We sat down with Sage Cortez, the owner of Hand & Fire, to discuss her process, inspirations, and overall versatility. From her studio in Portland, Oregon, Sage focuses on hand-building functional home ceramic items with locally sourced materials and careful attention to quality. We love the rustic simplicity of her pieces and how she portrays the playful sense of beauty and everyday perfection in her photography. We especially love her fold scoops, which are equal parts useful and artful in their design. Here’s a look at what Sage had to say about Hand & Fire and what her collection represents in the larger scheme of the handmade economy.
What are the Hand & Fire collections inspired by?
My wares are heavily inspired by food, Oregon landscapes, and rough/raw surfaces found within the city. My desire is to create visually pleasing surfaces with neutral tones to highlight rather than compete with the meals that will be served on them. Functionally, my dishes push boundaries. While it is necessary to have a pot function at its best ability, my versatile artist-trained background has also allowed me to play with wares and to test the limits that a functional piece “should” have.
How do you decide on the clay and glazes you use?
I use two clay bodies—a charcoal black and a chocolate brown. My glazes are simple neutrals—a basic white, black, or clear with the occasional addition of warm taupe or a rose tone. I prefer neutrals, as they allow the food to do the majority of the talking but still have a voice of their own that continues to be unique to my work.
What techniques did you learn from your BFA that you apply to/ incorporate into your work today?
I was originally trained as a sculptor, with a focus in ceramics. I started to making large onggi-style pots (Korean fermentation crocks) about two years ago during my second year of college. It is a skill I found and still find absolutely amazing and inspiring. I essentially taught myself by watching videos and researching how these pots were made. It was something I truly loved and was able to connect with so physically.
It became impractical to continue, though, when my school made a very large move to a brand new facility and our kilns, professors, and studio access were severely limited and the amount of space I needed to make these extra large pots became impossible. At that point, I started to incorporate my skills of building large coiled pots to that of smaller vessels—focusing primarily on coffee brewers and drinking crocks. I started making many, many of these and perfecting my versatile skills as a creator of smaller, functional ware.
This setback allowed me to test the boundaries of my materials in ways that I would not have before, and it allowed me to start Hand & Fire. I never wanted to be a maker of impractical or useless things, and I wanted to learn how to profit off of what I love. With the help of a few very dedicated BFA professors and my compulsive drive to create, I am where I am today.
How important is the food and maker community to businesses like Hand & Fire?
The food and maker community is so incredibly important to H&F. Without the support of other makers and the incredible response from food photographers, chefs, and household cooks, I really couldn’t be where I am at with making. Not only do these people support me financially, they motivate and inspire me to continue making when I am exhausted or feeling discouraged. I really couldn’t do it without awesome companies like Propped, food photographers, and all my amazing customers.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I have ever received was to become well versed in many forms of making and to document my wares with the same care that I put into the piece itself. I spend just as much time with a camera in my hand as I do with clay and it’s something that truly benefits me as a seller and an artist. Versatility is more important than I would have ever thought. It allows me to find a change when I need one, as well as to help me find solutions to problems that arise.
Want to see more of what Sage has to offer? Check out the Hand & Fire storefront on our website to shop their unique handmade ceramics.
You can also follow Hand & Fire on instagram @handandfire to see all of Sage’s exciting updates!