• 옻칠경화 (Ottchil-Kyunghwa), lacquer heat curing method – the new way of glazing woodenware.
  • Despite taking it for granted in his younger years, Korean designer Suk Keun Kang has come to love and be inspired by the natural world in his work, looking to his home nation's countryside to influence his craft. From his rural base in Kang Won Do, he's developed a unique lacquering technique that allows the beautifully carved timber 함지 ‘Hamji’timber bowls he creates to have an enduring quality in their functional use. By taking an innovative approach to the Korean craft technique of 옻칠 ‘ottchil’ (natural lacquering), and retaining a local influence in his designs he's won acclaim across the world - making it to the finalist list of the prestigious Loewe Craft Foundation Prize in 2020.
    Similarly, Copenhagen-based Niels Strøyer Christophersen looks to natural materials in the objects he creates for his respected design brand Frama, winning him international acclaim and a global audience along the way. Known for its handsome Danish timber furniture and collaborations with artisans and  crafts people in places as far away as Mexico and Korea, Frama sells to a discerning audience with an appetite for well-made, aesthetically pure design. The pair sat down with Korean Craft & Design for a conversation around Kang's work and process, with Niels injecting his passion for regional craft into the conversation and sharing with us his design philosophy.
    • 1. 'FOR' bowl collection tha has been naturally heat lacquered

    • 2. 함지 'Hamji' bowl – wooden bowl with 옻 (ott) natural lacquer

    • 3. 'Eart's thing' – timber with stone and metal with 옻 (ott) natural lacquer on top, and the colour through natural metal corrosion.
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    1. 'FOR' bowl collection tha has been naturally heat lacquered
    2. 함지 'Hamji' bowl – wooden bowl with 옻 (ott) natural lacquer
    3. 'Eart's thing' – timber with stone and metal with 옻 (ott) natural lacquer on top, and the colour through natural metal corrosion.
    • 옻칠경화 (Ottchil-Kyunghwa), lacquer heat curing method – the new way of glazing woodenware.

    Despite taking it for granted in his younger years, Korean designer Suk Keun Kang has come to love and be inspired by the natural world in his work, looking to his home nation's countryside to influence his craft. From his rural base in Kang Won Do, he's developed a unique lacquering technique that allows the beautifully carved timber 함지 ‘Hamji’ timber bowls he creates to have an enduring quality in their functional use. By taking an innovative approach to the Korean craft technique of 옻칠 ‘ottchil’ (natural lacquering), and retaining a local influence in his designs he's won acclaim across the world - making it to the finalist list of the prestigious Loewe Craft Foundation Prize in 2020.

    Similarly, Copenhagen-based Niels Strøyer Christophersen looks to natural materials in the objects he creates for his respected design brand Frama, winning him international acclaim and a global audience along the way. Known for its handsome Danish timber furniture and collaborations with artisans and craftspeople in places as far away as Mexico and Korea, Frama sells to a discerning audience with an appetite for well-made, aesthetically pure design. The pair sat down with Korean Craft & Design for a conversation around Kang's work and process, with Niels injecting his passion for regional craft into the conversation and sharing with us his design philosophy. 

