"Do what you love for those who love what you do."

The Artist

A look at the thoughts, feelings and what makes Dan Kautz what he is today.

What is handmade?

HandmadeTexas4I have discovered there is no easy answer to that question. I have seen it asked in many creative environments and the answer is never a single universal consensus.  Just do a search on the internet and you will see and read what I say is true.

The issue begins and the answer changes with using a tool to aid the use of ones hands in making something. A sharp rock (flint) is considered a tool when it is used for human controlled cutting. So has that somehow diminished the definition of handmade primitive arrows? Another rock (a tool) was used to bash the sharp edges on the arrowhead. But the tools were actually handmade from available “raw” materials.

So… perhaps handmade must include the use tools? Handmade tools? No commercial made steel edge tools? I could expand on this line of thought but I proclaim that “pure” handmade is a very extreme limitation to be a part of modern interpretation of the handmade definition.

But there is another expansion into the use of machines. Does the use of a sewing machine prevent a man’s dress suit from being handmade? Probably. How was the cloth made?  The term of preference is hand tailored to avoid the conflict with handmade.

One generally accepted definition is that handmade includes any tool or machine that is directed solely by the human hand. So this conveniently includes purchased or non-handmade tools and machines. It doesn’t mention a powered machine… Hmmm.

I am actually not proposing any fix for the purest meaning of hand made. I am making my point that it is not a well-defined concept to the casual user of the term. What is handmade depends on whom you ask. Jewelry has a precise trade definition as found in this Wikipedia search. Does the definition infer the use of automated (automatic directed) machinery used to produce “finding” like clasps and chains and factory beads or even automated wire drawing (sizing), that should preclude the use of the term “handmade” in the jewelry business? So be it. The Wikipedia link may be defective as I certainly consider lost wax silver casting from hand carved wax as “handmade”. So even this example demonstrates the ambiguity of creating a one size fits all definition.

Perhaps it’s like defining pornography, “You know it when you see it.”

I understand the intent and tradition of the archaic term “handmade”.  I personally make handmade items I believe to be within the definition. I may also add non handmade items like the necklace chain to finish the project. So there can be a mix.

I also make many items using my mind and hands on a computer input devise to store personally created directions that guide automated machines to do things my hands and limited muscle control cannot manage. These items are just as personally created (note the change in definition) as my handmade items. I can easily NOT refer to these items as handmade.

However, the machines are strictly limited to doing what I direct by the hand programing. So I can argue that I directly control what the machine produces, but breaking “hand” tradition is not worth the fight. I am happy with traditional handmade and love to work within the perceived definition, just because it is traditional.

I also do not feel less of a creative person using my modern definition of personally produced items using computer numeric control (CNC) machines.

Personal CNC makes precision dimensioned components from my human directed inputs. As far as single person art, it is still as pure and traditional as it can be, because I control all the steps. I have total design control. The final machine execution is automatic but there is total human effort in creating the machine movement.

Including automation in handmade is more a concept of creativity control verses human muscle control. I can honor the difference.

So I will leave the term handmade as a sacrament to muscle control in the creative process. My choice of the words “personally created” will include any creative process under total control of myself.

A Time for Everything

It’s definitely Spring in Texas (5/7/15) A refreshing new start to all life. Nature is in a full scale new life orgy! I live on, actually next to, a small neighborhood lake so I am privileged to observe a lot of animal instincts. Many fauna appear, like land birds, ducks, geese, swans, egrets, herons (white and blue) turtles, rabbits, fish and frogs (I see by the lake edge) and the list could go on. It is kind of a fauna reproduction event. New offspring everywhere. The flora is in full mating too. The tree pollen so profuse it can be swept away with a broom. The biota around here is celebrating escaping the grip of a serious many year drought.

I have escaped the limitations of rigid time structure. I was a slave to schedules that didn’t flow with the rhythm of natural life, when to sleep, when to eat, when to work and when to play. How about when to #1 and #2… nature has her own rules about that! Ha! Just saying, but you get my point.

So in retirement I go with the flow so to speak, not necessarily in regards to my last numbered events or reproduction cycles.

I like the revival of working with hobby activity I previously could only do in my “spare” time. It’s become more of a natural part of how I enjoy spending most of my time. I don’t have to track it by the hour but I do note the passage of time.

There is a term that has become obscure in this modern world. It is called patronage. It has a mixed meaning but in one sense it permitted artist and creative people to perform their activities without concern of day to day survival. That’s kind of what retirement provides for me. I don’t have to worry about how much I make an hour. I pay myself now, so cheaper the better. Ha!

Some masters ran production “sweat shops” to survive without a patron. Apprentices provided the automation of the mundane chores.

I am relying on time saving modern tools such as computers and CNC machines, but I feel certain that even the old masters used state of the art tools of their day. They invented their own, as necessary. Nothing wrong with that. Technique and tools are only import in how they affect the final product.

I like hand work as much as automation. It depends on the results I want. I feel there is more “spirit” in handmade items, but I have no desire to do handmade to the precision I can obtain through accurate machining. There is art in precision work too.

So I will work both sides as the mood suits me.

I just finished a personal review of the digital drawing and design software tools I currently use. I concluded with a high level of certainty that I have and use all that I need to work at my level of perfection and satisfaction. I have CAD where I need it to be. I did not list the product as the tool is only important to the user.

