Browsing Tag

Handmade

Maker Stories

Rachel’s Celestial Bracelet Takes the Win!

December 11, 2013

Rachel is one of my favorite artist stories to boast about when the topic of ongoing Jewelry Design Challenges arises. She’s the perfect example of the saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Cliché? Most definitely. Overused? Perhaps. True? Without a doubt. Rachel first submitted her original Celestial Bracelet with a bit of a twist, she had her favorite quote etched onto the bracelet with diamonds embedded on top. We were fond of the piece and our jewelry buyers were impressed by the bracelet alone, but didn’t think that the embellishments would speak to our customers. They preferred a clean look that just focused on the unusual shape–inspired by celestial bodies orbiting planets–and design of the bangle. I reached out to Rachel to let her know exactly why that month she wasn’t a finalist, and wasn’t so sure if I would hear from her again. The next month, as I was checking all the jewelry submissions, I recognized Rachel’s familiar bracelet–but this time with our tips taken into consideration. The judges were surprised to see the beautiful, enhanced design again, and fell in love with the sleek yet unconventional bangle. Meet Rachel Vanatta, our latest jewelry design winner and an artist who wasn’t scared to develop her vision with ours.


Rachel Vanatta

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
I consider my hometown to be Chagrin Falls, Ohio. But since relocating to Savannah, GA at 18 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, I have considered Savannah very dear to me.  The longest portion of my career was experienced on a small 7 mile Gulf Coast island called Anna Maria Island, from 2003 to 2012.  This is where the Nectar Jewelry line was inspired and birthed. Towards the end of 2012 we relocated to Atlanta, GA.  Atlanta is new-ish to me but so far the friends and people I have met have been nothing but wonderful. An Uncommon Fact: I actually attended SCAD specifically for jewelry design, I was always interested in the craft and fine art, and SCAD’s jewelry programs are a perfect mix of both. I knew from age 16 on that the jewelry profession was the one I needed to be in.

Rachel Vanatta

Your bracelet is one of the most unique bangles we’ve seen come through at UncommonGoods, how did you come up with this specific design?
I am inspired by celestial and natural shapes, designs focused on forms that are present on a day-to-day basis, but that we may overlook without small reminders.  I aim to remind the wearers of my jewelry to pay homage to natural phenomenon.  Many take these wonders for granted in our everyday lives, but when reminded of, realize what a gift every being and object can truly be. The celestial bracelet’s shape is reminiscent of a planet’s orbiting moons and rings.  The construction of the piece itself also offers a great surface area to express additional designs, quotes, stones, and patina.

57663_zoom2

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have kept and added to inspirational sketchbooks and scrapbooks for about 15 years, and refer to these regularly.  I was sparked to do this by a past professor of mine.  Through some group discussion, I was shared that I had too many ideas all at once, and could not fathom creating them all.  She responded that I should always record every idea and design in these sketchbooks, because there will be a time in the future where I will be searching ideas and inspiration and these books will be my solutions and a look into my past. On a day-to-day basis, I also love to use Pinterest boards, attend American Craft Council and judged craft shows, and art museums.  Any promotional or inspirational ads/cards/artwork I come across I either save or post on my studio walls.

Rachel Vanatta

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
I have very little down time, as I am mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Cozette, who is my number one priority, of course.  We have so much fun together, but my downtime is when she naps, is in preschool or asleep at night. This is when I work on my craft.  I love what I do so down time for me is equivalent to designing and creating jewelry.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
I was at the park with my daughter when I received the call, excitedly I gave her a big hug!  I then proceeded to call select family and friends, and celebrated with my husband over a dinner he made later that night.

Rachel Vanatta

How do you recharge your creativity?
Though it may sound cliché, I am ever interested in the human condition and what we all have in common.  I would love to create a series at some point focused on a specific aspect related to this subject with the creation of conceptual jewelry pieces.  As for now, I mainly listen to Ted Talks and listen/watch documentary pieces relating to people in their environment and their specific situations.

