces, using a technique her father taught her, from her home studio in Chicago. She sent us this Thomas Edison quote, and told us how it helped her get her make art a career: “It was terrifying to take that initial leap and go full time with my business but this quote was a reminder of how I should approach life and work.”

Friedrich Nietzsche Quote

Graphic designer, woodworker, and design challenge winner Jeff Knight shared this bit of inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche among the boards and blades in his Fargo, ND wood shop.

Tolkien Quote

Janelle Haskin won our Winter Accessories Design Challenge armed with yarn and crochet hooks. She also had this Tolkien quote to keep her going.

Meghan Ellie Smith Quote

Painter Meghan Ellie Smith uses watercolor to create bold scenes. She also used those pretty pigments to write out her favorite quote. Though nontraditional, Meghan finds meaning in this message. She told us, “One time I was in the car with my mom and I asked her, ‘How many birds are there in the world?’ She responded, ‘Seven. It’s all mirrors.’ Both hilarious, and amazing. It’s way more fun to let your imagination bend reality and see the world however you want.”

What quote keeps you motivated?

Design

Inspiration for Innovators: A New Collection of Patent Art

November 12, 2013

Creativity is one of our greatest joys and highest values at UncommonGoods. It makes us so happy when we come across or develop an imaginative, original design, artwork, or product that will bring something special into our customers’ lives. We’re in awe of the creative geniuses throughout history whose ideas, experiments, innovations and inventions have transformed life altogether.

Actress Susan Cabot as a chemist inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp WomanActress Susan Cabot as a chemist/inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp Woman

Learning about how great inventors and product designers have pursued their ideas from dream to reality, persisting through the grueling effort of iterative failures and breakthroughs, is incredibly inspiring. Our Product Development team wanted to create a new wall art collection that would link the often quiet presence of innovation in our daily lives to the grand and sometimes dramatic history of invention.

Thomas Edison with lightbulbThomas Edison looking stern while holding a light bulb

Thinking about history led them to the National Archives online collection. Then they had their light bulb moment. What’s a more universally-recognized symbol of inspiration than… the incandescent light bulb itself? What more prolific inventor has there been than Thomas Edison, with his 1,093 patents? And how cool is it that the National Archives collection includes some great-looking documents that were central to Edison’s most transformative inventions? (Answers: None, None, and Very.)

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