Kawa Series: Leather-Cast Ceramics

The unusual and beautifully-involved technique and process used to create the Kawa Series is unique to Luft Tanaka Studio. Each Kawa piece starts as a sketch on paper. With the assistance of a 3-D modeling program, Luft creates patterns to be cut out of leather. After the leather mold is sewn and prepared for casting, liquid porcelain is poured inside and forms a thin wall along the leather surface over time. The leather mold is then carefully cut open using and delicately peeled off the porcelain.


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The Kawa Series was initially conceived 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 its 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.