GET YOUR CRAFT ON
People familiar with my work may be surprised to learn that I use CAD (Rhino, primarily) as a design tool and that quite often, elements of my work are made using CAM processes, such as 3D milling of wax which is then cast in precious metals. My own approach to these technologies is not unique and while I don’t use them as a primary method of production, there are many makers who do – Janet Huddie, Christopher Hentz and Joshua Demonte to name a few with varied approaches.
CAD/CAM is here to stay, the 'new industrial revolution'; as with the last industrial revolution, there are the luddites, those brandishing sabots but so far there has not been the equivalent of wealthy, bourgeois mediaevalist, William Morris to lead a movement against it. (Despite the beard and mediaevalist tendencies, I have no such desire to call up arms against new technology quite apart from being of somewhat modest means.)
I recently received an invite for my students and me to participate in a very exciting exhibition of work which focuses on the use of CAD in jewellery. Organised by Karen Dicken, one of my colleagues who teaches CAD and product design in several other Scottish colleges, the exhibition is on the theme of “Handmade by Machine” and is going to be hosted by the prestigious Glasgow arts venue, The Lighthouse, which also houses the only open-access CAM lab in Scotland, MAKLab.
The brief for the competition is very open:
[Students and lecturers] will be invited to explore the possibilities in design using CAD as a tool to make jewellery. They will be asked to produce one piece of jewellery using the computer and its software components as their main tool in production. Pieces may be rapid prototyped, laser cut, printed or presented as animated virtual jewellery as long as their piece has entered and exited the computer at some stage in the manufacturing process. Pieces will be finished to a high standard and if the design requires finished by hand.
This has forced me to seriously think about my own practice and to consider what I am going to make for the show. I could have used one of my existing pieces, such as "Supercollider" or I could have finished off the Coco Chanel tribute piece for it, but I feel that this challenge needs to be met by something even more subtly exploring the area in which I work, blurring the boundaries between "handmade" and "machine made" to the point where people are unclear which bit is which.
In recent years, I've enjoyed working with those little steel carbon dioxide cylinders which are used in cafés to whip cream and the like and it has always struck me that they would make a great little submarine. I also have a section of opalised squid and I a happy conjunction on my desk has led me to create a piece on a theme of "20000 Leagues Under The Seas", taken from the Jules Verne novel of the same name. I remember reading this and really enjoying both the book and the film with Kirk Douglas and James Mason. In a way, it is surprising I haven't tackled this theme before.
The piece is going to be a collar with a large pendant, the collar based on the remarkable Hohenlohe Collar, dating from 1460 - 1500:
I couldn't find any references to or photographs of this piece online, so this is scanned from the marvellous V&A book "Medieval Jewellery" (sic) by Marian Campbell. I am not even sure what this is made of, but I think that the branches may be enamelled iron.
I've always loved this piece and thought that it would be fun to interpret this in a more contemporary way. It is my intention to recreate this style digitally.
The submarine is well underway:
And I am delighted to report that the propellor actually rotates!