Other than being an artist, what are your other passions in life?
Becoming a mother has been such an amazing experience, and now that our daughter is a toddler, it has been wonderful meeting other families with children the same age, watching our kids play, interact, and learn from each other, while enjoying “parent/adult” time as well!  My husband is also an artist in illustration and graphic arts, so we have a lot in common as far as what we enjoy doing together.  He and I met in Savannah, GA our freshman year at art school and have been together ever since. In addition, I have a love of animals, most recently horses and riding.  I grew up riding English and have recently reignited my passion for it by introducing my daughter to horses, which she has taken on whole-heartedly.

Rachel Vanatta

Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
I do have one particular project which have been gradually working on and designing, and hope to “unveil” it this upcoming year!

What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
 My bench, where I execute most all designing and work, contain all the tools, torches, etc that I use regularly. Ironic it is mentioned; I must have my water bottles nearby…yes multiple bottles of water, and depending on the time of day, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  As I mentioned before, having a thought provoking discussion or inspirational talk to listen to is ideal as well.  Having my dog Holly decide to lay at my feet while I work is extra special, and on a nice day, the windows open for fresh air.

Rachel Vanatta

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
Contracts come and go, sometimes the work rolls in and other times it doesn’t.  As difficult as it may be during the slower times, a positive attitude and embracing the “personal time” to recreate yourself, your work, and finally finish those pieces you have been meaning to are priceless. Take the days as they come, the busy and the quiet, for there is something to be gained from both.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Let go and let God.”
Rachel Vanatta

Which artists do you look up to? 
Todd Reed’s work is inspirational to me, his choice and use of materials, and the way he joins traditional and contemporary stone settings.  In addition, he is self-taught, which is motivational for me to learn new techniques on my own.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
In hindsight, I would advise myself to reach out for the purpose of bettering yourself and building relationships, but also for the reasoning that you never know where it will take you.  There is nothing to lose by opening yourself up in a fun and professional way.

Rachel Vanatta

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I would love to become more proficient in particular stone settings as they would add to my current designs.  I would also love to learn more about grading diamonds and colored gems by attending GIA courses.  I have some knowledge of CAD, and would also like to further my education in computer aided rendering and 3-D printing.

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work to our Jewelry Design Challenge?
I recommend that any contestants state that they are open to critiques and suggestions on their designs, if they truly are.  UncommonGoods has been a complete pleasure to work with, and they know their customer and what they want, so be open and enjoy the feedback!

Design

Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers

November 11, 2013

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers | UncommonGoodsThis year we wanted to highlight our handmade jewelry collection like we never have before. So we worked with four bloggers to put together a gallery of images of them styling our pieces to showcase how someone can personally style our necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings – something never before seen on our site!

To pick our lucky bloggers, we reached out to some talented ladies that we worked with in the past for product reviews. We loved their style, photography skills, and what they had to say about our jewelry so much that we invited them back to share some more. They recevied some of their favorite pieces from our Artisan Jewelry Gallery and photographed them during their outings and gatherings as the temperatures were dropping. Meet the bloggers here!

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers | UncommonGoods

Amy Christie of This Heart of Mine



Amy Christie is a maker herself with a blog about her style, family, and her creative process. She describes her winter style as “Cozy: jeans, thick socks and comfy tops. I like boots and chunky scarves, oh and tailored coats!”

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers | UncommonGoods

Katherine of Of Corgis & Cocktails



Katherine blogs about her life in Central Pennsylvania and her lovable corgis. We just love how her personality shines through in her personal style. She loves layering a lot in the winter too. “With the way weather is in my area, there can be frost on the ground in the morning and quite warm during the day. I own lots of tights and scarves. I still wear ‘summer dresses’ too – just with lots of sweaters and scarves on top.”

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers

Katrina of The Demure Muse



Katrina is a style and DIY blogger from Seattle who spends her winters “Sitting on the patio of my favorite mom & pop ran restaurants in the crisp fall air and watching the wind blow through all the leaves on the ground is the best way to start off the day. Who can say no to good eats and beautiful scenery?”

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers

Nicole of Rose Runs Wild



Last but not least, Nicole is one of the most down-to-earth bloggers you might ever come across. Priding herself on not being a fashionista or foodie, just a full-time mom and real-life lady, she is also a new bride! We asked how she spends her winters with her family: “When the temperatures drop we love to enjoy the fall weather outside as much as possible. It’s time for bundling up in sweaters, scarves and boots. We take lots of walks to enjoy the smell of the leaves and see all of the colors that fall brings with it. We build fires in the backyard and spend our evenings laughing with good company as often as we can. We start having more family dinners, baking as often as possible, the crochet needles and yarn come out. It’s our favorite time of year!”

