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Artists

Maker Resources

How to Write Your Artist Bio

February 10, 2014

How to Write Your Artist Bio | UncommonGoodsWhen I was first asked to write a blog post about writing about yourself, I got really excited because, like any 20 something year old girl who majored in writing, I’m pretty well versed in writing about myself/thinly veiling mortifying moments from my adolescence and calling it fiction.

Thankfully, the kind of bio-writing we’ll be discussing doesn’t require you to reveal that you wore braces to your senior prom. It has a lot more to do with selling yourself to potential vendors, sites that sell your goods, and customers who want to know all about you. Much less awkward for all of us.

You really are an extension of the product you’re asking people to buy or sell. When it comes to unique, handmade goods, people love being able to put a face with their new gift. People want to know:

  • where you’re from
  • what you do
  • how you got in to what you do
  • what inspires you to do that thing that you do
  • your plans for continuing to do these things in the future

In addition to being an excellent checklist, this is also a good order to put them in.

You don’t have to start with the fact that you were born in a barn on a balmy Tuesday morning under a double Pisces moon. However, the fact that you grew up in the country could say a lot about your influences. Can you remember any early inklings that you could become an artist? Who were your inspirations?

Now that we have the early stuff covered, how did you start your life as an artist? Did you start of with a 9-5 and then gradually turn your craft into a full time business? Did you start working with a local collective? How have you seen your style change throughout the years? What was a favorite project of yours?

If you want some extra personality, a short and sweet anecdote can complete your written image. When writing my own bios, the quirky facts that come to my mind are 1. I’m very scared of goats. And 2. I was the girl who wore braces to prom. These facts might not have anything to do with my craft, but it does give a little insight into the type of person I am–something a customer would be able to garner if they were able to talk to you at a craft fair or chat with you at the register.

Whatever you do decide to highlight, just remember to keep it relatively short–epic tales of heroism and metaphors on life are best suited for your memoirs (and preferably written from a small cabin in the woods, Thoreau-style.)

With these basic guidelines, you’ll be able to create a friendly, readable bio that will give your creations a more personal edge. Happy writing!

Here are some of our favorite artist bios:

Etta Kostick

Etta is compelled by glass in its many different forms and applications. She grew up in the woods and by the seashore in Massachusetts, in a family of glassblowers. After moving to Chicago in 2007 she started experimenting with stained glass, attracted to the many colors, textures, and its relationship to light.
Over the years Etta’s fascination with glass has grown and has lead her to pursue and experiment with different methods of manipulating glass. Torch fired enameling, fusing, and incorporating intricate solder work are some of the techniques that Etta uses. She loves the transformative properties that occur when integrating these materials and techniques into her glass work.

Etta’s love of jewelry was initially inspired by tribal jewelry and adornments she had collected from South Asia. Strong shapes and the feeling of empowerment they give to the wearer are elements that inspire her. Her jewelry incorporates bold designs as well as more delicate and organic elements that emulates things she sees in nature. Etta is constantly exploring and developing new visions for her work in glass and jewelry.

Dolan Geiman

Dolan Geiman is a nationally recognized mixed media artist known for his Contemporary Art with a Southern Accent. Born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Dolan Geiman’s formative years were defined by outdoor adventures in his bucolic surroundings. Twenty-plus years later, the flora and fauna, found curiosities, and fading Appalachian culture still define Geiman’s contemporary-folk creations. Trained in printmaking and sculpture, Geiman’s mediums span painting, collage, silk screen, drawing, and 3-D assemblage. An advocate for green design and sustainable business, Geiman and his wife Ali Marie currently work from a green warehouse in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.

