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The Uncommon Life

This Just In-spiration: Meet Kimberly Hall

August 3, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Kimberly Hall, the artist behind the There Are Always Flowers Print.

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When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
It took me a long time to think of myself as an artist. I have had a very varied career with lots of different titles, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that having a kind of crazy career was really because I had the point of view of an artist.

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What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
This year I think it will be showing my print and pattern work in Paris this fall! I love how I never quite know where this path will lead…I love the surprises, the wonderful ones and even the losses are still so exciting.

What does your typical day in the studio look like?

They always seem to be a little different. I have two daughters and I usually drop them off at school in the morning which is the only real consistent part of my day. After that it could be anything from research & collecting inspiration for a job, or working on the continually growing collection of patterns I show twice a year at Premiere Vision Designs in New York, or prepping to teach a class in either fashion or illustration. I love to meet other freelance and artist friends for a coffee during the day and hear what people are up to. Philly has a great sense of community that I love.

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Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I have a lot of trinkets and talismans! I love to draw them… right now I’m starting a series on my blog where I post many of the interesting postcards I have collected over the years. It’s something I always pick up wherever I go. Check them out here>>

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?
I have a kindergartner and she ALWAYS has an opinion when she sees my work!! Her favorite is one of my postcards that says “Join Our Club”, she likes to hand it out to friends and get people in the Nottene club!

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What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
I always think of the Voltaire quote “I have decided to be happy because it’s good for my health.” I illustrated it for Design Milk last year & you can see it on my site. It reminds me that being happy is a state of mind I can put myself in… and it’s good for me to do that!

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What are your most essential tools?
Hands, mind, and heart. Everything else is cake!

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The Uncommon Life

Instagram Challenge: BRUNCH

July 29, 2015

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The next Instagram Challenge theme is BRUNCH. As the August heat creeps and the season winds down, the best way to spend a lazy Sunday is undoubtedly to sit outside in the shade at your favorite brunch spot over eggs benedict, coffee, and a mimosa — or tucked away in bed with a tray of delicious food to pass that ‘not quite breakfast, not quite lunch’ time. Whether it’s more on the breakfast end of things or late enough to be lunch, we want to see what you’re brunching on this summer. While sharing your best shots of the weekend’s best meal, be sure to use the hashtag #UGInstafun for a chance to win a $50 gift card. Visit here to see the entries we’ve received so far.

Congratulations to @yichinglin for topping off our Farmers Markets Instagram Challenge with this sensational shot of a succulent sugarplum!

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Shandi & Casey McConnell

July 27, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the people behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Shandi and Casey McConnell, designers of the Envelope Wall Vase.

Somewhere between throwing pottery and hanging out with their two small children, Shandi found some time to tell us a bit about their business and designs.

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When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always had a love for drawing, painting and making. My mom loved art and encouraged my creativity from early on. As a little girl I remember entering coloring contests from the paper and winning a gallon of ice cream from the local Hinky Dinky grocery store. During middle school I took woodworking classes which opened my eyes to the world of making objects in 3D. Surprisingly it wasn’t until college that I even touched clay.

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What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
I can still remember the feeling of selling my work for the very first time at a local art show. I couldn’t believe that people were actually giving me money for my work, by the end of the show I had done pretty well and knew this was what I am meant to do. Being able to make a living doing what we love is extremely rewarding in so many ways. I love the freedom that comes with making what I want, working when I want, and being able to take time for life as it happens and not living with a schedule.

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What does your typical day in the studio look like?

Oh boy, or should I say boys! With a 2 year old and 8 month old there is no typical day!

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It’s a mad house scramble in the morning with one of us just trying to get into the studio. Once one of us makes it out there the days work is prepped by slab roller, extruding or making lists to glaze or throw. We then pack any orders that need shipped for the day then head back out to work on clay. Casey and I take turns between hanging out with the boys and working in the studio all day long. I probably change my clothes 10 times a day. We’ve become more focused with our work; there is a lot less design/play time right now but studio time is still a happy and peaceful place. I tell myself this craziness is temporary!

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Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near?
I do have quite the collection of Buddha figures. They remind me of our travels and the genuine full of life people we’ve met around the world. Having them around brings me to a good place.

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What quote or mantra keeps your motivated?
I have a lot of them but here are some of my favorites:
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag
“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You’ve got to be true to yourself.” And a poster that hangs in my studio: “Every day you inspire people you have never met.”

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What are your most essential tools?
For myself it’s the slab roller and my handmade stamps. Casey has a fettling knife that he HAS to use; the studio gets torn apart if it’s misplaced. It now has an easier to spot red painted handle after it was lost for a few days.

