Techniques

As a maker I am interested in the development of creative technical processes and material investigation. From the commencement of this research I entered into a strongly process led approach to my three dimensional practice and creative experimentation has been a key element of my personal development.

My practice was initially concerned with material and process knowledge, based on experimentation using plastics. Cast acrylics (PMMA) is a thermoplastic material that posess an elastic nature when heated and softened that can be exploited to manipulate the material using press moulds. This investigation centred on an exploration of handcraft techniques and the result of this intutitive process found that the dominant elastic characteristics of acrylic possess an excellent shape memory function. Though a series of stages of thermoforming this memory function of the acrylic can be applied to record impressions upon the material surface. This discovery led to an inventive method of pressing plastics being developed and tested, going on to inform the creation of a number of successful prototype pieces.

Later investigation into technical processes was influenced by the significant progress that has been made by educational establishments in the investment and procurement of digital technology equipment. My awareness of the creative potential for such processes was fuelled by the ability to access recently purchased digital equipment at Loughborough University School of the Arts that has given rise to the opportunity to grow practice knowledge in this field. I developed an interest in the creative possibilities of the Laser-cutting process utilising a 50 watt CO2 Flatbed Laser Cutting Machine. Lasercutting being the high precision process that can be used to cut, engrave, raster (etch) and mark a variety of sheet materials including plastics wood, textiles, glass, ceramics and leather but not metals (typically in the case of lower powered machines) and is based on an input from a CAD file. In simple terms, it works through a beam of light generating millions of watts of energy per square centimetre that melts or vaporises the material in its path.

Approaching a new working method demanded risk taking, and a significant personal commitment in terms of development of new skills, knowledge and problem solving. My personal interest was to develop a knowledge and understanding of the equipment as a creative tool and to research the potential of Laser-cutting to bring a new dimension to my work. Through experimentation it was apparent to me the potential of working with a repeated series of two-dimensional parts created by the cutting process, later manipulated into three-dimensional forms and constructions.

My preconceptions of the Laser-cutting process were that it is essentially a precision cutting process offering speed and repetition but that provides only fixed results, thus I proposed to use this equipment with an intention to investigate the creative potential of the process. The basis of this material experimentation was working with aero-ply, a 3 layer veneer man-made birch and mahogany plywood sheet material that is 0.8mm in thickness. The layers are glued together so that adjacent plies have their wood grain at right angles to each other offering considerably greater strength than any similar thickness single veneer.

Digitally produced samples possessed significantly improved results in terms of structural integrity over initial trials fashioned by traditional hand methods due to the non contact nature of the laser. Multiple sketch models and prototypes were produced  to create objects for containment. In nature these segmented symmetrical open cage structures, constructed from multiples of the 2D laser cut panels are stressed, bending in one direction due to the nature of the grain of the aero-ply and fastened into place by riveting. The resultant objects were lightweight, obtaining strength from minimal materials and possessed an aesthetic of fragility related to natural forms.

In being aware of theoretical questions raised regarding the validity of high technology over the virtues and traditions of hand processes within craft practice, initially there was a feeling of nervousness at being distanced from the process of making due to the nature of the interface. Through greater familiarity my opinion is that the technology does not get in the way of the creative process and on reflection, ‘distance’ is not a new situation within craft practice. Ultimately the Laser-cutting process was judged to as just one creative tool towards the final production of work with the challenge to find the correct balance between traditional technologies of the hand and the potential of the high tech. At the Masters stage moving goals and reinterpretation of the problem and solution reframed the project, and gave rise to the opportunity to post-rationalise the application of the technical processes concerned with plastics developed earlier.

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