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Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Laura Fisk

August 10, 2012

The creator of memorable screenprinted characters like the Pancake Monster, artist Laura Fisk grew up on the East Coast and called New York home for 10 years. She recently said goodbye to her Brooklyn studio and relocated to Austin, TX. From across the country, Laura opens the doors to her new studio to us and shares about embracing an unfamiliar work space, making art in a new city, and creating a happy place.

How is working in Austin different than working in Brooklyn?
I love Brooklyn and New York so much, and leaving was really hard after living there for 10 years, and growing up on the East Coast. It’s a total cliché, but it came down to space, space, space. My husband and I both needed more space for our businesses (Josh just started a content development and production company this year with a business partner). I almost felt guilty when we first got here setting up my office space and studio. After working out of mostly a corner of our apartment and a communal studio it felt decadent to be able to have two functional workspaces all to myself! It’s a little slower paced here than NYC. I both like that and miss the sometime frantic New York energy.

How are you adjusting to a new studio in a new city?
Moving makes your brain work in different ways, although it’s a bit painful. It forces you to do things differently, but in the end that’s a good thing. Austin is a really creative town so it’s been great getting to know people, finding out about arty/crafty things, eating at the delicious food carts, and discovering new fun stuff. In my head I’ve always had ideas how I’d want to set up my space and now I have a chance to enact them. Joining a screenprinting co-op down here has also helped me get to know some local printers. I loved working side by side to other printers in NYC, so still having some element was important to hold on to. I now mostly print in a little house in our backyard. It took a bit to get set up, but now I’m in love with it. It’s my own world back there, and enjoy it even more than I thought I would.

What are your most essential tools for creating your art?
As an illustrator, my drawings are hand-drawn with all sorts of different pens, and I do touch ups and work on color ideas on the computer. At this point I really work back and forth, and I wholeheartedly thank the person who invented the scanner. I need a slew of specific things for printing, but for me, it’s all about the ink. I love bright colors, and the saturated color that you can get with screenprinting is amazing. It’s the reason I keep printing.

Where do you find inspiration within your workspace?
I have piles of books–old and new–that I like to flip through that take me to a new idea or for an animal photos for reference. Staring at my ink shelves does wonders, thinking what colors will work together best. I like putting images up on the wall or holding on to articles that inspire me. It’s important for me for where I work to be a happy place, with little fun things to catch my attention.

What are some of your time management secrets?
To do lists! I feel completely out of control without lists and I have them everywhere. I usually hand-write them, because it helps me remember things more, and it feels really satisfying crossing things off. I’m not the most organized person, so forcing myself to stop and think what I have to accomplish for that day, that week, etc. keeps me on target.

What advice could you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Too many things; if only there was a time machine. One, be more organized from the get-go. Set specific goals from the start–not vague–but specific plans. Think ahead more. I tend to jump head first into projects without fully thinking them through, which is something I actively work on now. Also, and this is a big one, everyone needs help in a business. Doing everything completely by yourself isn’t the best way. Knowing your limits of what you’re good at and what someone else can do for you will only make your business better.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Forcing myself to stop and do something else–which honestly is hard sometimes! I love going to see movies in a theater because I can’t do anything else but watch the screen and get sucked into the world on screen. There’s a great group of theaters here, the Alamo Drafthouse, and it makes me want to go see something everyday. We just adopted a super sweet pug, Salsa, from Pug Rescue of Austin and taking her for walks forces me to get out of the house and clear my head. I love taking classes in different mediums, even if I’m terrible at them. It’s so interesting to learn about different creative pursuit, and usually helps inform my own work, or at least gets me into different studio environment for awhile. I took a natural dyeing class last summer (at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn) and would love to take a weaving class or something in sculpture.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This may sound like a weird quote, but I constantly keep in my head “How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb,” the alternate title to Dr. Strangelove. My business and life is pretty hectic and there’s always some weird issue or situation that comes up unexpectedly. I just try to embrace the crazy and roll with it.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Setting real deadlines is key for me. I’m a natural procrastinator, and am working on trying to get things done over time not at the last minute. Setting real deadlines with hard dates helps me get things accomplished. I just finished exhibiting at the National Stationery Show, and having that show date looming in my mind kept me on track with new designs for the show. Real deadlines make things actually happen.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Just taking some time off, taking in a movie, or going out to dinner with my husband and allowing myself to really appreciate it. It’s when all the work makes it feel worth it.