Fred Conlon

Raised in Colorado, Fred Conlon lives now in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he makes garden sculptures out of recovered objects. For his helmet sculptures, he uses real recovered World War II helmets. “It is very satisfying to transform something once used in war into a peaceful garden decoration,” he says. His work has been featured in Niche Magazine, the Salt Lake Tribune and HGTV. What would he be if he weren’t an artist? “Happy…just kidding!” he answers. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Maker Stories

Natha’s Eight Pointed Star Necklace Shines Bright

January 15, 2014

Natha Perkins

Natha’s Eight Pointed Star Necklace design is obviously beautiful, but I would have to say the message behind it shines a little brighter, just giving me more incentive to add the charming pendant into my very own jewelry box. The message that stands behind the design is all about finding clarity, direction, and seeking one’s path. When wearing it, it should remind you to trust your internal guidance, reassure yourself that you know your own answers and that you, indeed, know exactly where you want to go. As someone who has been bitten pretty hard by the travel bug and tends to live life a bit off the beaten path, I’m in love with the fact that the eight pointed star symbol was the first known compass in the history of humanity. Natha’s necklace is the first winning jewelry design I’ve come across with a resonating message that touches on both my personal hopes and fears. I hope to stay on the (very loopy and sometimes off-the-cliff) path that I’m currently still paving out for myself. I fear losing sight of that direction and hopping onto someone else’s already-made yellow brick road. The Eight Pointed Star Necklace is a pretty reminder to keep going and to never doubt oneself. Meet Natha Perkins, someone who definitely knew how to pave her way into becoming our latest Jewelry Design Challenge Winner.

Natha Perkins

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your jewelry?
I don’t  journal much, or keep a diary, but I have 30 rings that I’ve made through the years for myself.  Each ring has a specific story behind it and each design is totally relevant to something that was happening in my life when I made the ring.  (I’ve been metalsmithing for 13 years, so for those of you counting that’s approx. 2.3 rings a year)

I love that your necklace has a lot of meaning behind it, do you mind explaining it?
I love the symbolism behind this piece!  I wrote a blog post about it here, but in a nutshell, the Eight Pointed Star is an ancient and universal symbol, as well as the first compass in the history of humanity. It guides your way to a new life, giving you clarity of vision to see the future through a lens of hope, healing and beauty. It also bestows nurturing energies. A symbol of optimism, an eight pointed star assures you that unexpected help is coming and serves to help bring about a renewal of good fortune in the material world. Like with any of our pieces, wearing  this piece will help bring you clarity simply by providing you with a reminder that you are indeed supported.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
We did a lot of jumping up and down and screaming!

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
The studio itself is full of tools and stones and lots of different working areas but we have the most beautiful garden just outside with grape vines and a gurgling rock fountain and roses.  We’re also basically at the foot of a great big gorgeous mountain (Boulder is surrounded to the West entirely by mountains) so when we walk out of the studio, we’re surrounded by all of this natural beauty.  We can walk 2 blocks and hit a hiking trail that weaves its way up to an amazing vista of the cities of Boulder and Denver.  It really is heavenly and I feel very lucky. studio gardensWhere do you go/ what do you do to find inspiration when you find yourself in a creative rut?
This might sound strange, but when I’m not feeling creative, I go to see my acupuncturist.  In Chinese medicine, blocked creativity means some sort of imbalance in the qi and yin department.  If I’m feeling blah or feeling uninspired, I figure I need a body tune up.  (Did I mention I live in Boulder?  We’re kind of alternative here.)

If you have a great idea for a design and want to pursue it, what’s your first step?
When I was in art school, our professor required us to have 40 sketches of a single design before we could finalize our idea and start on a piece.  Thank God I’m not designing my pieces in art school any more!  I honestly just dive in.  I have an idea, I gather the metal, the tracing paper, some saw blades and I get going.  This has led to many an end result that was really different from the original idea but like any medium, the materials co-create with the artist and it’s fun to see what comes through. Natha PerkinsOther than being an artist, what else do you do?
I’m a mama, I’m a life and entrepreneurial business coach, I teach art and jewelry classes.  I went and got certified to coach because I wanted to teach people how to make intentional art.  Art is such a beautiful way to get in touch with who you are on a deep level.  Talk therapy is great but its heady.  We all have our old stories that we tell over and over and it’s hard to see past them to the truth.  Art and intentional making incorporates head, heart and hand and opens you up to new types of insights and understanding about yourself and your process.  I feel really called to help guide people to this place.

