Talking with Gordon Uyehara

Talking with Gordon Uyehara

Episode #172

Today I talk with award winning metal clay expert Gordon Uyehara.

He shares with me what it’s like being an artist in Hawaii and how it influences his work.

It will surprise you!

I also review a fun new fiber book, perfect for spring, plus info on a few crafting tools and websites that I know you’ll love.

Check out for all the new crafting video downloads.

Laura Stevenson / A Shine To It

The View form Here / Stuart Kestenbaum

Vision & Legacy Celebrating the Architecture of Haystack

Metal Clay Fusion / Gordon Uyehara

Noni Flowers / Nora J. Bellows

Resin by Lisa Palvelka


Listen Now

Interview transcript

Transcription of Interview with Gordon Uyehara

Alison Lee:Ok Everyone, I know a lot of you have wanted to hear my next guest speak about some of his passions. So, I’m very excited today to have on Gordon Uyehara, learning how to say his name correctly. Gordon is a metal clay artist, he’s an author, he’s been born and raised in Hawaii which of course sounds wonderful. And he starts his life getting a Bachelor of Science degree, but he’s ended up in becoming one of the gurus that we all want to follow in the metal clay world. I’m very excited to be able to talk today to Gordon. Welcome, Gordon to Craft Cast.

Gordon Uyehara: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Alison:My pleasure and I love talking to someone from Hawaii. I can sort of hear and feel the ocean breeze as we speak in my mind. It helps. So, fill us in. Now how did you get started in all of this? Sometimes I’m going to be sneaky right off the bat and say someone usually, usually has something happen when they are like eight years old that they never forget but then life goes on in other paths, and then it switches and turns. So how did your path get you to where you are.

Gordon: I’ve always been interested in art and my sister is a fine artist. And I’ve always like to draw. So that’s my art background.

Alison:But you went off to school though for science?

Gordon: Right. I never pursued it. I was encouraged not to pursue it.

Alison:Oh really? How come?

Gordon: I guess because it’s the typical [inaudible] where it’s not practical to follow art. How I got into meta clay though, after 13 years of working with computers, I was fairly sick of it. So, I decided to quit my job one early morning. And I was just wanted to pursue art, so I was looking at different things and I was trying different things and one of the things I decided to try was meta clay or silver clay because I saw it in a little blurb on the back of an Oakland newspaper.

Alison:So, it would say oh come to this class or something?

Gordon: They were just talking about silver clay and it sounded really interesting, and they had a number to call, and it was the crafts store. So, I went and took my first class at the bead store actually.

Alison:I love how people find stuff like this. But first, so you literally one morning you went to your job and said, I’m done and quit?

Gordon: Ah, yes. I was totally fed up and I was reading all of this Joseph Kambu, follow your bliss thing and I was reading Barbara Shear about, you know finding out why you do things or what is your motivation for doing things. And then I woke up at two o clock in the morning and said, ah hell with this. I’m going to quit. So, I just wrote a public resignation letter and I just sent it off.

Alison:I love it. And how did you feel after you did that?

Gordon: It was very freeing I think is the right word. I was scared but it’s kind of empowering to do things like that.

Alison:Yes, absolutely. I love that. So now how long then between doing that did you then say, OK now I’m on my quest to find what medium I’m going to play in?

Gordon: It was couple of months before I discovered metal clay.

Alison:Right. So, went into this bead shop and did you say Ok, this looks good to me? This is home now?

Gordon: No. I actually, it was one of several classes I took actually. I did wire wrapping and basic beading stuff and I hadn’t really, I mean it was ok, but it didn’t really click. When I took the metal clay class, I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t even feel comfortable with it, at all. But there was something where I had to figure out how to make it work better and then pretty soon, I was just like totally obsessed with trying to make it work. I don’t know why but and I didn’t have any money, so I was running out of money, but I spent all of my time trying to figure it out, so it was kind of crazy.

Alison:I love that when people get obsessed about something. I always wonder what’s behind it. I totally, I think it’s a passion. Something is talking to you somewhere inside of you at that point.

Gordon: Yes.

Alison:And we are hoping that it ends in a good way when we get that crazy.

Gordon: Yes. That’s right.

Alison:So, alright so you start making things, and then what happens?

