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Art

Maker Stories

A First Look at Sarah Janece Garcia’s First Light

February 19, 2015

Sarah Janece Garcia's Studio Space | UncommonGoods
I’ve always loved nature-inspired art, and when I saw Sarah Janece Garcia’s Design Challenge entry, I knew I was looking at something special. Not only is Sarah inspired by nature, she’s also motivated by an unstoppable urge to create. That drive from within helps her start fresh pieces with enthusiasm, building with colors and abstract shapes until her work transforms into recognizable images of plants and animals.

Her winning piece, First Light, is a beautiful example of how Sarah draws from nature to combine realism and abstraction. Allowing what she describes as “the movements of wind and water” to guide her brush, the self-taught artist creates solid forms that seem to flow like liquid. Read on to meet the artist, learn more about her process, and see why she believes it’s important to follow your passion.

Sarah Garcia | UncommonGoods
How did you celebrate when you found out that you won our design challenge?
I am very appreciative that my painting First Light got to be a part of the Art and Design Challenge. I was so honored that it received such positive feedback and so many votes from the public. When I received the call that UncommonGoods had awarded the painting as the winner, I was thrilled. As an artist, my wish is to create work that others are drawn to and thus connect with. So, to know this piece reached out to others in such a positive way was very encouraging.

My husband, who is certainly my number one fan and supporter, is in fact who told me about this challenge, so fittingly he was the first person I told and celebrated with. He was beyond happy for me, as were all the wonderful art supporters I have that offer me continuous inspiration. Being able to inform those that are a part of my artistic journey that First Light won really brought the happiness full circle.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
A moment that sticks out in my mind occurred in 5th grade where the class was asked to make an illustrated short story on what we wanted to be when we grew up. In that story, on the last page, I wrote, “When I grow up I will be an artist” and drew a picture of myself at an easel painting on a canvas. The reason this story has never faded from my memory is because I find it to be a constant reminder of the fact that I am getting to make my dream come true on a daily basis. I have gotten this wonderful opportunity to fulfill a wish I grew up believing I could do and every day that I get to paint is a day that I am accomplishing what I feel I was meant to do.

Paints and Brushes
Painting Materials


How did you teach yourself to paint and how are you continuing to develop those skills?

My upbringing was one in which creative expression was very much encouraged. I grew up with art and music being created all around me and I was always provided with the tools to express myself creatively. I can remember my mom telling me stories [when I was growing up] about artists that bravely traveled the world to create their beautiful paintings, and learning about artists that had come before me. I experimented in many different styles of art for many years, all of which I would delve into and learn as I went along. I was never shown how to draw or paint certain things, but the fact that I had all the encouragement and tools to try the out different mediums or styles were invaluable to me growing as an artist. Once I found my style of painting nature in the mediums of oil and watercolor, I saw real growth as an artist. I reached a point that I knew my artistic voice and style had arrived, which enabled me to guide the direction of my work and learn my craft in a better way.

I found that being self-taught was a wonderful first step for me. However, there is always more to learn in the world of art and countless possibilities to explore. I feel that instructional classes, art workshops, subject research, and a great deal of experimenting are all fantastic tools to advancing artistically. I am a true believer in working hard at what you feel passionate about, putting in the hours to develop your skills, and seeking out any knowledge that can be gained in bettering yourself as an artist. I find the endless possibilities in art to be so exciting.

Coco Chanel Quote

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
The short answer is nature. Like the human spirit, nature has this amazing ability to not only grow but flourish amongst such varying circumstances. As people, we rely on nature for life sustaining necessities as well as its provision of beauty that we get to enjoy. I find abundant inspiration from what grows from this earth and what takes flight above me in the sky. My abstractions are produced with stories of nature in mind, the movements of wind and water being the most predominant. For subject matter, my thoughts always go to flowers and flying creatures. The delicate mix of strength and gentleness that both flowers and small creatures possess really fascinates me. I become inspired to explore this balance in my work. I find the beauty of nature to be incredible powerful in my life. Nature’s beauty enriches my soul and continues to bring me comfort and happiness at the precise moment I need it. I feel very strongly that when I show love and respect nature, nature always returns the favor.

Inspiration for Sarah's Work
Greenery Around Sarah's Home

What’s your artistic process?
My artistic process always begins with an abstract creation. I use either oil or watercolor to create my initial abstraction. Often, my abstractions are inspired by the elements of wind and water. For the structure of my abstractions, I often look to the beauty and movement of glass art. I find glass art contains a fluid, interweaving movement, which allows me to lay abstractions down in a more effortless and clear manner. My color choices always come from what is inspiring the piece. For me, every painting has a story and that story dictates my color palette.

