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Studio Tours

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Holly Daniels Christensen

November 3, 2017

Photos by Christa Smith

There is something very nostalgic about Holly Daniels Christensen’s jewelry. Holly has collected sands from around the world, and her super talented team of artists sets them into jewelry, bottle stoppers, and snowflake ornaments, creating personalized keepsakes.

I was beyond excited to see Holly’s studio, meet her team, and see her sandbank in person. In the time we’ve been working together, her bank has grown from about 1,200 sands to over 3,000—and it’s still growing! I wanted take a peek at granules that hold a special place in my heart—Stone Harbor, New Jersey and Santorini, Greece were two that I especially was excited to see—and the sandbank definitely did not disappoint. A collection of samples from around the world, each with a distinct texture and color, her collection encompasses beach sand, sports sands (think golf courses and baseball infields), and crushed power stones.

Sharon & Mekah

Holly and her team work in a converted manufacturing building outside of Boston. The space is a designer’s dream—hardwood floors, sky high ceilings, and lots of light. Her team was warm and welcoming, and the studio buzzes with creative energy. Besides her sandbank, a highlight of the tour was seeing the very table Holly launched her business from—formerly her dining room table, now in use in her conference room.

After a tour of her space, I wanted to take a crack at creating my very own piece of jewelry. It was a tough choice deciding which sand to use, but I finally settled on Santorini, a gorgeously grainy volcanic sand with bits of white and terracotta. One of Holly’s sand artists, Mekah, led the way, showing me how to carefully place the sand within the pendant. It’s an exacting process which requires a fair bit of precision. Mekah was a super patient instructor, and within about an hour, I had made a piece of jewelry!

It was a magical day, and I’m so grateful to Holly and her entire team. Read on for a Q&A with Holly and a sneak peek into her sandbank and studio, complete with mentions of lunchtime excitement and dance parties.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with KaKyung Cho

October 4, 2017

Some 60 miles north of New York City, Newburgh, New York, sits quietly on the western bank of the Hudson River. To some, the name of the city is synonymous with a rough history. For others, it evokes vistas of riverside streets lined with 19th-century mansions, many mere blocks from abandoned homes. To a growing group, however, it’s become a refuge—a place that celebrates local creators, welcoming artists and entrepreneurs into a vibrant community of like-minded folks.

Enter KaKyung Cho, one of many makers who’s forging a home for her business in a newly renovated space in Newburgh. Like the duo behind design firm and longtime Brooklyn fixture Atlas Industries, KaKyung is a recent transplant, still transferring operations from her kitchen in Williamsburg, where she first began crafting soaps with the aid of a rather unlikely household tool—her slow cooker.

As we saw when we visited KaKyung back in July, she does everything herself, from selecting suitable loofahs for her three-piece soap sets to assembling the boxes she uses to package her equilateral soaps, and she does it all in a beautiful space a stone’s throw from Newburgh’s notable historic homes. In her workshop, antique furnishings mingle with massive ferns, delicate crystals, and piles of snacks just begging to be eaten. (Whether said snacks are always there or KaKyung just happens to be a great hostess, we’re not totally sure.) Buoyed by calming vibes and friendly conversation, we munched on burritos, watched KaKyung hand-cut and package her soaps, and asked her a select few questions about what life as a maker in Newburgh looks like. Read on for more.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Christine Schmidt

September 7, 2017

Christine Schmidt soaking up the San Francisco sun, photos by Emily Hodges

Colorful. That describes the running theme inside Christine Schmidt’s home, and also sums up the very core of the artist’s personality. (What type of artist you might ask? Oh, just a printmaker, jewelry designer, illustrator, author, painter, and home decor extraordinaire.)

