Saturday, October 17, 2015

Interview with Sarah Kandell-Gritzmaker of Slate Studio Supply

My interviewee today is a bead maker I have long admired: Sarah Kandell Gritzmaker of Slate Studio Supply.  When I first came across the world of art beads, her pieces were amongst that special handful that really caught my eye and whispered, 'Own me!'. Now that I make ceramic beads myself, I am still full of admiration, particularly for her glazes, which she has made and developed herself, and the wonderful finish she achieves. On top of her super beads, she also makes some pretty fabulous jewellery and amazing sculptures. Read on to find out more.... and for a sneaky discount code!

I gather you started working with clay quite some time ago. Can you tell us a bit more about how this came about?
My clay history is long and winding, but here’s the condensed version…I was lucky enough to be introduced to clay at an early age through my high school’s art program. It’s doubtful that I showed much natural aptitude for working with clay at first, but I loved the process of physically making something and then transforming it in the kiln.  That enthusiasm was enough to propel me into continuing with clay into college, where I spent almost three years as a science major before deciding to focus solely on art. Eventually, I ended up in a graduate program in ceramics, and I finished my master’s degree in 2014.

What led you to start making beads?

In college, I went to a bead show on a whim, and it was there that the bead addiction began! I also saw Marsha Neal’s ceramic pendants at that show, and little light popped on in my head that I could actually make beads out of clay. I was just finishing a series of largish ceramic sculptures (four feet tall or so), and it was such a nice change to work on a smaller, more intimate scale after that project. I became a little obsessed with making beads…and still am!

You make fabulous beads but I don’t think I’ve seen many of your own jewelry designs. Do you often make jewelry yourself?

I actually started out making beads to use in my own jewelry designs, but I’ve shifted to making mostly components. Personally, I find it more exciting and rewarding to be involved in a teeny part of someone else’s creative jewelry process.  I’m also quite slow at making jewelry, which didn’t help in the production area. I still love to design, but mostly just for personal enjoyment, to give as gifts, or for occasional publications.

You mix up a lot of your own glazes, something I’d love to try doing myself. Can you tell us more about that- without giving away any secrets obviously!

I do make the majority of my glazes from scratch. I’m not sure it’s the most practical endeavor, to be honest, but keep in mind that I’m still kind of a chemistry nerd. It is a great excuse to run experiments, and I do so love a surprise! I’ve done a ridiculous amount of testing to see what different glazes will act like, which has really helped me understand how the materials in a glaze work together to create different effects.
 For those of you who may be unfamiliar with making glazes from scratch, you might think of glaze mixing/testing like making a cake. For instance, you can take a basic vanilla cake recipe and create a million variations by adding different kinds of fruit, or chocolate, or whatever. Along the way, you will get to know what works or doesn’t work for that particular cake recipe. And if something is wrong with your cake (or glaze), you know exactly what is in it, so you can tweak the ingredients to fix or change it to your liking.
One big difference between baking a cake and glaze making, however, is that many of the dry materials for making glazes (and in commercially bought glazes) can be hazardous if handled improperly. It’s really important to work in a well-ventilated area, with a respirator, and with gloves, especially when you’re mixing powdered materials. If you are going to make glazes, a great place to start would be at a college, university, or studio where they usually have a great variety of the materials you’ll need as well as systems in place for safety and disposal of waste. That being said, making your own glazes is a lot of fun and can allow you to discover and create your own unique finishes. Plus you get to play mad scientist!

Do you make anything else with clay, other than beads?

I do! I make sculptures and exhibit nationally. A while back, I did a whole series of work that was inspired by the structures of bead weaving! My current work also reflects that love of modular components and repetition. The beads and sculpture inform each other, and I flip back and forth between the two, with a dash of pottery thrown in here and there.

What is your workspace like?

My husband and I moved and started new jobs this summer, so it’s still getting settled. I usually form the beads at home and hide them under the chairs! Then I take them to the studio to do all the messy stuff: clean up, firing, glazing, etc.  All my glazes live in the basement of our apartment building until I need them (and feel brave enough to deal with the enormous spiders down there!) I typically have multiple projects going on at one time and make a big mess.

Are there any ceramists or bead makers that you’ve found particularly influential or that you particularly admire?

The ceramic bead-making community is a generous and friendly one, and I count myself very blessed indeed to be a part of it. I became involved early on with the wonderful group of makers that founded the Ceramic Art Bead Market (, and they have been a great source of support, inspiration, and information in all regards.

My great friend Cassandra at Beads to Live By was the first one to encourage me to get my work out into the world, and more specifically into her fabulous bead store! I’m so grateful for her support and entrepreneurial example through the years. Marsha NealMinutella has also graciously answered many of my beginner business questions, and she and Melanie Brooks of Earthenwood Studio have been a great examples of making beads professionally.

What plans do you have for the future? Where will you take your beads next?

I would love to get more beads out into the world! I’m exploring options right now, including doing more trunk shows at bead stores and becoming a vendor at some of the larger bead shows. I love to interact with people face to face at the shows, talk beads, and see what they are drawn to creating with.

I also just got my website up and running- woohoo! will be the main venue for my newest work, which features organic, fossil-inspired textures in a wide range of glazes and colors.  I’d love for you to check it out and let me know what you think!

After making beads for several years now, I finally feel like the beads I’m making are starting to be in my own voice. I came across a baggie the other day of some of the first beads I created, and thought it was too strange that what I’m currently making is actually very similiar in style to those first attempts – it just took me several years and a few thousand beads to circle back around. I’m excited to continue on this journey and see where it takes me.

Thank you, Sarah, for your generosity with your expertise and time!

And to add to this, Sarah has kindly set up a discount code so you can go and snap up some of these beauties with a 20% discount! Visit either her website or her Etsy shop and use the discount code ABSLOVE20. The code is active now and valid through 24th October.


Gale said...

I've used a lot of Sarah's beads in my jewelry, and it was fun to learn more about her and her work. Off to check out her new site!

Julie Wong Sontag said...

Ooh, a great interview! Such lovely, inspiring work! I love that mad scientist element :) xo Julie

Soul Silver said...

Gorgeous work and a lovely interview :)

Terri said...

Gorgeous work! What a wonderful interview!

Kristen said...

I love your beads but your sculptures are amazing! They grabbed my attention right away. The white rings emerging from the black brick is incredible, I love it!

Lynn said...

I love Sarah's components and the necklace I made with one of her rustic starfish is one of my favorites---the starfish is so wonderful! Great interview and article. Just love her creations!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all of you for reading and sharing your thoughts and kind words! I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to do the interview :) xo