• jessrinker

Interview Series: Creative Couples: Gregory Israel and Kate Wentworth

I haven't yet met Greg and Kate in person but after reading their lovely responses--(which they kept secret from each other until this posting!)--I know they are exactly the kind of people whose company we would enjoy. They've been working and living together for a long time, but their most recent collaboration is a brand new jewelry business called Katizzi in which they hand-create glass beads using traditional techniques from 14th century Murano, Italy. I know you'll enjoy this sweet and honest interview; their love and admiration for each other is palpable. This conversation feels like a testimony that we are all always a work-in-progress, and that we have to find the beauty in every day as creators and partners. Not to mention the incredibly magical way they were brought together! (Heads up you two, I might ask for the rights to that story!)

We all love a good love story. Tell us the moment you each knew you were in love. Make us swoon!

Kate: Our students got us together. :) During my first year of teaching high school, I received a note, on construction paper, with some significant spelling errors- including both of our names being misspelled. We sought each other out, to explain we were not writing these notes. This was the first conversation we had ever had, as our school was very large. One conversation led to many more, and a year and a half later we were married, on the beach, with 20 of our closest friends and family by our side. 20 years and 5 countries later, we are still going strong thanks to those amazing kiddos. (who are grown up, have families of their own, and will always have a special place in our hearts.)

Greg: We met when Kate joined the teaching staff at the school where I was teaching. After a few months, our students started trying to get us to go out. It started with fake notes in our staff room mailboxes. Then some of my students took up a collection of spare change and gave me the $8.25 to take her on a date. She used the money to do laundry. But all of these shenanigans got the ball rolling. We started talking and one thing led to another. We were engaged before the start of the next school year. I can’t pinpoint any single moment when I knew I was in love… maybe it was when she saw all my Lego bricks and didn’t immediately leave. Or maybe it was our first trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Or our first baseball game. I always felt like she accepted me for who I am — quirks as all.

Liz Gilbert said she “married” her writing at 16, and many people think it’s not possible to have two artists in the house. In the beginning, were you of the mind that two creatives would live well together or the opposite?

Kate: We have always worked together. We met at work, when we were teachers in California. Since then, we have lived and taught abroad in Thailand, South Korea, China, India, and most recently India. (If you ever want to really test a relationship, move to a foreign country with that person. Move. Not travel. Though travel can be a test, as well.)

Although teaching is very individual, and we did not teach in the same room, we have always worked at the same school, and always supported each other’s work and success. We also support each other’s artistic ventures- Greg will wake up with me at 3am so that I can take photographs of star trails over Mt. Vesuvius. I give him the space to write and create and bounce ideas off of for his writing of Tiny Dungeon books, and support his musical adventures by photographing his band.

I think the fact that we have different artistic strengths is in our favor. Additionally, Greg’s early morning creativity and productivity, coupled with my late afternoon/evening creativity certainly balances each other out.

Greg: When we first lived together, I didn’t consider myself to be a particularly creative person, at least not in the traditional sense. Kate is a photographer and an amazing art teacher. When we met, she was having her work exhibited in galleries and shows. I was happy to help however I could — assembling frames, putting my bit of page layout knowledge to good use, etc. She introduced me to the wonderful world of art and lit the spark that would eventually get me to try to make some of my own.

Share a little bit about your work—books, music, movies, art—what do each of you do? What brought you to these outlets/jobs? Do you ever collaborate on projects? Tell us a little bit about that process.

Kate: After 20 years of marriage, we have just opened a small art, jewelry and design business together. We have also just returned to the USA for the first time in 16 years. I am sure that Greg will have a much better description of how this came to be, starting with a bookcase in India. :) In June, 2021, right before we left Italy, I found an amazing studio course in Venice for us to learn glass lampworking/bead making for our potential creative business. It was one of the most fulfilling creative days for the two of us. Greg was much better at making things perfectly round, right from the start, where as my color combinations were strong (and not so round for the first 3 hours). We balance each other out. Greg literally brings the left brain to everything we do: organization, perfect alignment of my messy designs, and thankfully this artist is married to an economist! :)

Greg: Chronologically, my creative work has cycled through several modes/forms: Lego bricks, Dungeons & Dragons, music, page layout, Lego bricks, designing lessons, role playing games, writing, music, writing, and more RPGs.

And then out of nowhere, jewelry and lampworking.

I don’t think I fully recognized and embraced my creativity until the past decade. Turns out I’ve always had a creative streak and feeding that desire to be creative is what makes me happy and “successful”. And collaborating with Kate on creative projects is amazing.

When the dining table becomes a workshop

What brought you to these outlets/jobs?

Greg: All of the experiences we shared together created a shared collection of influences and inspiration. We decided it was time to try to make a go of being full-time creatives, so we’re currently in the process of starting a small jewelry and design business.

Do you ever collaborate on projects? Tell us a little bit about that process.

Greg: We learned to collaborate as teachers. We would help each other with lesson planning and co-taught a series of classes for new teachers. The first few times were rough. We were stepping on each other’s toes and cutting each other off. But we sat down and worked it out. We learned each other’s cues and learned to play to our strengths.

Living in foreign countries for 16 years forces you to be good collaborators. It’s a necessity. Sometimes simple things like grocery shopping can be a challenge.

With the new business, we collaborate every single day. One of us will get an idea for a new design and before you know it, we’re working on a prototype — sometimes it happens really fast. Other times, it’s more of a slow simmer until one of us cracks the case on making a new design work the way we want it to.

We’re also good at acknowledging the strengths of each other and letting both of us play to those strengths.

Creative work doesn’t normally lend itself to a regular routine like punching a time clock. Describe your method for completing projects while also living regular life, raising kids, if applicable, or working a day job. How do you manage your time together?

