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Studio Tours

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

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Molly McGrath

March 27, 2015

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Molly McGrath is a laser-cutting artist who marries her architecture training with her love for geometric shapes and bright hues. Molly’s statement art pieces are known for intricacy and precision, yet words like “lively” and ”fun” still come to mind when you see them. I visited Molly’s lovely studio in the heart of The Mission in San Francisco and it wasn’t a surprise that her open space mimicked her artwork’s aesthetic – flashing lots of playfulness with even more color. Her studio held lots of character, from her personable knick-knacks to her hand painted geometric doors, I simply couldn’t focus on just one thing. Natural light flooded in, her laser cut designs peeked out from drawers and vignettes, and her desktops were scattered with signs of production. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a real life Pinterest board titled “Interior Eye Candy.” It was clear that Molly built a home away from home – a space that was truly hers to the very core.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Creatives often try their best to limit distractions in order to stay focused on their craft. Yet it was procrastination for Molly that ignited the initial spark for her small business. As Molly told me, “I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day, while procrastinating, I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. That was the beginning!” Read about Molly’s friends Larry and Lola, what quote keeps her inspired, and her current obsession to perfect her craft!

Atlas 1 | UncommonGoods

Atlas 1 by Molly McGrath.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is definitely my laboratory. I have painted a wall with a sharpie, color blocked my doors, and constantly rearrange and review my collection of objects, textiles, furniture, and books for inspiration.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods
Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
My laser cutters (Larry and Lola) are definitely my most essential tools. Everything that comes out of my studio has been cut by one of them! I’m also completely reliant on AutoCad and the Adobe Creative suite to generate my designs.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Since there are just two of us here, there isn’t a lot of downtime. We run a pretty efficient shop. Daily trips to the post office accompanied by a coffee break are probably the closest thing to down time we have at our studio!

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
The most difficult part of my work has been figuring out how to grow and being strategic of the direction of the business.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day while procrastinating I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. At that time in 2006, there was not a lot of laser cut jewelry, and people really responded to it. That was the beginning!

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoodsMolly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
The same advice as I offer myself now – hire more people to help with production to allow for more time for product development.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How do you set goals for yourself?
My goals are simple – to continue to evolve as a designer, and to grow as a business.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Usually when I get a new design opportunity that I couldn’t have foreseen. For example, I am working on a collaboration with Chronicle Books, which I have celebrated quite a bit!

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Jerry Garcia

This quote is from a song called “Scarlet Begonias” by the Grateful Dead. I listened to this song incessantly starting around age of 16, a time when everything is exciting and the possibilities of life are endless. I love the sentiment, and it also is a great approach to design.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am always on the hunt for a new material to use with the laser cutters. My current obsession is ceramics, so I am trying to learn everything I can about that medium at the moment.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods
Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel, reading Vogue, hiking, and going to museums.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Often! My employee Qiana has been an amazing collaborative partner, as have many of my wholesale accounts. I also love doing custom work. It often results in a completely different approach!

 

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

 

Molly Mcgrath | See the Collection

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Richard Upchurch

March 12, 2015

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

As UncommonGoods photographer Emily and I made our way to visit Richard Upchurch’s studio, our cab driver quizzed us on some of the local neighborhood acronyms. “Do you know what Tribeca stands for?” he stared at us in his rear-view mirror. “Triangle below Canal Street,” we laughed. “What about Dumbo?” “Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” we said in unison. “Do you know why this neighborhood is called Red Hook?” he mused as we turned down a one-way street lined with rugged facades. We were stumped. “Because of all these brick buildings?” I guessed. “I don’t think so!” he teased. “But seriously, I’m not sure. Do you know?” he peered back in the mirror.

Out of guesses, I stared out the window at the jumble of modern and old-fashioned storefronts. With its scattered cobblestone streets and uncanny industrial vibe (a holdover from when it was a busy shipping center), I felt like I was back in my old Pittsburgh neighborhood. That is, until I saw the beautiful view of New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty directly across from the studio’s dome shaped doors. 