Check out what they came up with in our first collaboration lookbook!


Design

How To Make a Vegan Dream Catcher

October 30, 2013

I am pleased as punch to share my DIY dream catcher tutorial on UncommonGoods! I work for a public relations firm called Small Girls PR, and we recently threw a party for our client, She and Reverie. At the event we had a dream catcher craft station and provided the guests supplies and tips on how to make their own whimsical piece during the party! I’m a big fan of UncommonGoods, and wanted to share with their design community how easy it is to make one with just a few supplies. And just to add a cherry on top, knowing that UncommonGoods’ is very animal friendly, I created a fun vegan dream catcher tutorial! Below are photos and step-by-step directions for you to start making your own right at home!

Supplies

 

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Step 6

Step 7

Step 8

Step 10

Step 12

Step 13

Remember, you can substitute the supplies with any other arts and crafts you may have lying around at home. For example, if you don’t have felt feathers, perhaps you can use tassels or jewelry pendents. And if you don’t have faux suede you can switch it out with bright ribbons or earthy hemp cords. Have fun with this project and be creative! Below are a few snap shots from the She and Reverie event with the guests having a little bit too much fun making these dream catchers. SheRev082413_PiOv_090 SheRev082413_PiOv_057 SheRev082413_PiOv_055 SheRev082413_PiOv_053 SheRev082413_PiOv_020

Inspired, but don’t quite have the time to build your own dream catcher? Check out UncommonGoods’ Dream Catcher Necklace.

Maker Stories

Thomas Both & The Art of Tableless Dining

October 14, 2013

Thomas BothMix and mingling at cocktail parties, couch lounging on movie night, and eating Sunday breakfast in bed just got a whole lot easier with Thomas Both’s Ooma Bowl design. “It struck me that all the plateware we use is designed for tables, yet often we eat without a table.  So my point of view was to design something that is suited for eating without one, and to do it in an elegant way.”

Thomas earned his BS in Engineering at Harvey Mudd College and shortly after worked as a mechanical engineer for three years.  Yet as a person who was a bit more right-minded, Thomas recognized that he held a creative heart, and wanted to finally wear it on his sleeve. He was admitted to Design School at Stanford University, which paved his way to teaching innovative designs at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. “Now, I work much more as a designer than an engineer, but both play a part.”

Thomas BothObserving small living spaces was how Thomas’ inspiration behind the Ooma Bowl came about. After speaking to people living in small apartments he was inspired by the idea of tableless dining. Thomas realized that most non-table plateware lacked a level of elegance, such as bad TV dinner trays or strange party plates. Soon, he turned these discussions and observations into a real life design solution.

oomabowl hospitalThomas believes that a strong perspective helps design a unique product.  He didn’t want to just make a cool looking bowl; he wanted the design to be tied in with a direct purpose. In the early stages of designing the bowl, a friend of Thomas’ broke his leg and was stuck in the hospital for a quite a while. Because the Ooma Bowl was “a bowl that’s designed to be held” without the use of a table, Thomas took this opportunity to have his bedridden friend become one of his first experimental guinea pigs. “I called him up. While everyone else was checking if he was okay and visiting him, I asked him if he’d test out my prototypes. He liked the feeling of being locked into the bowl, not holding it but the bowl holding you.”

Thomas brought his designs to the next level of actual production. At first, he had no experience with ceramics. “Except maybe in grade school messing around with clay. It was a dining design project that just so happened to end up in a ceramic piece.” He had to learn about slip casting, working with clay, glazing, and firing all at once. After rough prototype after rough prototype, including failed plastic forming attempts, Thomas finally made the first buck out of REN shape into two pieces. “One side on a lathe, and the other just sort of by eye and feel.” He then glued the sides’ backs together and made adjustments. The next iteration he worked on was stacking and getting a nice feel in the hand, which was much more work than he ever anticipated.

thomasboth2

thomasboth3Once the design was perfected into its brilliant form, Thomas found a manufacturer in Los Angeles, but just as it was a difficult process to design the perfect bowl, it was probably an even more nerve racking time to manage the products. “Selling and managing production, storage, sales, and shipping is a lot of work. I had way too many boxes in our living room for a long time. That part wasn’t so much fun for me; it was more of an on-going nuisance.”