As I paint, my story builds and the colors in which I feel continues to better tell the story are what I place on the canvas or paper. In my artistic process, I never truly know where my abstraction will end up and that abandonment of control is what I feel gives my work the movement and freedom that I hope to capture in each piece. Once the abstraction is at a place where I feel confident with it, I place my subject matter. The subject matter I like to work with is the wonderful natural elements that surround us all. I always let the abstract direct what will be placed on it and I place the subject on when the abstraction is wet. I find this enables the subject to move with the abstraction while still remaining the focal point of the piece.

Once the elements are positioned, I am able to come in with the necessary details to define the subjects on the painting. From the beginning to the end of the painting I am able to explore nature in both a literal and abstract way. To me, this process fulfills my artistic need to express my vision while still being relatable to others that have a soulful love for nature.

Sarah's Oil Painting Space

Describe your work space. Is there anything there that’s particularly inspiring to you?
I work in a home studio and I find that being surrounded by the things I love in my home helps inspire me to paint beauty. My in-home studio is equipped with all the tools I need to either paint in oil or watercolor and I often will rotate the location I paint in depending on the medium.

I am a constant night owl, so painting in my home studio is the most agreeable route. I find the night time to be the most inspirational, due to the fact that while most of the world rests I am able to find my center and concentrate solely on my work. I keep my workspace minimally lit, because it enables me to better paint the light in my work. I often lean towards dark colors as a preference, so keeping my studio workspace a bit more dim allows me to elevate my saturation of color while painting brighter brights. Also, I find when new inspiration or a fresh perspective is needed a change in scenery is all it takes.

Due to painting natural elements in my work, I sometimes take my painting outside in the sunlight where nature surrounds me. When choosing our home, we made sure that it had beautiful established greenery everywhere. We have numerous crape myrtle and fruit trees along with big rose bushes and a variety of flowering plants. I keep bird baths and feeders available to make sure our lovely little hummingbirds abound and the beautiful birds are able to find a sanctuary along with us in our backyard. By surrounding myself with the things I love, both inside my studio and outside in the environment, I am able to continuously be motivated and better able to incorporate these much-loved elements in my work.

Generations |Sarah Janece Garcia

What’s your best advice for aspiring artists?
I believe maintaining an exuberant passion for creating is an imperative necessity for all artists. Sure working, learning, and growing in your craft is very important, but just as essential is a passion for your work. I find that a deep passion for the creative process continues to be the driving force behind my work. I once read that you should never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about. If crafting art falls under this category in your life, then by all means never give up on that love of artistic expression. I find this love for art and painting continuously keeps me striving to develop my skills and encourages me to experiment in the creative process.

See Sarah's Collection | UncommonGoods

Design

Uncommon Design School: Less is More

February 13, 2015

Love it or loathe it, we all know minimalism when we see it. A neutral palette comes to mind. Forms tend to be aggressively geometric. International Style buildings…Scandinavian furniture…deconstructed timepieces like our On the Other Hand Clock. Some find minimalist designs thrilling in their integrity. Others find them stark—even threatening. Whatever your reaction, one handy phrase comes to mind: less is more.

On The Other Hand Clock | UncommonGoods

On the Other Hand Clock

A conceptual cousin to ‘form follows function,’ this cool but cheekily contradictory aphorism is a close contender for the top modernist mantra—a quotable bit of wisdom that may still be echoing through the lecture halls of many a school of architecture and design. But, like Louis Sullivan’s alliterative catch phrase, less is more deserves an investigation of its history.

The phrase is most closely associated with the designer who embraced the association: architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For Mies, it was an apt slogan for his pursuit of design purity. The intentional contradiction helps make it memorable, but essentially it means “the less complicated the design, the better.” The less of less is more is apparent in the work of Mies and other midcentury modern designers, but the more means ‘better,’ with a note of pseudo-spiritual zeal.

Barcelona Pavilion | Wikipedia

The Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wikipedia

Much as Mies’ cigar-puffing visage comes to mind when you hear the phrase, he had to admit that he didn’t coin it. He credits his modernist mentor, Peter Behrens. The young Mies, working in Behrens’ studio, recalls that he showed his boss some design options for a factory façade, to which the elder architect replied “less is more.” This set the tone for Behrens’ elegantly minimal approach to industrial design, and Mies took up the banner for other types of buildings as well.

But wait—there’s more (or is it less?) to this story. The phrase crops up before Behrens was born, in a poetic context: Robert Browning’s poem Andrea Del Sarto (called “The Faultless Painter”) of 1855.

Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
 (I know his name, no matter)—so much less!
 Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.

Browning employs the phrase in an imagined diatribe by a B-list Renaissance painter who works in the shadow of the likes of “Michel Agnolo” (Michelangelo). Hardly the heroic, modern origins you might expect.

Bike Print | UncommonGoodsThe Bicycle Encyclopedic Print

Whether or not Behrens and Mies were aware of Browning’s poem, the phrase got a modern makeover that puts a positive spin on minimalist aspirations. Not to be outdone, maverick architect Frank Lloyd Wright quipped “less is more, only when more is no good.” Apparently, Wright wanted to indicate that he was hip to mid-century trends, yet wanted to keep his options open.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Dave Marcoullier

February 10, 2015

Dave Marcoullier | UncommonGoods

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

Dave Marcoullier Wooden Routings | UncommonGoods

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

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

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

Continue Reading…

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Phil Thompson

January 14, 2015

Phil Thompson | UncommonGoods

Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, Jeanne Gang—some of the greatest, most renowned names in architecture–have marked their space on the Chicago skyline. Their skyscrapers, public buildings, and homes in the Windy City have shaped modern design over the centuries. It is no wonder, then, why illustrator Phil Thompson finds inspiration in Chicago’s Prairie Style bungalows, classic six-flat brick Craftsman buildings, and skyscraping architectural landmarks. As a recently departed Chicagoan, I can attest that Phil and his wife and studio mate, Katie, live in one of those architecturally remarkable apartments that most of us dream of finding. Built in 1912, the Craftsman flat has many of its original Deco fixtures and warm, comforting wood detailing.
A colleague here at UncommonGoods tipped me off to Phil’s intricate custom home portraits. The cleanliness of his structured, blueprint-like approach suitably matches the sparseness of his studio. He surrounds himself just with what he needs: drawing paper, a basket full of trusty micro-pens, and drafting tools. There are a few exceptions to the sparseness—all of which are largely contained within a small bulletin board—a calendar, the usual lists of to-dos, and some inspirational quotations. Phil also prominently displays a beautiful postcard-size watercolor by his grandmother to remind him of his artistic roots.
I am always thoroughly impressed and warmed by artists that are able to seamlessly and successfully blend their passions and skills. Phil and Katie are two of those artists. He pairs his discerning eye and exacting hand with a passion for accurately rendering architectural styles and the home. Phil’s Classic Home Portraits honor those places where we build memories, families, and community.

Continue Reading…

Maker Stories

Wrapped Up in a Good Book: Tori Tissell’s Literary Scarves

October 20, 2014

Tori Tissell | UncommonGoods

It doesn’t take much exposition to connect literature and art. Artist Tori Tissell fuses both with fashionable flair in her literary scarves. Full of storybook charm, they harken back to Tori’s days as a budding artist. “Some of my earliest memories are from the age of three years old when I was painting in watercolors,” says Tori, “there’s a video recording of me being asked what I want to be when I grow up–my answer was an artist.”

This passion continued into adulthood, landing Tori as a drawing and painting major before deciding to move to New York City to study fashion design. “I thought that outlet would allow for a wider audience and quicker reception of my work and ideas.” Tori was right, and after being stumped for Christmas gift ideas during the 2011 holiday season, she decided to use her education and passion for screen printing, fashion, and literature to create something memorable for family and friends. “Since those closest to me also have an affinity towards reading, [book-inspired scarves] seemed like the perfect solution for gifts and possibly more.”

Literary Scarves | UncommonGoods

Tori sourced some fabric for the scarves and found a rich cream-colored knit. With this new material, she was inspired to print the scarves to resemble the page of a book. After the scarves were a hit, Tori began selecting other book texts to be screen-printed. “Initially books and passages were picked by what I favor and some of that will always hold true but lately we’ve been getting a lot of additional input,” says Tori. From Alice in Wonderland to Jane Eyre, each scarf showcases a window into a world of storybook magic.

Tori working on a Literary Scarf

Tori’s husband Chris became a part of the project when they got married in 2012. The scarves had really started taking off, and he began helping with screen printing, sourcing, and streamlining production. “By the end of that year, he was practically a full time employee on top of his other job as a computer programmer.”

Tori and Chris work out of a few spaces in Portland. “My workspace is a bit of a joke,” says Tori, “Chris is the one with a beautifully painted office, complete with overflowing bookshelves, leather furniture, and artifacts from past travels. My office is continually on the move. I either print pieces within our rented studio space in downtown Portland, or I cut and sew fabric on our dining room table.”

