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Maker Stories

Maker Stories

This Just In-Spiration: Meet Govy

February 20, 2018

To French artist Govy, planets are much more than big rocks throttling in circles throughout the sky—they’re measures of time, markers of our place in the universe, and fodder for some really cool creations. Creations like her Personalized Solar System Art Print, a joint venture with Martin Vézina that takes a date and time that’s important to you and turns it into a piece of sleek, custom-made artwork that highlights where, according to NASA, the planets and dwarf planets in our solar system were at that very moment. Pretty cosmic, huh?

We first caught a glimpse of Govy’s work here in our Brooklyn office, a world away from Japan, where she now lives with her beloved cat, Taiga. We love the inviting, but minimal look of her prints, with their personal flair and art-meets-STEM approach, and we knew we simply had to reach out and see if she’d tell us more about how she developed the idea. Read on for Govy’s answers to our burning questions (you know, burning like big balls of gas, billions of miles away), plus a couple of photos of Taiga herself.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Help Elephants & Sip Coffee with this Handmade Mug

February 16, 2018

When you think “activism,” you may not think “handmade pottery.” Thanks to the work of longtime maker JoAnn Stratakos, we’d encourage you to broaden your horizons. Best known around these parts as the creator of Elwood, our de facto mascot, JoAnn’s latest creation—the Protect the Elephants Mug—harnesses cuteness for a cause. For every mug sold, we’re donating $5 to the PAMS Foundation, an organization dedicated to conservation efforts, including the protection of elephants, in faraway Tanzania.

From left to right: Ryan, JoAnn’s Production Supervisor, throws a Protect the Elephants Mug on the wheel; mugs get their handles; and glazed mugs wait to be fired in JoAnn’s Effort, Pennsylvania, studio

Why PAMS? We asked JoAnn that very question. “The MudCrew and I came about the PAMS Foundation through a social media post about Wayne Lotter,” she told us. But if “the MudCrew” is JoAnn’s nickname for her staff, then who’s Wayne? The former director and co-founder of PAMS, that’s who. Killed in the line of duty last year in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Wayne founded PAMS in 2009 alongside fellow conservationists Ally Namangaya and Krissie Clark. It’s believed that Wayne—who received death threats throughout his career—was murdered for his anti-poaching work.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Carolyn Gavin

February 6, 2018

Artist Carolyn Gavin and her puppy Eggroll, photos by Jen Coleman

If you deconstruct the most inspiring quotes throughout history, you’ll find that they all have a few things in common: great wordsmithing, flawless pacing, memorable messaging. So when I asked artist Carolyn Gavin what inspires her to illustrate quotes, I thought she might say she enjoyed experimenting with fonts in watercolor, or that wanted her art to honor influential leaders or her favorite musicians. I quickly learned that these assumptions were too surface level for an artist who uses color like Carolyn. When describing her design process for our “World is Full of Magic” print, she simply said, “it’s just a feeling. I knew that quote would need flowers.”

After visiting Carolyn’s home studio in downtown Toronto, it is evident that this beautiful, gentle approach to her art manifests in every aspect of her life. Where the average person sees words or objects, Carolyn envisions bouquets, nature, and exotic shapes. Every corner inside of the 120-year-old Victorian house that she shares with her husband, her daughter Lily, and their English Bulldog Eggroll, is drenched in her signature color palette. From the quaint garden that she maintains in her off time, to the walls decorated with bright patterns that would make Justina Blakeney pause, every detail embodies the same joy that we find so captivating about her prints.

Carolyn is an artist who truly lives the words penned by writer Khalil Gibran, “Work is love made visible.” As I made my way around her sun-drenched studio, it was hard to distinguish which of her projects would be defined as work or “play.” She approaches every opportunity to create as a chance to learn and explore. Whether it’s sharing watercolors with her enthusiastic Instagram followers, or experimenting with new graphic design techniques for a commissioned project. Her creative perspective is always evolving.  

Read on to discover how Carolyn finds inspiration in her travels, how she maintains balance between her family’s business and her own artistic goals, and why she believes that the world is always full of magic. 

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Maker Stories

Recreating Nature: Scott Johnson on Glass, Work, & Finding Your Passion

January 26, 2018

Here, Scott Johnson does a little pruning. (Just kidding.)

If you had no sunlight, dirt, water, or seeds, could you create a bed of flowers? Scott Johnson can. He’s the master behind our popular Glass Flower Garden Centerpiece, a stunning sculpture with multi-colored flowers “sprouting” out from the base. Scott has always loved sculpting. It stems back to his childhood, watching his father mold clay in their home. Naturally, Scott started crafting with clay, but the more he experimented with new materials, the more inspired he became. That’s when he discovered glass. He was mesmerized by the way a solid could turn to a liquid and finally into a work of art. Once he found his medium (or his medium found him), he began creating one-of-a-kind pieces to decorate your home.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Scott about his process, inspiration, and “bendy,” a trusty makeshift tool he can’t live without. Read on for more.

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Maker Stories

Coming Clean: Heather Swanepoel on Making Soap & Overcoming Obstacles

January 18, 2018

 

Heather Swanepoel and her family in her Monroe, GA store.