Yet, after only a short hiatus, Thomas is proud to see that the Ooma Bowl sought its way back out into the world, licensed, and it’s now an exclusive item on the UncommonGoods site. Sarah Stenseng, our Senior Product Development Associate who attended Stanford with Thomas, worked with him to get the Ooma Bowls back into production. Thomas says, “The Ooma bowl would probably still be sitting on the sidelines if it wasn’t for UncommonGoods.”

thomasboth4 Thomas’ advice for designers who are producing a product from just a simple idea is to “get engaged and excited about how people do things and how they think within a certain domain , and pay attention.  Opportunities will emerge.  Then you have to try things.  Make stuff.  It can be crappy, you’re just working on the concept. Work your way to a product idea that you’re excited about and other people love.  Then you can bring more refinement to it and move toward manufacturing.”

Thomas Both

Maker Stories

Judi’s “A Tree Grows” Necklace is in Full Bloom

September 26, 2013

WorkingOnTreeGrowsx

Haven’t we all daydreamed about quitting a job to pursue a creative passion full-time? Some of us only take it as far as that, simply daydreaming, while others actually take that deep plunge into the scary, unknown abyss of no longer being on payroll. Judi Powers was one of those people. She says, “After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible.” Judi had the courage to leave her stable career in publishing, yet she still had no idea where she was going in terms of making a living. She decided to dip her toes into different fields she felt like she’d be passionate about until she finally met her dream career match: jewelry making. “I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry.” When Judi realized that designing jewelry was her new calling, not once did she look back and regret her choice of leaving her first career.

Inspired by the combination of nature and art history, Judi’s stunning “A Tree Grow” necklace branched out to become our latest jewelry winning design. Read about what Judi did when she first heard the great news, her process of literally making her pieces stronger, and her advice for winning one of UncommonGoods’ design challenges.

What’s an Uncommon fact about yourself and your jewelry?

An Uncommon fact about my jewelry is that much of it is inspired by the paintings, sculptures, and architecture I studied as an art history student. For example, I’m currently working on a series of midi rings inspired by Rogier van der Weyden’s “Portrait of Isabella of Portugal”. And my “A Tree Grows” necklace is informed by nature as much as it is by Whistler’s “Portrait of Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland”. An Uncommon fact about me is that the first time I saw Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait”, about nine years ago, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by the intricate detail, the vivid color, and the rich texture. I’d only ever seen it in books or presentations and it’s even more spectacular in person. Totally geeky, yet totally true!

atreegrows

What were you doing before you decided to become a jewelry designer and what drove you into the jewelry field?

I had a wonderful first career in book publishing. I handled marketing and publicity for countless amazingly talented authors and illustrators. It was a great proving ground for learning about business, and it was also an incredible environment in which to forge lasting friendships.

After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible. So I started spending more time with friends and taking a variety of classes. We tried dancing (disaster!), flower arranging (wonderful, but too depressing once the flowers wilted), cooking (fabulous but fattening), and lastly, jewelry making.

From my first class at 92Y I was immediately hooked, though initially I took it slowly and took one class a semester or so over 10 years at the Y, SVA, and Jewelry Arts Institute. Once I decided that I wanted to become a professional jewelry maker I quit my publishing career and I attended FIT’s one-year jewelry design program. What drew me to jewelry were the materials, especially metal. I love its malleability, how it can have a huge variety of textures, the way it feels, and that it’s durable!

I have always loved jewelry.  I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry—a monogrammed silver locket my grandmother gave me for my fifth birthday. It’s my hope that my jewelry will tell special stories for those who wear it. In this way my publishing and jewelry careers truly intersect.

1167752_orig

 What’s the first thing you did after you found out you were the winner of the Jewelry Design Challenge?

