Thursday, 3 November 2011

Stuart Gebbie: founding the company, thoughts and aspirations

Visit the official Pets At Rest web-site, or read the upcoming blogs soon to be featured here, and you're bound to be intrigued by Stuart Gebbie's enthusiastic attitude to the art of sandblasting. While many people unfamiliar to the medium might think of sandblasting as a limited and one-dimensional craft, the very ethos of the company is based on an expanse of results to the contrary, as well as feedback from many happy clients. In other words, Pets At Rest aren't like other pet memorial companies. Why? Because instead of simply settling for what has been proven, this Cambridge-based company are ready and willing to expand their horizons, allowing greater freedom to tackle more complex designs and more intricate work.

When it comes down to it, Pets At Rest are just more dynamic and exciting!

The idea for Pets At Rest began over 10 years ago. In Stuart's own words: “...I started working for my father who manufactured a sandblasting system for hobbyists’ and for enterprise schemes within schools and colleges. The minute I had a go on it, I was hooked!'

Speaking about what specifically makes sandblasting so special, he says: “The ability to take a blank canvas in the form of stone, or glass, and change it via this method into a kind of piece of art – but with permanent effect – was fantastic. Also, I quickly learned that sandblasting created the finest and stunning results imaginable...”


After gaining an A* in GCSE Art and studying Art at A Level, Stuart went on to complete a 1 year Foundation course in Graphic Design, spending time at the reputed Colchester Institute. Motivated by a desire to produce art that would also possess a commercial interest – in particular concerning advertising – his move into the pet memorial business was one that aimed to fuse art and craftsmanship with the freedom of self employment. As a result, the company got off to a good start, and almost immediately Pets At Rest was formed, aimed at bringing the best possible pet memorials into the public domain.

Fuelled by the myriad of possibilities that sandblasting offered – among them, corporate gifts to house signs – the pet memorial aspect came about through demand more than anything. “...I kept getting asked to create small garden plaques,” says Stuart. “...People couldn’t believe the amount of money I asked for [in a good way], for what they got and had been quoted for beforehand. I then started looking into it in more detail, as I'd noticed that my competitors' work lacked a certain amount of freedom to be creative – something which I felt I could offer a solution to at a more affordable price. I also didn't like how many companies seemed to be obsessed with restricting choice and keeping things so simple. For the crazy money they charged, I knew I could do better.”

Learning curve

While it's certainly true that you can learn sandblasting in a college environment, Stuart learned much of his technique the old-fashioned way: in a real working environment, from mentors with more experience. For example, he was taught photo-engraving by one of the originators of the art-form, and went on to utilise this rich knowledge base in his own work, which was now beginning to flourish. About his mentor, who developed this new and more painstaking process during the 1960s, Stuart says: “...He was the first person to create the half-tone designs you see on headstones in cemeteries and the like. This is a skill that has to “come to you” over time – your eye suddenly seeing it. In order to get it just right and achieve the perfect end result, a great deal of concentration is required, but that's not a chore when you really enjoy the work you do.”

Quality Stone and the rise of Copycat techniques

Thanks to advanced machinery capable of replacing an element of human skill and labour, sandblasting – and techniques which attempt to emulate the effect of sandblasting – is now more popular than ever. But although this is the case, Pets At Rest firmly believe that nothing matches the integrity provided by true skill administered by an experienced professional. It is this unique characteristic which puts a grieving client at ease during a time of, at times, considerable stress.

In terms of products, Pets At rest uses only the finest stone available anywhere. Stuart says of this:

“...I took years to end up with the best supplier of stone blanks I could find and I only use the best quality products out there. I use white marble from Italy, black granite from Spain and grey slate from Wales – as well as a range of natural stones found mostly in the UK...”

Another important point about the company's stone-sourcing is that all stone – from both the UK and abroad – is carefully hand-picked and chosen based on a number of strict requirements.

Fonts, motifs and the customer's freedom of choice

Using a vast range of more traditional fonts (Times New Roman and Arial) and a number of more elaborate fonts (among them Monotype Corsiva and Chancery Script) Pets At Rest makes any combination of words possible, whatever your personal taste. Popular fonts may be chosen, or a customer may have a specific wish which they would prefer to investigate. Either way there shouldn't be a problem, and all choice is down to the client, making the process a streamlined combination of skill and love.

The company also work with a variety of motifs and have a collection suitable for any occasion. These may be applied to any design format, and just recently a brand-new range of fonts and motifs has been released. About this Stuart says: “...Now included are far more animal designs and even silhouettes.”

But most of all, at the heart of Pets At rest is a desire to please the customer – no matter how traditional, contemporary or exotic their taste. “I am keen for people to feel that they can express themselves in the format of the pet memorial...” Says the owner. “...That if they want something crazy or very personal they can have it. In my opinion, by far the most important part of our service is the creation of the artwork we do for the client. Once they send in the order to us, we set about creating the best possible layout style and offer advice and alternative layout options if need be. This ensures the plaque looks exactly how the customer envisaged. After all, it's reflecting the life of a beloved friend and isn’t just a cold emotionless product shoved in the ground and forgotten about.”

New styles to come in 2012

Pets At Rest is constantly revising, reconsidering and re-interpreting the humble pet memorial – the aim being to do ultimate justice to a medium which has, before, offered very limited scope. "Coming in 2012 are an entirely new range of products, styles and design ideas unique to the company.”

The main aim, Stuart says, is to “enable people to have something created by us that truly reflects the adoration they have for their beloved friends. We also hope to be able to create a dignified product – one just as worthy and special as any customer's pet.”

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