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.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Dolan Geiman

June 4, 2012

With artists throughout the 50 states, being able to visit the studio of each designer is a valuable, but more often unlikely opportunity. However, sometimes an opportunity lends itself to step inside the mind of an artist without ever setting foot in their hometown. Dolan Geiman is a mixed media designer who marries found objects and iconic imagery in his pieces. He generously takes us on our first remote studio tour and shares his tools, tricks and inspirations through photos of his space and in his owns words.

What are your most essential tools for creating your art?
The tools I find most essential for creating my artwork are as follows, in this order:
apple pie, crisp warm days, cool nights, bluegrass and country music, a clear mind, and a vision of the finished project. Other tools are easier to obtain.

Where do you find inspiration within your workspace?
I keep artifacts around my studio that give me energy and creative power: a turtle shell, a cow skull, a box of fasteners my sister sent me from Prague, a collection of pine cones and bird nests, a box of civil war buttons and old watches. Things that have energy and I can plug into them like one might plug a Norelco into a bathroom socket.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Well, there is not a whole lot of downtime for me. I think it’s that way when you run your own business. A lot of peers tell me in in their wispy yoga voices “Ahh, you just have to make time for yourself.” Yeah, it ain’t that easy. So, I take time at the end of a few months of hard labor. I’m trying to eek out a few moments early in the morning to walk and look at birds. But for now, while the work is there, I will be there holding its hand or holding its head while it throws up.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I never learned how to say “no” earlier in my career. It’s nice to say no. It helps you to stay sane. It’s hard if you are broke, but don’t ever let people take advantage of your creativity in that way.

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Charge more for your services. And stop smoking cigarettes. And move to the country. And get a damn haircut.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I basically keep this little treasure chest in my head and on the front of the chest is a goal. When I complete the goal I get to open the treasure chest. It’s usually full of wine and beer and a few days of fly fishing in the mountains. I try to set goals that are attainable but very difficult. And I do weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Well, I used to celebrate more but then I married my business partner and that put a damper on the celebrations… haha. I like to celebrate after I complete a successful project or a milestone in the business. I think I appreciate these things because I’m more of a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of person. And it also helps mentally, and mental health is something I take very seriously. If you just keep doing these cool things and then don’t stop to look at what you’ve done and where you’ve been then five years goes by and you are just older and not any happier.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I have this quote that I say to myself which is like my mental tattoo – “make art or die” – because if I stop making art I will most likely die. Like a pancake without syrup. Useless and not making anyone happy.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am trying to learn more about woodworking and creating antiqued finishes. I rely on the spoken advice of my peers and colleagues for this. There are two nice woodworkers in the basement studio below my studio so I often pick their brains for advice.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I go fishing or hiking or camping or bird watching or anything in the woods for at least several days. I’m trying harder and harder to re-charge my creativity these days, since I feel like I am working harder and harder. I have had several mental breakdowns in the past five years, due mostly to the fact that I work way too much. But this is the burden of being a Libra blessed with creativity. It’s a blessing and a curse… and a curse. I find the best recharging happens when I am far from other people and just staring at something like a cloud or an ant or a cloud that is shaped like an ant. I often meditate in nature and will create an entire novel in my mind which I try to slowly erase until there is nothing but… nothing. Meditation is hard.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I am not really sure. I like to collaborate with other folks, but I think mostly the collaboration is more conversational. When I am around other artists that I enjoy, we often create nice mind energy conversations and the mood is good and so I feel like we are all collaborating on a conversation and it’s like we are pooling our positive energy into the physical space. It’s more of a Jungian thing. When you leave the space of being around good people, smart and interesting people, there is energy there and you can draw on that later. It’s a similar feeling to déjà-vu, perhaps a cousin of déjà-vu. But in reverse.

photos by Dolan Geiman, Eric Grimes, Chris Nightengale, David Schalliol, and Paul Zimmerman

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Claudia Pearson

May 17, 2012

When the second floor of Claudia Pearson’s Brooklyn brownstone opened up, she knew it would be the perfect place to set up a studio. Claudia was using a corner of her family’s apartment to create illustrations for books, magazines and the merchandise she was creating. Space was getting tight as her two sons and business were growing so moving to the downstairs was an easy decision.

