Sometimes there is no substitute for hands. Ask potter Tortus Copenhagen, who’s “Making Gestures” photo series defines handmade.
“We believe that value begins with the mastery of making. Throwing vessels on the wheel requires the use of a number of carefully controlled ‘gestures´, each suited to shape and guide the clay in a different manner as it spins on the wheel. Each has is own distinct shape, function, or even design one could say. These gestures, nearly artworks in themselves are perfected to sense and lure the best out of material. Sturdy yet delicate hands, shaped by time and clay, apply the careful yet impulsive pressures that give each piece its own unique character. These are just a few of the gestures we use every day.”
I first started working with clay in the early 90’s, under the tutelage of Ken Stevens and Reid Ozaki at the University of Puget Sound. I quickly shifted my focus to working with The New Clay, which offered exciting opportunities to work with multiple traditional craft techniques with one simple material and virtually no tools. Thus I launched a career of handcraft, using for many years just my hands, a mayonnaise jar, a tissue blade, and a convection oven. My tools and techniques have become much more complex over the years. Now I work with virtual clay. I 3D print. I use metal clay.
Seeing these photos, I can feel the spinning lump of wet earthen clay, I can feel it respond to my hands, and I’m grateful there is no substitute for the basics. There are new tools and techniques that can bring multiple material processes under one roof, and within easy reach of the everyday maker. While perhaps everybody can suddenly make something, it is only through long and thorough relationship with material that mastery of form can be achieved.
Mastery is achieved by iteration. It is one thing for your made form to match your design. It is another thing for your design to be fully informed by the creation of that form in reality. It has been years since I sat at a wheel, but that lesson of iterations has become core to my design process. Nor have I forgotten that regardless of the material process employed, true value is only created in the end by putting yourself into the work, combining learning, love, and the knowledge that you could express yourself differently in any way, but that this one way is just right.
Whether digital or manual, processes must be refined over time. You might not feel the clay in your hands, but you will probably agree that the best design and craft is responsive, immediate, and personal.