We sat down with Andrew Bearnot, Studio Manager; Chadwick Augustine, Shop Manager; David Krawczyk, designer, and Evan Eisman, owner of Evan Eisman Company, specializing in incorporating blast finishing and effects into art, architecture, and design.
Evan: We started out in the late 90s, when it was just me and the focus was on etching glass. Over the past 20 years though, we have become more interested in exploring the technology behind etching. We have started to focus more and more on the effects of blasting and less and less on its specific applications in glass and plaque etching. We have 5 employees devoted to various aspects of the business.
I started to do this work in New Jersey, working out of my garage, and about eleven years ago I moved into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, into a 1000 square foot space. Six years ago we moved into this space, which is 3500 square feet. Sandblasting at home is not a very good idea.
Why did I move to the Navy Yard? I was seduced by the industry here, and all the activity. The prospect of being in a community of makers was very appealing. Having the opportunity to interact with people who are making all kinds of things has helped my business expand in numerous ways. We have numerous clients who are our neighbors.
Evan: Sandblasting is the process of propelling particles at a surface, wearing parts of it away to achieve a particular effect. We experiment with many different types of materials. Sharp, round, soft, hard … Anything we can put in the blasting cabinets, we will use. We’ll use glass beads and aluminum oxide, which are typical blast media, but we’ll also use other things. Rice, for instance.
Andrew: We blast glass, metal, wood, plastic; essentially anything can be blasted. The properties of the material that you’re throwing against the surface, the size, the hardness, the power with which you’re throwing it at the surface, and the properties of that surface define the effect that you get.
E: Blasting is, when used in industry, tailored to very specific operations: to treating surfaces, texturing surfaces, and cleaning surfaces, or etching: etching signs and things like this, making marks on different kinds of materials.
E: We are using the blasting to etch text and pattern, superimposing pattern and text onto various materials. We’re also using it to enhance materials, to texture them, to bring out their inherent material qualities, to emphasize the grain structure of stone and wood. Our technology is really process-based. We don’t consume a lot of materials. We actually finish them.
E: We are in an industry that is pretty sparse. There don’t appear to be a lot of sandblasters in NYC. The people who do sandblast in the city do what most people think of when they think of sandblasting, which is that they’re sandblasting bridges, and they’re cleaning motorcycle parts, cleaning concrete, or stripping brick walls and things like this. Our particular way of using the technology is a bit different from that.
E: Yes, we have numerous specialized machines, and the technology is pretty quirky. With our focus being on the varieties of sandblasting and its applications and effects, we have brought into one place numerous operations. The way these operations get mixed and matched, makes for pretty unusual effects, actually. So the specialized machines are the various blast machines: we have five cabinets and a blast room. With those we’re able to mix different kinds of media and produce varied effects.
A: So we have here a whole variety of blast media. We have soft media: plastic and walnut shells. We have a variety of glass materials: crushed glass and glass beads. We have aluminum oxide, in a variety of sizes from very very fine powder to almost course, like rocks. And we have stainless steel, steel shot, and fine ceramic beads.
E: I would say that most of our work these days has been texturing and finishing wood for furniture and interiors and various architectural applications. We have a lot of neighbors who are woodworkers, so our proximity to them gives us an opportunity to find new materials and get a little peek into the range of projects that happen in the Navy Yard. That stuff informs and drives our finishing into new areas.
E: There are a few ways of engraving materials, and blasting is one very special way of doing that. The limitations of CNC routing and machining, or laser engraving is that typically those processes are limited to flat materials. And blasting is something that can happen in the round. We often do engraving projects that will have patterns or text that moves all over a surface, or on a piece of furniture it’ll go around a leg, up over an edge. It’s a very efficient way of marking surfaces.
E: For one, they should know that we’re here. People may be surprised, delighted to learn of the ways that sandblasting can make things very beautiful, soft, and ephemeral in some cases. Blasting is a terrific way of bringing out the inherent qualities in materials. It removes the soft parts of wood and leaves the hard parts. It does the same to stone, it eats away at the different particles that make up the stone in different ways. People from all different areas come in here and find new ways to push their projects forward through exposure to our technology. They drive our business forward by introducing new inventive ideas for our technology, and they move their projects ahead by finding ways to make their material even more unusual and even more special.
E: Our clients are artists, architects, and designers, typically. We recently did the signage at the high line and the annual donor wall, which is a pretty elaborate blast-processed aluminum signage. We also did a project for PS 290Q, a very large glass mural designed by the artist Sarah Beddington. Being in New York is wonderful and it provides us with easy access to people who are consuming our surfaces.
David: By being in NYC we’re able to interact very quickly with clients. People can come in and view our sample finishes first-hand, in addition to seeing them on our website. Since a lot of the clients that we work with are located in the city, we can turn around samples faster and they can come in and see what we have to offer.
E: The speed of that back and forth is something that being in New York affords us.
Chad: When I came to Evan a year ago, he was ready to change the trajectory of the company to something more exploratory. With my background in ceramics, Evan had come to me thinking about the potential for ceramics in what he does. Thinking about the rich architectural history in NYC and the pretty lively ceramic arts practice here, we thought of Pratt Institute, which is so close to us, and whose program in ceramics would make for a great opportunity to develop a new kind of language for that material. So we’re excited about not only applying this to clients that have ceramic projects, but also developing our own materials here that we can offer for people interested in working with ceramics.
E: Our project of late is developing a “Brooklyn Blast Studio.” The idea is for us to have a center for the exploration and appreciation of sandblasting. It’s not a generic process and doesn’t have to be. The finishes can be quite extraordinary and very unusual. At Brooklyn Blast Studio, we have a collection of objects that have been finished in various ways in various kinds of materials, and we have a library online with images of this collection.
A: The idea is that any finish that the client might find on our website is backed up here at the studio with a schedule: a recipe for how to make that finish. We’re compiling this expertise, this knowledge, so that people can see something, get inspired, and reach out and have that information readily available.
E: The focus of the company, in the beginning, was on etched glass and it has opened up increasingly over the years into a focus on process. Our work started out as being a response to our clients’ visions for their work and it has developed into explorations of the things that we are discovering in the shop. I think that where we’ll be heading in the future is that we’ll have more and more work that originates in the studio.