Claudia is the designer behind the 4 Seasons Tea Towels and one of our newest UncommonGoods artists. She is not a new name around Brooklyn flea markets and I have admired her commercial work and illustrations for cooking magazines, so I was excited to visit her sunny studio and learn about her craft and her business.

What are your most essential tools for creating your art?
My illustrations are a happy marriage of analog and digital techniques so my essential tools are pencils, erasers, inks combined with my printer, scanner and Photoshop.

Where do you find inspiration within your workspace?
I recently rented the apartment below where I live with my family so after 15 years of working at home I now have a separate studio. It’s filled with sunlight and walls to pin up my work in progress. We live in a leafy Brooklyn neighborhood on a corner so the sounds of birds and life outside keep me connected.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Sadly at the moment there isn’t such a thing. I’m constantly working on commercial projects for publishers, advertising and editorial clients. I do check my favorite blogs with my coffee first thing in the morning and did recently add a sofa where I can relax and check emails.

What are some of your time management secrets?
I work with two computer screens, one for illustrating and another for email so I can respond to emails immediately. I make a list of tasks for the next week at the end of each week. I divide the list up by the days of the week and make sure never to load up one day with too much stuff, making my list manageable. I also have an assistant who comes once a week. Now I can let go of some of the things that used to take up a lot of my time. I have a great assistant who is able to take care of skill-oriented tasks that are not specific to me.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
As a designer who relies on outside sources to produce my products, planning ahead in production was definitely a learning curve. Staying on top of suppliers and being firm about deadlines.

What advice could you offer yourself 5 years ago?
I would recommend creating schedules all the time throughout the year and during slower times making sure future products are designed and ready for production. Also to foster good relationships with design blogs and magazines that can provide valuable marketing.

Where does collaboration come into play in your work?
I’ve always loved to collaborate with people who have different skills to me. In 2010 I worked with a local chef; she came up with seasonal recipes that I illustrated and we established a set of 12 recipe cards that take you through a year of local ingredients. Last year I collaborated with a local ceramicist and we put my seasonal fruits and veggies on cups. It’s fun to apply my work to mediums that I’m unfamiliar with and bring variety to my line. I’m currently developing ideas with another local chef and food writer for a cook book so stay tuned.

So far I have been fortunate enough to have collaborated with friends of mine which has made it easy. Make sure when you are getting into a partnership or collaboration, especially with a friend, that roles are clearly defined in a way that makes the individuals’ work equal.

How do you set goals for yourself?
These days most of my goals are set for me by clients and their deadlines. When I’m designing a new line of tea towels I work seasonally and make sure I have a 6 week period to create artwork and get samples printed. My business has grown at such a phenomenal rate over the past two years that I now need to take stock and make a 5 year plan.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
When a creative job comes my way and I feel it will be a benchmark in my career, I take my family out for a nice dinner and we chat about it together. We have two sons who are 9 and 7 and they are extremely inspired by my world. I enjoy sharing my ideas with them and see how it is enabling them to flourish creatively.

How do you recharge your creativity?
We love to travel and try to get away whenever we can. Traveling has always inspired my work and now with kids, it’s fun to see the world through their eyes. We go to London every summer to visit family and friends. We also try and sneak in a trip to the Caribbean every few years. Failing that, a weekend upstate will certainly recharge my batteries.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Laura Lobdell

April 16, 2012

We want to give you an exclusive look inside the minds of our uncommon artists. Our second artist visit features Laura Lobdell, who makes our Sterling Silver Guitar Pick Necklace and Kiss Ring. Trained as a fine artist–she holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and studied Chinese calligraphy in Hong Kong–Laura has a beautiful, tiny shop in Greenwich Village, where she sells her exquisite and utterly original jewelry. For Laura, there is no real division between her shop and her art; it all comes from the same place in her imaginative mind. Collections of objects which seem to have drifted together out of their desire to express Laura’s poetic sensibility share shop space with pieces of her art–and of course, her jewelry.

What are your most essential tools?
My most essential tool is actually a state of mind. Being present, open to ideas and creative moments. That’s a way of being able to have more creative ideas, for me. Of course, that’s the struggle–ideally, we’re all always present and open, right? In New York, it’s a great city because if you’re open and present when you’re on the subway you can see something or experience something in these banal moments that become really good inspiration for something creative.

