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Maker Stories

Inside the Designers’ Studio with UncommonGoods Creative Team

February 4, 2013

(clockwise) Liz, Gaby, Hanna, Rebecca, Stephanie, Jessica, Adam and Thomas. Not pictured: Nathan, who works from Oklahoma.

 

Some of the most talented, creative minds we know are closer than we think, so this month we wanted to share the creativity within our own walls to help inspire you. The team, headed by Associate Creative Director Gaby Germaine is responsible for our catalog, emails, home page and everything else UncommonGoods sends out into the world.

UncommonGoods co-founder, COO and Creative Director Thomas Epting loves working with our Creative team. “I’m so proud of this group of absolute creative rockstars. Thrice weekly I get to hear them pitch and show innovative ways to present our product and delight our customers. They are unafraid to call me or each other out about how to improve our collective work. And while laughter is the most frequently heard sound in the studio, they are a crazy-hardworking group, who care deeply about our customers, our brand, great writing, photography and design. More than any creative group I’ve ever seen, they push their collaborators in marketing, merchandising and purchasing to help them react to the numbers behind our business.”

We interviewed Gaby and some of the other team members jumped in. Welcome to the studio!

What are your most essential tools?
The camera is the most obvious and regularly used one for me. It can feel like an extension of my arm at times. But also plain white paper. I need a spot to get the thoughts and images out of my head and down into a visual, tangible item. That can mean sketches, lists or even just scribbles of color and shape. My mind can be chaotic and I adore order. The lists and sketches provide that order.

Nathan, copy writer: My tools aren’t too fancy. All I need is a word processor and my imagination to do my work. But because I’m located in Oklahoma, I also need Skype and instant messaging to interact with the rest of the studio in real time.

Hanna, graphic designer: My Wacom tablet! I can’t work without it. And, of course, nothing beats a #2 mechanical pencil and some graph paper.

Adam, photographer: My most essential tools are the Canon 5D, Broncolor lights, Apple computers, Photohop, and the power of Gray Skull.

What was the toughest lesson you have learned working in the creative field?
The toughest lesson for me was to learn to embrace the concept of a cutting room floor (to steal a term from the film industry). It is one that I still struggle with. Sometimes the best way to get to a great idea or end product is to be willing to spend time making a lot of less-than-great work. It can be a fun process of testing and playing, but it can also be stressful when you tie in a deadline and obviously wanting all of my work to be at a high level of quality. It is a lesson worth learning though as some of my favorite work that I am the most proud of has come through this editing process.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
It is pretty much involved in every element of it. It can range from talking over a photo shoot idea with the Creative Director, or being on set with him to shoot covers, to working with the designers and copy writers to come up with the best photo/copy/design elements for an upcoming email. We brainstorm and plan together on all the emails we send. I also love how when we are shooting covers for the catalog everyone is involved. Everyone gets called over to look at set and the photo to give feedback on the image and copy. Sometimes I agree or disagree with the feedback and sometimes changes are made due to other suggestions and other times not. I just think it is a good practice to listen and think about how the customer might respond to the images I am presenting. Best way to figure that out is to be willing to present the images to others and work on any solutions needed.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love the front of the studio. The big conference table right by the bay of windows. The light is beautiful, and the space itself is open and airy. There is loads of room to craft, have a natural light photo shoot, brainstorm with the group and of course the studio favorite – a game of Apples to Apples!

Hanna: Hahaha. But seriously would not turn down a game of Apples to Apples in lieu of the catalog meeting.

How do you set goals for yourself and the team?
We make a yearly plan as a studio that aligns with the companies over all yearly goals and then break that down into work by quarter with what we can get done… and then we adjust as new projects and goals come up. It is really important that we assign ownership also to keep projects moving along. It is really about breaking everything down into smaller easy to manage steps.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time… I should get me some of that. No seriously, I think down time is a hard thing for anyone in the creative field to understand. I think just so much of our thoughts wander back to our projects be it work, or personal. We do have some really talented bakers and cooks in the studio though, so inevitably each week someone has brought a treat in to share. We will often gather around the table for a taste test and chat. And of course Pinterest research has a special place in all of our hearts.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We all pretty much love anything involving confetti and glitter. You can always tell when it is someone in the studio’s birthday by the loud explosion of a confetti cannon (popper).