When (and how) did you realize you wanted to be a jewelry designer?
When I was 20, I searched high and low for  a juicy red, heart shaped ring and I couldn’t find what I was looking for anywhere.  I don’t know why, but I felt such a  longing for this red heart shaped ring.  I dreamed about it.  Fast forward 2 years and I took a small class in a strange warehouse next to a strip club (which isn’t relevant to the story at all but it’s an interesting fact nonetheless).  The teacher was this eccentric man who  taught me the basics of metalsmithing.  I was hooked in the first class because I realized that I could actually make my heart ring.  It  took me 5 years to get good enough to make my ring but I still treasure it because it was the inspiration that started my jewelry career before I even understood it to be that. Natha PerkinsDo you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that are floating around in your brain right now?
I’m actually knee deep in a handful of  projects right now that I’m really excited about.  Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been coaching and working on some art classes that involve intentional making.  Myself and two other women; a life coach and a photographer, are formulating a curriculum that we’re planning to take into local high schools.  The idea involves working with young women and teaching them empowerment tools through a combination of intentional making, student led photo documentation and teaching of emotional skills.  I’m also working to develop some cool art classes to offer to the participants of  The Boulder Tattoo Project, a large scale community art project involving a”love poem” to the city of Boulder and 200+ residents (including me) who got bits and pieces of the poem tattooed on their bodies.  My friend Chelsea (who spearheaded BTP) and I are collaborating on the classes and they will include making art that centers around the actual words that each person chose to get inked with.   Everyone involved chose words that were particularly meaningful to them in some way and we want to offer a venue for them to explore that on a deeper level. teachingWhat are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design? 
I do most of my designing in my head, usually when I’m walking in nature, alone.  I come up with a word or a line from a poem or song and the piece takes shape around that.  I also love to design using stones and stone colors.  I will go through my 15 or so boxes of stones just pulling out shapes and colors, just to see how the colors play against each other.  I’m fascinated with color play and color theory and it shows up often in  my pieces.

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
Funny you should use that word productive.  It’s  been on my mind a lot lately because I realized that I have this uncomfortable tendency to feel unproductive if I’m just relaxing.  So to answer your question:  I practice yoga 4 times a week, I walk the dogs, I read lots of articles and books, I cook food for my kids.  All of which sound suspiciously productive, don’t they? Natha PerkinsWhat was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
I hired a press company that cost an absolute fortune.  They promised me more than they were actually able to deliver and they kept about $5,000 in samples too (that were supposed to be be returned).  But I had my part in it as well;  I wasn’t prepared for the experience.   I didn’t have  the fundamentals in place, like line sheets and tight production collections.  Knowing what I know now about editorial coverage, media, wholesale, retail and business in general, I see clearly that my approach was doomed to failure.  I was trying to build a mansion on a slippery foundation.  It was a disaster but I learned so much, I would never make those same mistakes again!  Today in fact, I’m a much stronger and more savvy business woman which is a very different skill set than ‘artist’ but a necessity when you’re trying to sell art. piles of SpellBound RingsWhat advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
You create your own reality.  If you can’t learn to relax, the world will meet you with un-relaxing situations.  If you don’t appreciate the things you do and create, the people around you won’t be able to either.  If you’re constantly trying to control the world, you will will exhaust yourself trying to make the impossible possible.  Everything is perfect.  You are loved.  You are amazing and strong and more powerful than you will ever know. (Okay, I’m getting teary now, but it’s all true.  Again, the old stories that we tell ourselves about not being good enough, smart enough, not being enough…such lies.  But I’m getting it now, I’m seeing the truth.)
Natha Perkins
Which artists do you look up to?
I’ll say this: I look up to anyone who has the courage to make their art, to express themselves in that way and to put themselves out there.  Our art, our creations; no matter the medium, comes from the depths of our individual souls and anyone who has the courage to show up like that, to lay themselves open to the appraisal and opinions of others has my respect. Natha Perkins

