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Inspiration

Maker Stories

Wishes Do Come True: Jill Davis’ Glass Globes

January 12, 2015

Jill Davis always knew she wanted to be in the business of creativity. Growing up just outside of Boston, MA, she was immediately drawn to the rich arts and culture resources the city had to offer. Visits to the Museum of Fine Arts in her stroller gave way to a summer internship in high school. “In retrospect, I can’t believe the museum staff hired me,” says Jill, “I was the only high school student—all the others were graduate students!” Despite her young age, Jill began working on a project to organize all of the exhibition photos in the museum archive. Her favorite part of the job, however, was exploring the decorative arts and period furniture sections.

Jill Davis | UncommonGoods

 

This sparked a lifelong passion in three-dimensional art. Before finding her way to glass, Jill worked with a variety of techniques and materials. From clay and metal to jewelry and paper, Jill eventually settled on fashion, making all of her own clothes. “It was the early ’80s and I wanted to look like I was in a rock and roll band, preferably Van Halen or KISS.” Jill went on to sell those clothes at small stores in Boston and Cambridge before enrolling at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.

During her freshman year studying fashion, Jill realized her clothes were more akin to wearable “sculptures” than they were “fashion.” She knew she wanted to stay at Parsons so she began exploring their different departments. The day she walked into the glass studio and saw molten glass for the first time, her search was over. “Glass is the most challenging and rewarding material I have ever encountered,” says Jill. “You can’t bully it—you are perpetually persuading and coaxing the glass into shape. Even the best living master glass blowers cannot always get the glass to do what they want! It’s this feisty streak that keeps me enchanted.”

Jill began working with the New York Experimental Glass Workshop, spending the next 15 years creating one-of-a-kind fine art sculptures. “It was absolutely great, and I didn’t mean to stop doing it—starting my company was a happy accident,” says Jill. After leaving New York and moving to rural Washington State, Jill realized that Washington was a bit lacking in terms of 24/7 public transportation. She needed a car and she didn’t want to take out a big loan to get one. Thus began her Car Project. “Glassblowers are lucky,” says Jill, “instead of waiting tables, we can blow Christmas ornaments, go set up a card table at a craft fair, and at the end of the day, you can generally count on having sold most of them.” She designed a small collection of affordably priced items and by the end of the year was able to buy a brand new car—in cash. She was also able to start her company, Henrietta Glass. Her innovative Wishing Ball followed shortly.

Wishing Ball | UncommonGoods

The Wishing Ball was inspired by an NPR story Jill was listening to while she blew some bud vases. A woman told a story about wishing on pennies as a way to heal a broken heart. Realizing that a penny couldn’t buy a wish these days, she began saving her wishes in a jar. Her wish came true at $4.73. Inflation much? This story inspired Jill to create a container for lucky pennies, though a container for pennies ended up amounting to a classic piggybank. Jill realized she was more interested in wishes than pennies, and so began to create a vessel that echoed both crystal balls and snow globes—“two other glass traditions that encourage us to gaze both inward and outward to explore new possibilities.”

The ball itself is hand blown from a blob of 2000 degree molten glass. The clear glass is rolled in bits of copper and cobalt glass called frit in order to produce an ethereal turquoise color. “It’s just like putting sprinkles on ice cream, only screaming hot,” says Jill. The glass is then carefully shaped with a bubble inflated within it. A separate bit of molten glass is affixed to the ball to form the foot. Once assembled, the whole piece slowly cooled in an oven over twelve hours.

Jill Davis Creating the Wishing Ball

The perfect spot to stow wishes, give thanks, or make a resolution for the New Year, the Wishing Ball presents an inspirational opportunity to put your hopes where you can see them. What’s Jill’s wish for the Wishing Ball? “I’d like people to see their Wishing Ball as a little bit of help or inspiration toward a positive future. Deciding what to write on each piece of paper may be an opportunity to focus and clarify your thoughts.” Her resolution for the New Year? To make sure she keeps doing things that make her uncomfortable, things that challenge her.