I believe handmade items should look good without losing the sense they are handmade. Handmade furniture is evident by its lack of machine perfection, say in hand cut dovetails. Handmade does not mean crude workmanship, rather the opposite. There are other classes for crude called primitive and perhaps folk art.

There is an emotional division between fully handmade with human muscle power only and that made with power machine assist. It’s almost a cultural divide for some folks.

I don’t want to play within just one of those “hand made” defined boxes. If Jesus had a powered table saw, I think He would have used it. I don’t want to worry about “sacred boundaries” of method. There is no 11th commandment, “Thou shall not use machines.” I will use the defining terms properly, as I don’t hide from tradition. But it is just that… tradition.

Sometimes it IS fun to follow traditional methods and revive old ways, but I won’t let it be a limitation to what and how I choose to do my thing… in whatever time comes naturally.

A Time to Get Serious

I have taken the big step and retired from my construction and energy management career. Now begins the time when I get serious about further developing and exploiting my artistic desires. The key word in the previous sentence is time.

Time is a very valuable resource that is already receiving lots of external pressure. I have mentally set some priorities and limits on my time. Now fully into retirement (all 6 weeks of it at this writing) I see time has to be managed as much as ever. It can easily be squandered.

I place time management at a high priority, but I will admit not as critical as when working within a large corporation. I like being my own boss again. I am going to enjoy my retirement and not create high pressure critical path time goals. I just need to manage my time and not let it manage me.

An old adage is still true. Practice makes perfect. My new abundance of time allows me to practice my artistic desires. I am far from perfect and consistent practice is the key of improvement, same as an audition at Julliard. A different kind of art, but the path to acceptance is the same.

My goal is to be an accepted artist. I can claim it all I want but it is really something that has to be earned. Practice will get me there. I am getting serious…  😉



I am referring to lost wax casting in Silver.

DSC04720It hasn’t been a year yet but it is getting close. That’s when my adult daughter and I decided to take a course on wax carving and lost wax casting. We picked the training because it is something I have dreamed of doing for many years. What a joy to take the class together.

After that exposure I knew this was something I could really enjoy with my present health, keeping my hands and mind busy and being able to work while sitting down, for the most part. I decided and vowed to acquire all the tools to do the job at home.

I love hand tools and the detail work, and we bought what we needed to start the class. But now I also needed a few big items to do it all myself.

The first was the kiln that had to go to at least 1400 degrees. Of course I studied everything available. That’s part of the enjoyment, the education process. The Paragon (brand) kiln I bought will easily go to well over 2000 degrees. That gives me enough heat to try other high temperature crafts. This was the biggest expense. I think I invested well.

Next was the casting machine. Initially I was going to go centrifugal casting. I may still go there. But I definitely need a vacuum pump and chamber to degas the investment. There are some alternatives to vacuum degassing, but vacuum is the de facto standard. Plus it works with the vacuum assist casting process.

Centrifugal casting has been put on hold for now and my first good cast proves vacuum works. Of course I need a lot more good casts under my belt. I see clearly that centrifugal is the best choice for small lightweight and intricate casting. It is on my eventual want list. With centrifugal, the force is with me or at least works for me.

The last big hurtle was the comfortable place to do the many hours of wax carving. Since I brought it inside out of the Texas outdoor climate I am like a pig in a mud puddle, totally immersed in what I am doing and loving every minute of it.

Right now I am still refining my skills at wax carving. I will be exploring deeper in to CNC carving as my fingers start to misbehave. But I will take what I can get from my hands for as long as I can.

All the other investment in tools and material has come in small increments over the last 10 or so months. This first successful casting has a lot of time, effort and cost behind it. But all that will be amortized over a whole lot more production. It really isn’t the cost per item that I think about. It is all about the doing.

It demonstrates why handmade art does not and will not compete with mass production as far as cost per piece. The price of silver is only one factor in a long list of total value. Just knowing the person who has made an item adds tremendously to the intrinsic value. Owning something made by a factory assembly line is not the same fuzzy personal feeling as something produced by an artist, craftsperson or personal friend. For me as I have written elsewhere, I think what I make for family and friends provides an heirloom that includes a bit of spirit of the creator, me.

A Journey

Life is a Journey

Life is a Journey

I have just been doing a little wax work at my new, comfortable (air conditioned) wax work bench. I don’t think I will be calling it just wax “carving” as I am beginning to see what can be done with a little controlled wax melting. I am so pleased to see my knowledge and skills expanding. There is …so much to do and try.

I have promised myself that this blog will not be the “how to” but will concentrate on the art and the creativity. I will show the tools and the beauty I see in the stages of the work. I see the stages in wax carving as being as much art as the finished piece. Even the tools are a form of art in perhaps their shape and how they are used.

The preliminary sketches are a form of art in my eye. That’s why I show them here. The creative process flows from the mind’s eye, to the sketch or drawing and through the hands to the tools and machines that shape the material to the dimensions of the finished piece.

Like dance and music where the process of performing is the art, the process of creating dimensional art is a form of art that perhaps only the artist privately enjoys. I intend through good photography and electronic media (this blog) to occasionally display things I see while I am working, that look interesting in whatever stage it grabs me and speaks to me. The beauty is in the journey of creation.

The step by step “how to” I will leave to Ramblin Dan’s Workshop or other places where I publish that sort of industrial process detail. In here it will be all about the art. …maybe. Only you can decide if it works for you.

My main supplier of art products, Rio Grande posts a tag line under my name in my product reviews that says, “Life is a journey”. Somehow they seem to know me.

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