    Suk Keun Kang
    Niels Strøyer Christophersen

    Illustrations by Jiye Kim
    • I founded Frama in 2008 and after a few years figuring things out before 2011, we presented a platform where we started to do our own production of design.  I think the big difference between us and you Suk Keun Kang, is we don’t make anything on-site - we make prototypes and samples, as well as with external designers and then we commission a manufacturer to produce the pieces for us. You are more like a creator, while we are depending on production facilities and engineers or designers.
      • Nice to meet you Niels, I love the way Frama approaches its design – approaching everything very naturally in a minimal way, this is called ‘Monohwa’ in Asia, and I was happy that we had a similar mindset.
  • 'Monohwa', What is that?
    • It's about using design in its most valuable and natural way.
  • Yeah it’s very true, for us we always have to think like this because we have a commercial market so we have to find a balance. I like finding that balance, and along with balance, we have a curiosity and meaningfulness in our brand – those are very important pillars. I wanted to show you what I have here – it’s a material, but it’s actually a type of a fungi, and it’s very light! We love natural materials and we have all kinds of materials everywhere and for us this is the starting point. This is why I appreciate your work because you take a solid piece of natural material and turn it into something functional, but it remains feeling natural. I am interested in the ‘Hamji’ bowls you make, how do you create them?
    • Thank you – let me start with the ‘ottchil’ (natural lacquering) technique. As you probably know, you collect the ‘ott’ (sap) from Rhus trees, which we have in Korea, and the useful thing about the sap is that it becomes really hard when it dries, which creates a natural lacquer to protect the surface it is applied to. People used this technique on wooden tableware to sustain it. However, the pieces they create are not as durable as ceramic ware because they cannot tolerate water or heat well and also can be very fussy to clean – sometimes the sap will give a funny smell, and will even melt when washed under hot water. It’s exactly like earthenware before the glazing technique was developed, the earthenware was not totally usable, because it absorbed water. But, I have found a way to ‘glaze’ my wooden tableware in the exact same manner that you would glaze ceramic ware but by using natural lacquering technique. I call it the ‘lacquer heat curing’ technique. By using this technique there is no odd smell when using the bowls, they are resistant to heat, water, and most importantly you can wash them up – they can become your everyday tableware. 
  • 4. Natural curves are expressed in respect to Kang's admiration towards nature
    5. White lacquered wooden plate collection
  • That’s amazing! So others haven’t been able to achieve this technique with 'ottchil'? 
    • No, because everyone is used to using lacquering techniques on decorative objects – not as a functional technique.  
  • So the way you are using natural lacquering is exactly like ceramic glazing – is it still natural?
    • Yes of course – natural lacquering is literally putting a layer of the sap collected from Rhus trees onto the object. After many processes of filtering the sap, what you are left with is basically a type of oil. This oil naturally dries over time – there are two ways drying – either wet-drying or by using heat curing technique.
      However most people use wet-drying, because it boosts the shine from the sap. When using a high temperature (around 250 celsius degrees) the lacquer will become too dry and the wood will crack. So most people used the wet-drying technique for decorative objects, and no other drying technique was really developed for practical usage. I use lacquer heat curing technique which in a special way and I’ve therefore found the most natural way to glaze wooden tableware, that has the same usability as ceramic ware today.
  • "Most people used the wet-drying technique for decorative objects, and no other drying technique was really developed for practical usage. I use lacquer heat curing technique which in a special way and I’ve therefore found the most natural way to glaze wooden tableware with lacquer that has the same usability as ceramic ware today."
  • I’m curious where you are based in Korea? I’ve been five or six times to Korea.
    • I’m based in a suburb called ‘Ulsan’ near mountains and forests!
  • Ah – I love the mountains! Denmark is flat so.. anyway, I’d like to understand more about this craftsmanship and how you became involved with it?
    • It’s actually not an artistic story – some time ago my wife’s wrist became very sore, so she asked me if I could create practical and lightweight tableware. So my research into this began five years ago – reading, testing, exploring, and here I am now.
  • So you had always dealt with wooden craft?
    • Yes – before I used to make wooden block toys, using lots of different colours! I was born in Sok-cho by Korea’s famous mountains ‘Seol-ak’ and stayed there until high school, but at this point I didn’t have much appreciation for nature. I moved to Ulsan – where it’s more urban, but over time, and as I grew older, I realised this nature was always in my mind and I had actually always admired it. So, these shapes of the Hamji bowls come naturally from the trees – and in my work I decided to keep the forms as natural as possible, as a way to respect nature.
  • Yes, the bowls reminded me of some old Danish teak that were used I think in the 1950s or 1960s. But more as a kind of decoration to put your ceramic plates on top.
    • Oh really so you didn’t really use them to eat?
  • No, just to place them underneath your ceramic plates!
    • Ah okay, same as in Korea! But now I have a question for you – you said you have been to Korea five or six times before, what was that for?
  • Yes, so I’ve been many times in Korea and I think for me it’s one of the Asian countries where you feel it’s a happy merge between the East and the West somehow. We established friends and also business partners in Korea. One friend led me to another friend and to another contact – and like I have mentioned before ‘curiosity' is one of the pillars under Frama. So eventually we met and have since collaborated with a design firm called Be My Guest. We worked with them to create Korean soil incense balls that you can diffuse and we will continue our collaboration with them this year as well. That brings me to my next question, your bowls are very thin, how do you make them so thin?
    • This is a technique I use to carve and mould - it takes a lot of practice, because I have to also try to keep the natural form of the tree itself as well. And after testing various thicknesses I found that 2mm–3mm was the most beautiful thickness that would also highlight the natural form, whilst being sturdy enough to use practically as well.
  • And where do you get your inspiration for your shapes or forms?
    • Like I mentioned before - I always had this admiration toward nature and when I walk out from my house, you just see mountains. One day I was looking at the mountains, their natural form - and I thought they were so beautiful. So I wanted to find what makes natural beauty and express it through my work. When you feel something is beautiful – you know it must obey some sort of rules that only nature has – like the lines of branches influenced by the direction of the sun or the way the wind blows that naturally make the trees lean in a certain direction. I wanted to express this with wood – and hopefully - when people see my bowls, they can feel at ease and see this beauty, like when you look at nature.
  • "When you feel something is beautiful – you know it must obey some sort of rules that only nature has – like the lines of branches influenced by the direction of the sun or the way the wind blows that naturally make the trees lean in a certain direction. I wanted to express this with wood – and hopefully - when people see my bowls, they can feel at ease and see this beauty, like when you look at nature."
  • Yes I agree – what type of wood are you using? Do you always try to create objects that have practical usage?
    • I usually use local wood from Korea and I use ‘Neutinamu’ (Zelkova tree) most often. Since I work with heat I use this timber because it is more resistant to hot temperatures, and doesn't crack. Regarding your second question - for me there should always be some sort of practicality in every object. So for example, with the big bowls that I make, you can fill them with water and use them as a type of a plant pot to grow plants – like a lotus flower.
  • That’s beautiful – where does this name ‘Hamji’ come from?
    • I actually got inspired by bowls that I saw in a museum – they were called ‘Hamji’ bowls, which were multi-purpose use bowls for everyday usage – from scooping water to do your laundry or to transport rice! The shapes are very much inspired by these ancient bowls as well you can see.
  • INTERNATIONAL VOICE
  • NIELS STRØYER CHRISTOPHERSEN

