A Common Name: Paige Smith

You might have met a Paige Smith sometime. What distinguishes the one in question is her tongue-in-cheek nom de plume ‘A Common Name’, and a night-time obsession with installing delicate paper minerals or ‘urban geodes’ in nooks and crannies around her adopted city of LA. More recently, Paige has started siting her ephemeral street installations further afield, around the US, in Mexico and Europe. As an artist and graphic designer, Paige balances her work for clients online and in print with her love of the tangible: handmade typography, paper cuts, dioramas and paper geodes.


Black diamonds. A disused phone box becomes a mineral cave. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

Over the last two years, Paige has focused on a three-dimensional approach to artwork in the public sphere, through the simple materials of paper and resin. The finished crystalline shapes mimic mineral formations usually found in nature. Placing them in unexpected and often overlooked locations in the urban jungle of greater LA, the artist draws a parallel between her constructed geodes and natural forms, seeing both as “unexpected treasures” to discover and stumble across while walking or moving about the city. Says Paige, “I enjoy the fact that many people will not notice these, but some astute people will; that these will not last forever and the weather will affect them as naturally as it might in nature”.

Hidden beauty on the sidewalk. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

Having recently completed her thirtieth geode, Paige continues to devise, cut and construct her paper works for walls, vents, pipes, phone booths and parking meters she thinks could do with some beautifying. Most recently, she was commissioned by the Standard Hotel to create a site-specific installation comprising 5,000 pieces of folded paper for its Hollywood branch. Across the waves, timezones and obsessive folds, we bring you this email interview with Paige Smith.

Paige places her delicate geodes, adding a touch of gold bling to some brickwork. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

Tell us about your moniker, A Common Name…

A Common Name was born from my actual name, Paige Smith, which, in all terms is an incredibly common name. I started thinking about company names, especially graphic design agencies, and felt that there were clear-cut categories in terms of how they conceptualize themselves or their attitude. A Common Name felt different as it’s more of a statement, not a descriptor, and to me personally, says that creativity goes beyond a name.

A circular cluster of golden geodes offsets white brick. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

Have you always worked with paper and tactile materials in your design work? And what is it about paper that you like? 

I started off as a print designer and remain an incredibly tactile person, but I did not start using tactile materials in design work until about two years ago. I landed an illustration job for a website and created flash pages of paper cutouts. I’ve always loved this type of illustration and stop motion quality of work and decided to keep going with it. When I moved to Los Angeles (and a larger studio space), my tactile projects became more frequent until I started creating art outside of design. I’ve been exploring most with paper because I love how malleable it is. The quality can be changed in so many ways; it’s really a beautiful material. I’ve seen it look like a sturdy chair, like lace, fine sculptures, and decorative stretchy netting. With the geode project, most people don’t even know it’s paper right away.

Small scale: tiny individual geodes above a US one cent (penny) coin. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

How do you approach art and design as a maker – are these two approaches distinct or does one inform the other? 

I believe that for me, design does inform the art. I’m in an exploratory phase with this type of art right now, since it’s relatively new for me. The work doesn’t just flow out of me – it follows a similar problem solving structure that I use in my design. I form the concept or idea, then start working on how best to get the idea across: what’s most appropriate, what are the correct materials, how best to display…? I think a lot about how I can best communicate my message, to create a bridge between the viewer and me.

A very noirish photo of hidden geodes in downtown LA. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

Hidden treasures. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

Where do you find inspiration? What inspires you about your adopted LA?

I find inspiration in people, my surroundings, and art. That sounds incredibly general, but I really constantly try to be aware of what’s around me and soak it in as much as possible. My relationships with people are very important; I would be in a vacuum without them. I constantly name the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles as a huge inspiration. The street art and murals are so concentrated; it’s like a walking gallery. People I find inspiring are Stefan Sagmeister, JR, Swoon, Michel Gondry, Terry Gilliam, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I look for inspiration in all kinds of art forms.

A Common Name places her ephemeral work by nightfall. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

When and how did you come up the idea for the Urban Geode project?

I came up with the Urban Geode project at the end of 2011. I had been working with paper quite a bit and the street art scene has been blowing up in Los Angeles. I went to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA for Art in the Streets specifically to see Swoon and I was so inspired. The whole show was incredible, it really pushed me to start thinking hard about starting my own project. The idea was originally going to be small installations of scenes, little bits of poetry I came across, in holes and crevices in the city. I’ve always been most intrigued by the idea that the works could be temporary, even easy to miss. I came across some gorgeous photos of amethyst on my friend’s blog. It somehow clicked that I could recreate crystals for those hidden crevices. It felt poetic and part of a larger story: manmade crystals nestled in manmade buildings.

Blood red geodes inhabit a tiny space in the mortar. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

How do you choose your sites, crevices and cracks for the Geodes? 

The whole idea started while taking walks in Downtown Los Angeles (I usually bike or walk to get around). I noticed a few large holes—tagged, filled with trash, crumbling. I took note of a couple of those on my walks and filled them first. Since then I kind of just notice them while I’m out and about. Even driving, if I see a good hole, I pull over fast! Overall, I try to choose abandoned holes, the trashiest looking ones, the holes that seem like they haven’t been paid attention to for years. I also try to choose holes that are along thoroughfares—generally the geodes may be hard to spot but I’d rather more people get a chance to see them.

A Common Name installs in sites that are overlooked or unloved, to attract the eye of the passer by to look again and to notice. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

What is it that motivates you to walk around LA looking for sites? San Franciscan optimism? Relocating to a new city?

All of the above. We specifically moved to the downtown area because it’s more urban. After living in San Francisco, we’re used to walking or biking everywhere. Once we realised downtown exists, and with its growing creative culture, we moved right away! I mentioned above the high concentration of street art and murals in the Arts District—being able to see talented artists daily really gets me excited to create and participate.

Gold, gold, gold. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

How long does it take you on average to make and install a Geode?

It depends on how large it is, but an average sized geode takes me about 3–4 evenings, plus about two days to visit the site and take/check measurements. I generally work at night while I’m listening to RadioLab or watching a movie. I have an anxious personality that constantly has to be doing something, so I try to be productive instead of simply sitting there playing card games.

Striking gold: a detail of one of A Common Name’s installations in LA. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

If you could make a geode for any place in the world, where would it be?

That is a very tough question! I don’t think I can pick one place, but I’m very attracted to the idea of places that are urban, rundown, or need beautifying. The way downtown LA is compared to West Hollywood, where it’s mostly clean. Areas in South America, India, Vietnam, Morocco, Mexico, and older parts of Europe are the most exciting prospects.

A motley and beautiful assortment of bricks provide a backdrop for a ground level golden geode. Photo courtesy Paige Smith.

For more information and updates on Paige Smith and her art and design work as A Common Name, visit: acommonname.com. Thanks to Paige for her time and we hope to spot some urban geodes on the streets of Melbourne one day soon. All images courtesy A Common Name.

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