What quote keeps you motivated?
“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work” Thomas A. Edison

In college I was in a visiting artist lecture and the speaker told the class that it is not the most talented artist that make it in this industry. It is those who don’t lose interest due to work that is needed. Those that are willing to work the hardest and longest. Like most in a creative field I struggle (and especially in school with the daily critiques that compared me to some really talented student in my program) with seeing my worth and vision as an artist. I remember sitting in that lecture and thinking, “Oh, I can totally do that! I know I can work hard and long.” It was a great moment for me. It was the first time I really felt like there was potential for me to succeed not just a hope for it.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft
I feel like I am constantly working to improve my styling for photographs. How to lay objects down and have them look beautiful and not too organized that they don’t look natural, but still can tell the story of the items clearly. It seems so simple, but there are hours that can go into a shot to make it look effortless. I try to keep up on “research” by looking over blogs with great photography, Pinterest, magazines and sometimes even how sets from some movies are styled. I also have some friends who are stylists and I will trade my photo services with them for their styling services. When we work together on a test shoot I end up learning so much about how to lay down fabric to show motion, or how to stack blocks or plates so they are a little less than a perfect tower, with some shape and motion to draw you in.

Hanna: Currently I’m on a mission to become a web development guru. I’ve been taking classes at NYU and working towards getting my certificate. So far, they have been great! Being in school makes me feel nostalgic and presenting to my classmates keeps me on my toes design-wise. I have to bring my A-game to class!

How do you recharge your creativity?
I have to walk away at times. I have to have interest and goals outside of work and creativity… although they all seem to find a way back into creativity somehow. I was prepping to run a 10k for my birthday last year (a bunch of my friends in the studio ran it with me also. So I went running while on press to print the Holiday Catalog in Wisconsin. I was running to train and recharge from work and was totally pulled into the amazing beauty of the landscape. I ended up having a terrible day as far as running was concerned, but some of the best photos as I would run 10 ft then stop to snap a shot of another amazing view!

Other times I just need to learn something new or create something just for me. I love knitting, embroidery, bookbinding, cooking, decorating, etc. And I love learning about people who do these things. I live in a great city that gives me the opportunity to go to loads of lectures or meet artist at street fairs. Sometimes hearing someone else talk about something they are passionate about helps me to refocus on my passions.

Adam: Lunchtime walks through the industrial district. And playing ukelele while I wait for files to load.

Nathan: I make sure that, outside of work, I use my creativity for the things I love. I write musical theater, play violin, do craft projects, and whatever else that I can so that I don’t ever feel like my talents are just limited to use at work.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Oh man! That advice is probably the same advice I need today…. lol. Worry less, play more. Seriously, I spend a considerable amount of time concerned and focus on missing a press deadline- or any deadline really. Things generally work out. Even if we go with a back-up plan, we all work hard and find a way to get the job done.

Hanna: You don’t know it all.

Adam: Try to get an internship during college. Work as much in your field as possible, especially with people who are good at what they do.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Michelle Inciarrano & Katy Maslow

January 10, 2013

It only took a short subway ride to get from UncommonGoods headquarters to the Twig Terrariums studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, but when I got there I was surprised at how far away I felt. I stepped into a tiny forest of laughs, puppies, and Lady Gaga songs (OK, there was only one puppy–but you get the idea). It was very clear that the Twig brand is all about the things BFFs Michelle and Katy love most – making beautiful and whimsical living environments inside apothecary jars, achieving their goals, and having fun. Growing up in Brooklyn, they were childhood buddies and reconnected at a friend’s birthday party a decade later. They recharged their friendship with regular craft nights, and when Michelle suggested they try putting together terrariums, Katy had to admit that she didn’t know what one was.

I could give one of Michelle’s famous Braveheart-like speech about how much fun I had in their studio, but I’d rather you hear about why Twig is so successful in Michelle’s own words.

What are your most essential tools?
Our #1 best tool of all time is… wait for it… the “pokey stick.” Yes, a simple dowel. We absolutely love them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Where do you not find inspiration? We are obsessed with making these miniature gardens – and do not understand any other way since we started. We simply cannot fathom an end to creating them and the possibilities are endless. We revel in them.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Plan on needing more space than you think. Seriously. We moved studios 4 times in the last three years. Four times! And when you factor in that most of the stuff to be moved is made of glass, you understand our horror. Luckily, we made it through with surprisingly little broken, but jeez, that was a challenge. And then when you factor in the costs of moving, repairs, storage and design, the enormity of the situation becomes clearer. We still cringe when we think of it! But now we have 3,000 sq feet to play in, and although we still run out of room on occasion, we have an outdoor area to play in when we need a break. And did I mention the 14-foot paper mache tree we built in the middle of the studio? Yes, we now have a 14-foot paper mache tree!

