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Maker Stories

Love Letters from Your Pet by Karen Jones

July 9, 2013

Usually when it comes to design challenges, we adhere to the rules. (Mostly because I’m a relentless stickler!) But every once and a while a submission comes along that makes you think twice. Our Art Contest is usually call for a digital rendering of a piece of art that we will reproduce and sell framed. However, Karen Jones entered a piece that wouldn’t fit that model. She entered her Love Letter Custom Pet Portraits that are oil paintings on a piece of steel of your beloved canine or feline, with a little note expressing their love to you. Since each piece is made to order, we wouldn’t be able to print and frame the paintings but the call was for art and that is exactly what Karen sent us. She also must have known we have a soft spot for our pets.

What is one uncommon fact about you?
I have a twin brother who is an artist also. On the surface we are not the same, he is a tall red headed cowboy and I am a short, high heeled, glitter loving city dweller. We were born artists and luckily enough had great art teachers when we were growing up in Arizona. We were in a lot of the same art classes in school which was fun because I always had a painting buddy. I still like to paint with other people around me, but that doesn’t happen anymore. I had to learn to love to be alone with my art. Now I look forward to being alone with just me and my art. Well, sort of alone. I paint with my dog, Ruby next to me.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
Last week. Funny, but I think we as artist have an internal idea of what being an artist is. I was an artist to the outside world since kindergarten. Art was always fairly easy for me. Awards, lots of art classes, going to art school… none of those made me feel like I was an artist. Three years ago, I became a full time, money making artist. That didn’t even make me feel like an artist.

When I started painting from my heart and giving more of myself and accomplishing paintings that I felt were ‘hard to do’ or challenging and I did it… that’s when I realized I was an artist.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
Everywhere. I try not to walk through life with too much singular focus. I am always looking around, letting things grab my attention. I look at other people art, that can often trigger an idea in myself. I love to travel, ideas often come to me while driving down the road. I look for things to spark my interest and then process them through the mill of my mind, letting the idea develop a little before making it real. I’ve started writing down ideas I have in the middle of the night but that doesn’t work. I wake up wondering what, ‘I’m human in pink chalk’ means.

Describe your artistic process.
On Sunday nights, I get my canvases for the week ready. I paint on steel, so I get my steel ready. I get the image drawn on, make sure I have a photo printed to work from and enough paint.

Then on Monday morning, after coffee, a little time on the internet and a load of laundry, I head to the studio in my house. I put a ’70s tv program like, ‘Hawaii Five-O’ on and start painting. Once I get started, I sort of go in a zone and before I know it, it’s 4pm and time to get on the treadmill and make dinner. To me setting up my environment so I am not distracted and able to go into the zone is key. My focus stays clear and singularly focused. Sometimes when I need more emotion in my painting, I put on loud love music or on Fridays, Disco.

Describe your work space.
Today my studio is my 1968 vintage Airstream. We love going places, so sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to paint while on the road.

Normally, I paint in my studio at home. My house is very modern and open. My studio is on the second floor with a big oval window with a nice view and good light. My studio isn’t big and is oddly for an artist, very clean. The only things in my studio are my painting easel, my paint table, a table for the computer so I can watch ’70s tv and a big chair and ottoman for me to sit back and ponder over what I need to do the painting. Only the things I need, nothing more. It keeps my mind uncluttered.

And of course, my dog, Ruby. She stairs at me while I paint.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Enter. You never know unless you try. Use your already developed support group of friends, family and customers and ask them every day to vote for you. Use social media and don’t worry about bugging people. They want to support you, let them.

Maker Stories

Finding Security in Reclaimed Art – Meet Sarah Nicole Phillips

May 30, 2013

After an overwhelming response in March, we decided to keep our Art Contest running all year round. With twelve months to send in artwork, I was worried that the well might run dry with new ideas and exciting designs. Our first month proved me wrong with a collection of amazing submissions.

Our interim art buyer Melissa chose Security Blue Grass from the top voted semifinalists for its aesthetic, originality, and use of reclaimed materials. Those three elements make its designer, Sarah Nicole Phillips, the ideal Uncommon artist. Meet our newest artist and help us welcome her to our vendor family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
After high school, I traveled for two and a half years straight, during which all my possessions fit into a backpack.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
I knew I had become an artist when I purchased a used 54” 5-Drawer Steel Flat File from a guy on Craig’s List, to store my art. In New York City, space is a precious resource so my bed is lofted on top of the flat files. I do not believe this sleeping arrangement has affected my dreams.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
I draw inspiration from observing the tensions, conflicts and contradictions of contemporary life. I spend a lot of time consuming news media, but just as important is placing myself in situations where lives are smashing up against each other like crowded subways and commercial streetscapes at rush hour. I always carry a small notebook with me to jot down something I see, or draw something that catches my eye. I am conscious of the waste we create and how we manage it.