Gordon: Start making them a little bit better and better and then share it with everybody and they seem to think that I’m on to something. And then Sally who I took the class from decided she didn’t want to teach anymore. So, they asked me if I wanted to teach there and I said, well you know I never taught before. It’s a good thing for me to try to teach, so. That’s how I got starting teaching.

Alison:Now do you remember the first piece you made that you said wasn’t very good?

Gordon: I don’t remember the first piece, but I remember it close to the first piece and I think I have a picture somewhere.

Alison:Oh really?

Gordon: If I can dig it up. It is horrible. Looks like a little palm tree.

Alison:Oh well that’s not too bad. My first piece is I always calling them a little pile of poop. They just look like nothing, just a little blob. So, you can at least recognize yours as a palm tree.

Gordon: Well, I wasn’t making a palm tree though, I was making a little bug thing I think, looks like a palm tree though.

Alison:Oh ok. It got creative. So, alright. So now you start teaching which is again an interesting sort of segue now. And did you enjoy the teaching part?

Gordon: I was really scared to do it and of course that comes across. I can’t say that I enjoyed it at the beginning. It was kind of nerve racking.

Alison:Oh really? What was the scary part or the nerve-racking part?

Gordon: Just new ground to me and that I didn’t know enough. I think it was a typical thing for anybody who’s starting to teach.

Alison:Yes. But there wasn’t that much, I mean how long ago did you start working in the medium?

Gordon: Well, it’s almost 10 years now.

Alison:So, there wasn’t much known yet. You were one of the people starting out and you know.

Gordon: Well in Hawaii, there’s just not a lot of people doing it and I was working in a kind of in my own vacuum.

Alison:Right Ok.

Gordon: Yes, so there was actually more than I’ve could have known and a lot of things I was figuring out by myself that even though it was the same like everybody else was doing, I didn’t know that they were doing it. Because I’m in Hawaii and they were kind of ahead on the mainland.

Alison:Right. Is it popular in Hawaii in the islands to be doing crat and work like this? Is it catching on as well?

Gordon: That crafts movement to me is not that strong here. I don’t know why but there are people doing crafts but it’s just to me seems like the level of intensity seems to be a little bit lower here. Maybe we are just too relaxed.

Alison:I was just going to say, come on.

Gordon: I don’t know what it is. It’s more like a bigger crowd doing polymer clay but even that is still you know not like the mainland.

Alison:Right. Right. But it’s still out there with people. There is the need to make things is still there.

Gordon: Oh yes. Sure.

Alison:Alright so explain to people who are not familiar with your work, how your environment influences your style. How would you describe your style?

Gordon: Well, my environment. I don’t know it’s kind of more subtle. I think, people say they see it in my work, but I don’t know. It’s not [inaudible] conscious to me.

Alison:It’s not. Oh, I was going to say you can.

Gordon: It’s not but I think we take it for granted here in being in paradise.

Alison:Yes. I think I look at your work and I think has a lot of feeling of the shapes and flow of looking like beach and critters in the ocean and all of that, definitely shows up.

Gordon: Well, I do like nature, so I guess that’s probably it. I like science fiction so I get a lot of you may see some of that. But more, I don’t know if you can tell right away but I also, I mean I’m influenced by a lot of music also. Lot of my idols are music people, so.

Alison:Like who? Who are some of your idols?

Gordon: I like Yes, you know the classic rock guys. But I also like guitar instrumental people like Satriani and Vai.

Alison:Did you say the group BS?

Gordon: Yes.

Alison:That’s what I thought. I was thinking like, I remember. All of a sudden, I had a flashback, it was a little scary there. I remember that album Fragile.

Gordon: Oh, wow very good.

Alison:Thank you. Well, that was very [inaudible] there at that time. It was definitely creative music because that’s when synthesizers were just being brought in and it had a whole other level or whole other texture to music.

Gordon: Art rock.

Alison:Yes. Oh yes. Well, that’s interesting. So, are you the kind of person, do you play lock rock like that while you are creating and working on something?

Gordon: I play music and I think it helps but I don’t have to play it loudly.

Alison:You don’t? Ok. That’s right. I forgot, Hawaii we are relaxed. We’re not in New York City.

Gordon: Well, some people play loud music.

Alison:Yes. And some people, you know sometimes you need nothing. Do you ever sometimes just want total quiet?

Gordon: You know even when its quiet I have something playing in my head. It’s really weird and.