I jumped around my apartment, hugged my dog, and then called my mother. My mom has been my biggest champion in pursuing a career as a jewelry maker, and there are no words to express how meaningful her encouragement and belief in me has been.  She and I had endless conversations about whether I should follow my heart and pursue a jewelry career, or whether I should stay in a career that I liked but was emotionally outgrowing. I had a real crisis of conscience while trying to decide. So many people I knew were unemployed and looking for jobs, while I had a good, stable one. I felt both guilty for wanting to walk away from security and terrified to try something new and unstable.  It was during that period that one of the characters on Mad Men said something like, “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.” That really resonated with me. Soon after, I knew I would pursue a new career as a jewelry designer, risks and all.

Judi-Mother

It’s unanimous here at UncommonGoods that your “A Tree Grows” necklace is stunning. How did you come up with the idea to design such a realistic branch design for jewelry wear?

Thank you! I’ve always loved trees and branches: their lines are so graceful and elegant and they’re also a bit wild. In my second semester at FIT I took an amazing casting class. I learned that you can cast almost anything only if you can truly envision the outcome in metal and only if you can make the object thick enough to be sturdy.  Years ago, I had tried to model a tree branch in wax but it didn’t have the level of detail that an actual branch has. It just didn’t work. So when I took the casting class, I told my professor that I really wanted to cast a small tree branch and she said: “Go for it! Just be sure you reinforce it and make it durable.” I took her advice, found a small branch in my Brooklyn neighborhood, reinforced it with Mod-Podge, and took it to my caster. When I picked up the piece I was completely amazed!  All of the detail from nature was perfectly preserved. I had this delicate sterling silver branch that looked like the real thing. I actually choked up when I saw it.
57582_zoom2
You actually submitted your jewelry into one of our past jewelry design challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. You decided to not be discouraged, and submitted an entry again after joining one of our design events. Do you believe winning the challenge the second try was much more satisfying than if you were to win the first time?

The first time I submitted I was hoping to be selected but I didn’t expect it. The design challenge was the first competition outside of school that I’d entered, and I knew there’d be serious competition, both from my FIT classmates and  from countless talented designers whose work I’m still getting to know. After attending the design event, I learned the single-most valuable lesson: submit an image of someone wearing your piece! Winning the challenge was really satisfying, of course, but also really humbling because I was getting both positive and constructive feedback during the voting. I was competing against some extraordinarily beautiful pieces, all of which were so different and so special.

8411513_orig

What’s the biggest advice you can give to our future design contestants after that specific experience?

Attend UncommonGoods’ design events. If you can’t get to them, attend any local events where you can meet professionals and peers. Take notes on what the speakers are saying because their advice will come in handy. Don’t be shy and ask questions! Be open to feedback because it’s all helpful. Take photos of your pieces on a person. Follow up, even if it’s just to say a very simple thank you. Always, and I really mean always, wear a piece of jewelry you’ve made. If you don’t want to wear your work, I think it’s a little unreasonable to expect someone else to want to wear it.

Lulu

Do you have any silly trick or habits you do to keep yourself motivated? 

When I’m struggling to focus, I know it’s time to step away from what I’m doing. Literally. I get up and take my puppy for a nice long walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood and clear my head. In the warmer months, I stop and look at plants and trees for design ideas and in the cooler months I look at architecture and snowflakes for inspiration. I’ve learned the hard way that whenever I try to force something that it just doesn’t work, and jewelry really has to work. I also drink lots of water!

Can you describe the process of what you do to make your necklaces better, stronger, and more wearable. 

I’m so glad you asked this question! Some of the comments I received during the voting were concerns that my necklace looked like it might scratch the skin or bend. I’m glad people brought that up.  For every “A Tree Grows” necklace  I cast, I actually break off the more fragile parts and re-attach them onto the central line of the branch. By doing this I reinforce the structure of the necklace and build on it with a bit of additional solder.  After the branch is reassembled I tumble it first with stainless steel shot. Then I use soft pumice pellets to harden the metal and soften the edges of the leaves and branch ends. I believe jewelry has to be pleasing to wear and I personally road test every piece to make sure it’s both comfortable and has structural integrity. There is a bit of springiness to the metal in the finished piece, which enhances the organic nature of the necklace.

BKMW

 Do you mind describing your studio to us and the materials that you use?

