Interviewing my husband might be considered lazy on my part of seeking out inspiring individuals, but he is truly one of the most incredible people I know! Whereas many are awed by his designs and woodworking skills, I am most impressed by how unique his view of the world is and how he has forged his own path in it. Kagen was kind enough to answer some questions for the Spark newsletter this past summer. In honor of his birthday month, I’d like to share them here on the blog as well.
When did you begin making puzzle boxes?
I made my first puzzle box in 1990 when I was about 13. I made it from cardboard. I quickly made another with ball inside that needed to be rolled through a maze.
What has been the most challenging part of being an artist?
I channel a lot of emotion and thought into my work. I truly love doing this. It is like having a conversation with your best friend. After many years of being a full time artist, I realized I had not been talking to my real life friends enough, and when I did, I only could share stories about my work. I had to learn to take time off from my art so that I could be with people again.
What is the most rewarding part of being an artist?
For me it is when I create a new puzzle box. It brings me a lot of joy and for a moment I am the only one who knows it exists in the world. The second most rewarding thing is sharing the new idea with the rest of the world.
What advice do you have for artists who want to make their passion their livelihood?
Follow what fascinates you the most. Don’t let other people tell you what it is or should be. Making art has to be fascinating to you first and foremost and it can be anything. Spend some quality time getting to know what you love to do and learn how to craft it well. Once you are comfortable making your art, reach out to other people who share your interest. Get lots of advice on the best way to keep making your art. Some people enjoy doing it full time others enjoy it as a hobby. Find what feels right for you. After a few years, check in with what you are doing and make sure it is as fascinating as when you began. f it is not, make adjustments.
What has been most surprising to you, when it comes to looking back on your career so far?
I’m surprised I became a full-time artist. I was told all my life that this is taking a huge risk and I never thought of myself as a risk taker. I feel very grateful that I followed through with being an artist, even though it was very difficult at times.
Where do your ideas for puzzle designs come from?
It is hard to pinpoint where my ideas originate. I know that I am influenced by other works of art all around me in many different forms. It can be books, movies, paintings, performances, puzzles, designs, even a beautiful landscapes. I think I store what I experience inside me and let it mix together. At some unexpected moment a new idea pops into my head. Once I have the idea I start to make prototypes of it until it becomes a puzzle box.
Do you have a wood that you enjoy working with the most?
It is very hard to pick my favorite. At the moment, I love maple for all the different grain patterns it has.
How has your work changed from when you first started your career?
I have a greater understanding of how strong wood is as a material. When I started I often relied on thinner pieces of wood than I would now, to make structural parts.
What are you grateful for these days?
I am grateful for my work and that I have my health and will get to be an artist for many years to come. I am grateful to have my wife in my life even more so!
What are you working on letting go of these days?
I’ve been working on letting go of resentments. It is easy to let things that happened in the past influence how I feel in the present moment. Feeling grateful helps me do this a lot. So I am working on feeling grateful more often. I try to do this daily even for seemingly small things. At this moment, I feel grateful to have electricity : )
Who are your professional and personal role models? What is it about each one that resonates with you?
My mom was a huge role model. She never shied away from doing creative projects no matter how wild and crazy they seemed. She taught me to follow my dreams. Frank Lloyd Wright inspired me because he could truly build what he designed and dreamed, not what people expected him to do. Around the time I started making puzzle boxes I learned about a Japanese puzzle box maker, Akio Kamei, who designs and makes what he truly loves as well. Seeing that this was possible gave me a lot of confidence to pursue making puzzles professionally.
Is there anything else you’d like people you’ve never met to know about you?
I’m a cat person.