Alison:No, I’m interested. Sometimes you just can’t turn your head down and it’s a problem.

Gordon: Right. I usually have something tuned in my head all the time.

Alison:I like that. I understand totally what you mean. Well, would you rather be spending your time making or teaching?

Gordon: Well to be truthful, I’m first an artist so I’d rather be making almost, I prefer that before anything else.

Alison:And are you the kind of artist like how often are you working in the studio? Do you get up every day, do you have a routine, the creative routine?

Gordon: I did not have a routine. I find that the necessities of life get in the way of any routine I try to have. My mother, well she can get around, but she needs helps a lot of times. Yes, I have to make sure that she’s taken care of.

Alison:Oh, you are a good guy.

Gordon: I try to be, my yard is in shambles right now. I’m kind of trying to take some time off and trying to get the home base in order.

Alison:Why is it in shambles? Was it weather-related?

Gordon: Well, it was a hard transition since my mom used to take care of the yard. When she became less mobile.

Alison:It’s your turn.

Gordon: I was really not ready to take on the responsibility of homeownership. Now I’m trying to take on more responsibilities and have a good attitude about it.

Alison:Oh good. It’s good. That’s what we have to do. And you know what? You’ll probably like gardening.

Gordon: What I find good about digging in the dirt is it really gives you time to think about stuff.

Alison:Right? And you can sort of arrange it. I think it’s very good therapy.

Gordon: Yes.

Alison:And it’s nice to look at when it’s all done.

Gordon: Yes, when it’s all done.

Alison:Exactly. Especially when it’s all done. Well now do you work in, for people who are not familiar with the metal clay why don’t you tell them about all the different ways you can get it and maybe which ones you like to work in and why?

Gordon: All the different ways you can get it?

Alison:Meaning we know the different metals, that there are silver, copper.

Gordon: Oh, I see. Well in addition to fine silver there’s now sterling silver and there’s a coin silver version and there is bunch of base metals and they are copper, bronze, white bronze.

Alison:Oh, I don’t even know about all these. What’s coin silver version, Gordon?

Gordon: Coin silver is the PMC pro which is 10% copper.

Alison:And it’s called coin silver because that’s what coins are made out of or something?

Gordon: Yes. Coin silver I could be wrong, but I think coin silver was typically about 10% copper and the rest silver. And it was because it was more durable that way. And since then, they came out with a sterling which is 7.5% copper. And they have a whole bunch of brands of bronze and some fast-fire bronze.

Alison:And what’s in bronze? Can you explain to me what [inaudible] bronze are? The only way I know about bronze is making baby shoes.

Gordon: Bronze is a copper and I say like the meta-adventures bronze is 89% copper and 11% tin.

Alison:So bronze is made out of those two elements, copper and tin?

Gordon: There’s a lot of varieties I believe but that’s what that one is. Brass is with zinc instead of tin.

Alison:OK. So that one is copper and zinc? I get that right?

Gordon: Yes. And actually, there is a brass clay if I remember correctly. Does Hadar make steel clay?

Alison:Steel Clay?

Gordon: Yes.

Alison:What’s in steel?

Gordon: You are going to have to ask her about that.

Alison:Alright, I’ll ask her.

Gordon: Yes. I didn’t try that one yet.

Alison:I just love all these metals and what makes them up and which ones are pure and which ones are you know, combined of a few different things and then, you know it obviously changes their strength and their color and all that stuff.

Gordon: Right. And recently I’ve been doing the copper and the bronze thing because I’ve found that I’m liking that color combination.

Alison:I think they’re beautiful. I know that so many people have switched to copper just because it’s cheap now to work with, with the price of silver. But I think copper is finally getting it’s time in the light, in the sun because it’s so beautiful.

Gordon: Yes. it’s so rich so I like that.

Alison:And is that an easy substance to work with?

What people are saying

  • Your classes are just amazing and I have learned sooo much from Cindy Pope’s classes on the Silhouette machines. She breaks it down so any beginner can learn. I didn’t take my Curio out of the box for a year until I watched her class. Now I’m addicted

    Beth B
  • Thank you for the informational class last night, and for the notes, it looks like a great product to work with. Best Wishes,

  • You are a truly generous soul to share so much with the community. I am constantly impressed by the extra effort you put into everything you do. A true inspiration. 

    Bridget D.