February 25, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For John Shartrand and his wife, Nicola, creativity is a family affair. To begin with, they have owned and operated Nicola’s Italian Wine & Fare in the Old Market area for the past 16 years. About two years ago, they opened their bakery, Stay Sweet, Nicola’s, in Council Bluffs. After their purchase of a 3D laser engraver nearly a year ago, the couple’s creative efforts know no bounds. 

Shartrand explains that he originally bought the machine to engrave chocolates and other edibles for their bakery, but quickly realized its many capabilities beyond food. “It’s really awesome,” he says. “It can pretty much do anything you can think of.”   

Stylistic engravings on wooden table

Judging from the displays of his work on the walls and countertops of their bakery, Shartrand has thought of a lot of applications. Primarily, of course, are products he makes from wood, which he cuts by hand to create signs, cutting boards, magnets, and coasters custom-designed with names, logos, sayings, and artistic details. But that’s just the beginning. In addition to wood, he can engrave on paper, cardboard, draft board, ceramic, slate, acrylic, glass, leather, and even Christmas ornaments.

“Ceramic tiles, especially, make wonderful personalized wedding gifts,” he says, “engraved with a couples’ favorite saying or their wedding date.” He can also engrave a photograph of a loved one as a memorial to someone who has died.

Shartrand begins his process by designing an image on his laptop, using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. He then uploads it into the machine, along with the object (tile, board, etc.) to be engraved. An inner camera allows him to position and resize his design to fit. “The laser is very precise,” he explains. “I can laser deep into the product for a 3-D effect, or etch just the top layer, down to a depth as fine as a human hair.” 

Shartrand’s woodworking hobby came about by chance when he saw a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for the machine made by Glowforge Pro. “I believed in it,” he says, “so I contributed, though it took about three years for them to test it and begin production.” While he waited for his to arrive—“it seemed like it took forever because we were so anxious to get it,” Shartrand says—he watched instruction videos and checked to see what other owners were doing with it.

Two wood engravings, Darth Vader on left, storm trooper on right

He explains that some owners use the engraver to earn their living, but since he has other sources of income, he can just enjoy it. “My wife and I are so busy, between the restaurant, the bakery, and our two kids, that it’s great to be able to use it when I want to, and walk away from it if I need a break.”

“I’m having fun coming up with ideas,” he says of his relatively new hobby, adding that he gets a lot of inspiration from Nicola. “I usually run my ideas by her first. She used to work as a graphic designer and is very creative.”

“We’re a good team,” Shartrand says. “We work well together. Actually, I don’t even think of it as work…I think of it as fun!”


Visit @etcheddesignsomaha on Instagram and Facebook for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.