We Are Becoming — Katie Gong

Sometimes finding beauty seems to be about allowing space for awareness of little moments—how the sea shapes the sand, the way grass moves like waves, how the bright dome of sky holds the exquisite curves of naked trees. But—like the sea, the sky, and the wilderness—finding beauty is also about making it, leaning in to the long arc of creation itself.

For California-based artist, designer, business owner, mother, and luminous-mama-to-be Katie Gong—known for her wildly gorgeous bentwood sculptures—it's a combination of the two, the tempering of the raw and untamed with time, desire, intention, and love into something sublime that finds and captures an exact moment of grace. We sat down with Katie—37 weeks pregnant with her second babe at the time of writing (!)—to talk about process, practice, and the transformative power of strength and stillness.

Katie wears the Boy TankUtility Pant and 1930's Bandana in Oak.





While bending and forming wood is a deeply ancient practice, when people think "woodworking" the image conjured is often buzz saws and cabinetry. For the uninitiated, can you describe your process?

My process consists of working in steam bending. I have for years practiced and honed my craft to get the process down to a couple-step science. First, I source the piece— I work exclusively with Rattan material, it is in the fiber family similar to a Bamboo. Once I have decided which piece I am going to use (which is pretty dependent on the composition of the piece that I have in mind) then I strip the skin and get it pretty close to a rough-smooth. Next, I load it into the steamer. I have a sort of Frankenstein-type machine that I've put together from plumbing fittings, kettle, gas can, tubing, and pipe. Then I let the steam heat up the wood for a couple of hours— this varies on the thickness of the piece as well as the shape I am making... certain shapes take more or less time than others. After it has steamed I pull it out of the steam chamber and quickly shape it. There is a finite window to work with the wood before it drops too low in temperature. The window is about 30 seconds to 1 minute, so I have to work fast. Once it is in its shape I let it sit for a few days to totally firm up and dry. When returning to the piece I check it for kinks or other issues and make sure it is looking perfect. Then, I hand sand it for a few hours, taking it from rough to smooth to ultra-smooth. After sanding, I drill holes for mounting or poor concrete for bases, again, depending on the composition of the piece. Then the piece is complete. 



As women who run our business we often have to be mindful not to fall into a hustle trap— that teetery feeling that if we aren't working at warp speed at all times we're somehow not doing it right or perhaps missing something. Do you find this in your own work and life and, if so, how do you find balance?

I am constantly telling myself to slow down. Deep down I have it in me to grind and hustle and if I am not working at that pace all the time it feels like I'm slacking or doing something wrong. I really focus on trying to slow down and put an emphasis on fewer and better. I also find that I am my most creative when I have time to myself. Most days I am juggling a lot of different roles, so when I can just focus on my art and myself that’s when the magic happens.

Motherhood is a pretty perfect synthesis of magical possibility, deep beauty, electric creation, and the anchoring weight of really hard work (which can feel especially heavy in the particular season of mothering). This is, of course, also all true of making art. How are the two in dialogue for you?

Motherhood and creating art are two in the same. They are so intrinsically similar. I have been experimenting with some new ideas during this time as I feel it is when one is deeply creative and I’m excited to explore those ideas in a few months after the baby comes.




Katie wears the Boy TankUtility Pant and 1930's Bandana in Oak.



Katie wears the Vanessa Romper in Natural.  







How do you source the woods you work with? Do you have ideas for forms and then look for suitable pieces? Or does the natural form and composition or nature of the material inform what it can or cannot become?

A little of both. Sometimes I see shapes and then look for specific wood to make the pieces with and sometimes vice versa. Since I have been working exclusively with Rattan the last couple of years I know what is possible and what is not. I like to push the ideas that I have while still working within my own material constraints, honoring my material by not transforming it too far from its natural state. It helps me stay focused and uniform.



We love how soft, supple, and organic your forms are— yet the pieces themselves are intrinsically very strong, fortified by the process of creation. Is there a metaphor in there for you personally?

Yes, my work is about possibility. It is about taking something that is hard and rigid and transforming it for a moment into a flexible and pliable material. Making this opportunity into a frozen moment in time when anything is possible.





Follow Katie on Instagram here, and see more of her artwork on her site. Photography by Brett Walker.






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