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
I would write the “us of five years ago” a novel! Seriously. A novel. There is so much I’d like to say, but if I had to cut it short, I’d reassure myself by saying that everything is going to be okay, and to stay focused. I’d reassure Katy, too. We worry a lot.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I mind-map with Katy for all long-term goals – this is where we discuss the new things we want to do and create, then break them down into short-term goals, then break those down into to-do lists.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We celebrate everything here at Twig! The staff here are a small family. Or cult. We can’t decide. You can ask them yourself but I have a feeling they’ll say it’s a cult. We all believe in the team “work hard/play hard” philosophy, so while we are happy to have a Mimosa Monday, we may have had a late Friday. We are all self-driven. And finishing everything we had to do on Friday is a victory. It’s usually an impressive list. Taxes are a victory. So is being featured in a magazine, or a wonderfully fun event at New York Botanic Gardens, or winning an award (or four) at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The only rule is that we party after the work is done, but one of my favorite things to do during a long (or particularly packed) day is surprise everyone with a picnic style bbq feast on top of our picnic tables (underneath our paper mache tree, of course). Ribs, fried chicken, mac n cheese, creamed spinach… you get the idea.

Putting together the Unchartered Territory Terrarium.


What quote keeps you motivated?
Katy and I are both English majors (hers in poetry, mine in fine art and classic literature). Never ask English majors for quotes. We’ll inundate you. We can’t help it. There are too many.


Instead, Michelle and Katy shared Twig’s motto “an easily maintained, easily contained life”, something that describes their work ethic as well as their terrariums. They believe that being maintained and contained includes strong goal-setting and super-sized list making–but also playing as hard as you work.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Oddly, we argue. Then we cry. Then we hug. We are happy. Then we create. This happens only every four months or so.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
That’s the thing; there isn’t much down time here during the day. We are a growing a small business here! But once the day is done, there is always beer in the fridge, chips and dip laying about, and stories to share.

Michelle and Katy sat in Prospect Park one day trying to figure out what the name of their creative company would be. The mulled over many choices until Katy reached down, picked up what she refers to as the most perfect twig she has ever seen and made one simple suggestion that stuck. That fateful twig now rests inside this antique apothecary jar in their store.



Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
We collaborate with a few glass blowers to design pieces for us, as well as visualize our designs. We love it!

After spending an hour or so with Michelle and Katy, it was really easy to understand why their terrariums are so popular, why the press can’t stay away, and why fans flock to their studio for workshops and classes. They are all about having fun and getting the work done – especially the really fun work.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio – A 2012 Recap

December 26, 2012

This was such an exciting year for UncommonGoods and our design community. We hosted a number of great challenges, began our newsletter series and we found a way to connect our current artists with all of you in a way that informs and inspires. It is also a way for us to get to know our own artists in a more intimate way. Here is a look at the ten artist studios that we visited this year, both in person and remotely.

Our first visit was to the Manhattan office of RabLabs where Anna Rabinowicz and her staff design beautiful pieces from Brazilian agate.

Next, we visited the lower Manhattan boutique of jewelry designer Laura Lobdell.

In the spring, we headed to the upstairs apartment in Claudia Pearson’s Brooklyn home to see how she stays inspired to illustrate.

Dolan Geiman gave us a view into his Chicago workspace and showroom for our first remote studio tour.

A short trip on the subway brought us to the Brooklyn space of Aaron Ruff, jewelry designer behind Digby & Iona, and his four-legged studiomate, Nookie.

Illustrator and screen printer, Laura Fisk, takes us around back to the work shed at her new Austin, TX home.

Before helping us pick a winner in the Bike Lovers Design Challenge, Emily Rotschild invited us into the basement of her Brooklyn brownstone where her she explores new designs and crafts while caring for her newborn son.

Chief Design Junkie of TerraCycle, Tiffany Threadgould, shared their Trenton, NJ office and studio where she and her team turn trash into treasure.

We ventured back into Manhattan to Jenny Krauss’s space in the garment district where her designs are sent to Peruvian artists who use traditional techniques to create her work.

Last but not least, photographer Audrey Heller gave us a look into her photography studio where she uses big ideas and little people to create memorable art.