What does it mean to you being a design challenge winner?
I’m thrilled to be the winner of this challenge!  My studio assistant Whitney and I had so much fun working on our newest collection Divine ~ Align.  We put so much thought into the symbolism and meaning of each piece. So to be recognized in such a prestigious way for one of the pieces in the collection is a huge honor.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“You set the standard for how you are treated.  People will treat you the same way that you treat yourself.”  It’s lovely and it’s true.  I’m not sure where I found this quote but I came across it during my certification program with The Secret to Life Coaching Company  (with whom I got certified) and I’ve learned to see the world through a new lens.  We really are responsible for everything in our lives, we create everything, which is actually a really empowering notion. quoteWhat are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Management tools!  I adore metalsmithing and my business Luscious Metals.   I love to create art but I’m transitioning my business into something that’s bigger than just me and my personal skills.  My amazing studio assistant, Whitney, is ready and willing to take on more responsibility and wants to help me grow the business and this is just the beginning. I know that in order for this to work out, I need to transition from artist and designer to manager and  leader.  I’m ready and excited to see where we go next! Natha PerkinsWhat advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work into our Jewelry Design Challenge?
Some of the best business advice I’ve ever gotten was from a book called The Science of Getting Rich, by Wallace D. Wattles (great book!). “Act now.  There is never any time but now and there will never be any time but now.  If you are ever to begin to make ready for the reception of what you want, you must begin now.”  In other words, make sure your ducks are in a row (good product, great pictures etc.) and then GO FOR IT!  You can’t win if you don’t enter right?

Find Natha and her business Luscious Metals on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Meghan Ellie Smith

December 13, 2013

Meghan Ellie Smith

Clutter Castle is what Meghan calls her eccentric home studio, tucked away in the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn. When I saw the odd, yet beautiful, string installation hanging from the ceiling, a collection of wooden instruments displayed on the wall, and a creepy plastic hand sitting on its own mini mantel, I fully understood how the Clutter Castle earned the honor of its name. But it’s funny, although I was like a kid in a candy shop in her vintage oasis — oohing and ahhing at every corner, I didn’t find it overwhelmingly chaotic. I felt as if the odds and ends of all the clutter were actually masterfully organized to push the use of imagination and a creative atmosphere. Which made perfect sense, because those were my exact thoughts about Meghan’s winning art piece, Chaos Mountain. The bright and earthy colors bleed into one another with no particular pattern, yet the shaped splices are meticulously placed. I love it. Perhaps the juxtaposition between the crashing watercolors and structured mountain reminds me a little of myself: a bit messy, a bit random, a bit chaotic, but in the end of the day, I know what I want to do and exactly where I want to go. “Not all who wander are lost,” a favorite quote by many free spirited individuals, resonates within the illustration of Chaos Mountain. Meghan Ellie Smith,a true free spirit herself, is not only the Queen of Clutter Castle, but officially wears the crown of our latest Art Contest. 

Continue Reading…

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.

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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!

Maker Stories

Sarah’s “Deer Boy” Charmed Its Way To the Top

November 13, 2013

 7.1“I love Deer Boy. I want to hang him on my wall and pretend he is my boyfriend.” commented one of Sarah Constantino’s many admirers during the September Art Contest. This comment literally made me laugh out loud, partly because it was unexpected and partly because it was pretty much my feeling exactly. At first glance, Deer Boy is simply a bright and whimsical piece to hang in your bedroom for fun wall art decor. But when you take a second look, it starts to play with your eyes and you notice charming details that you perhaps didn’t notice at first: the double lips and ties, the wood-like back drop, the garland caught on his antlers. It’s one of those feel good pieces you could place anywhere in your household for that cozy touch. From her prints to her porcelain to her typography, Sarah’s overall work channels a child-like spirit that us adults sometimes forget we still have. Meet Sarah Constantino, our lastest Art Contest winner who fell in love with her husband through Twitter and mapped out her career choices while drawing unicorns  in her kindergarten class.

Deer Boy

What’s an uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
An uncommon fact about me… I fell in love with my husband in 140 characters on Twitter. (Okay, it took a bit more than that.) We met on Twitter, became friends, and after only meeting in real life for two weeks I decided to pick up my Iowa roots and move down to Florida. It was the craziest/best decision I’ve ever made. It’s been 3 years since I moved and I love my new hometown. An uncommon fact about Cape Coral that I found interesting is that this Gulf Coast city contains more canals than Venice, Italy!