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

Richard introduced himself with a comforting flair of southern hospitality. As soon as he learned about Emily’s Georgia roots, he started describing his favorite Georgia venues where he had previously performed as a touring musician, setting the stage for an afternoon with one of the best storytellers either of us had met in a long time. He walked us around his studio and described how Lil’ MibZoots, and Loopy Lou grew from blocks of wood into sound recording gadgets. He related the first days of his business brandnewnoise, and how it’s grown to become an influential internship provider for inner-city students. He gave us the inside scoop behind the bright green frog in the center of his workstation. (A project that involved a crazy collaboration with Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips!) We pointed to his old wooden thumb piano, among other oddities, and he elaborated with charming, sentimental tales. He pointed toward his favorite barbecue joint across the street, distinguishing all of the clandestine spots that make Red Hook so special. With each new story, he built the kind of environment that made us want to settle into rocking chairs, crack open beers, and chat about life. After meeting Richard, I am not surprised that he decided to set up shop in a neighborhood that’s so full of history, character, and unexpected treasures.

Whether you’re looking for creative inspiration, or just hoping to get a sneak peek into an artist’s everyday life, you’re in good company. Pull up your favorite chair, sit back, and enjoy our tour of Richard’s Brooklyn Studio.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
My Weller soldering iron, table saw, drill presses, hot glue guns, needle nose pliers, hand sanders, 320 grit sandpaper, and my bike.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Mason jars filled with electronics, wood working equipment, found oddities, tools, workspace to build, and an espresso maker. I’m lucky this is what I call work.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoodsRichard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

How did you develop the concept of your product?
I wanted my nephew to have the experience of an old tape machine. I couldn’t find one for cheap, so I just built him something that would simulate the experience. I ended up building him a simple voice recorder made out of wood where he could change the sound of his voice. He took it to show and tell, where his teachers inquired about purchasing some. So I made five for his teachers. I made 10 for my first online store at the insistence of my sister-in-law and, well, here I am still building them today.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

How do you believe that your past experiences have helped you develop your current business?
Everything we do is built on previous days and our ability to move forward into something positive. Those days add up. I studied art in college. I got out of college and toured playing music for 10 years. Now here I am at the intersection of art and music making sound gadgets.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
“Workflow”, “margins”, and the jargon can easily outweigh time spent doing what I do best, making art. It’s quite difficult to constantly step away from the business part and get back to that which I love: the process of creating, building and seeing a physical object materialize from inception. One must create time to create.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Walk through every open door. If you find yourself in a room that doesn’t seem to hold your attention then look for the open door. There is no dead end.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
A victory lap might include a good cappuccino, a movie while we work, cookies (always cookies), and some robot dancing. When? The goal is to find reason to do the robot every day.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I think this changes as events in our world change and certainly in my own personal life. So recently, I followed the story of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, the two guys who climbed Dawn Wall in Yosemite:

“I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.” – Kevin Jorgeson

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel. Live music. Dinner parties with interesting storytellers. Bike rides. Laughing really hard with friends. Looking at art. Taking things apart.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Collaboration is at the heart of my process. I am surrounded by talented, positive people who have different ways of seeing and are always ready to create positive change. I love throwing something into the universe and seeing it evolve.

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am surrounded by other artists, woodworkers, electronics wizards, and musicians that constantly challenge me to be better. I try not to get overwhelmed and just keep honing my skills in lots of different areas. We are all here to encourage each other, so I keep my eyes open and my hands always ready to build something.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Dave Marcoullier

February 10, 2015

Dave Marcoullier | UncommonGoods

Rocking red flannel, Dave Marcoullier, a San Francisco-based woodworking designer, was dressed like a true lumberjack when I showed up to take a tour of his studio. Passing gigantic Burning Man iron monuments that were displayed behind a fence outside, I was led into a warehouse that sheltered a world of more peculiar sculptures and organized chaos. I felt like I was in an abandoned carnival tucked away inside a hoarder’s ultimate dream maze. I was in a place that’s the second home for over 250 artists, blacksmiths, inventors, creative minds, and in Dave’s words, “mad scientists.” I didn’t spot anyone right away, but I heard banging, drilling, and faint shouting throughout the warehouse space. A dog brushed pass me, and Dave immediately told me how friendly she was.