  • Niels Strøyer Christophersen founded Frama in 2012, with the ambition to offer sensitively designed and produced wares and spaces to an international audience. Frama operates as both an interior design firm completing projects in Beirut, Mexico City and Oslo as well as unique retail space, both online and at the brand’s base in Copenhgan’s historic Østerbro neighbourhood. Here the brand occupies a handsome heritage building, which features a shop, cafe and a studio for Frama’s growing team.

    SUK KEUN KANG
    www.kangsukkeun.com
    NIELS STRØYER CHRISTOPHERSEN
    www.framacph.com

  • INTERNATIONAL VOICE
  • NIELS STRØYER CHRISTOPHERSEN
  • Niels Strøyer Christophersen founded Frama in 2012, with the ambition to offer sensitively designed and produced wares and spaces to an international audience. Frama operates as both an interior design firm completing projects in Beirut, Mexico City and Oslo as well as unique retail space, both online and at the brand’s base in Copenhgan’s historic Østerbro neighbourhood. Here the brand occupies a handsome heritage building, which features a shop, cafe and a studio for Frama’s growing team.

    SUK KEUN KANG
    www.kangsukkeun.com
    NIELS STRØYER CHRISTOPHERSEN
    www.framacph.com

    옻칠 (Ottchil) is a unique form of finishing. It involves forming a lacquer derived from the sap or ott of rhus trees. Once extracted the thick liquid, brownish in colour is refined until it becomes translucent, meaning it is able to be used to create a natural gloss finish on objects. Once applied and dried ottchil forms a coated film that is resilient against spills and stains, meaning it’s perfect for application on objects of use such as cups, bowls, and plates. In years’ past, before the invention of refrigeration, ottchil containers prevented food from going bad as they were moisture-proof, waterproof, and insect repellent. Today ottchil is coveted for being a natural and eco-friendly technique for achieving highly-durable finishes on a range of surfaces such as wood, metal and even paper. 

    The craft of ottchil however is a labour-intensive process and to get the best result it requires more than 30 coats, meaning it can be expensive. But the high quality, resilient and beautiful results this technique generates makes it worth the high cost and is part of the reason why ottchil has had such longevity in Korean craft.
    1. Raw ott from the trees is filtered and refined in a sambae (burlap) cloth.
    2. Semi-refined lacquer is mixed with cotton and left overnight.
    3. The sambae refining process happens again.
    4. Almost-refined lacquer is poured into it out onto a special wood box.
    1. Raw ott from the trees is filtered and refined in a sambae (burlap) cloth.
    2. Semi-refined lacquer is mixed with cotton and left overnight.
    3. The sambae refining process happens again.
    4. Almost-refined lacquer is poured into it out onto a special wood box.
    5. Air bubbles are then removed by stirring the lacquer.
    6. Density and colour is checked; a dark purple tint means it’s perfect.
    7. The refined lacquer can be now used for as many layers as needed.
    5. Air bubbles are then removed by stirring the lacquer.
    6. Density and colour is checked; a dark purple tint means it’s perfect.
    7. The refined lacquer can be now used for as many layers as needed.

    © Images provided by
    – Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation
    – Cultural Heritage Administration


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