Tori and Chris

Wherever she happens to be working, Tori keeps pieces of inspiration handy. One such piece is the print cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, signed by the artist. This is one of many hints at her love of reading, a passion that perfectly enhances her art. Another source of inspiration can be found within. “I think it’s really important for an artist to surround oneself with his or her own work because taking on new illustrations is terrifying. It’s comforting to see what’s already been overcome and to be reminded that you can do this.”

Literary Scarves | UncommonGoods

Maker Resources

How to Take the Leap from Maker to Entrepreneur

October 15, 2014

Emilie Shapiro | UncommonGoods

Where do I sell my work? Is retail or wholesale better? How do I make work that will sell?

These are the questions I hear all of the time as a jewelry instructor. My students at Liloveve Jewelry School, 92Y, and Brooklyn Museum range from making their first piece to running successful businesses, but all have one thing in common–the need to create something tangible that didn’t exist before.

During my time as the production manager at Pamela Love Jewelry and Allforthemountain, I learned how the jewelry industry works inside and out from handmade one-of-a-kind pieces, small scale in-house production and outsourcing work with United States based factories. Through the years of designing my own collection which is sold at over 50 boutiques Worldwide, I’ve found what works for me.

Emerald Mosaic Ring | UncommonGoods

Where will I Sell My Work?

  • Directly from your studio. The Holidays are a great time of year to have a sample sale in person and/or online to get rid of some inventory to make room for new work.
  • Have a jewelry (or other item) party! Ask a friend or family member to host you and your work at their home or office. Bring snacks and wine and gift your host a piece for having the party.
  • Online – Etsy, bigcartel, your own Squarespace, site and so many more! There are tons of ways to make an inexpensive online presence or website that someone can shop from.
  • Retail Shows – Retailing is selling your goods directly to the public from a fixed location or online. Check out local craft shows in your area. The Holidays are great because people are looking for gifts. Be sure to ask the what the median price point is and what other vendors will be there to make sure you’re a good fit. Also, make sure to have a sign and a cohesive display for your work. Good lighting is a must, especially for jewelry, so make sure to ask about electricity. Don’t forget your business cards or postcards and packaging. (Some of these Trade Show Tips go for retail shows as well.)
  • Wholesale – Wholesaling is selling your goods in large quantities to be resold by other retailers. Set a minimum price or piece order to make it worth your time and so a retailer has a good selection of your work represented. Check out local stores you think your work would fit in with. Who else do they sell and for what prices? Would your work look good next to them? Walk in wearing your work (or pictures of your objects), be very friendly and ask who is the buyer and get in touch. Don’t waste your time or buyers time if it’s not a good fit or price point.

Production

How Can I Streamline My Production?

  • Focus on efficiency of creativity while you’re producing. Perfect your first piece (your model) on design and craftsmanship and then break down each step. Work in an assembly line fashion instead of making one piece start to finish, even if you’re by yourself. You work faster while your body gets in the rhythm.
  • Buy in bulk when possible. Stock up on supplies and materials like chains and findings. Go in with other artists to get the best prices possible.

Materials

  • Develop a clear track for your orders from the second you receive it from when it ships out your door. I use a production schedule which I find really helpful. This helps me keep track of the items I have to make for stores and clients, what I have in stock, and what I have to make.

Production Schedule

  • Think about what you’re great at, and what someone else can do for you. As an artist you want to follow your heart on how you make something, but as a business owner you need to use your brain on the most cost effective way. Try to find the balance and make your work efficiently without lowering your quality.

Jewelry Assembly

What are the Best Tips for Success?

  • Make your own decisions; you’re the boss! Whether you’re hiring an employee, deciding whether a new store is a good (or bad) fit, telling the owner of a store they can’t change your designs (this happens to me once a week – you are the designer), there are tons of big and day-to-day decisions with running a craft business.
  • Find a middle ground. As an artist, you will have the tendency to make decisions based on feelings and intuition. As a successful businessperson, you will need to make decisions based on rational calculation. I like to find a happy medium between the two.
  • When you need help, ask for it. Use the resources of friends, family, and local businesses around you. No one can do everything! Know when to delegate.
  • Be thoroughly professional.
  • Accept nothing less than the highest standards of your work. Never cut corners to make a deadline; your work will suffer and people will notice. Customers buy handmade for good quality products. The goodwill of your customers if your most valuable possession! Don’t jeopardize it by delivering late or shipping work that’s not high quality.
  • Never stop learning!
Maker Stories

A Perfect Design for Your Knitting Nest

September 15, 2014

Aaron A. Harrison | UncommonGoods

The son of an architect father and artist mother, Aaron A. Harrison quickly gravitated towards all things creative. LEGO towers gave way to kindergarten art contest wins, which eventually gave way to an MFA in ceramics and sculpture. Knowing he wanted to play with clay forever, Aaron decided to turn his passion into a career once he started raising a family.