I have attended several artist residencies in bucolic, rural settings. These quiet places allow for ideas simmering on the back burner to boil over, but I need the background hum of a city to stimulate ideas for new bodies of work.

Describe your artistic process.
The process begins with me scribbling sketches in my notebook. Most of these sketches are fragments of ideas blurted onto paper and are never realized into final pieces. Once I hone in on an image I’d like to create into a collage, I make a full scale drawing that serves as an image template. I search through my supply of patterned security envelopes and select which ones I will use to construct the collage. I have several bankers’ boxes full of envelopes to choose from, sorted into categories according to imagery, color, tone, and other characteristics. The envelopes come from myriad sources; friends and family and sometimes strangers bring me discarded envelopes generated from their workplace or home office. I arrange a “dry assemble” before using adhesive to stick all the pieces down. The final step is to run the collage through an etching press to ensure the thousands of individual pieces are never going to become unstuck.

Describe your work space.
I have a bright, airy, live-work space on the edge of the industrial neighborhood of Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. Source photographs and sketches are tacked onto the walls. I work sitting at a long table, and pin works-in-progress onto a big white wall that I can stare at, or glance at passively as I walk by to refill my coffee mug. My indispensable tools are a self-healing cutting mat, metal rulers and various cutting blades. The windows are open, as long as the wind isn’t strong enough to blow apart works-in-progress. Public radio or podcasts are always playing.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

Maker Stories

Jeff Knight’s Dreamy Cutting Board Wins the Woodworking Design Challenge

April 4, 2013

It’s not news that we’re extremely proud of our artists, and our newest UncommonGoods artist is no exception. From almost 100 Woodworking Design Challenge entries, Jeff Knight’s Nimbus Cloud Cutting Board made our judges sigh, giggle and announce Winner!. But the more we learn about Jeff, the more we realize the breadth of his talents. Meet Jeff – woodworker, graphic designer, t-shirt entrepreneur, travel writer and the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family.

What is the most uncommon thing about you?
I think the most uncommon thing about me is my renaissance-man attitude toward projects. I’m the kind of guy who likes to roll up my sleeves and figure out a way to make a good idea happen. If that means learning a new tool or trade, then so be it. I have a pretty big range of hobbies and interests. I keep myself busy and always look forward to learning something new. This past year I’ve been involved in various projects from co-founding a design club to partnering in the launch of a pop-up t-shirt store.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by a variety of things; nature, comic books, toys, games, classic films, art, midcentury design, social events, friends, family, etc. I try to keep my eyes and ears open to things, and when inspiration strikes I’m usually prepared with a sketchbook close by. A weekly trip to a thrift shop sometimes helps rekindle my inspiration. You never know when looking at an old dinner plate or album cover will provide inspiration for a future project.

How did you get into woodworking?
My dad was a woodworker as long as I can remember, so naturally, as a child, I used to hang out in the wood shop and build little things from the scraps of his projects. Sometimes a block of wood could be a pirate ship or an airplane. Much later in life, I found making things from wood familiar and comforting because of my upbringing. My dad had everything to do with my love of woodworking.

How do graphic design and woodworking fit together in your craft?
Form and function are important in what I do for both design and woodworking. I’m heavily guided by both concepts. There’s a back and forth tendency of wanting to make things function as a usable object, but also to craft that thing into a beautiful form. I find both graphic design and woodworking require a mastery of certain tools, but they also both require a sense of wonder, creativity and imagination to produce engaging results that resonate with people.

How do you market your designs on the web?
I’m not a huge marketer of my own work. So far I’ve found the best success through social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo. Like this contest, I couldn’t have gone very far without a strong group of supportive friends and family. There are so many tools available online to help get your name out there, it just takes some time and a little bit of strategic planning. If people like your work, they’ll share it and pretty soon folks take interest in what you’re doing and eventually that turns into sales.