I was invited into Christine’s home to go behind the scenes of her quirky and offbeat jewelry pieces, like the Color Wheel Pendant and the Taco and Hot Sauce Mismatched Earrings (my personal favorite for obvious and delicious reasons). I knew the visit would be a success the moment Christine uttered the words, “Alexa, play 2 Dope Queens.”  The studio tour quickly unfolded into us playing with paints like art school girls and exchanging love-hate stories about New York City. We drank tea from mugs (that Christine designed herself) while listening to Jessica and Phoebe chuckling in the background. In my head, I’d basically found my new best friend in San Francisco.

Christine’s illustrations definitely bring out the playfulness in me and fill the Lisa Frank void I never even knew existed. Yet, what I admire even more is that Christine herself is super relatable and isn’t afraid to be different — very much like her jewelry designs. As an unapologetic feminist who naturally marches to the beat of her own drum, it’s no surprise that her company, Yellow Owl Workshop, has been a success for almost a decade. She also recently published her third crafting book, Make It Yours. Discover how Christine entered the world of design, what she loves most about San Francisco, and why she thinks you should never apologize.

 

Christine Schmidt’s Color Wheel Pendant

 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Sam Buss and Derek “Ducky” Dahl

August 2, 2017

Sam and Derek outside the industrial brick building that’s home to the Nordeast Maker Space and their studio. Photos by Marisa Bowe (unless otherwise noted)

Sam Buss and Derek “Ducky” Dahl, friends since they were in their teens, make original games in Nordeast Minneapolis, one of my favorite neighborhoods in my hometown city.

Last time I was there, I took a bus on a warm, sunny day to the brick factory building-turned-maker-space they share with other interesting firms and artists. “It’s a maze,” they warned me, “so call us when you get here.” But a friendly co-tenant told me how to find the underground, windowless space.

Given the nature of their games, all of which (so far) involve beer drinking, I expected boisterous frat types (they did meet in a frat while attending the University of Minnesota). What I found, though, was a couple of low-key, thoughtful guys.

As they talked about their history as friends and business partners, I realized what courage it took for them to quit good jobs and throw themselves into being entrepreneurs. Neither of them had any prior business experience, so their road has been full of learning experiences. A few of those— early game prototypes—are on display in their studio.

They demo’d a couple of fancy machines for me: a huge CNC (“Computer Numerical Control”) router, which precision-mills their specially-shaped game boards; and a laser cutter, which emits a little red dot—just like the one my cat likes to chase—except it can cut and engrave wood. The Nordeast Maker Space makes these otherwise-unaffordable specialized machines available to small, independent makers like them. 

It was exciting to hear how the duo are able to realize their ideas, forge their own path, and have some fun along the way. Read on to learn (and see) more.

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Maker Resources

Inside the Artist’s Studio with George Roumanas

July 7, 2017

George Roumanas working in his Athens, Greece studio, photos by Emily Hodges

Given that I “prepped” for this particular Studio Tour by watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding and listening to Mama Mias soundtrack on repeat, I knew that my visit to George Roumanas’ creative space was definitely going to be a fun one. George is a self-taught sculptor from a small village in Southern Greece and he’s the maker behind a collection of brass and wooden art pieces, including our much-adored Pop The Question Wall Sculpture. Being the avid wanderluster I am, I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the process behind George’s romantic designs in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. (Insert overly excited squeal and triple axel jump.)

My visit began with George’s upbeat business partner and wife — Stella Spanopoulou — personally picking me up at my AirBnb rental. I suggested I could easily catch a cab to the studio, but she insisted on giving me a ride. That should have been my first clue that Greek hospitality is genuine and is never to be mistaken for coyness. According to Stella, “When something is offered, just accept it. It’s the Greek way!” During our short drive to the studio, she apologized for three things: how “non-American” and messy their studio was, the fact that George only spoke Greek, and the economic state of Greece. I assured her that the messier the studio the better, that I’ve dealt with language barriers before, and despite Greece’s economic hiccups — everything I’d seen so far was absolutely beautiful.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas

June 7, 2017

Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas (with dogs Freddie and Sammie) in their Baltimore, MD studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

