Maker Profile: Sage Cortez, Owner of Hand and Fire - Portland, OR

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Hi Sage! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am Sage Cortez, a designer of handcrafted kitchen wares and rustic implements of the home. My work is heavily inspired by minimalism, the ideas of Wabi-Sabi, and the raw-complexities of well used goods.

What was your first job?
My first idea of "job" has to be that of working as a very young girl helping my father tear apart and rebuild a 100 year old home in the heart of NE Portland. We built and destroyed walls, laid concrete, grouted tile, painted walls, planted the garden, etc. It was the foundation for more than just hard work, it was a job which we found comfort during a time of near houseless-ness and a place where I grew my skills as a person utilizing material to tell and rebuild a story.

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When did you begin working with clay and what led you to begin Hand & Fire Ceramics?
I began working with clay around the age of 9. I loved it, I sculpted tiny figures of dancers and glazed them in sculptural blues and brilliant whites. When I started further schooling, I became distracted with painting and other mediums, and quickly grew to hate the way clay needed patience and tending to. There was much too much fuss and skill and wait involved to keep my "immediate"-mind occupied. Once I entered into my final year of public schooling, my ceramic and painting teachers convinced me to again work with clay. I found the comfort that I had found as a child within the material and the rest became history. 

It took me some serious convincing to make functional work, but once prompted (and ultimately forced) by my college instructor to try out the making of my own personal dinner set, I was totally and completely hooked.

I started Hand & Fire with the intentions of sharing my work with an outside community of visual creatives. I planned on buckling down and making a dedicated space for my work to live so that I could have the potential of supporting myself with my skills. H&F came to the point of selling around my 1 year mark of making a name for my brand. It started with a few posts of items on Etsy and a thorough sharing of my daily work with my Instagram community. It took around 6 months to make the first sale and I was beyond excited. 

Can you go a bit into your design process? 
Utilizing the every day wear and tear of our household items and structures, I intend for my wares to tell their own stories. My process for making a new piece involves visiting rural towns, antique shops, tool sheds, historic artifacts of every day living, the history of clay, etc and taking pieces from each of these bits of research to make into a wholesome, well made, well thought out, and loved product. I used to sketch out items before I made them, but now I sketch with clay--bending and stretching items into existence. I become easily distracted from making repetitive objects, so my designs tend to be one offs or limited to a certain time of year. 

I work in numbers. I set myself goals of a number of something--a set amount of mugs, a number of hours, a timed scoring and putting together of this many teapot bodies--this process is really the only way I feel as though I can keep up with how fast my mind is wanting to work. I often get so overwhelmed by ideas that I can't make anything, I have to set myself up with deadlines.

My best work truly comes from moments of stress or panic. Although, understandably, I try to avoid this. Haha!

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Has social media shaped the way your work is seen and consumed? 
Totally! Social media is essentially my main outlet of work into the world. My community has grown above and beyond what I imagined without it.

We love that you make your products affordable and accessible to a wide variety of people! Was that something that you wanted to from the beginning?
Making my wares affordable to many price points is one of my ultimate priorities for H&F. I believe that handmade goods should be appreciated by all people. I try very hard to keep my work within a market of most income levels so that I can help people who are interested to be able to obtain the handmade.

How do you connect with your customers and community?
I try to stay as open as possible with my processes, ideas, and struggles. I hope to answer any questions my community has and to provide honesty within my product as well as my personal philosophy behind H&F. I want my customers to know I am real, hardworking, and flawed.


What are some brands/designers that you are excited about that we should know of?
Kang-Hyo Lee -- My ultimate pottery influence.  

Jono Smart -- He was a huge inspiration for me starting off with my IG community. I enjoyed his attention to material and they way he spoke of his ideas around the making and selling of pottery.

Takashi Endo -- Just straight up gorgeous work. The tradition shows.

Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
In a world that is ever expanding and hugely run by large companies, we have to be in touch with one another. I feel as though, because of the internet, this is the first time we can constantly connect with each other, not matter how far away and feel so close. We need to shop small and local to keep our human connections and skills thriving. When we are able to connect with our communities  in the way of good-sharing, we better our outlook on the items we utilize as well as the people who provide them. Supporting makers supports us all.


What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting Hand & Fire?
My own personal judgements. I often bog myself down with stresses and fears of my own failures. The fact is, failure happens, and no matter how scary it is in the moment, it is only that-- a moment. 

What tools or resources have been most helpful for you as a business owner?
A few dedicated professors were such a huge help to me starting out and continuing with H&F. They provided me the emotional and educational support it took to help me get started.


At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Because we're strong, capable, and hard working. We can provide each other with a loving community of support and talent. Our connections run deep, so we must stick to working together in all times of need. 

What creative women do you find inspiring?
Betty Liu, Lena Gladstone, Sarah Boileau, Anna Joyce, Erika Jean, many more.

What have you learned from owning your business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
Persistence will lead to success. It may not be the success you expect, but it will benefit you in your future endeavors.


What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
I am hoping to rent my own studio space, somewhere outside of my home. In the meantime, I can't wait to make tons of exciting work. I have a goal to see stacks of multiple items in the months before the holidays.

How do you manage a work/life balance?
I am so bad at this! I cannot possibly keep my work life out of my personal life because I love it so much. I think in design. My mind is made of clay by now, and it penetrates every inch of my life. I love working. I give myself forced vacations so that I can get away from the physical work of pottery/my business life, but my mind never ceases to think in clay. I live and breathe clay dust.

What are some of your favorite places in Portland?
Oh! Definitely as for stores, Cargo-- its the perfect amount of chaos and beautiful objects.
Porch Light -- Gorgeous handmade and hand selected homewares perfectly outfitting todays trends.
For food -- Pints -- Great beer, wonderful food, a huge variety of makers and artists to chat up.
For events -- First Thursday in the Pearl District -- its fast paced, art involved, free, all the best things!

Photos provided by Sage Cortez

Photos provided by Sage Cortez

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