We can’t wait to see where 2013 will bring us and who we will meet! Have any favorite UncommonGoods artist? Let us know who’s studio you would like to see.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Audrey Heller

December 6, 2012

I remember the sample meeting (where each week our buyers present uncommon products they’re considering for our line-up) when Audrey Heller’s fantastical photographs were first introduced. The team was immediately captivated by the whimsical scenes, and not a buyer could wait to add her work to our collection.

Remembering the excitement around her creative pieces like End Well, Ripened, and my personal favorite, Bound, I couldn’t wait to get a tour of the studio where Audrey brings her miniature models to life. Since Audrey is in San Francisco, I couldn’t visit her workspace in person; but being a photographer and all, Audrey was happy to snap some photos of her own to provide virtual tour of her studio.

What are your most essential tools?
Eyes. Light. Focus. Patience. NPR. Coffee. And then a bunch of tech stuff.

I was a lighting designer and director for theater, and I use those skills all the time. I create and light my little scenarios, using many of the same design theories that I used on a big stage, but adjusting my tools to tiny scale. So what I would do with a 400 pound follow spot in the theater, I might do with a flashlight in my studio.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love to be surrounded by evidence of creative thinking, reminders of unique places I have been, and objects with histories.

I’ve spent the last twelve years traveling to art shows across the country. That connects me to a huge variety of artists, people who present and support the arts, and arts educators. All of those connections, combined with the array of sublime and ridiculous experiences I have on the road, remind me that there are always new things to explore.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I’ve started to learn to play the ukulele. I have absolutely no musical training or aptitude, so I’m just dreadful. But I’m slowly getting less dreadful, and that’s really amazing. It is hard, it takes a lot of focus, progress is slow…but it is such a sweet and silly little sound that I can’t get too worked up about how bad I am. Working on a three chord song is a great way to reset my brain.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Ha. I usually set goals by committing to an external deadline. Deadlines are great for me, because without them, I would never consider anything finished. So I look for things that will stretch me, maybe scare me and then I say yes. From there, it’s the calendar and lists!

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Theater is the ultimate collaborative art, and I struggle with working alone. I really love working with people, incubating and nurturing ideas.

In this series my collaborators are silent, but essential. The figures I use are made for model train sets, and they all come from the same manufacturer. They are crafted with incredible precision and care, and have made it possible for me to create work with much more depth than if they were not, in themselves, so fascinating.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is its own reward, right? When it’s not, ice cream!*

* San Francisco is the home of some mighty fine purveyors of frozen treats, but I travel a lot, so I’m always interested to hear of new places to try..feel free to offer your suggestions!

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“You are here.”

It is simple, and profound. Sometimes it’s just a locational fact, sometimes it is great ponderable wisdom of the ages. It is a reminder that I often need. My curiosity can become a liability and lead to distraction. When I remind myself to be present just where I am, I get a lot more out of what is in front of me and who I’m with. It’s delightful that the phrase appears in the world, unlooked for. When I see it, even on a map in a subway station, it reminds me to stop and look around.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Serious play is the best recharger for me. Learning, experimenting, trying out new things, can put me in that childlike state of mind where I’m open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I don’t mean “childlike” to sound simple, or superficial. I mean REAL child-like: when the world is fresh and full of wonder, and a little scary and mystifying and out of control.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes. I don’t get better by figuring out how to do things right; I get better by doing things. Jump in.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Jenny Krauss

November 8, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit longtime UncommonGoods artist and former How To Make It panelist, Jenny Krauss in her new Manhattan studio. Jenny’s space is a combination between a warehouse and mission control, where she sends out her vision to artists in Peru who turn her ideas into reality. Her designing happens all over – at her desk, at home on the sofa – wherever she feels inspired. Her pieces are a combination between the traditional weaving techniques of the region in Peru that she employs and her modern visions of design.

I was there just in time to see her package up a shipment of her new Hand Embroidered Pillows to send to UncommonGoods in time for the holidays. Take a look inside of the work space of this incredibly talented designer and entrepreneur.

What are your most essential tools?
Pencil, paper, yarn charts, and laptop.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Inspiration comes from thinking and seeing; the space where that happens can be anywhere. This is an office, warehouse, and studio. I wouldn’t say the space inspires me. I do the work here.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
It generally doesn’t. We work hard all day and only stop for lunch.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Making and selling things is a lot harder than designing them.

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Don’t give up.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Entrepreneurs are often people who need a challenge. I’m always thinking about how I can make the product and company better.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m not a big celebrator. Maybe I should become one!

