Making happens on a spectrum. The range of the spectrum encompasses the most touch to the least touch used to create a given object. On one end of this spectrum, we have the studio artist and on the other, a fully automated machine.
The machine is a tool designed to recreate something numerous times with minimal deviation from the original, while each object that the studio artist creates is original. The moment that the spectrum shifts from studio artist to machine is when the tools that are designed to recreate come into play.
Handmade design can be initially defined through tools. The spectrum of tools ranges from ancient innovation to machines of the digital age. The most notable step in human evolution was the creation of tools to start fire, hunt and make survival easier.
We as humans are past the point of just surviving. In first world countries, we curate our lives through the habits we choose to embrace. We create settings with objects of purpose. This is a creative process in itself. The most skilled designers study the how and why of this with passion, intention, and skill. We learn how to manipulate and refine raw materials to create objects that work purposefully in the lives of the user.
These days, considerate craftsmanship is engulfed in a sea of disposable goods produced for profitability, backed with massive marketing budgets and sold at unsustainable prices. Too-big-to-fail corporate conglomerates are well-armed with a knowledge of how to convince people they want something by taking advantage of data collection on habits, interests and need states. These corporations have developed systems to create products without needing the human hand – for the trained human hand is more often than not the most expensive part of making.
The handmade design movement that The Bright Angle is crusading stems from a desire to unite makers and their craft, systems of modern tools, and the competitive induction into a consumer marketplace. By explaining where handmade and design actually meet, I hope to shed light on what handmade is and ultimately bring value to objects that consider this relationship.
Tools in Design
Tools are designed and invented with a purpose. Tools separate the hand from the medium. Tools help maximize efficiency and precision in the creative process. The better the tool, the smaller the tolerance of deviating from the initial prototype.
The potter's wheel is a tool to move clay into round forms, as is a wood lathe and a "block" in glass blowing. These tools create a round blank to explore form. Tools such as molds are made when the artist feels like a design is composed to completion. Sometimes the exploration of form requires a series of repeatable steps to execute a desired result. It makes sense to design tools to expedite this sketching and exploration phase and reach that conclusive moment with more ease.
Engineering is the field that often takes these tools and mechanizes them with the intention of removing the hand, speeding up production, and having the tightest tolerances. This is instrumental for the hand to be absent and introduces the other side of the production spectrum from the studio artist.
Designing Systems for Making
During the making process, records are left behind by the hands or tools involved in it. Creating systems of reproduction requires systematic documentation in order to execute designs. Tools are created to reproduce models of the original idea. These tools also allow skilled labor to engage in a production process.
Being handmade isn’t about the ability to reproduce the most refined version of the original, but the moments that are left for interpretation along the way.
Each hand that touches a model acts as a translator of sorts, touching the product with their independent, trained, and creative mind. Deviations are embellishments. These are the moments when the maker's hand breathes character into the objects. This is quite different from a material flaw. Material flaws happen when stress occurs on a material during the making process.
The practice of the studio artist is to constantly design or sketch, creating reflections of these imagined objects. Maker's hands work as extensions of the decision-making-mind. They make no unintentional deviations because there is no “prototype” and no end product - only the pure dynamic moment and the attempt at making ideas come to fruition in the form of tangible works of art.
Handmade design encourages deviations. The deviations will be embraced if they are tasteful and intentional rather than a result of carelessness or indifference.
Authenticity in Design
All of these definitions are an attempt to explain the authenticity of objects. This is important to artists and craftspeople. Their craft is a dynamic thread of ideas that informs each decision. Ideas are introduced in bodies of work, or editions that are developed with cohesion.
The Bright Angle is special, because our practice involves collaborating with the whole team that works in the studio. Each member of The Bright Angle works on a particular part of the process. We meet once a week to talk about how the process is working for each person and how we can improve so that the work moves through each part of the studio. We do these check-ins to make sure we are working efficiently, and that each part of the process is enjoyable for all.
We also have a space for resident designers, who we host for both short and long term residencies. They get to utilize the studio to explore ideas and work with the production team. The goal is to provide them with the tools needed to focus on a certain part of the process. In return, The Bright Angle also learns and grows in this collaboration.
My role at The Bright Angle is to facilitate the design process from concept to fruition. I primarily spend my time working with clients and colleagues to work through the design process and to consider the production methods and tools that will be implemented to create our objects. I am a tool maker. I create tools to help produce systems of design that can be taught to other craftspeople. I create systems that are efficient, precise, and scalable.
My employees are involved in every part of the design, prototyping, mold making, production, packing and marketing. Each artist in the studio assists with designs so they are excited and integrated in the whole process. It is great to have such talented employees feeling connected to the work. We focus on WE instead of I. We believe making things together encourages the development and production of thoughtful products.
Sometimes it seems as if good American design is all about bold color, patterns, outrageous forms, and a love for plastics. We're approaching design from a different lens, because our material choices inform our work. Materials, process, tools come first for us and are informed by the object's function and utility. The work speaks for itself. We make it and the subtle marks of the maker leave a trace of our care and enthusiasm for our craft to all who enjoy it.
This is where The Bright Angle fits onto that scale: where one end is heavily manufactured goods with no room for interpretation and on the other hand is the solo studio artist with all this variation. My interest is in the tools that allow for a process that fits somewhere in between, and solves all the problems that come along the way.