Kate: We are currently working at trying to forge that separation between work and regular life. We have an art studio, but pretty much use most rooms in our house to complete work. The other night, we were prototyping and photographing on the dining room table, writing responses to our first customers in the guest room, and printing Etsy mailing/ address labels in the office.

Greg: Each day is a bit different, although they usually start the same. I’m an early riser, so I use the mornings to work on my individual projects (like RPG writing), draft some words for our product descriptions, or catch up on something else business-related. Sometimes I research business stuff or work on some digital designs. Once Kate is awake, we have breakfast and coffee and watch some late night TV. This is often followed (or sometimes proceeded) by a walk.

We love to walk. And when we walk, we talk. We plan our day, identifying what we want to do with our time and what we need to do with our time. We also process what is going on in the world, with our families, and with ourselves.

A typical day might find us taking turns lampworking in the garage. Or we may be prototyping design with the laser cutter. Some afternoons are consumed with photo shoots of new products and uploading things to our fledgling online shop.

Evenings often include a second, shorter walk and time to relax.

Since we work from home, we usually weave the laundry and cooking into our flow, but some days are spent just taking care of domestic chores and taking a break from the business.

How do you support each other’s work?

Kate: I think the big thing is that neither of us feels threatened, jealous, or brings an ego to the relationship when working on creative pursuits. We actively seek out each other’s advice and feedback, along with honesty.

Every country has its own system, for everything. Moving to foreign countries together, you develop a “we are absolutely in this together” bond that runs the range of culture shock, home sickness, developing new relationships, not speaking a language, visas, work permits, doctors in foreign countries, different customs, new friends, landlords that don’t speak English, currency exchanges….so much, that you are each other as a support system. All of this has prepared us for starting a creative business together.

We have learned to give each other space when needed, but also to be there. This extends to our new business venture.

When applying to become a business, there were definite bumps in the road. Usually, it ended with a laugh and a “well, at least the forms are in English”. And that means a lot to us, as we have signed many different forms that we had absolutely no idea what it said.

Greg: I think we’re our most supportive when we trust each other enough to let the other person try (and keep trying) something new. We try to encourage each other to experiment. We try to see what can be learned from our failed attempts. We also are inspired by what the other person is making.

I find I learn so much from watching Kate work as an artist. The way she composes a photograph, the way she combines colors of paint or glass, how she sketches.

We all have challenges in our relationships and having the same job can present its own hurdles. What would you say you have to work on the most as a creative couple, in particular?

Kate: We need to work on trying to leave work at work, which is hard as new business owners who are working from home. :) Ha! . We joke about walking out the garage door in the morning, circling the block, and coming to work through the front door. As I write this, we really need to do this. It is not a bad idea.

As an example, just the other night, when we were brushing our teeth, Greg was trying to talk to me about a design idea. We all know what tooth brushing talk sounds like, and it was impossible to understand. Also, I just wanted to brush my teeth, and go to bed, and not think about the business. I do the same thing to him, though. He will be working on a writing project, or trying to unwind, and I will interrupt with some new idea that we need a supply for, and then we fall down the internet rabbit hole of trying to find a rare item.

At the end of the day, there is literally no one else I would rather go on any creative adventure with - whether it is hiking up to a monastery in Bhutan, or figuring out how Instagram marketing works.

Greg: I need to work on being patient. Building something new takes time. Finding an audience takes time. Sometimes frustrations with making or business-ing (yes, we like to say, “business-ing”) comes off as being frustrated with Kate (sorry, Kate — I love you!) That’s something I’m working on.

Sometimes neither of us know what to do when making a decision. That’s tough.

Knowing when to work and when it’s time to do anything else. When you work from home, the boundaries between working and not working get blurred. It’s easy to work too long, and other times it’s too easy to avoid working.

And on the other side of things, how does both of you being artists feed or fuel your relationship?

Greg: When we started our little business venture, we said that if the business ever started to get in the way of our relationship, that we would end the business — that our relationship is way more important than anything business related. I felt this was important to declare from the beginning.

Creating together has added a new type of connection or bond in our relationship. It’s nice to be proud of something I made, but it’s even better to be proud of something we made together.

What fictional character does your partner most resemble?

Kate: I am answering this with a super cheeky answer, only because it will make Greg laugh when he sees this...pop culturally, it would be Aidan from Sex in the City. (f which Greg will tell you he has seen way too many episodes, thanks to me, and is very opinionated that Adian should have been Carrie’s first and only choice.) Aidan is smart, creative, philosophical, and more importantly supported Carrie and made her a better person! That’s Greg to a tee.I’m sure that Aidan played D&D at some point in his life.

Greg: I want to say Princess Leia… Princess Leia was a leader and a rebel and kind. And she put up with Han. I’m not saying I’m Han — just that Princess Leia had a remarkable tolerance for Han, flaws and all.

Describe your dream working space as a couple.

Kate: My dream working space would be a super spacious studio, that would be on our property, but not attached to our house. We would “leave for work”, but not have to worry about traffic. We would have a double set up for glass/lampworking, a massive sink, a workshop with all the tools, and a giant laser cutter, fantastic natural light, a cappuccino machine, double adjustable drafting tables (that are not right next to each other), an ergonomic set up for computer work with a massive monitor (our eyes are getting old), and a studio dog that doesn’t bark or shed, and is housetrained.

Greg: We always talk about a big, dedicated creative space in the backyard. Plenty of room to make a mess. Really good ventilation and exhaust. Lots of natural light. A big ol’ laser cutter. Two lampworking set ups. A small woodworking shop. All under one roof. And a great sound system, too. Got to have the music playing.

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