When Ken and Julie Girardini work side by side, sparks fly. Literally.
In their studio located in the woods off a winding road in Sykesville, the Girardinis create works of art from metal.
The couple, who have been married 26 years, met in a pottery class in Colorado. Ken's job moved them to Maryland and soon the couple had other ideas.
"We decided this would be an interesting way of making a living," Julie said, of selling their artwork. "We have a gift of being creative together. We seem to work really well together."
Pottery changed to metal work after Ken took a steel sculpture class.
"I got hooked," he said. "We were dumpster diving for metal."
In the hands of the Girardinis, rough metal is cut and shaped into clocks, fruit bowls and candlesticks. Bigger pieces, including chairs, tables, lamps and mantelpieces, soon followed. Their work became popular at craft shows, including the annual American Craft Council Show in Baltimore.
The couple will showcase their work in the Baltimore Convention Center Feb. 22-24. The event features hundreds of one-of-a-kind pieces, including ceramics, toys and puzzles and jewelry, as well as work in glass and wood.
"You really need to learn what shows," to be in, Julie said. "The Baltimore show ... is a big deal in the art world."
This is the 37th year for the show, and the Girardinis have chosen to participate in the juried show, on and off, since 1992.
This year, two Maryland interior designers will be creating room settings designed with craft pieces. One of the designers, Clarksville resident Debbie McHale, will be incorporating a fireplace created by the Girardinis.
Over the years, the show has attracted as many as 900 craftsmen. This year, more than 650 craftsmen will be exhibiting, including Hampstead resident David Sleightholm, also a metal artist.
While the downturn in the economy has affected business, Julie thinks the smaller number is also the result of the council listening to the artists.
"The more selection you have, your piece of the pie is smaller," Julie said."Quality can be an issue."
The Girardinis, who have been commercial artists for 23 years, work hard to create works that are unique.
"We are always looking for new material," Julie said. "Glass, copper, plastic, felt, recycled stuff. Ken is a much better engineer than me. We have an idea, he figures it out."
They have traveled to Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia to get new ideas.
While in high school, Ken was an exchange student and spent a year in Japan. Later, he served in the Air Force before coming to Maryland.
"We are always hugely inspired by travel," said Julie, an Iowa native. "We are very fortunate to have seen quite a bit of the world. Creativity is what fuels us."
In addition to their collaborative metal work, both Julie and Ken explore their own interests.
Julie creates sculptures. Ken, who first started painting as a teenager, is now combining painting and photography on metal.
Their individual pieces provide new challenges for them personally and also add to their business.
"Our business is the metal work. It's how we make our living," Ken said. "Adjunct to our main work, I do sell my paintings, but it is not the main thrust of what we do."
As he has gotten older, Ken, 54, admits that working with metal is not as easy as it once was.
"It is a very noisy, dirty business," he said. "The older we get, the more challenging physically."
Each year, they hold a studio open house so clients and customers can visit their studio and home.
While the studio is where they spend the majority of their days working, their home provides a getaway as well as a setting to display collection of their work. That display changes throughout the year, as they sell different pieces and create new ones.
"Walking to work, having it right here, for us, is such a pleasure," Julie said, of the short walk to the couple's studio. "Typically, it is very noisy in here, while the house we like to have clean."
"Our home is where we are married and in love," Ken said. "Come in here [the studio] and we are partners ... working to make the business grow."
Both feel very fortunate to be able to make a living doing something they enjoy and doing it together.
"We feel very lucky we get to make outliving doing this," Julie said.