“The wonderful American furniture artist Wendell Castle, a hero of mine, has a list of 10 ‘rules’ to live and make art by,” says Jill. “One of those rules is that if you hit the bull’s eye every time, you are standing too close to the target.” This inspiration to constantly push herself lends perfectly to the idea behind the Wishing Ball. Set goals, make a wish, and make changes.

People often ask Jill why the wishes can’t come back out, and her explanation can be summed up with birthday candles. “When you blow out you candles, you don’t tell the wish you made, otherwise it won’t come true.” Says Jill. “But more importantly, memories are always more beautiful than photographs, and the same is true of wishes. When you look at the little slips of paper accumulating in your Wishing Ball, I want you to think about the Big Picture those messages convey. Rereading the notes would be like looking backwards, or trying to step in the same river twice.”

Take home Jill Davis' Wishing Ball from UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

Your Graduation Gift Questions Answered

April 18, 2014

Graduation is a special time in one’s life, so I’m excited to answer a few questions finding the perfect gifts for students who are about to accomplish this important achievement.

What would you do paperweight

I’ve gained quite a bit of experience dealing with creatively designed gifts over the years—from my time as a strategy consultant overseeing a global internet retail research study (that’s when I met UncommonGoods founder Dave Bolotsky), to working in Customer Service (and reporting on company operations) for a holiday season at UncommonGoods in 2002, to joining the team full time (as opposed to consulting) as the head of Merchandising in 2006.

Somewhat out of necessity for creatively designed products that didn’t exist elsewhere, we began creating our own products in-house. As someone with a naturally questioning mind, an imagination for possibilities, a product instinct, and understanding of the creative design attributes that define an uncommon good, my responsibilities changed in the fall of 2011 when I become the Director of New Business and Product Development.

Many of the goods we develop here, as well as many of the items from the talented artists and designers we work with, make great gifts for graduation. Here’s my personal take on grad gifting and some suggestions for special gifts your grads are sure to love.

DIY Embroidery Cards | UncommonGoods

How is choosing a graduation gift different than picking out a gift for another occasion?
Unlike any other occasion, graduation, whether it is high school, college or a graduate degree, is a one-time event in any individual’s life—it is a specific accomplishment and also a milestone marking the end of one stage in a life and the beginning of the next.

What are some personal graduation gifts you’ve given in the past? What made them special?
I try to give gifts that have some meaning to the person—it may be something with an inspirational message, or a personal connection to the individual–and something I hope the person will want to keep.

My “go-to” item is often an inspirational paperweight—some of the ones that I’ve given more than once have been in our assortment for many years, like the What Would You Attempt Paperweight and the Be the Change Paperweight.

When my oldest nephew, a die-hard Yankee fan, graduated from college, he received a pair of Authentic Stadium Seat Cufflinks.

Yankee Stadium Seat Cufflinks | UncommonGoods

For the daughter of a close friend who graduated from high school I chose the Growth Necklace by Mary Steratore. It got a rave review!

Growth NecklaceNecklace Review



What could I give to my graduate’s good friends/classmates who are also graduating that is meaningful, but won’t break the bank? (From our Facebook friend Lora Frye Ross)

My suggestion is the 5: Life Playbook. Because it is a book, you have the option to inscribe a personal note on the inside. This is something that can be given for either high school or college graduation, with thought-provoking quotations and real-life examples that are both a spark and a road map for the next chapter.

5: Life Playbook
5: Life Playbook

Do you have a favorite new product (or products) that you think would make a great grad gift? What do you choose and why is it a great gift?
The Road to Success Paperweight is my favorite new paperweight we created–the combination of the road imagery as part of the design is inspiring and understanding of what life is about.

The Home Plate Paperweight is another great choice, for the same reasons, for someone who is also a baseball fan.