Deer Boy is charming and playful. How did the idea of this design come about?
My husband and I had some holiday parties to attend. I kept noticing that the “wallflowers” of each party were the most interesting people to talk to at each event. As the night progressed things became a bit more surreal as well. I felt inspired when we got back home and I decided to break out the acrylics and paint. Deer Boy and Deer Girl were the end results. I normally don’t paint people, so this was an unusual subject for me.

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
I started drawing unicorns in kindergarten and I remember thinking that it was the only thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My goals have changed a bit since then, but the drive to create something every day is a strong one for me. I am a self-taught artist and have been able to make a living off drawing, painting, and creating art since I was 18. I used to design for an American craft furniture company and after about 10 years of that, and a lot of growing up,  I knew that I had it in me to go off on my own. Now I get to create whatever I feel like using whatever medium I want. Every. Single. Day. It fulfills that constant desire I have to make, make, make!

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Art Contest?
I jumped up and down for awhile. And then I went back to painting. Anyone that knows me personally knows I work a lot. I plan on celebrating later this month with some interesting cocktails and good friends.
Sarah Constantino

Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have an inspiration board where I keep a lot of my favorite things (cards from family and friends, a photo of my mom as a little girl, artwork from other artists, color palettes, silly mementos) basically anything that recharges me and makes my eyeballs happy. I also love being able to look out the window and see the sunny Florida surroundings and the activity on the lake behind our house. So many birds! And sometimes a gator or two.

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What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
  Coffee. Very, very strong coffee. Paint, markers, pencils, and a giant eraser.
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Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
Well, to be honest, right now there isn’t a ton of down time. I’m busy with holiday orders from my Etsy shop and need to stay focused to get my creations out the door. It’s my favorite time of the year! When things are slower I like to wake up early and walk around the neighborhood. I take a break here and there to pet my two weirdo cats that keep me company during the day.
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What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft? 
I’m working on hand illustrated typography. I just keep writing out words and phrases and finding a letter shape to express the full meaning of each word. I have several empty notebooks that are now filled with these scribbles.

How do you recharge your creativity?
While I’m creating I like to listen to podcasts, burn through a TV series on Netflix, or listen to books on tape. I go through obsessive stages with my entertainment. Right now I’m really into a few different books on the history of Ancient Rome, Russia, and Genghis Khan. A few months back it was every Game of Thrones book I could get my hands on. Give me a series in sci-fi, history, or fantasy and I am a happy camper.
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Other than being an artist, what else do you do? 
I started my own business called SEWZINSKI and have been lucky enough to stay busy and productive with that. It’s my full-time everything. It started with embroidered wallets that were completely sewn and stitched by hand. It’s evolved into hand painted ceramics and upcycled home decor. It will change into something else in the future as well. Experimentation is how I learn best and  there’s still so many things I’d like to try.
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Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
Yes. They are secrets. It’s always good to have secret projects.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance artist?
Not everyone will like you or your art. Some might like both. Some might like one or the other. It sounds simple, but building a tough skin and taking criticisim about your work can be difficult. It can also be hard to separate yourself from your work. Both those things are important and are still daily struggles for me.
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What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Hey Sarah of 2008, it’s okay to take that risk and go off on your own. Stop being so scared of failure. It keeps you from succeeding!

Which artists do you look up to?
Andy Warhol was one of the first artists I really remember relating to when I was younger. I will always be in love with him. Right now I am really inspired by Ashley Goldberg’s art and career path. I’ve been following her work for awhile and I’d like to develop that beautiful  relationship with color and space she seems to have with my own style of work.
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What are your top three sites you think are essential for an artist to bookmark? 
The Jealous Curator
, My Modern Met, and Brain Pickings.

