The Hands ~ by Ralph Duncan

Although I am not a prolific blogger, I hope I can offer you some interesting thoughts and stories.  Most of what I'll write will be about my experiences and adventures that inspire and inform my art. Here’s a little bit about why I make art. Enjoy.

It was an interesting day that unexpectedly became a day of reflection and in some sense, a day of drawing a line in the sand. I know—what does this have to do with hands? Or what does this have to do with art for that matter?

It started with my afternoon trip to the Bellevue Arts Museum. I made a point of going because the exhibit of furniture maker John Cederquist was at the museum and I didn’t want to miss it. As I walked through his exhibit and the following sculptural exhibit of Wanxin Zhang, I kept wanting to put my hands on the pieces; to feel the shape and the texture. But—there was the sign—DO NOT TOUCH ART—I’m not sure why some of us feel the need to touch things. Perhaps it is this feeling that without touching something, without the feel of the shape, the texture, the softness, the harshness, the curves, and the sharp edges – one has not really engaged in the subject.

Ironically, as the day progressed, I was walking the streets of Seattle and came across an interesting bookstore.  Browsing the store, I found a wonderful book titled, “Hands at Work.”  

As I thumbed through the book, I read stories about people who work with their hands. My mind went back to the gallery and my thoughts about wanting to put my hands on the art. My thoughts drifted to my father when I said my last goodbye to him and touched his hands roughened by a life of working with his hands; of the things those hands taught me when I was young. 

I remembered the old tools I inherited and the feeling of self-worth and history when working with a tool that is decades old. I wondered what craftsman had his or her hands on this tool and of the intertwining of the oil and sweat from their hands and mine.

I read the stories and explanations of why these men and women chose to make a life by working with their hands.

“They talk of living in their hands and needing to get their hands dirty, cold, or wet. For them, the materials they use are alive and responsive; their hands teach them things they didn’t know and connect them to different times, places, and people.”

People are losing the ability to make things for themselves…We’re missing out on the incredible creative process that engages the mind and translates to the hands. why I must make art.

By Ralph Duncan


  1. What a wonderful insight into you ..and the beginnings of why you do what you do. Your artwork on paper and canvas is stunning. I can't wait to see the pieces from other mediums your hands have fashioned! Keep creating!

  2. I thoroughly understand that compulsion to work with your hands. Though words are my medium nowadays, years ago I worked with clay and hope to one day get back to it. Your artwork is beautiful!

    1. Thank you so much Kristine. Just can't keep my hand off of things.

  3. There is a reason for the old adage, busy hands are happy hands. Love your post and your artwork.

  4. thanks Jackie. looking forward to a week on the Big Island!

  5. What wonderful perspective and introspective. Interestingly, my 15 year old son enjoys wood sculpting and creating with his hands.

  6. Thank you Linda. Very glad to see kids these days who love to work with their hands.

  7. Thank you Ralph, I find myself needing to touch, fabric, wood, metal, things I admire or leave me a bit breathless. You have sparked me a bit to get back to working with my hands more. I started to lose this the more involved I got in other activities. Thank you.

  8. I am a toucher as well. My art is my therapy. I especially love watercolor. I never tire of watching the colors blend together on the paper.



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