For example, once some friends of mine were playing in their band. And they’d lose their pick and call out, “Does anyone have a quarter or nickel?” And just kind of being present and open, I thought, “Oh, I could make them something” and that’s what led me to make the guitar pick, which is something that could be worn or played with.

As for physical tools–I have a pair of pliers that I particularly like. They’re not really very special, except for me they just work really well. The tip is really pointy so they’re great for wire wrapping and just holding things, forming things. And the grip is really nice; there’s a little bit of texture on the rubber handle. It’s funny that something so simple it makes such a big difference but it does.

And my calligraphy brushes. Having studied Chinese Calligraphy in Hong Kong, I love calligraphy brushes in general; he natural fur bristle, I just love the way they hold the pigment. And also that they come to a really fine tip, so I can shift the line weight really beautifully. I use that for my illustration.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
The color of the walls. I use in my studio as well. It’s “Skylight” by Farrow & Ball. I love it. It’s a really old formula of paint. It doesn’t have synthetic pigments in it, it’s mineral based. It’s very calming, and it changes with the light of the day, the way the sun is hitting it. The light plays across it because of the minerals in it, and it has an ambient effect. It’s a really beautiful paint and I think it fits me. It’s also a good, neutral color to see my work against.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
1) Trust your…call it guts or your intuition or whatever. The voice of your instinct can get crowded out by all these other things. But it’s usually right. And trust in that can keep you out of a lot of the other troubles.
2) Get a credit card machine! Although now, I’d say, get a Square Up.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m learning how to work with precious stones, because they’re beautiful, and knowing more about them opens up a lot of possibilities. Stones are a way to bring something unexpected, some color, and of course sparkle and luminosity to the work. Like for example, with a cigarette butt, setting it with orange sapphires creates an embers glow, bringing that piece to life. It’s pretty cool without it, people like it; but it’s a whole different piece when you essentially ignite it with the orange soft fires and leave it smoldering, it’s a really nice piece of jewelry.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio? And how do you recharge your creativity?
I definitely always feel better when I have made the time to do yoga or exercise. And cooking and talking to friends. Seeing art is really important to me.  But it’s definitely challenging. My shop is open 6 days a week, officially 1 to 7, but I try to get here a little bit earlier. And I’ve usually been working in a studio in the morning. Then running around the city, I go get supplies and silver and, you know, go to the engraver and go over projects and go to pick them up. So, I’m constantly recharging. The year before last, I wrote a little survival guide to myself to get through the holidays, and it really applies all the time.

Holiday Survival Guide for LL to stay clear and energized (circa 2010)
Keep Store Hours 12-7, Sun 1-6
Be discerning about events to attend
Stay in at least one night per week
Be in bed by midnight Sunday to Wednesday
Two Cocktails on weekend nights
One glass of wine other nights – unless it’s just the best party on the planet.
Drink Water

How do you set goals for yourself?
I write a lot of stuff in my little Moleskin book. It usually start with a little bit of a notebook-ey, thinking, drinking some tea kind of process. I use occasions to look at where things are in progress: at New Year, my birthday in June, and back to school…seasons and occasions are good times for me to get the notebook out and start to think about things.

When I’m planning events I do a timeline. For other things I don’t necessarily put dates because, I think you can spend too much time planning, and I think that that in that becomes, I think, a barrier to accomplishing the goal.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
One of the nice things about my mom is that she really celebrated pretty much everything and so I take a page from that notebook. When something good happens, I try to appreciate it, because it’s a way to stay motivated and—why not? Why not celebrate something that’s positive, like you get an order from a store that’s really exciting, or I ship my bracelets to St. Barth. So, you know, call a friend and have a glass of Prosecco, or maybe make something especially nice for dinner. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but I think it is really nice to acknowledge these moments.
That’s kind of the whole point of the champagne and the champagne rings, the idea of champagne every day, celebrating. I mean that not necessarily literally in terms of champagne every day, but that feeling of trying to celebrate something in every day. And then that ties into my work, too, about the everyday objects that aren’t essentially celebrated, by transforming them into precious metal. The jewelry is jewelry, but it’s also the idea of celebrating and making people happy–that’s what I do. I guess that’s kind of what gives my work meaning, is that I do something that makes people happy even in a small way.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Anna Rabinowicz

February 29, 2012

We want to give you an exclusive look inside the workspaces and minds of our uncommon artists. The very first designer’s studio tour features Anna Rabinowicz of RabLabs, the artist behind our Agate Coasters Set. Anna has been in her Flatiron studio for more than two years, a space that she shares with her team and another artist. Always fascinated with stones, Anna was able to start her own business when an opportunity came up with a distributor in Brazil. In addition to running her own business, Anna teaches product design, sharing her deep knowledge of geology and agate formation, with students at the Parsons School of Design.

