Last week, I sat down (well, you know, on the internet) with Bread and Badger, a husband and wife team from Portland, Oregon, who make excellent etched pint glasses, coffee mugs, and other drinkware, all with graphic, manly imagery.
Tell us the story of Bread and Badger. What do you make? We etch glass and ceramic cups with my original artwork, focusing on designs that appeal to men. We mostly sell barware like pint glasses and scotch glasses, but our new line of ceramic coffee and travel mugs has really taken off.
From where did the idea for etched glasses first come? What were some of your first designs? Originally, I wanted to get my artwork out there by drawing on something--pretty much anything. I wanted to be a tattoo artist so I could draw on people, then I found I could draw onto glass with a Dremel tool, and it sort of grew from there. My first designs were tattoo-themed: sacred hearts, skull butterflies, pin-up girls. I like to think that carving onto glass is like putting a tattoo onto an inanimate object. It's a way to express yourself through your housewares.
Tell us more about your process. How do you create the stencils? Are they reusable? Had you used a sandblaster prior to creating you glasses? Our stencils start as digital art (which sometimes starts as a pen-and-ink drawing), which is printed onto transparency film. Then we use a special light box and washout method to create an adhesive stencil, which is similar to burning a screen for printing, if you're familiar with that. Each stencil is single-use, but reproducible. Each stencil is applied by hand, burnished down, and then the rest of the glass is masked to protect it from over-spray.
It's sort of funny that I'd never done any sandblasting, nor had I ever wanted to, when I started etching. I thought that engraving by hand was more artistic, and that my work would lose its "soul" if it was sandblasted. After a little while though, the repetition of hand-drawing each line of the same designs over and over had me desperate to find another method that was faster, more consistent, and that I could get help with. My hand was about to fall off! Then Bread and Badger took off very suddenly, and my husband had to quit his job to help me out. We had to buy sandblasting equipment and learn how to use it, basically overnight. It was pretty crazy!
Before you invested in the sandblasting setup, had you experimented with other ways of making marks on glass? Etching cream? Power carving tools? I tried etching cream once for a Father's Day gift that I saw in a magazine, years ago. It turned out so terribly, I never even considered using it again, even just for fun. When I realized I could draw on glass (and glazed ceramics!) with my Dremel tool and diamond-tipped burrs, that really inspired me. It was so much like tattooing, but the learning curve wasn't so steep and I didn't need willing test subjects and a sterilizer.
I started out carving flat glass marbles, and turning them into pendants, since I thought I wanted to be a jewelry designer. I don't know why I didn't try barware at first, since it seems like such a perfect pairing for my artistic aesthetic. Plus, I love beer, so it should have been a no-brainer.
My dad heard I was carving on glass, and sent me an old dental drill that he'd been using for lapidary work. What a huge upgrade! I still use it to carve my initials into the bottoms of all our products. I hope to get back to my roots someday, and do some really elaborate one-of-a-kind engravings. I did a vase for a gallery show a few years ago, put on by I Can Has Cheeseburger. I'd love to do more of that.
Is sandblasting accessible to crafters and artists with no experience? If they were able to get their hands on a machine, is it something anyone can experiment with? Oh, for sure! There's a definite learning curve for all new techniques, and our stencil material took a while to really figure out, but the blasting is pretty easy to pick up. You could also cut vinyl stencils by hand instead, or using a plotter, so there are a lot of "right" ways to do sandblasting. There's always the rotary engraving tool that absolutely anyone can try, but you have to pretty much freehand all your art. We recently upgraded our blasting cabinet to a professional model, but you could probably get started with basic equipment for around $1000. Even less, if you're really hardcore and want to make a cabinet from of a pair of sinks.
What's the technique for sandblasting with a stencil? Do you need to worry about the force blowing under the adhesive and getting "ghosting" like you do with many other printmaking or stenciling techniques? Yeah, you do have to be careful that your stencil is stuck down really well, without bubbles, and you can get overspray on the rest of your substrate if it isn't masked well enough. The emulsion material we use for stencils is really expensive, but it's more forgiving than vinyl when applying it. Sometimes the force of the sandblasting can blow off little details though, or wear through the stencil itself. It took us awhile to really get the hang of it all, but we hardly ever have accidents now.
Where do you sell your work? Do you make more sales on your Etsy shop or BreadandBadger.com? Do you participate in craft shows, flea markets, or trade events? Almost all our business is done online, with the majority of people discovering us through Etsy. We only do a couple craft shows a year here in Portland and in Seattle. We have work in stores across the country, with a full list on our site: http://breadandbadger.com/pages/where
Have you ever had someone request a special design? Do you do any custom work? We get lots of special requests! I used to do so much custom work--nearly half of our business--but since our baby was born a year ago, it's been too time-consuming for me. Since our products are frequently given as gifts for weddings and big holidays, I really want to be able to personalize things for people's special occasions. I'm in the process of training someone to take over the custom portion of the business for me, so we should be able to take requests again very soon!
So, how's it going? Have you been able to turn Bread and Badger into a full time gig yet? For either of you? Both of you? It's been going fantastically! I quit my job and started Bread and Badger back in 2006, and Sean quit his job to join me full-time in 2008. We've been doing this non-stop (we took our first real vacation for one week this year!), and it's been a total dream come true. We have one contractor who works for us part-time, and we hire more help during the holidays. I love being able to share our success with other people, and buying a house and having a kid has been part of that too.