What quote keeps you motivated?
I heard this when I was a kid and have never forgotten it. “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Since I work with impoverished women who live in remote areas without opportunity, I am grateful for everything.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Instead of sending drawings to Peru to get samples made I wish I could make the samples myself. I’m not exactly making progress though.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I don’t get to be creative all that much. We introduce new product twice a year so I have to meet those deadlines. Most of my time is devoted to running a business, so when I have to think up new designs, I’m thrilled that I can sit down and draw. My dream is to be able to design full-time, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’m always bouncing ideas off of Janet, my co-conspirator. She has a background in fashion and a great eye.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio: Tiffany Threadgould of TerraCycle

October 12, 2012

This month we have the pleasure of hosting our fourth design event, How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, at which Tiffany Threadgould will speak on our panel. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at TerraCycle, a long time vendor of UncommonGoods with a penchant for turning trash into treasure. Now operating in 20 countries across the globe, Terracycle offers recycling services to large companies and creative products for consumers, like our Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Tiffany leads the team of designers who are tasked with taking an unwanted product or package and creating a piece that will impress.

We were unable to take train ride across the river to Trenton, New Jersey to visit the TerraCycle headquarters first hand but Tiffany was willing to share her studio with us. Enjoy!

What are your most essential tools?
The industrial sewing machine and heat press machine are two machines we can’t live without. Just about any solution from flexible waste can be solved with one or both of those machines.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?
Inspiration often starts with the material itself. We work with a lot of waste that has logos and branding on it so we’re always tying the original purpose of the material back into the finished product. Colgate toothpaste tubes can be transformed into a travel kit. Baby food pouches become a diaper bag or bib. Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There’s not a lot of down time in the office. If we don’t have urgent sample requests for our brand partners, then we’ll refocus on new, upcycled décor for the office. [Decorating with repurposed materials] is not only an inexpensive way to refurnish our office, but is also the best sales tool to demonstrate our commitment to what we do. An old bowling alley was turned into a conference table, soda bottles and vinyl records became room dividers. Nothing is waste to us. It’s all material for our next project.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer?
Measure twice, cut once.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Try to get the word “NO” out of your vocabulary. I’ve worked at TerraCycle for over 4 years and it really has taught me to push the upcycled envelope on waste materials. Prior to working here I was always choosier about the materials I worked with. At TerraCycle there is a need to find a solution to everything that comes our way – yogurt lids, cigarette butts, you name it. My job is to make sure we find an upcycled product for any material that comes to us.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Goals come directly from our project assignments. We hit a goal whenever we finish a big project like an office makeover; complete a challenging project for a brand partner, or creating a new product line for our awesome retail partners like UncommonGoods.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Our CEO, Tom Szaky, started a tradition of “gong hits”. We have an actual gong in the office and whenever something major is accomplished you actually ring the gong and then send an email to the company. TerraCycle is in over 20 countries now, so we can share good news and positive energy with our distant offices this way.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Traditional crafts techniques can always be applied to new waste materials. I recently learned to braid with bread bags and food wrappers and that was a fun “twist” on an old technique.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This quote came to me from Daniel Freitag when I was working on my graduate thesis titled Trash Nouveau – “Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products.”

How do you recharge your creativity?
Caffeine is always the perfect tool to help recharge.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work with an amazing design team at TerraCycle. We all bring different skills and talents to the table (a table made from upcycled wine barrels and doors, of course). We do a great job of blending our backgrounds of Industrial Design, Textiles, Architecture, and more to create unique design solutions for recycled materials. Hurray for upcycling!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Emily Rothschild

September 4, 2012

Studio tours have opened up so many new views into the lives and creative minds of our artists. In visiting with Emily Rothschild last month, I learned that her jewelry line was only the tip of the artistic iceberg. A designer who is always excited to learn, Emily constantly challenges her mind with lessons and classes, expanding her talents and perspective.

We thought her well-rounded attitude would serve well on the judging panel for the Bike Lovers Design Challenge and couldn’t wait to see inside her Fort Greene home-studio.