I work out of Brooklyn Metal Works, a wonderful, collaborative creative space for jewelers and metal smiths.  The owners, Erin Daley and Brian Weissman, are building a fantastic community there. They have regular exhibits, artists’ lectures, and classes. My personal jewelry education continues to grow there. I love being around other jewelers and artists because we bounce ideas off of one another, brainstorm about construction,  share new tricks and techniques we’ve learned, and we all respect each other. And there’s always great music in the background!

When I’m sketching and designing, I work from home at my father’s antique drafting table. It’s scarred with hundreds of pin holes where old blueprints had once been tacked. I’ve added a few more holes to it, as well as some paint splotches and ink stains! I love that it’s a piece that he, I, and others have used as a tool to support creativity. And he’s really proud that I’m using it, too.

In terms of materials, I use recycled metals in all my cast pieces and I source as much recycled material as possible for the pieces I fabricate.  I’m happy that I’m a professional jeweler now because I have ready access to recycled material. Ten years ago when I was first starting, that just wasn’t the case.  I save every shaving, filing, and sprue and recycle all of my scrap metals.

DadsDraftingTable

What’s one of your all-time favorite inspirational quotes? 

I have so many of them! It’s too difficult to pick only one, so here are two:

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” -Paulo Coehlo

And this one by Rabindranath Tagore always resonates with me: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

coelho

 What does your jewelry illustrate about yourself?

My jewelry mirrors my two great loves: art and nature. I don’t have a specific philosophy per se, but I do want every piece to be wearable and beautiful. And because my own jewelry stories give me such joy, I sincerely hope that my customers will have their own happy stories to tell about my pieces for years, even decades, to come!

 

Maker Stories

Allison’s “Babe” Takes the Win!

September 17, 2013

 

Allison and Canine Inspiration

If you follow us closely, most of you know that this summer we proudly launched our Ongoing Art Contest. This means instead of just awarding a winner once a year, we are crowning an independent artist winner and awarding $500 smack-a-roos and a chance to sign a vendor contract to join our UncommonGoods family every single month. The first winner from our Ongoing Art Contest was appointed to Caribbean resident, Allison Gray. We received amazing entries from through out the nation, yet it was Allison’s lovely “Babe” that caught our art judges’ attention. Allison’s eye for detail, use of mixed media, and sweet, creative design of her very own pup landed her into the winning spot.  In her interview, Allison mentions that “it wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations.” We’re more than ecstatic that Allison experimented out of her comfort zone, because as a result “Babe” was created and now will be officially a part of our artist gallery!

Meet Allison Gray, a fellow animal lover and our latest Art Contest winner.

Babe submit-a

Tell us an uncommon fact about yourself.

I have very vivid dreams.  They actually inspire a lot of my work.  I may not necessarily dream about a scene and then wake up and paint it, but the images and emotions that are remnants of my dreams can serve as the stepping stones or foundation of my craft.

I don’t know if the vividness of my dreams is a factor in my sleep pattern, but about 75% of the time, I start sleeping by violently waking up.  It’s called a myoclonic jerk  and of course everyone’s familiar with it—that sudden waking burst of panic preceded by a falling sensation.  What’s uncommon in this case is that it’s become routine.  I drift off, spasm awake and think, “Oh good, that’s done.  Now I can really get started on sleeping.”  And, without fail, I have these brilliant dreams, saturated with emotion and light.

(I hope I haven’t confused uncommon with odd.)

What different techniques do you use when creating your art?

I hate to pigeonhole myself when it comes to craft media.  For a long time, I only worked with oil paints and I only recreated realistic images.  With the difficulty of transporting necessary oils and thinners to continue my oil painting in Grenada, I opted to instead try a different medium.  So I began working with watercolors and from there, branched out further.  I began using charcoal, India ink, pen and pencil, and masking techniques.  I use bleach, salt and even coffee grounds for different textures and effects.

It wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations.  One of the first paintings I did in Grenada was of a local boy.  The painting was from a photograph I’d taken of him.  I already had the picture, so I knew I wanted something more than the photo could offer me.  So I filled my palette and painted him with every color that was missing from the photo.  When I finished, I knew I’d moved somewhere in my capacity as an artist.  And I’ve been moving in that same direction since.