What quote keeps you motivated?
 “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” -Andy Warhol The more art I create, the better artist I become. If I get too caught up in people’s opinions, or the details in the piece not being perfect, I could lose the chance to create something new with the time I’ve wasted worrying. Keep making, keep moving forward. It’s a great way to finely tune the skills needed and attain new skills to perfect through proliferation.

justgetitdoneblackwhitesmallerfile

What advice can you offer anyone who are submitting their work to our Ongoing Art Contest?
Go for it. I submitted a piece that is a different subject from the bright colors and crazy animals and folk art that I normally paint. Take a chance and you could discover a whole new direction to take your work.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Robert Blinn, Carl Collins, Peter Knocke & Daniel Stillman

October 7, 2013

the men of GothamSmith | UncommonGoodsSome designers have a creative studio, some have a company work space, but for this Studio Tour I rode my bike to the apartment of Carl Collins, the gathering-space of GothamSmith. It was early on a Tuesday morning and before they went their separate ways for the day, Pete, Daniel, and Carl got together around a handmade wooden table to meet with me and get some work done. There were few idle hands at the table; as we talked about how they all met and became GothamSmith, Carl was busy sketching new designs, Pete stamped their logo on muslin bags, and Daniel cut chain to assemble necklaces with pendants just delivered by Shapeways – a NYC-based 3D printing service that brings their designs to life.

As they reminisced about their original meeting space – a now-closed watering hole – and flipped through a book of anecdotes and inside jokes that they published for each other a couple years back, I couldn’t figure out which came first, the business or the friendship. Although Rob wasn’t able to join, I could tell these four guys are as passionate about their friendship as they are about their brand, an idea born from a lack of manly items at a handmade craft show.

Meet the guys of GothamSmith!

Continue Reading…

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

Maker Stories

Meirav is Crowned the Art Contest Winner

September 12, 2013

 selfie

Our Art Contests are my favorite design challenges to orchestrate because they attract the biggest range of diverse talent. Art gives each individual artist a chance to not illustrate their personality or thoughts with words, but also with brush strokes, color combinations, and image creation. With Meirav Gebler’s “Human Landscape: A Disappearing People,” it was more than just strokes, color, and image that spoke out to me. I connected with “A Disappearing People” beyond the painting itself, a message that left me in a bittersweet state; it opened up wounds that I didn’t even think existed anymore.  Maybe it’s not exactly what Meirav intended her art to do, but I do believe artists create work based on their personal ideas and emotions, knowing that their audience might capture something a little bit differently.  

Meirav is a young, spiritual artist who is based in Brooklyn and who has recently graduated from art and design school. She’s traveled to India and Israel and quickly fell into inspiration through “the colors and patterns, the smells of the streets, the market places, the people, and the food.” Her creative use of watercolors and gunpowder are the core of her masterpieces. At first glance it’s playful with your eyes, but the  dripping silhouettes stand behind a stronger idea that Meirav not only wanted to explore on her own, but share with you.

Meet Meirav Gebler, our latest Art Contest Winner. 

Q1. travel- india

After you graduated from Art & Design school, you spent half a year traveling. Can you tell us about that experience and how it’s affected you as an artist? 

Traveling was a wonderful adventure. I was in India for five weeks with my best friend and then spent a couple of months in Israel. India is such an amazing place. Everyday was an insane, crazy experience! Everything is so vibrant and stimulating—the colors and patterns,  the smells of the streets, the market places, the people, and the food! I brought travel paints and a sketchbook with me but since we were constantly on the move I found myself snapping more photos than sketching.

After India, I went to Israel for a couple of months to farm and spend time with friends—a huge contrast from the hustle of India. I did a drawing a day, which is a big deal for me since I am awful about keeping a sketchbook. I realized during these months how necessary it was to take the time to breathe, reflect and understand where I wanted my life to go post the college bubble.

 You’re currently setting up a studio in Brooklyn. Can you describe it?

I move into the Brooklyn space next week, so I’m still in the process of packing up my old studio (a makeshift studio in a corner of my parents’ house). I’m super psyched to have my own space for art again. So, as of now, the new space looks like an empty box, but soon enough it will be filled with my paints and everything else I’ve collected along the way for potential projects. I always have to have breathable space. I feel blocked when things start to pile up and become cluttered so I need to maintain a sense of open space. And I always have one of those fancy dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s lying around.

Q2b old studio

What inspired your Human Landscape series?

