Liz Sabol

2017 Metal Clay - Second Place

Colorful. Fantasy. Beautiful. Expertly crafted. These all describe "Cheshire Cat", this year's Metal Clay Second Place winner, by Liz Sabol. Liz has taken a relatively new medium and material to new levels of sophistication and artistry. You can tell by looking at her work that she loves what she creates and is passionate about the process. And Liz doesn’t give up. (She was a finalist in the Metal Clay category in 2016, after all.) To get the top and bottom of her winning piece just right, she took dozens of impressions of the pieces from molds until she got what she wanted. Now that's passion and dedication!

The Winning Piece:

PMC 960 silver, which is a mix of sterling and fine silver metal clay, is the primary material I used. The fine silver makes it so that the metal won’t oxidize in the kiln, and the sterling adds strength that the fine silver doesn’t have. The stones I used are two different varieties of moonstone–Adularia and Peristerite. Oil paint, Gilder’s Paste and a resin were used on the colored parts of the piece. I handmade the silver chain and the bezels from metal clay as well. The stones were set after firing.

I sketched out my idea by hand, scanned it in to the computer, and redrew it in Adobe Illustrator. An etching laser is used to cut the molds. I rolled out a very large piece of silver PMC to cover the 12” long mold, and pressed it in the mold to get a good impression. I then made the back from a separate mold. I dried the two sides and hoped they would match when I joined them, because the shape can distort easily when the clay is soft. I probably made nearly a 100 attempts to get a perfect impression! The biggest drawback with using PMC in my mold, is that there is a balance of speed–if I take the clay out of the mold too quickly, I can’t capture all the details, and if I don’t get it out quickly enough, the clay gets stuck in the mold and I have to scrape it out.

I expanded on my SBDA piece from 2016 when I made a piece called the "Mad Hatter." "Cheshire Cat" was taking it to the next step. The blue from the moonstones give you a feeling of a cat winking. The cat is often invisible, and it is sitting on your shoulders.

Several months. I made a prototype first to learn from my mistakes. I worked on it slowly over a year. But I still made mistakes, just different ones than I made on the prototype!

What did you learn from the piece?

How many things can go wrong. I always like to design things that are more difficult than I can easily do, so I learned a lot. I truly pushed the envelope.

Are you going to sell it?


Do you think this piece will influence your work going forward?

Yes, in the fact that it is very organic. Most of my work is round, since that it is my favorite shape. I’d like to expand my work to encompass more organic and flowing shapes.

Does it reflect your current look/designs/brand?


What do you like most about the piece?

It is the biggest necklace I have ever made. It is very substantial. Also, it is really satisfying to have finished such a difficult piece.

Did you try it on?

Yes. To make sure the way it curves would fit naturally on the body.

The Artist:

Where do you live?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Did you study jewelry?

No. I started out in chemical engineering. I love math and science. I then switched over to art and transferred to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where I received a degree in Communication Arts and a minor in Illustration.

Did you apprentice?

Not really. I started out teaching myself metal clay but didn’t have any other metalsmithing skills. After a few months, I took the PMC certification program from Christopher Darway at Rio. At the same time I took a metalsmithing class with Pat Falbo at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Both of these instructors recognized my style and encouraged me to continue with the jewelry. I still go once a week to Pat Falbo’s private studio. It’s a wonderful small group, and we have such fun socializing while learning and making jewelry.

How long have you been making jewelry?

As a child I loved jewelry before I realized I could make it. I started working with metal clay about four years ago, and now that I am finally able to make pieces, I don’t want to stop. 

Do any of your other passions influence your work?

Oil painting and drawing influence my work, and when I am at the beach I make sand sculptures … dragons are my favorite.

What other types of work have you done in your life?

I have done a lot of branding work, corporate identity, website development and programming. Oh, and I grew up on a dairy farm!

When are you most creative?

Usually when I am avoiding something boring that I don’t want to do–then I have so many ideas! It’s a great excuse for working on the all sorts of things I would rather be doing. I never stop thinking.


Do you have a jewelry design business?

Yes. Liz Sabol Jewelry Art. 

What is your artist statement/design philosophy?

“Experience jewelry that takes you on an enchanted journey. Using unconventional materials to bring metal and color together, Liz explores spontaneous new directions that bridge fine art with function … each piece tells a unique story.”

How do you market your work?

Social media and local craft shows. Some private shows. And I am thinking about getting into wholesale to sell to galleries and stores. I’m hoping to have an e-commerce website available by the end of the year as well.

Describe your current jewelry collections?

Everything looks like it goes together. In general I make one-of-a-kinds but sometimes I make the same piece in multiple sizes. I’m thinking about refining some of my designs into more theme-focused groupings.

Saul Bell Design Award:

What did you feel when you found out you were a winner?

Disbelief. It was very surreal. I waited for an email to say I hadn’t won, but instead I got the call saying I had won. I couldn’t quit smiling for days. It was the most exciting day of my life so far. I honestly didn’t think I would win. When I didn’t place last year I tried even harder this year.

What other design awards have you won?

I won an award from Italy, the A’ Design Silver Award. The piece was called "Sleeping Beauty." That piece is on display in France right now.

How did you hear about the competition?

I heard about it from the Rio site and from friends. It is the most important award. It is the pinnacle.


What is your favorite material with which to work?

PMC and I love gemstones like crazy.

What do you love about making jewelry?

I love making things in general and jewelry is something you can take with you. It is very relaxing for me. When I am not making jewelry I am not as happy. I love the process of seeing a final piece come to life from a simple idea.

Are you influenced by trends?

Not really. I make what I want to make.

Studio and Surroundings:

What is the one thing you most love about your studio?

It is in my house. I don’t really have one dedicated space, but this allows me to be around my kids and pets. I am sort of all over the place.

What is the one thing you would change about your studio?

I would love to have everything in one big space and organized.

What is your favorite tool?

My Wacom tablet. It’s an input device for my computer, similar to a mouse, but it enables me to draw the same way I would on paper. This way, I can refine my sketches and convert them into the format I need to make molds.

Do you listen to music, book on tape or watch tv when you work?

Sometimes; since I am moving all over the house, it is hard to remember to start the music. I often listen to the news when I’m working upstairs.


One word of advice you received when starting to make jewelry/run a business?

That you can’t make a living if you just recoup your materials costs.

What one word of advice would you give beginning designers?

I would give them the same advice. And don’t follow every bit of advice others give you–some of it can be helpful, but it’s important to listen to your own voice as well.

What work inspires you?

I especially love the work of Sam Alfano. It is mesmerizing. I also like leather carving art, and most anything with scrollwork, organic forms and spirals or fractals. Art Nouveau is a favorite, especially the work of René Lalique.

What achievement in your jewelry life are you most proud?

The Saul Bell Design Award, of course.

What jeweler would you most like to have dinner with or visit their studio?

Sam Alfano. Anna Mazon was one of the first metal clay artists I really admired. And I love the colorful enamel work of Amy Roper Lyons. I wouldn’t know which one to pick. I am awed by them all.

See more of  Liz's work at

Interview by Marlene Richey