Describe your workspace.
Luckily my woodworking takes place at a co-op space called DIY Wood Studio. They help keep the place neat and tidy so whenever I need something, the right tool is in its place. My workspace for graphic, however, is a complete mess. I surround myself with good, inspiring design in the form of toys, posters, magazines, funky objects, books and tons of other stuff. Because of that, I have Post-Its, drawings and other notes all over because I get ideas often and need to write them down or sketch them out.

Any advice to artists and designers thinking about entering an UncommonGoods design challenge?
Take a risk and enter. Be sure to rally up your friends and colleagues, they can be some of your best chances to filling in votes. But, above all, don’t let negative comments get you down. Constructive criticism is one thing, but personal preferences and insults are not necessary in the creative process.

Maker Stories

Meet Naomi Meller, iPhone Case Design Challenge Winner

June 29, 2012

Every new design challenge fills us with such excitement! It is inspiring to see the passion, emotion, and wit in the artists’ stories behind their unique designs. The iPhone Case Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and the opportunity for artists to share the paintings, sketches, and graphic designs they have created.

Our judges worked through designs with unique mediums, bold colors, and uplifting stories. They decided on pieces that they thought America would love for their whimsy, and others they thought would inspire iPhone case envy. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t get off their minds; they loved its wit and clever juxtaposition of technology on technology.

We simply love the clever geeky chic of Computer iPhone and cannot wait for you to learn more about its designer, our iPhone Case Design Challenge winner, Naomi Meller of Rhode Island. Naomi recently rediscovered her love of art and designing through photography and will soon be able to see her designs on the backs of iPhones all over the country. Meet Naomi, the newest addition to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover art?

I’ve been involved with art for as long as I can remember. As a very young child, I drew elaborate pictures that often caught the attention of my teachers. This evolved into years of drawing and painting, usually for it’s therapeutic value. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t want to keep it all to myself.

How did you realize that photography was your passion?

Photography was one of the only mediums I had never experimented with. When I had my daughter over 2 years ago, I got very sick and came close to losing my life. The months following were difficult, and I was physically weak. I tried to walk around a lot to build stamina.

During my walks, I started taking pictures with my iPhone. I fell in love with these photo walks I’d take, and decided to buy a dSLR to take my photography to the next level. I’m stubborn, and sometimes that can be a good quality. I set out to learn how to properly use my camera, and I did. Since I started taking pictures, my passion for taking them has only grown.

What are your favorite things to design/photograph?

My number one favorite thing to photograph is my daughter. Kids grow so quickly that I just want to capture all the good/bad/and in between moments of her growth.

I also love to create characters in my self-portraits. This allows me to step outside of myself, become someone different, and express myself in a raw and comfortable manner that I hadn’t been able to in years.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I never stick to one style of photography. And I never stick to one type of subject. Some weeks I’ll take portraits of our family. Some weeks I’ll focus entirely on surreal self-portraits. On occasion I’ll do some photojournalism work for my husband’s news site. By always changing my subjects, I’m always changing my perspective. And it keeps me going.

I also love challenging myself in Photoshop. I taught myself how to use the program by way of trial and error. Sometimes I’ll take a picture, and work on it until I’ve succeeded in something I didn’t know how to do before sitting down. Currently I’m trying to master an old film camera that my dad gave me. I always keep things evolving, always keep learning – that way I avoid feeling stagnant.

How else do you express your art?

I’ve recently started a photography blog to help publicize my work, but also to inspire myself to start writing again. Writing is something that I did creatively for a long time, but haven’t much in the last several years.

I’ve also picked up a paint brush again. I have an earlier photograph in which I combined painting and a surreal self-portrait. I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in a long time. I still have several canvases in my house just calling my name!

What attracted you to want to take part in this challenge?

Aside from the fact that I’m a huge UncommonGoods fan, over the last few months I’d been feeling much more anxious about getting my work out there. I’ve been creating things for over 20 years, and the only person in my way has been me. I thought that this challenge would be a great opportunity with a great company.

What was the inspiration behind Computer iPhone?

Most of the work that I’m most proud of has come from a quick decision. When I over think and over analyze, it usually harms the outcome of a piece. Computer iPhone came about because my husband had recently dismantled a broken computer. Pieces were surrounding the office we share. I had submitted some other designs, but they were very portrait based. For Computer iPhone, I thought, “what would look cool, hold up well to wear, and still portray the irony that I always have in my work?”. And so I decided on a piece of the computer.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Don’t doubt yourself. If you enter a future challenge, and don’t make it through, the worst case scenario is that you can try again. I did.

All photos courtesy of Naomi Meller