The series started as an exploration into an idea I’ve been grappling with over the past couple of years: how do we as physical beings, existing in a physical world elevate ourselves to a level of spiritual beings. I felt that the idea of a human landscape illustrated both an intimate personal context of the individual’s search yet illustrates the need to connect within the context of a larger universe as well. I find that coming to terms with my spirituality in such a materialistic physical world is an ongoing struggle, so this series is simply the beginning of that exploration.

a dissappearing people 

What materials do you use daily?

Watercolors, gunpowder, and my pens for illustration works.  Depending on the painting, I switch off between painting with paintbrushes or eye-droppers like the Dr. Ph Martin watercolors. Dr. Ph Martin’s are awesome because they’re super saturated, and I love the way they react to the gunpowder.  I mix the gunpowder with water to make it into a liquid-ey substance for painting. When I’m lacking inspiration I’ll burn the gunpowder and fuse it onto paper. It’s like an instant pick-me-up and the results are beautiful. (But really don’t go trying that at home!)

Q3 materials

 What is one of your favorite inspirational quotes?

“You open your hands and satisfy the needs of all living beings.” Psalm 145:16.  This quote grounds me, reminding me that ultimately things always have a way of working out.

Q5 quote

 Which artist gives you that motivational push that you need whenever you look at their work?

Cai Guo-Qiang’s fire drawings make me pretty giddy. To stand in front of them is pretty awe-inspiring (his works are huge!). But it’s not every day you can do that, so I find motivation just by visiting galleries or even artists’ tables at flea markets because it reminds me that artists are out there working it and I want to be one too.

Q3 materials

You say that you “paint to breathe.” Can you go into detail of what that exactly means to you?

There was a point a few years ago that I hit a creativity dead zone; I felt everything I was making was just awful, like I forgot how to draw. It was pretty bad that I felt like I forgot how to breathe. I was blocked because I thought each artwork needed to be a precious masterpiece (which they were far from!) so my art became stiff.  Soon after, I started working with gunpowder and fire, which reminded me that art is messy and unpredictable and that’s what makes it alive. I realized that to make art I needed to just go for it. Make something, anything and learn from my explorations and sometimes you get something worth saving. So I paint to breathe because painting is a constant reminder for why I live. Art inspires me to wake up every morning ready for whatever future explorations await me.

more mountains

Being an artist means living in a constant roller coaster of ups and downs, can you describe a moment when you were on cloud nine and then the next day experiencing the lowest low? (Or vice versa?)

I have a pretty laid-back attitude so I’m generally not one to experience extreme highs and lows, but it’s been a pretty crazy year. I spent half of it across the world living out of a little red suitcase, then spent my summer bopping all over the states and now I’m finally moving to Brooklyn. I’d say last week was pretty close to cloud nine when I found out I won the contest, found an apartment and a studio and a job all in one week—yea that was pretty crazy! But of course I still have the uncertainty that follows in all of these new changes, like making it as an artist.

painting- mountains

 How do you deal with life’s discouragements or negative vibes?

I try and avoid them! But seriously, when discouraging things happen I think it comes down to making the decision if you want to wallow in the negativity or find a way out of it. It’s about surrounding yourself with positive energy and thankfully I have an amazing support system of friends and family who are always there for the extra push.

Are you pursuing any special projects or joining any events?

Right now I’m just focusing on getting back into my large scale paintings and experimenting with new works.

forest fire

What’s one piece of advice you have for artists who would like to have their designs make it through to UncommonGoods’ design challenge semi-finals?

Just go for it. Trust your art, and the support of your friends and family will follow because they want to see you succeed. It also doesn’t hurt to blast every social media outlet available either!

studio_ materials

Why would you say your work differs from all the rest?

Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. My experience making art is still so young and I wouldn’t want to claim some aesthetic skill or perspective that’s totally groundbreaking.   But I think as individuals we all come along with our own unique set of life experiences and context and perspectives.  As an artist, I’m able to channel that perspective into visual experiences that communicate some aspect of who I am and where I come from.  My art is different because each work is an attempt to be honest about some reflection or observation that is ultimately my own.

colorful souls

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