What are your most essential tools?
A few of my most essential tools are my camera for documenting inspiration for new work as well as completed projects, a radio for constant NPR streaming, and a pair of jeweler’s pliers which always seem to come in handy. My most loved tool is a pair of glassblowing jacks. The jacks have an excellent weight, feel, and history: it’s easy to imagine the years of hard work they endured before I owned them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I find inspiration from the objects around me all of which have a story: tools I inherited from my father, a workbench from RISD, design books and culled images, a kitchen spatula from the 1940s… I find it is important to be surrounded by loved objects.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
My two dogs remind me to step away and take a walk; they make me slow down and refresh. It’s often hard to remember to step back but it is necessary to see things from all angles: sometimes you need distance in order to get closer to a solution. I’m also settling into my new role as a mom and know that I will be spending as much time as possible with three-month-old Otto between projects. I’m often guilty of working too much but for him I’m willing to slow down and clear my head completely.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I learned that I need to push myself beyond my comfort zone, seek advice when needed, and find solutions in a variety of ways. I enjoy working in new areas of interest and with new materials which means that I have to reach out often to others. I am lucky to have found a great community of designers who work in the same way and are just as curious. Sharing information goes both ways and is key to making it on your own – it means you’re never really alone.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Love what you do. And find a community of people with similar interests and goals whom you can share ideas (and gripes) with. Community is key.


How do you set goals for yourself?
I usually have a variety of projects going on at any given time which helps me to stay focused and continue moving forward. The goals I set often seem unreachable when I first set out – I’m generally completely intimidated when starting a new project and also raring to go. The only way I can make anything happen is to dive in and take risks.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
My husband reminds me to reward myself after working hard and wrapping up a project. It’s easy to run right into the next job when you work for yourself, I’m lucky to have someone to celebrate victories with – both big and small. I try hard to remind him of the same!


What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I think about something my father always said: “Why is a duck when it spins?”. I figure if I can unlock that life mystery, I can make just about anything. My father was a great source of inspiration, information, and humor and someone who had a great hunger for investigating and learning. His wide spanning interests helped to form my curiosity about people and my perspective on design.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
This past year I took rhino, wax carving, and quilt making classes at Third Ward, Fitzjerald Jewelry, and Pins and Needles respectively. There is always some new skill I want to acquire for a project; I love learning to work with different materials and getting lost in the process.


How do you recharge your creativity?
I recharge my creativity by working on a diverse range of projects at a variety of scales – both client-based and self-generated. I work on research-based design work with my team, Hello. We Are _____., and more product-based work on my own. This combination of experiences and opportunities makes for a well balanced and never boring workweek. I also try to remember to get out of my studio often and look around – studio visits, museums, jogs, a trip out of the city, anything that keeps me looking at and talking about design.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’m lucky to have the support of an excellent design team as well as a strong local design community and access to any number of makers and manufacturers. I have been working as part of a team of designers (helloweare.com) for the past few years and we are excited to be growing our team and outreach this year. I find it is impossible to design alone.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Aaron Ruff

July 3, 2012

Situated above a Brooklyn art gallery, in a space shared by artists of varying mediums, Aaron Ruff’s single room looked more like a museum at first glance than a jewelry studio. The creator of Digby & Iona and his four-legged friend, Nuki, took me in for the morning to chat about the creation of his new collection, how the price of commodities has impacted his business and how history plays a role in keeping him inspired.

What are your most essential tools?
The hammer and the foredom.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m a big collector, so the entire space is inspiration. I’m constantly rearranging and dragging in new stuff, so the space is constantly evolving.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It’s embarrassing to say, but just the basics of running a legit business were the hardest skills to master. Terms like W9 or EIN still make my head spin a little.

Does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Does Pinterest count as downtime? We think so!

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Invest in silver! This is my main material and it has gone crazy in the last 5 years. Then it was $13 an ounce and earlier this year it was almost $40. I definitely miss the days when I could cast absurdly huge pieces in silver without blinking and eye. It’s changed the way I design quite a bit, I don’t want to have to raise my prices significantly so I have to be a lot more conscious about designing lighter pieces.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m terrible at meeting the deadlines I set for myself, so I generally set yearly goals and hope all goes to plan.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m my own toughest critic, so celebration requires a pretty massive win.

What quote keeps you motivated?
I use historical quotes in my work quite a lot, most recently, ‘Don’t give up the ship’ which is a quote from Lee Hazard Perry during the War of 1812 (also the name of the collection). It’s pretty self-explanatory; it’s my version of the ‘hang in there’ kitten poster.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel as much as possible.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I generally collaborate with illustrators; my drawing skills are terrible, so I really enjoy turning 2d into 3d and vice versa.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’ve just come out with an engagement band collection, so I’ve had a recent crash course on diamonds and precious gems.

Aaron will be a judge in our Jewelry Design Challenge. Call for entries ends July 12th.

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