Maker Stories

Round Up the Kindling and Light Up the Campfire Candle

July 21, 2015

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Portland designer Joe Gibson finds inspiration at the nexus of the pristine natural world and practical modern design:

“It’s the remarkable natural beauty that surrounds us, combined with the creative culture of Portland, that drives my design aesthetic.”

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Joe is the main creative force behind Revolution Design House, a small maker-space in Portland, Oregon, where he and his business partner Dylan craft handmade home furniture and accessories. It’s easy to see his nature-meets-modern-design mantra manifest in some of his most popular designs – first with the runaway success of his Boxcar Planter, and most recently with the way cool Campfire Candle.

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He refers to his innovation of the candle as a “happy accident” – probably along the same lines as the first Homo erectus to innovate the campfire campfire . It was after the Boxcar Planter process that Joe honed in on his design philosophy – “exploration and investigation with no expectations” – but the spark was truly lit after Joe tinkered with X-ACTO knife and geometric shapes during an intensive 3-hour workshop on 3D form he and Dylan teach through Oregon College of Art and Craft.

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“The idea of the workshop is to let go of expectations and to begin manipulating the shapes into more unique objects, not by pre-determining the shape but by responding to what is right in front of them,” Joe says. He assembled a simple form almost on impulse and took it home to contemplate what it could be. “A candle seemed be a natural fit since the forms I were making were hollow cavities,” says Joe. It was later that night – over a few beers with his team – that his wintertime longing for a camping trip spontaneously inspired the campfire candle.

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Joe perfected the design to be “an amalgam of a long-established, traditional candle-making process with a modern design twist;” he uses old-school techniques alongside a sleek, geometric form.

“I honestly assumed it was going to be an easy, no-brainer. I was wrong! Candles seem really simple, but the science of the wax and wick are tricky. Candle making is truly an equal ratio of science and art; everything matters, from the size of the wick to the shape of the candle and everything in between.”

Despite having some serious metal and woodworking experience under his belt, working with wax initially went a bit against the grain for Joe: “I knew very little in traditional candle making, so I did quite a bit of research and tons of prototyping.” To melt the wax for the candles, Gibson jury-rigged some slow-cookers, which he still uses to this day. The wax is poured into two-piece silicon molds and cooled.

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This process is called ‘gravity casting’ – “the concept is rather straightforward, and surprisingly, we’ve been able to manufacture quite a lot of candles here in our shop.”

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It’s likely that Portland, Oregon will continue to kindle the flame of Gibson’s creativity for some time. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2004 to attend Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he graduated with a double major in Wood and Metals: “My plan was to move back to San Diego once I finished with school, but after a year of being here I knew the Pacific Northwest was the place for me. The creative energy and natural beauty were just too strong, and after five years of school, I jumped right into being a full-time maker.”

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“Portland in general is a great place for creative folks to do their ‘thing.’ It nurtures craft in every aspect. We pride ourselves on craft brew to craft bikes and even the craft of sea salt!”

Maybe you don’t live in an area with easy access to grounds for tents and trails, or maybe you’re just trying to stave off the compulsion to get a fire going and roast marshmallows on your living room floor; either way, Gibson’s candle serves as a beacon of the great outdoors, the Pacific, Northwest, and the creative community of Portland no matter where you light the wick.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiraton: Meet Tristan Martin

July 20, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Tristan Martin, designer of the Wooden Wine Preserver.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the garage building my own wooden toys. My parents encouraged me to use resources available around our house and in the garage to create my own entertainment. My dad was a hobbyist woodworker and taught me some basic skills. Some of my favorite childhood projects were an electric wooden helicopter with a paper clip for a switch, a wooden sailboat, a kayak, a skateboard, a bike trailer, swing-drawer keepsake boxes, and Adirondack-style chairs. I found joy in being creative, experimenting in the garage, and designing my own unique toys, and I’ve been working with wood and various other arts ever since.

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
I love being able to create something that’s useful and beautiful that people can use in their own homes. As a basement winemaker myself, I like knowing that my wine preserver enables people to enjoy each bottle of wine longer. It makes me happy, and I hope it brings a simple joy to my customers too.

What does your typical day in the studio look like?
I do my best thinking when I’m walking, so I start each studio day with a long stroll. This is usually the time that I come up with my most creative ideas. Good, strong coffee is another must-have, so I always start my day with a cup or two. My favorite time in my shop is morning, when the low sun streams through the open windows. I get into my groove listening to ’60s Latin Jazz.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?