Monroe, Georgia is a small town with a population weighing in at just under 14,000. But even tiny towns can have big heroes. Meet Heather Swanepoel, soap aficionado, entrepreneur, and unstoppable force for good. She was spending weeks on the road and desperately wanted to fill her free hours with a hobby. When knitting didn’t work out (she could only master scarves), she turned to a soothing task she could actually master: soap making. Soon, people were lining up to purchase her all natural soaps and the rest was delightfully scented history.

“Our success attracted other businesses to Monroe with similar models, and the buying customers followed,” she says. “We won the 2016 Monroe, GA Business of the Year because of the atmosphere we cultivated in the once dying town.”

We had the pleasure of speaking with Heather about her success and how she went from on-the-go mom to superpower entrepreneur one bar of soap at a time. Read (lather?) up on her story below.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet
Jonathan Bobrow

January 9, 2018

Here at UncommonGoods, we’re always on the lookout for newcomers to our assortment of artists whose creations make us smile, think, or say “wow” when we glance at our homepage (a daily activity here). The latest in this parade of intriguing creators? One Jonathan Bobrow, a self-described “artist, designer, programmer, math lover, and constantly curious individual.” A former student at the MIT Media Lab, Jonathan is best known ’round these parts for his Troxes: Origami Building Blocks—toys that fold together to create intricate shapes without the aid of glue, tape, or any other sticky substance… excepting a little elbow grease.

For someone (wink, nudge) whose favorite part of their job often involves interviewing new artists, Jonathan was an ideal study. Talkative, open, and excited to share the story behind his Origami Building Blocks, Jonathan provided us with more fascinating material than we could possibly pack into a single quick-and-dirty blog post. That didn’t stop us from trying, though. Read on for a full account of our attempt, including an explanation of what A League of Their Own has to do with designing laser-cut toys.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Michale Dancer

January 5, 2018

Michale Dancer in her Bay Area studio, photos by Emily Hodges

From fallen leaves found during nature hikes to pasta bow ties that just so happened to be dinner for the night, there’s nothing that Michale Dancer can’t dip in 24-karat gold… or copper, or silver! Michale is a creative director, product developer, and jewelry designer extraordinaire based in the Bay Area of Northern California, and the one question she’s constantly asking herself is, “Can I dip this in gold?” Usually the answer to that question is, “Why, of course.”

When I visited Michale’s studio, I was shocked to see so many random items, objects we usually take for granted, carefully tucked away or patiently waiting for their gold/silver/copper makeover. Four leaf clovers, coffee beans, peanuts, sand dollars, maple leaves, dog biscuits, and pieces of kale are just a few items Michale has learned to perfect transforming over the years into stunning jewelry pieces or soon-to-be heirloom ornaments. Michale says, “Truthfully, we can’t stop designing. We have to control ourselves as we already have so many [designs]!”

Prior to my visit, I knew that Michale dipped the actual items and didn’t replicate shapes through a molding process. But seeing the pieces right there in front of me—a peanut’s natural “before” state and then its glamorous “after”—I definitely started to feel skeptical. “So, every single piece you work with… it really is the actual item behind the gold?” I asked. Michale smiled and nodded her head. “Every single piece! It’s real. Shake the gold peanut necklace you’re holding right now.” I followed Michale’s directions and, sure enough, I heard the little peanuts inside bounce around the walls of the shell. From that moment, I truly understood that Michale’s inspiration is literally… everywhere, which can be a blessing and a curse. “I’m always stopping. Whether I’m hiking right outside my house or going to the market or cooking with natural spices, I always find something that I know I can potentially use as a design.”

We’re used to nature decaying throughout the seasons or eating and throwing away food every day, yet Michale gives a second life to certain items and elevates their beauty for others to treasure as a keepsake for years to come. Read our Q&A below and find out how many hours it takes Michale to complete just one design from start to finish, plus why Steve Jobs keeps her motivated every single day.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studios: Visiting 12 Maker Spaces in 2017

December 31, 2017

February 2017 marked five years of UncommonGoods Studio Tours. A lot has happened here at UG since that first visit (with Anna Rabinowicz, whose Agate Coasters are still a customer favorite), but one thing hasn’t changed. Every time I enter a maker’s creative space, I learn something I didn’t know before and gain a new appreciation for their craft. Sometimes I get to physically travel to a studio, sit down and chat with an artist, and watch them work. Every now and then I even get to try my hand at making something. Other times, my experience is like yours. I get to see inside an artist’s studio through the eyes of another excited visitor, who’s taking in a new experience and sharing their own thoughts and feelings.

Our 2017 Studio Tour round-up features the experiences of several team members, including my own visits to New Hampshire, Ohio, and Maryland; our graphic designer’s look inside a Rhode Island jewelry studio; a jewelry buyer’s trip to Boston; our PR & social media manager’s serendipitous stay in Canada; the blog team’s soap making lesson in Newburgh, New York;  and even an adventure across the Atlantic, where our contributing writer met Greek sculptor George Roumanas. And that’s just a start. This year, we traveled more than ever and visited the widest variety of studios yet. It’s always tricky to pick just a few highlights from our Studio Tours, but here’s a shot at it. (Along with links to the full posts, if you’re looking for a serious infusion of inspiration!)

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