Paperweights | UncommonGoods

The most recent grad gift I’ve given was actually one of our newer products. I gave the She Believed She Could Bangle to the daughter of one of my best friends, who I’ve known all her life when she graduated from college. I felt that a bangle bracelet with this empowering quote was truly a keepsake for her.

She Believed She Could Bangle | UncommonGoods

For more inspiring goods to congratulate grads, visit our entire Graduation Gifts Collection.

Design

Inspiration for Innovators: A New Collection of Patent Art

November 12, 2013

Creativity is one of our greatest joys and highest values at UncommonGoods. It makes us so happy when we come across or develop an imaginative, original design, artwork, or product that will bring something special into our customers’ lives. We’re in awe of the creative geniuses throughout history whose ideas, experiments, innovations and inventions have transformed life altogether.

Actress Susan Cabot as a chemist inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp WomanActress Susan Cabot as a chemist/inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp Woman

Learning about how great inventors and product designers have pursued their ideas from dream to reality, persisting through the grueling effort of iterative failures and breakthroughs, is incredibly inspiring. Our Product Development team wanted to create a new wall art collection that would link the often quiet presence of innovation in our daily lives to the grand and sometimes dramatic history of invention.

Thomas Edison with lightbulbThomas Edison looking stern while holding a light bulb

Thinking about history led them to the National Archives online collection. Then they had their light bulb moment. What’s a more universally-recognized symbol of inspiration than… the incandescent light bulb itself? What more prolific inventor has there been than Thomas Edison, with his 1,093 patents? And how cool is it that the National Archives collection includes some great-looking documents that were central to Edison’s most transformative inventions? (Answers: None, None, and Very.)

Continue Reading…

Design

Valentine’s Day Quotes

February 7, 2013

Love has a beautiful way of creeping up on us each February. Whether your first love is a significant other, a pet, a parent or your art, here are some quotes to keep the passion ignited!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio: Tiffany Threadgould of TerraCycle

October 12, 2012

This month we have the pleasure of hosting our fourth design event, How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, at which Tiffany Threadgould will speak on our panel. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at TerraCycle, a long time vendor of UncommonGoods with a penchant for turning trash into treasure. Now operating in 20 countries across the globe, Terracycle offers recycling services to large companies and creative products for consumers, like our Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Tiffany leads the team of designers who are tasked with taking an unwanted product or package and creating a piece that will impress.

We were unable to take train ride across the river to Trenton, New Jersey to visit the TerraCycle headquarters first hand but Tiffany was willing to share her studio with us. Enjoy!

What are your most essential tools?
The industrial sewing machine and heat press machine are two machines we can’t live without. Just about any solution from flexible waste can be solved with one or both of those machines.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?
Inspiration often starts with the material itself. We work with a lot of waste that has logos and branding on it so we’re always tying the original purpose of the material back into the finished product. Colgate toothpaste tubes can be transformed into a travel kit. Baby food pouches become a diaper bag or bib. Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There’s not a lot of down time in the office. If we don’t have urgent sample requests for our brand partners, then we’ll refocus on new, upcycled décor for the office. [Decorating with repurposed materials] is not only an inexpensive way to refurnish our office, but is also the best sales tool to demonstrate our commitment to what we do. An old bowling alley was turned into a conference table, soda bottles and vinyl records became room dividers. Nothing is waste to us. It’s all material for our next project.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer?
Measure twice, cut once.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Try to get the word “NO” out of your vocabulary. I’ve worked at TerraCycle for over 4 years and it really has taught me to push the upcycled envelope on waste materials. Prior to working here I was always choosier about the materials I worked with. At TerraCycle there is a need to find a solution to everything that comes our way – yogurt lids, cigarette butts, you name it. My job is to make sure we find an upcycled product for any material that comes to us.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Goals come directly from our project assignments. We hit a goal whenever we finish a big project like an office makeover; complete a challenging project for a brand partner, or creating a new product line for our awesome retail partners like UncommonGoods.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Our CEO, Tom Szaky, started a tradition of “gong hits”. We have an actual gong in the office and whenever something major is accomplished you actually ring the gong and then send an email to the company. TerraCycle is in over 20 countries now, so we can share good news and positive energy with our distant offices this way.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Traditional crafts techniques can always be applied to new waste materials. I recently learned to braid with bread bags and food wrappers and that was a fun “twist” on an old technique.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This quote came to me from Daniel Freitag when I was working on my graduate thesis titled Trash Nouveau – “Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products.”