In summary, I have and will continue to use whatever techniques I can to perpetually evolve my artwork and myself as an artist.

Colorful Boy Painting

Describe your daily life in Grenada.

Without an actual career, that varies from day to day.  I always try to allot myself a few hours a day to devote to a craft (painting, writing, knitting, photography, etc.).  The rest of the time is spread out over responsibilities and recreation.

Of course I’ve got domestic responsibilities.  With a medical student for a husband, all household chores sort of fall on me.  I’m not totally won over by the cleaning part of the duties, but I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat.  It’s hard to complain about having absolute control over the menu.

I run in the mornings.  Sometimes I go to the beach during the day and play Frisbee in the sea.  I might walk a couple miles to our favorite fruit stand and get our produce for the week from “Fireman,” our fruit vendor.  On Saturdays, we go on hashes.  (A hash is an all-terrain [mostly off-road] hike, followed by food and drinks and music, that draws hundreds of participants per week and takes place anywhere on the 132-square-mile island.)  Occasionally I’ll take a local bus into town and pick up fresh fish from the fish market.  I am an executive board member for St. George’s University Photography Club and perform duties as liaison for the organization.  On special occasions, we tour the island, go snorkeling, visit the forts or the cocoa plantation.  I spend a lot of time experimenting with my photography and looking for ways to intertwine it with my painting and other crafts.

Of course, sometimes, I just lounge around with my husband and watch movies with a little popcorn and wine.

Allison and Ivan beachside

It’s probably every artist’s dream to travel and live abroad, but does living in the Caribbean have its downfalls?

Absolutely it does, but most people don’t want to hear about it.  I live in the Caribbean; what business do I have complaining?  Even so, this life comes with its own set of difficulties and to reinforce that argument, I actually posted an essay on my blog about the pros and cons of being a married couple in the Caribbean, living on student loans, and following the twisted path to our goals.

In short, yes, life in the Caribbean has its downfalls, but the benefits—measured in memories and experiences—far outweigh the comparatively insignificant drawbacks.  (I’m writing this from the sandy shore of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world: La Sagesse.)

Grenada is A-OK2

Where exactly do you go to catch inspiration? 

I love running.  I run almost every day.  I’m not remarkably good at it.  The only records I have or ever will break are my own.  But that’s not particularly discouraging to me because it’s the act itself that I enjoy and the reward that I get. Specifically, I like going for longer runs (one hour plus).  And while I’m running, I have no obligations to pay attention to anything other than my own wandering mind (except perhaps not tripping).  That’s a golden time for me to come up with all sorts of ideas for my art.  And the only distractions I have are my mind’s own erratic imaginings.

I could probably have a similar experience if I just sat quietly in my apartment, but then I’m usually surrounded by reminders of all my obligations and responsibilities.  When I’m running, I’m both metaphorically and literally getting away from “it all” and with that sense of freedom comes a euphoric rush of creativity.

Studio Desk w Light

 What’s your all-time favorite quote that keeps you going?

Not including about everything Dr. Seuss ever said (how many genius simple truths did he make catchy with a little rhyme?), I’m quite fond of William Faulkner’s “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Besides its apropos metaphor, Faulkner’s wisdom rings true in light of our ever-changing future.  Without the courage to leave everything behind, we never would have found ourselves living a surreal life in the Caribbean.

Faulkner Quote

When exactly did you discover your talent?

I can’t help but feel at least marginally narcissistic going on and on about my talent and my history leading up to the showcasing of my creations!  For a very long time, people have been commending me for my talent and while I can and have admitted (does that imply guilt?) that I have an artistic ability that not everyone has, it’s still humbling to come right out and say, “Well, hello, my name is Allison and I am a talented artist.”  No matter if I say that out loud or in my head, I always wind up finishing it in a snooty accent.

A popular quote by Pablo Picasso is “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  Children have this perishable fearlessness to create anything and then share it with everyone.  But at some point the fear of judgment and criticism makes an unwelcome and permanent guest of itself and we hide our creativity.

