When we first invited one of our favorite prop stylists, Seattle's Amanda Ringstad, to create a shoot around Q+Q's line of waterproof, solar-powered watches last year, she attempted to abstract the simple, color-blocked designs into ambiguous shapes and arrangements. For its 2015 collection, however, the Japanese brand — who partnered with us for a second time at this year's Sight Unseen OFFSITE — went wild with pattern, so we thought it would be especially compelling to return to Ringstad once again and see how that might change her aesthetic approach. The result is a series of playful, summery images shot inside a big bucket of water that imagine the watches as eye-catchingly outfitted, anthropomorphized bathers.
The editors of Sight Unseen certainly get around — we go to Milan each year for the furniture fair, we attend Art Basel and the London Design Festival from time to time, and we even do research residencies in far-flung places like Norway, where Monica is currently camped out. That said, with such a small staff, and two oceans between us and the rest of the world, we can't possibly be everywhere there is to be or know everything there is to know about what's up-and-coming in design, art, and fashion. That's why we're hoping to grow our reach by adding even more amazing freelance contributors to our roster!
If you'd happened to wander into L.A.'s Barnsdall Art Park in the middle of the night last Friday, you might have assumed there were concert tickets, or some newfangled iPhone model, about to go on sale the next morning: even into the wee hours, a line of people three hours long snaked all around the property. Amazingly enough, though, the massive crowd had turned out not to buy something but to experience the re-opening of Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark 1921 Hollyhock House, which we overheard certain over-caffeinated line-goers describe as "super hyped." Built in 1921 in the so-called California Romanza style, the theater and home turned museum had been closed to the public for more than three years for restoration, and the city was celebrating the unveiling of its face-lift by giving the public continuous free access for 24 hours. We figured the best way to mark the occasion was to send a photographer to shoot the house after dark, a task we entrusted to the up-and-coming L.A. photographer Gaea Woods.
When we first launched Sight Unseen — on this very day back in 2009 — we intended it to be an online magazine in which we would publish, a couple of times per week, long, meticulously reported stories about the lives, processes, and inspirations behind our favorite design and art objects. We still do just that, five years later. But we're proud to say that we've also done so much more: We've become a place for creatives to scout new talents on a daily basis, we've become a linchpin for the blossoming American design scene, we've opened an online shop, we've published a book, and we've founded one of New York design week's biggest offsite events. This year, we have plans to curate multiple pop-ups, to launch a long-overdue redesign of our site, to start a major retail collaboration with a visionary company, and to make our OFFSITE show even bigger and better. But perhaps the greatest joy of our 5-year tenure has been the amazing and fruitful relationships we've formed with our peers — all of the people who create, love, photograph, and write about design every day right along with us. These people clearly feel the same about us, seeing as when we invited them to help us celebrate by making us a birthday card, we were overwhelmed by not only the quantity of responses but also by the thoughtfulness that went into each piece. Check out some of the wonderful people who responded after the jump!
When Amanda Ringstad showed a friend recently one of the images she'd styled and shot for us of a cluster of Q+Q SmileSolar watches, all linked together in a random shape, her friend's first reaction was: "That looks like a lawnmower!" Ringstad was thoroughly pleased — having been invited by us to apply her styling genius in the service of our friends at Q+Q, who partnered with us on this year's edition of Sight Unseen OFFSITE, the Seattle photographer's main objective was to present the watches in a simple, abstracted way that left plenty of room for the imagination. "Watches are a simple thing, but difficult to disassociate so that they convey something else," she explains. After initial attempts to weave them together into a kind of "textile," or arrange them on top of summery backgrounds depicting water or sand, in the end Ringstad used spare colored planes and graphic shadows to elevate her subjects above the realm of mere utilitarian objects.
Back in December, we embarked on an experimental curatorial collaboration with Print All Over Me, the amazing print-your-own-pattern service, founded by fashion designer Jesse Finkelstein and his sister, Meredith, that allows designers to upload any graphic they please onto fashionable white blanks — sweatshirts, bomber jackets, shift dresses, backpacks, leggings, and more. The project — for which we hand-selected illustrators like Will Bryant, Tim Colmant, and Clay Hickson — was such a rousing success that Jesse approached us for round two a few months ago. We were already 100 percent sold on the idea, thinking we could sell the results at a pop-up at our Sight Unseen OFFSITE event — which opens today at noon! — when Jesse casually emailed this bomb: "Hey! Let's also talk about print all over furniture!"