How do you recharge your creativity?
Caffeine is always the perfect tool to help recharge.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work with an amazing design team at TerraCycle. We all bring different skills and talents to the table (a table made from upcycled wine barrels and doors, of course). We do a great job of blending our backgrounds of Industrial Design, Textiles, Architecture, and more to create unique design solutions for recycled materials. Hurray for upcycling!

Design

Justina Blakeney’s 5 Favorite Baby Pinterest Boards

July 30, 2012

Hello fellow uncommoners! I’m Justina, a designer, curator and blogger and soon-to-be mom! (my due date is this week — ahhh!) I am also hopelessly addicted to Pinterest. I have over 50 boards that I use to collect ideas and inspirations for every aspect of my life. My Little Boomba board was instrumental in helping me to come up with ideas of how to decorate my nursery, what items to add to my baby shower registry, must have eco-friendly toys and clothes…and a ton of other wacky and awesome ideas. With over 1,000,000 followers on Pinterest, some of my pins were loved and some created quite a stir–but ALL of my pins got me excited to start this new chapter of my life as a mom.

I am thrilled to be here today to share The Goods with you: some of my favorite baby-centric Pinterest boards by some of the most stylish ladies around. These are mommas that have inspired me throughout my pregnancy and helped me get ready for this huge leap into motherhood. Get ready to start repinning!

Designer and Design blogger Joy Cho is a friend who has helped me a lot throughout my pregnancy–so open and positive, she’s been awesome. Her nine-month old Ruby also has some killer hand-me-downs. Her baby board is a fave, especially for the clothing.

Janet Sherman who has a kids clothing line, has a few really great boards for kids and babies–and I just dig her style. It’s playful and carefree.

My friend Sofia Alberti, who just had her second baby has my go-to board for boho baby finds, especially for decor. It’s a magical little place.


Hanae Ono’s Kids Wear board is another favorite.

Deborah Beau has several sweet kid’s boards, one of the most inspiring, in my opinion, is her Crafty and Creative and Colourful boards– with over 1000 really sweet craft ideas for kids.

Check out Justina’s favorite baby gifts from UncommonGoods!

 

main image by Annie McElwain. featured image by Bonnie Tsang. courtesty of Justina Blakeney.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Aaron Ruff

July 3, 2012

Situated above a Brooklyn art gallery, in a space shared by artists of varying mediums, Aaron Ruff’s single room looked more like a museum at first glance than a jewelry studio. The creator of Digby & Iona and his four-legged friend, Nuki, took me in for the morning to chat about the creation of his new collection, how the price of commodities has impacted his business and how history plays a role in keeping him inspired.

What are your most essential tools?
The hammer and the foredom.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m a big collector, so the entire space is inspiration. I’m constantly rearranging and dragging in new stuff, so the space is constantly evolving.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It’s embarrassing to say, but just the basics of running a legit business were the hardest skills to master. Terms like W9 or EIN still make my head spin a little.

Does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Does Pinterest count as downtime? We think so!

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Invest in silver! This is my main material and it has gone crazy in the last 5 years. Then it was $13 an ounce and earlier this year it was almost $40. I definitely miss the days when I could cast absurdly huge pieces in silver without blinking and eye. It’s changed the way I design quite a bit, I don’t want to have to raise my prices significantly so I have to be a lot more conscious about designing lighter pieces.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m terrible at meeting the deadlines I set for myself, so I generally set yearly goals and hope all goes to plan.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m my own toughest critic, so celebration requires a pretty massive win.

