I’m beginning to feature an ongoing series of interviews and studio visits with other makers/artisans/crafters. If you would like to introduce yourself and your work to a growing Deep Craft network, I invite you to visit the PARTICIPATE page of this site. Meanwhile, allow me to introduce you to Jason Takeuchi-Krist, blacksmith.
DC: Please describe what you do as a maker/artisan.
JTK: I’m a blacksmith primarily, meaning most of my projects involve me sweating at an anvil, swinging a hammer. I also incorporate fabrication and materials other than steel, at times.
DC: Was there a childhood experience that you believe influenced you later or led you in a particular direction regarding craft or making?
JTK: My father was a big DIY guy when I was a kid, so I guess I’ve been trying to live up to that example for years. I grew up on a ranch in Sonoma County, and I think the idea of self-sufficiency was drilled in early.
DC: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to gain proficiency with a material or set of skills? Did you have a ‘breakthrough’ moment?
JTK: I worked for years as a restaurant cook and chef, and I find the proficiency arc of smithing similar to cooking. You do have some obvious breakthroughs, here and there, but mostly it’s about putting in the time ’til physical technique and mental thought process form that intuitive link.
DC: Do you have any superstitions connected with making?
JTK: I don’t think it’s exactly superstitious, but some days I start, and then walk away, because I have a sense things might not go well if I continue. There are those days when you feel you might make a mistake or hurt yourself; it probably is more a feeling that you are not present enough at the time. Happens less the longer I do this.
DC: What comes first when you are making – formal constraints, functional parameters, a gesture, etc.?
JTK: It depends on the job, but if given a free hand in design, I usually start by thinking thematically. I have a style, which has developed naturally over time, but I can design outside of that box. Function is always a foremost concern, and I do design, but I always leave room for spontaneous action to occur once I’m at the forge.
DC: What attracts you to a certain handmade thing?
JTK: I enjoy seeing a certain kernel of chaos mixed with strong technique. Fussy products tend to turn me off a little.
DC: Do you have a favorite tool? Why?
JTK: As a blacksmith, I make a lot of my own tools, and I love that part of It. Honestly, tools are a form of porn for me! It’s not sexual, mind you, but it does seem almost fetishistic. I think it’s the same for a lot of craftspeople. Tool stores are the only place I can browse indefinitely with no intention to buy! My hammers are probably my favorites.
DC: What is the favorite thing you’ve ever made? Why?
JTK: A fireplace stand and tools I made for a friend. The stand is a 3′ tall dragon, holding her babies (the tools, which have dragon head handles). It was quite difficult, but highly rewarding. It’s hard to price something like that; the investment of time and energy was ridiculous.
DC: When making something where is your concentration- on the present activity or on its desired result, or something else altogether?
JTK: It depends. Some operations require complete concentration-there are a number of things that can go wrong, so you need to really see what’s happening from multiple angles. That kind of concentration has to always be present, but sometimes there’s more of a zen intuitive thing happening in the fore. Hammer shaping is that way.
DC: Is there any material, tool or technique that really intrigues you that you’ve never gotten around to learning?
JTK: I’d like to learn casting of iron, bronze, etc. I think it would open up some interesting possibilities coupled with forged work.
DC: Where do you find inspiration? How does this come out in the work?
JTK: Many sources. It sounds corny to say I look to nature, but I do look at trees and plants; strange growth patterns. I’m inspired by industrial wastelands. I love looking at ancient industrial machinery. I also read contemporary design magazines for ideas. Ironwork has a natural tendency to look industrial, but I always try to bring organic elements into it. And I’m always trying figure out how to bring modernism to it as well, which is a challenge.
DC: Where do you see yourself in relation to the current trends towards sustainability, DIY, craft, etc.? How has your relationship to these things changed over time?
JTK: I got into blacksmithing after periods of woodworking and welding, among other things. My Intention was probably more about moving backward than forward. I wanted to feel like I could actually produce something of permanence in a world where more and more that we possess is made by some underpaid third world laborer. I came to realize how many others there are out there with the same idea over time, and to a large extent through my relationship with Oakland’s The Crucible. That’s a big place full of people getting back to those roots.
DC: Where do you place yourself in relation to a craft tradition or heritage? Could you talk a bit about your primary influences related to craft?
JTK: Blacksmithing is certainly one of the oldest craft traditions. I’m proud to carry it on in my small way. I know that I am but a flyspeck in the lineage, but that’s cool. It moves forward. I was heavily influenced by the smiths that taught me- Chris Niemer at the Crucible taught me a ton, and I picked up a lot at the shop of Jim Austin in Oakland. He’s a master smith, and just watching is a seminar. I also study the work of other smiths, old and new. I learn by watching the work of any great craftspeople- it doesn’t have to be metalwork.
DC: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in craft/making?
JTKL Figure out a place to set up a shop. It doesn’t have to be big, but you need a place to work. Build your tools and equipment over time; there’s no point in spending a bunch of money at the outset. Later on you’ll have a much better Idea of exactly what you need. Take your time and build technique through repetition. It leads to a much greater enjoyment of the actual process and lessens the urge to just get it done. And in the end, it’s about the making, not just the having.
You can go here to see more of Jason’s metalwork.