What is a typical day in the studio like?
In the morning I could be working on designs and Skyping with manufacturers across the world, and then heading to Parsons in the evening to conduct a lecture. In between, I may get a visit from my two young children (Izzy, 4 and Talia, 2), one of the benefits of keeping a studio close to home.

What are your most essential tools?
The Pilot Razor Point II pens are the world’s most amazing pens. I’m very particular about the pens that I use for drawings and their very precise line makes a big difference. I only draw in black pen because it forces me to make design decisions. I prefer to draw on typing paper; if I want to make revisions, I just put another piece of typing paper on top to create a trace over.
My other essential tool is my digital caliper. It helps me to measure things in a really accurate way. For example, I can check the parts that we receive from manufacturers, to make sure that the dimensions are correct. It was a gift from my father when I was in grad school and is one of my most prized possessions!

Where do you find inspiration within the studio?
I am very inspired by the artifacts that we keep sitting around, like the pieces of sea fan and rocks, and the prototypes that I have created. I learn so much about what the final product will look like from the models that I create….like a model made of clay molded around a tiny metal bowl, with natural crystals attached at interesting angles….this piece ultimately became a bowl based on the morphology of natural crystals, which will be produced in lead crystal.

Around the Office: prototypes, Anna’s desk, agate bottle toppers and napkin rings

What is your secret to time management?
I like to close my laptop so I can focus without the distraction of email. But sometimes there are a lot of immediate concerns that punctuate the rest of my work. That is the nature of design and being in New York, and that is OK too. The design process is really circular — an expectation that things will work in an orderly fashion is unrealistic. We turn back to original decisions over and over again.

Where does collaboration come into play in your work?
RabLabs is a small business and time is precious so I really enjoy collaboration. My distributor and I were sharing ideas earlier this week about the work flow when a shipment came in from Brazil. Clients have great suggestions about what they want to see. I collaborate with my photographer on photo shoots. All the relationships I have are intended to be in that fashion. There is a lot we can all learn from each other because everyone has different competencies and perspectives.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I love to watch Bollywood movies. I find them to be very over-the-top, visually spectacular and super absorbing. They’re also extremely romantic.

Design Inspiration: a collection of toothbrushes from around the world, Espera sea fan colander, rock samples

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer?
I’ve learned over the years that it is not always possible to produce everything that I dream about. I can draw something beautiful of something that you think should come to life, but it may be impossible to fabricate, or would take an unrealistic amount of time. Before I understood the intricacies of fabrication, I thought that all I had to do was be stubborn and tenacious in order to get things made.

How do you decide when it is time to celebrate a small victory?
What I get most excited about is when parts get back from the manufacturer. That is when I feel like I have accomplished something and I am creating. I get excited too when we are in magazines, that’s always fun.

Is there a quote that keeps you moving forward?
Being a designer means looking closely at the world around us for inspiration and realizing that the things around us are really magical. Using the inspiration that surrounds us, we have the ability to make magic with our designs.

What new skills are you learning at the moment?
I am learning a lot about crystal manufacturing for my newest designs. I’m learning a lot about the production parameters and how these pieces are made. Back to my biological inspiration for these pieces — if you understand how something forms in nature then you can understand how to fabricate something in a similar fashion, because it references the origin of the piece.

What advice would you have given yourself 5 years ago?
I would have gotten more help and hired people sooner. For many years it was just me and an excellent operations manager, Janelle, and a Brazilian manufacturing specialist, Renata, both of whom worked remotely, until I started hiring interns and a designer, Kevin. Support is very important, even back when I started the business in my 91-year-old grandma’s basement. In those years, she was in charge of all the UPS shipping and she and my mom even helped to assemble the products!
The advice I give my students is to take wild chances and not to play it safe with their ideas. School is a time for exploration and openness.

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