What quote keeps you motivated?
I use historical quotes in my work quite a lot, most recently, ‘Don’t give up the ship’ which is a quote from Lee Hazard Perry during the War of 1812 (also the name of the collection). It’s pretty self-explanatory; it’s my version of the ‘hang in there’ kitten poster.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel as much as possible.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I generally collaborate with illustrators; my drawing skills are terrible, so I really enjoy turning 2d into 3d and vice versa.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’ve just come out with an engagement band collection, so I’ve had a recent crash course on diamonds and precious gems.

Aaron will be a judge in our Jewelry Design Challenge. Call for entries ends July 12th.

Design

Moodboard Tutorial from Inspired to Share

May 21, 2012
image by Woodnote Photography

 

My name is Colleen and I am the creator of design and lifestyle Inspired to Share. I’ve been blogging for three years now and it has continually sparked my interest and desire to learn more about graphic design. I now find myself playing in Photoshop every day and I love experimenting in design to create original blog content. One of my favorite posts to create is a mood board. Lately, every Monday I’ve been posting a “Monday Mood Board” blog post as a way to share inspiration that I’ve discovered around the web. Mood boards are a great way to do more than just look at inspiration, but to really make it your own. I also find they can help with developing projects and concepts. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time on Pinterest. Sometimes I want to look at multiple pins of images at the same time, so that I can see them all together. Or maybe I want to show my own interpretation of the images. For example, say I’m creating a concept for a new style post, a mood board can help serve to refine my ideas and vision. I like to gather inspiration everywhere, including everything from art, interiors, photography, styling to design and typography. Mood boards bring all of these areas together while formulating my overall aesthetic and color scheme. It’s really quite fun! Plus, I know I love looking at others’ designed mood boards, and they always inspire in new ways.

So now that you know why mood boards are so great, let’s create one!

1. The very first step is also the longest: selecting inspiration photos for the mood board. I like to turn music on that inspires me (lately I’m obsessed with this website) while I look. There are endless sources of inspiration on the Internet, and I think we all could spend days looking for cool and creative finds! I usually peruse other blogs and Pinterest to look for photos that catch my eye, doing my best to hunt down the original sources. I usually select anywhere from 5-10 photos.

2. Next, drag all the photos into Photoshop and put them on one canvas. Simply dragging the photos from your browser into Photoshop saves the step of saving each individual file and reopening it in Photoshop! And putting them on one canvas begins the process of designing the images together. I’ve found it’s helpful to work on a square canvas in Photoshop so that I don’t feel confined to the narrow dimensions for my blog.

3. Begin to arrange the photos and create your own layout. One technique I recommend is to fit images inside shapes according to the size and area you need to fill. That way you can fit all of the photos even if they don’t match the exact dimensions of your canvas.The options are endless. You can add borders, numbers, shapes, textures, type, and writing or drawing (I like to use my Wacom tablet!). This is the fun part! Be creative and have fun with it. There are no rules! Below are some screen shots of my mood boards in progress.

4. If you decide to share your mood board anywhere online, make sure you credit the original photo sources and link to where you found each image. This is an important step not to be overlooked! I try to find the original source of all photos, if possible (Pinterest doesn’t count!). Original sources so helpful when reading other blogs and it’s important to give credit where credit is due.
I always try to add a little something new in my designs to keep it fresh. Below is an example of a finished mood board that I made recently.


(sources: art by Andrew Bannecker, design by Nick Tibbetts, typewriter from joe vintage, photo via mr. serio, sfgirlbybay’s home by bonnie tsang, sign by Rizon Parein)

I hope you’re inspired to make your own mood board! I’d love to hear if you have any tips or tricks as well.
A big thanks to UncommonGoods for having me! Now go get inspired! xo

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