Kawa Series: Process

Kawa Series: Process


Each and every piece in the Kawa Series is unique. No two pieces ever look the exact same. This is the result of the unusual process in which the pieces are made - a technique developed by Luft over the course of a few years of trial and error, and the curiosity to experiment. 



The Kawa Series was initially conceived of over the course of a few months in early 2012 when Luft Tanaka was working on his thesis project as an industrial design student at Parsons School of Design. Perhaps it was indecisiveness or maybe some wabi-sabi tendencies, but Luft became obsessed with the idea of developing a system that allowed him to create objects in multiples, yet have each piece be one-of-a-kind. He wanted the process to dictate the form. Luft experimented with a number of mediums over the course of a few months, but his aha-moment came one afternoon when he stumbled upon a discarded leather couch on a curb in downtown Manhattan. 

Luft had been reading about the process of slip-casting(a traditional ceramic technique used to create nearly-identical objects) but he didn't have any hands on experience with the process. While slip-cast ceramics are traditionally made using plaster molds, Luft's technical understanding of the process allowed him to see an opportunity in that curbside leather couch. So he did what any industrial design student would do: he took his utility knife out of his bag, stripped the couch of it's leather, and brought the leather back to the studio so he could start experimenting.

He initially tested different types of leather as well as different ways to fabricate the molds.For each shape, he used leather to construct fabric molds and then cast the porcelain directly into the sewn leather molds. The first batch of test pieces was a mess and many of the pieces didn't survive the kiln. There were, however, a few pieces that did turn out and Luft knew immediately that he was onto something. The pieces were weird and beautiful, both hard and soft, expressive, and full of personality. 


The Process

Since his days as a student, Luft has spent years refining the technique and process. Each Kawa piece starts as a sketch on paper. With the assistance of a 3-D modeling program, Luft creates fabric patterns to be cut out of leather. After the leather mold, which can be reused up to 12-15 times, is sewn and prepared for casting, liquid porcelain is poured inside. As the porcelain sits inside the mold, it forms a thin wall along the leather surface.

Once dry, the leather mold is carefully cut open using a seam ripper and delicately peeled off the porcelain. Each piece gets carefully finished by hand, then fired in a kiln. Glaze is applied to the pieces after they come out of the kiln, and then fired for a second time. For metallic finishes, gold or platinum finish is hand-painted on after the second firing and the pieces receive a third firing. 

The process used to create the Kawa Series is unique to Luft Tanaka Studio. It's a precarious, unusual, and beautifully-involved technique that thankfully is getting noticed. The Kawa Series has been featured in publications such as Wallpaper*, The New York Times, & Dwell Magazine to name a few.