Maybe it was my peculiar creative courage that gave me the boldness to keep on drawing and painting and creating despite the crushing potential of failure.  Or maybe it was because I just didn’t like math class.  The truth is, I find solace in artistic expression and am bemusedly stunned every time someone comments on my apparent talent.  And when someone does, I think the most appropriate response is to give credit where credit is due.  (I never would have submitted my art to this contest if it weren’t for my friend, Cat.  I never would have thought to create a paper collage of my beloved dog if it weren’t for my friend, Patty.  I wouldn’t have had the heart to create this piece if Babe hadn’t had a foster home while we’re abroad, Lisa.

My direct response to this question—when exactly did you discover your talent: every time someone reminds me.

Grenada is A-OK3

Do you have any major projects you are working on now? 

I’m afraid I’m going to seem a little boring here, but no, I really don’t.  We live as minimalists for the most part and are living in a studio apartment.  Working within my means involves smaller projects that are inexpensive and can be tucked away at a moment’s notice.  I dream of someday when I can really plan larger-than-life projects.

Beas Submitx

Are there any particular artists you look up to?  What is it about their work that you like?

At the risk of sounding trite, I’m going to go ahead and say Bob Ross.  I know my work doesn’t exactly radiate the spirit of the amazingly gifted painter, but he did inspire me to pursue painting and to do so with an almost absurd amount of cheerfulness.  He’s part of the reason I began painting with oils and stuck with it for so long. It would be a blatant lie to suggest Bob Ross is the only artist who has inspired me and influenced my work.  Modern art, with its shifting genres and techniques, influences the decisions I make when searching for a new approach to a usual subject.  I don’t have a secret list of artists whose techniques I use as a paradigm when creating my own pieces, but draw from methods I’ve seen and admire.

What’s one thing you use/see every day that you couldn’t live without?

Well, if I’m being materialistic, it’d probably be a draw between the air conditioning or my morning coffee.  Probably the coffee, though. If I’m being crass, it would be sarcasm. If I’m being poetic, it would be love.  If I’m being optimistic, it would be humor. But if I’m being honest, it would be Supporter Extraordinaire and Husband, Ivan.  (Cue collective aw.)  There’s plenty I can go without, but I haven’t been without him for seventeen years and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.

Allison and Ivan climbing Grenada Mt.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to aspiring design challenge contestants, particularly our Art Contest?

Have the confidence in yourself that all of your supporting friends have.  Chances are, they’re right.

Babe the Pig Dog

Design

Upcycling Design Challenge

September 5, 2013

UPCYCLING Design Challenge

Reuse! Reclaim! Upcycle! Sustainability is certainly value of ours, and we believe it’s an important value of our customers and community as well. We’ve all heard the popular saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And we absolutely stand by that quote here at UncommonGoods because we  love all of our upcycled products we feature on our site!  We’re a fan of old things turned anew, from old records to bicycle tubes to recycled glass made into framed art, purses, or jewelry. Even though we already have a great selection of upcycled products, we are still searching for more fun and interesting items to feature!

If you have a special upcycled product design that you would like UncommonGoods to take a look at, enter into this month’s featured contest! You’ll have a chance to win $500 and a vendor contract with us.

To submit your upcycling designs and for the complete contest rules visit our Upcycling Design Challenge page.

 

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jeff Knight

September 3, 2013

UncommonGoods Artist Jeff Knight

The moment I saw Jeff Knight’s Nimbus Cloud Serving Board in our Woodworking Design Challenge I started rooting for it. I love the combination of sturdy, yet beautiful, hard maple and the whimsical cloud shape of the board–and the little raindrop serving trays are the perfect finishing touch to make this simultaneously playful and functional piece truly uncommon. When I found out that Jeff is from my hometown, I crossed my fingers a little harder, even though I was pretty confident our voting community would make sure the design made it to the final round. In the end, our community and our judges agreed with me that this wooden work of art was perfect for our assortment.

Since I happened to be planning a trip back home to Fargo, North Dakota, I HAD to jump on the opportunity to see where this winning design was born. Upon my arrival Jeff, in true Midwestern fashion, graciously welcomed me into his wood shop, offered up coffee, and gave me a tour of a beautifully sawdusty space called DIY Wood Studio, a shared woodworking environment filled will tools of all sizes, projects in the works, and a lot of inspiration.

Continue Reading…

Pin It on Pinterest