Dave Marcoullier Wooden Routings | UncommonGoods

Stacks of random puzzle pieces of wood, metal, found items, car parts, and other bits and bobs were everywhere. I couldn’t decipher what objects they once were, but I had a feeling their future life would be interesting. I was officially Alice in a very, very different wonderland.

Dave was “the guy in the corner with the loud machines.” His space was positioned in the back – where his power tools and materials waited to be played with. My eyes couldn’t focus on just one thing because there was so much to look at. Wood pieces, big and small, tall and short, skinny and wide – were sprinkled along the walls and stored inside of trash cans. There was a huge cargo container placed in the corner, the inside was cleverly morphed into another mini workshop within his workspace, where more tools, gadgets, and machines were proudly displayed. I recognized his designs that were scattered under and on top of tables, all of them at different stages: just started, almost done, completed masterpiece.

From his Infill Fanicle Table to his City Skyline Wooden Routing, Dave’s intricate designs are truly uncommon and make a charming addition to any space. Read on to learn more about this maker and get a glimpse at his unforgettable creative space.

Sculptures 2
Sculptures 1

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m inspired by the chaos and energy in this building. From hoarders to mad scientists, and everything in between, there are a lot of people here doing a lot of different things. I’m the guy in the corner with the loud machines.

What are your most essential tools?
The table saw is the center of my shop, but the CNC router is the epicenter. Everything that leaves my shop spends some time on the router bed. Other notables – ear protection, music and podcasts, a triangle, and a tape measure.

Dave in his San Francisco Studio
Router

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time is usually unplanned. Some days I hit the ground running and don’t look up until it’s time to go home. Other days I pace or pause between tasks, knolling and tidying. Some days I wander through the workspace and end up somewhere on the other side.

Outside of Dave's Studio
Outside of Dave's Studio 2

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Nothing works perfectly the first time. I now accept and expect problems and trials with every first attempt. Life and work are a series of mistakes and corrections. Rarely do you get it right on the first take.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I’m a serial dabbler. I was experimenting with a handheld shop router, cutting designs in relief into wood, which led to intentional designs I would cut by hand with the router. With increased demand I eventually bought a small CNC router, and then a larger one. It was an organic and progressive process for me.

Dave's Tools

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Less talk, more rock. I tiptoed into many new experiences and decisions, sometimes over deliberating. Have more trust in yourself and don’t worry about the hiccups.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I believe in lists. I keep a running list of bite-sized goals and tasks that need to be completed within a window of days and weeks. I also have broader lists of design ideas and plans for business growth that I need to keep checking in on as the months progress. Finally, I have those big, hairy goals that I let marinate in my brain, keeping me dreaming about things that seem almost out of reach.

Wood
Stable

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Immediately and always.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.” -Daniel Burnham

I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have larger plans for myself. Being self employed by making things was always a huge goal of mine, but I had no idea how I’d ever get there. It’s good to get riled up and make bold plans.

Daniel Burnham Quote

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Currently, wood turning on the lathe, welding, and metal casting.
I often try to kickstart creativity with heightened focus or by visiting art blogs and museums, but I’ve found this rarely works for me. Most of my creativity arrives unannounced and often at inopportune times. I usually stop what I’m doing to focus on it. It’s important. It’s the fertilizer of my work.

Wooden Routing Art  by Dave Marcoullier  | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Ultimately, the greatest collaborator of my work is my wife. She has a strong instinct for design that I trust. I bounce all my new ideas off her and take her suggestions seriously. My wood shop is within a small collective of about a half dozen craftspeople, and this collective is within a giant warehouse of about 250 people. My shop mates are metal workers, blacksmiths, glass artists and engineers, which means I’m exposed to other crafts and ways of working. It’s helpful that when I need to venture into metal work there is usually someone to help me, and I them. I thrive in solitude but need bursts of interaction.

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.