I inherited my dad’s hand-built workbench and antique hand tools, a constant reminder of the childhood days I spent learning and working next to him in his own garage.

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Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?
Even though my wine preserver is obviously designed for adults, I find that young kids are often surprisingly curious about the woodworking process, and they tend to ask some impressive questions about the details of my work. They’re especially curious about what the button and levers do.

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
I just love seeing my ideas through from start-to-finish. Watching the progression from raw wood to a polished piece gives me all the motivation I need.

What are your most essential tools?
My hand-crank coffee grinder rivals my woodworking tools for most indispensable.

 

Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Margaret Dorfman Strives to be Sustainable in Drought-Afflicted California

July 17, 2015

As a B Corp certified company, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green” – we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always excited to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft – those who are making an uncommon impact. Meet Margaret Dorfman, designer of fruit and vegetable inspired jewelry and tableware like the Parchment Blossom Earrings and the Vegetable Parchment Platter, and see the ways that she’s striving to be sustainable in the face of drought in California.

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“Sustainability is important simply because the trajectory of consumption and waste around us is not supportable.”

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Nils Wessell

July 13, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Nils Wessell, the maker behind our new Tablet Holding Cutting Board.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Always. It’s just what I did, even before I could walk. To an extent, I think we’re all this way. Being creative is a core part of being a human.

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
Getting the opportunity to meet so many other creative people in my field and getting to collaborate with them.

What does your typical day in the studio look like?
I like to keep a schedule. I show up at 9 and stay until at least 5. What I do is always changing with the demands of the business. Sometimes, it is a full day of creating, other days I am communicating with clients in the morning and designing in the afternoon.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I keep a lot of old artwork – from friends, little kids I knew, other artists. I like to use them as extensions of my memory. The other “object” I need to inspire me is empty space. I need a place where there’s only air. It helps calm my mind and gets my imagination going.

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartener for the first time. What do you think he/she would say?
“It’s so smooth!” or “Did you make it?” Followed by “How?”

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
Thinking about my next steps. I’m always excited about what is to come, and where to go from where I am. I’m very “future minded,” for lack of a better term. I have so many projects that I want to do and make. The list is staggering!

 

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Alexandra Ferguson

July 9, 2015

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When I was getting ready to head over to Alexandra Ferguson’s pillow factory in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, with a few other members of the UncommonGoods team, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Not only was this my first studio tour – it was my first day of work, and the word ‘factory’ was emboldened in my head. The automatic image of a dingy, windowless environment I had cultivated growing up clashed with the sense of handmade authenticity and vibrancy I associated with UncommonGoods. Visiting Alexandra’s studio factory was initially an incredibly dissonant experience – but we’re talking a good kind of dissonance: one that adhered to none of my preconceived notions of what a factory was, and rather showed me what a factory could be.

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Just a few blocks away from the UncommonGoods office in the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Alexandra’s studio is lofted high up on the 6th floor of the massive Industry City complex. We made our way into the building, dodging a slurry of outbound shipments that left us frazzled by the time we reached the elevator. Yet when the doors opened, Alexandra’s head popped into view, and we were immediately greeted by her distinctive brand of inviting pep. She welcomed us in and led us down a short hallway lined with pillow fills towards her main assembly floor.

The space that unfolded around us was – in two words – collected and comfortable. Sewing machines and pinning tables stretched from end to end of the long, bright space, one side of which was almost entirely lined with windows boasting inviting views of the Statue of Liberty and the NY Harbor. The room was warmly decorated but economical, with little (literal) fluff for a pillow factory. As Alexandra walked us along the sunny assembly floor, she gestured towards the colorful walls and washed away the monochromatic filter I was still half-clinging to, saying: “My goal is for my factory to be a colorful place, where we make colorful things, and ultimately to change the way people think about factories.” Not only is this idea sustainable – so too are her exclusively recycled and eco-friendly materials.

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Alexandra is a self-described “factory girl;” having toured assemblies all over the world, she emanated an almost infectious sense of pride as she talked excitedly about her set-up. We moved into her office – open and connected to the main floor – where she energetically floated over stacks of ‘I’ll-get-to-this-later’ mail atop tables and chairs, and decommissioned sewing machines encouraged closer exploration. After she showed us her camera and photo shoot area, she explained that, since locating in Industry City two years ago, she and her six full-time employees have been conducting every aspect of her business in-house.

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Read on for more on Alexandra’s impactful ideals for industry, the story of her six-and-a-half-year-old startup, and that time that Snoop Dogg endorsed her custom pillows.

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