When we first started doing Studio Tours back in 2012, we were pretty limited on where we could go to get our inspiration. That isn’t to say the inspiration was limited–we’ve visited a fantastic line-up of New York City artists close to home. But getting the sign-off to pack up and head to another state definitely wasn’t the goal from the start. Five years later, we’re still featuring monthly studio visits. Thanks to all of the love and support shown by our online community, makers, and the UG team for our tours, we’re able to keep growing the series. Now, we’re finding ways to stop by the studios of creators a little farther from home. Around 195 miles or so from home, in this case.

My latest trip started at Penn Station in Manhattan, eaaarly in the morning. A few hours later, I arrived at Penn Station in Baltimore, Maryland, where Kim Strassner was waiting for me and our Tabletop Buyer, NéQuana. Kim filled us in on some neighborhood history as she drove through B-more to the studio, woodshop, and office space where she and her husband, Mike Pararas, design and craft their personalized wooden cutting boards and lazy Susans. It didn’t take long before I realized how much work Kim, Mike, and their team put into each board they produce. The letters in the customized pieces are carved using tiny blades, precise hand movements, and great attention to detail.

In addition to walking me through how a slab of wood becomes a beautiful, handcrafted cutting board, the couple gave me a look at Kim’s first-ever board with words, answered a few questions about what keeps them going strong, and introduced me to their two adorable Havanese dogs. Keep reading to see inside this woodworking wonderland for yourself.

 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Carrie and Patrick Frost

May 11, 2017

Carrie and Patrick Frost in their Mantua, OH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney and NéQuana Rollings

“Glass is full of magic,” Patrick Frost told me as he and his wife Carrie began the tour of their Mantua, Ohio home with an introduction to their impressive collection of glass pieces from around the world.

As Patrick carefully handled one of the handmade glass objects, he explained that it was created by a master glassblower he’d trained with years before. The glassblower was very old, but after 60 years practicing his craft, he still loved his art, because he believed in the magic of glass.

Patrick said that he too is enchanted by the way glass moves, interacts with light, and almost mesmerizes. The Frosts continued to tell the stories behind many of the pieces in the collection (which takes up an entire wall and then some in their living room), and it became clear that both Patrick and Carrie are sincerely passionate about every part of the glassmaking process—from the first drops of molten material, through firing and turning and blowing, all the way up to opening the oven and seeing the cooled, finished piece for the first time.

Carrie making the Sham-Rock Glass, check out a video of the this glass getting made here

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Rhonda Dudek

April 10, 2017

Rhonda Dudek in her Providence, RI studio, photos by Conor McDonough

Succulents and smiles abound in Rhonda Dudek’s radiant Providence, Rhode Island studio. Located in PVD’s West End, where creatives have transformed shuttered mills and factories into workspace lofts, Rhonda designs and assembles her nature-inspired jewelry (when she’s not traveling the country). Vintage US National Park postcards adorn a wall above an antique mail cabinet speaking to her wanderlust and goal to see all 59 of our national treasures (so far she’s been to six!).

A North Carolina native, Rhonda first came to the 50th biggest state in the nation to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. She returned to NC after school, settling in Asheville to grow her Figs & Ginger line of jewelry when she caught the attention of UncommonGoods. Ten years later, she’s back in Rhode Island finding inspiration in Providence’s historic College Hill neighborhood. The studio’s enormous windows look out on downtown Providence where the iconic “Superman Building” leaps out from the small city’s skyline. Rhonda sees the city’s history as a manufacturing center of costume jewelry as motivation to continue growing her woman-owned independent business.

I met Rhonda in her studio on one of those late winter days where a cloudless sky and bright sun give hope to the promise that springtime is just around the corner. She reflected all of that and more with an enthusiasm to match her loving and whimsical creations. Check out our conversation below to discover one of Lil Rhody’s biggest talents.

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