While working in production at a ceramic slip casting company that specializes in bird feeders, birdhouses, and nightlights, Aaron began to shift his focus from artist to designer. “It was here that I learned how to run a production studio,” says Aaron, “making products from clay was preeminent to making clay art.” Working with all the bird-friendly pieces at the studio also fostered an appreciation for the bird form, inspiring Aaron to incorporate the winged creatures into his own designs once he started his own studio in 2009.

Birdie Yarn Bowls | UncommonGoods
Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

On his process, Aaron says, “creativity as a designer follows the need to solve a problem.” In the case of one of his most popular designs, this problem was the unrolling of yarn. After two separate friends asked him if he made yarn bowls, he researched the concept, made some prototypes, literally put a bird on it, and the Birdie Yarn Bowl came to be. Each yarn bowl begins as a ball of clay that is then thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel. Once the bowl firms up, the bird is added, then the hook and holes. After an initial firing and glazing, each bird is painted by hand, then fired one more time to seal it all in.

Painting the Birdie Bowl | UncommonGoods

Aaron works out of his 500 square foot basement, painting each individual bird himself and packing each completed yarn bowl for shipping. “It’s not uncommon to find my children wrapped in bubble wrap or making packing peanut soup for their dolls,” says Aaron of his at-home operation. For inspiration while he works, Aaron keeps drawings from his children around, as well as a LEGO calendar (“my second favorite pastime after ceramics”), and an architectural drawing of an observatory from his father.

Aaron's Studio
Packing the bowls

With all this inspiration by his side, it’s no wonder Aaron’s work has been featured in Knit Simple, Vogue Knitting, and Knit Scene. Though he’s “still waiting for Oprah or Martha Stewart to place their orders,” Aaron gets immense satisfaction from the feedback of others, telling him that his piece inspired them to be more creative. Both this and the opportunity to work from home are the ultimate pay-off. “Sitting at the wheel three to four hours a day, working long into the night to finish an order, and the physical strain of manipulating the clay can take its toll,” says Aaron, “but I am working for myself and I can see my children grow up. In the end, it’s a tremendous blessing and extremely satisfying.”

Buy the Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Good Intentions: Alena Hennessy’s Affirmations in Art

August 12, 2014

Alena Hennessy | UncommonGoods

Words and art are two extremely powerful forces. Both can make us recall certain memories, impact our emotions, and even influence our decisions. That’s why Alena Hennessy only found it natural to combine these two important elements to create vibrant drawings, paintings, and mixed-media pieces featuring positive mantras, which she calls “intentions.”

One of these inspirational affirmations, “Don’t Quit Your Daydream,” is exceptionally fitting, because she never has. She’s been doing what she loves, creating art full time, for nearly 10 years.

Don't Quit Your Daydream | UncommonGoods

“For many years now I have viewed art-making as a kind of therapy or healing, one that brings us to quieter and more meditative states of being,” said Alena, who explained that writing positive intentions into her art is a way to capture those words and keep them as daily reminders.

“Writing intentions (or mantras) into my art feels beautifully affirming and became a natural part of my creative process,” she said. “I believe that words hold a certain power and when I am making art, the words or script that I place into my art sets an affirming tone for my life. I [also] think script is rather beautiful and artful in itself.”

Although Alena spends hours working in her Asheville, NC studio, art is just one of the therapeutic practices she embraces. Drawn to “the healing arts and natural forms of well-being,” Alena is also a certified flower essence practitioner, herbalist, and Reiki master.

Cultivating Your Creative Life by Alena Hennessy

She said that synthesizing the visual and healing arts in her work “seems inevitable and more reflective of my innate passions.” This comes through not only in her dynamic illustrations, but also in her many other creative endeavors. As an author, she encourages others to experiment with art and use it as a means for self-awareness and personal wellness. She also spreads inspiration through her blog, and facilitates several e-courses.

Alena Hennessy

While Alena always has many projects in the works, she makes sure to take her own advice and puts herself first, before business. However, in making her own wellness a priority, she finds that she is also better able to produce her art. “I become inspired by making sure I have enough rest and self-care of my body, mind, and spirit,” she said. “I find that the more I am in balance, the better my creative output.”

Just as Alena finds inspiration in nurturing her mind, body, and spirit, the cycle of creativity continues through the artistic process and on to those that bring her work home. The quotes and mantras working in harmony with Alena’s visual art encourage the new owner, and all that see the piece, to live each day to the fullest in a positive light.

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