In April, we introduced you to BYCO, a production platform and online shop for custom clothing designs submitted by up-and-coming fashion talents. But BYCO also had a small section for housewares, where designers could apply imagery to a standardized selection of pillows, duvets, and curtains — an idea that co-founders Jesse and Meredith Finkelstein have taken one step further with their new spinoff project, Print All Over Me. The site harnesses the same overseas manufacturing capabilities the pair utilize for BYCO, but instead of producing custom pieces, it offers designers a choice of eight blanks onto which they can apply any image file — think CafePress, but with shirts, sweatpants, hats, pillows, totes, and scarfs that are actually fashion-forward (Jesse's also the designer behind the New York label JF&Son). Print All Over Me is technically still in beta, but we were so excited about its possibilities that we invited a few friends — Will Bryant, Mel Nguyen, New Friends, Clay Hickson, and Tim Colmant —to post a few items just for us. Read on to check out and shop their mini-collections, or create and sell your own designs.
Here at Sight Unseen, we're a bit like a college application — fixated on versatility, and in awe of anyone who's proven themselves equally gifted across a spectrum of interests and activities. So it's no wonder we became fast friends with someone like Kelly Rakowski, who studied graphics, worked as a book designer for Todd Oldham for five years, started a blog revolving around her obsession with archival textiles, and now makes weavings, housewares, and jewelry as one half of the label New Friends. She's an artist, a designer, and a stylist, and when we asked her to art-direct a special editorial featuring Max Lamb's Prism Bangle — commissioned by us for the Sight Unseen Shop — it was no surprise that she understood our vision immediately. Max's bangle, after all, is way more than just a bangle; it began life as a sculptural object and was adapted for us to wearable proportions, but it still feels just as at home on a desk as it does around your wrist or hanging from your neck. For this slideshow, Rakowski imagined several creative uses for the Prism's four discrete parts, from spaghetti dosing to cookie-cutting, then photographed her ideas in action.
In the googly-eyed character world created by Barcelona-based graphic artist Antonio Ladrillo, you might see shades of Cartman, or maybe the Lowly Worm from Richard Scarry’s Busytown books. But though the 36-year-old artist counts among his influences illustrators like Olle Eksell, David Shrigley, and Bruno Munari, the one thing he returns to over and over again is Super Mario Brothers, the NES videogame created in 1985 by Japanese artist Shigeru Miyamoto. “It’s fascinated me for years, but I only started to value it as something artistic when I was older,” says Ladrillo. “It perfectly combines my main interests: rhythm, color, shape, and space. I often go to it as a way to find some aesthetic pleasure.” It should come as no surprise then to anyone familiar with Ladrillo’s drawings that, like a videogame artist, he can't help but constantly imagine his characters in motion. “So much so, that for a time I couldn’t draw anything that wasn’t moving because it looked unfinished to me,” he says.
On November 10, 2009, Sight Unseen launched with just twelve stories and two readers (thanks, moms). A year later, we've posted nearly 200 stories, visited studios in more than a dozen cities around the world, and found readers from Argentina to Australia. In our ongoing quest to offer an intimate look at process and the obsessions of creative people, we've come across artists who collect Finnish trolls, designers who mime their objects before making them, and stylists who sculpt realistic-looking hamburgers from slabs of German wood and tree bark. To celebrate Sight Unseen's one-year anniversary, we reached out to some of those inspiringly creative folks — like Mary & Matt, whose animated chocolate-bar gif is above and whose home studio we visited last spring — as well as to readers we've yet to meet, asking them to create a birthday card just for the occasion. We hope that you enjoy the results, and that you continue to make Sight Unseen a destination in the next year and beyond.
Many artists claim to need restriction in order to thrive — Matthew Barney famously made a series around the subject — and find the idea of freedom paralyzing, like standing at the edge of a vast creative abyss. Vancouver native Monika Wyndham, on the other hand, seems to be energized by endless possibility. In February, she left a full-time position art-directing interiors for the Canadian clothing chain Aritzia to move to Brooklyn and freelance, and she's taken to the professional vacuum with a kind of giddy abandon, flitting among dozens of ideas she finally has time to follow through on — even if she's unsure as to what end. And then there's the high she gets from losing herself in one of her biggest sources of artistic fodder: Google Images. "It’s just baffling to me how much information exists on the internet, and the fact that you can enter funny combinations of words and yield the most insane multitude of search results," she muses.
For Heather Chontos, painting is like dreaming — a chance to work out all the things that trouble her during the day. Except that what troubles this free-spirited prop stylist and set designer is mostly just one thing: the domestic object. She once spent three years feverishly painting nothing but chairs; she made a series of drawings called "Domestic Goods Are Punishing." It's a kind of love/hate relationship. "It's endemic to stylists everywhere — you see things, you want them, you horde them all," says the 31-year-old. "It's that weighing down I really struggle with. When I first started painting, you would have never seen anything figurative, but it's all I obsess over now."