Category: raw – readymade

made by hand

made by hand | cardiff city hall | 2014

fab seeing my work out in public again. and i think the juxtaposition of ceramics and maker pieces really works. our booth is right next to one of the making spaces that will be used for workshops throughout the event so hopefully a high footfall.

ingrid said it was an intriguing object to have at the front of the stand which i’m taking as high praise ūüôā

crystal radio at made by hand

getting the piece finished in time for the show was a pretty steep learning curve. we managed to realise about 80% of what i was aiming for, which isn’t bad going at all. the plan was to have motion sensors on each side that would trigger one of 4 different audio tracks to play (each a world band radio recording) and we achieved that, with the nice added detail that we have a short “retuning” track that plays inbetween the “station” changes.

our downfall was power supply issues. jon had warned that this was likely to be the case, and suggested a mains input running through the plinth might be the most effective solution. but i was really keen to make the piece wireless so to this end the arduino, sound card and sensors are driven from a 4xD battery pack, while the speaker/amp is rechargeable. i managed to allow the power to run down overnight, so for th opening morning the piece is plugged in to charge, and those pesky power lines are still causing me consternation ūüėÄ

radio insides

what i am happy with is the decision to keep the underlying electronics visible beneath the radio cityscape. in one way they have their own beauty – and this could be refined in future by swapping out components for more aesthetically minimal alternatives. but mainly i love that you can see the messy heart of the piece, in the way that a city has a whole world of cables and sewers and tunnels below that keep it functioning.


final submission

i had palpitations when i went into the studio early in the week and saw how much effort everyone was taking to arrange their spaces, final show style. it hadn’t occurred to me that we should be doing anything along those lines. i was still at the making stage, just hoping to have finished work¬†to present and i decided it was a better use of my remaining time to keep working in that direction.

i did make an effort to present my work gallery-style, with mounted statements, separately from the background material/samples. the layout isn’t quite how i envisaged but i hope it encourages the viewer to investigate the work without being overwhelmed by the additional supporting content. the biggest thing bugging me about it is the ugly, ugly black speaker cable running to the radio. on reflection i wish i’d investigated wireless audio setups, but as i had to keep the ipod external¬†for switching on and off it would never be perfect in that respect.

i also attempted to lay out the background work in relation to the final pieces – here you see the radio research behind the work. i wasn’t sure whether it was okay to use a poem (not mine) as my statement for this piece, but it was written by a friend as a response to my initial ideas, a loose kind of collaboration, and it explains the piece much better than i could.

i wanted to present my ideas sheets next to the medal because this is my least complete work and i feel it needs the additional background information to convey the intent of the piece (whereas i feel the intent is visible in the work for my¬†raw & readymade projects, which pleases me immensely). i decided to present the book with the box lid open for the assessment as i didn’t want any confusion over whether the book was supposed to be read or merely looked at.

i decided to go for “less is more” in the way of supporting work, hoping to keep a clean/clear presentation. my sketchbook is particularly bare/poor for the first term raw & readymade brief because i really hadn’t figured how to make the format work for me – i rarely enjoy drawing and the blank page intimidates me. over the year i developed a practice of starting each project with a new, thin, book and using it as a combined sketchbook, journal and sample book. this scrap-book approach is one i’ll continue with as once i’d figured it out it worked really well for me in my field projects.

crystal radio

chuffed with this tbf ūüôā

there hasn’t been much in the way of project development since my formative assessment – all my efforts have been going into getting the thing made. little did i imagine how much time it would take in illustrator and on the cutter to turn out a case that matched the one in my imagination. this is pretty close.

i had hoped to include a more responsive audio element to the work – that by moving around the piece viewers could “tune in” to different voices/languages. but given the amount of time i devoted to the case , and my lack of experience with electronics and no time to learn, i had to have a plan b, which is to use a simple ipod/speaker set up in the base. it turns out that the easiest way by far to get a radio shaped object to play sounds is not to take it apart in the first place. who knew?

i’m pretty¬†happy with the cityscape itself. i had to edit potential elements to fit the small case size, and¬†i wanted to¬†leave space around the buildings to enable viewing¬†from different angles and to see the beautiful circuit boards underneath. so it’s rather on the minimalist side, but i’m happy with the soviet-bloc/retro-futurist vibe.

the best bit by far is obviously the trees ūüėÄ they really bring the model to life. i’ve had a positive response to the piece so far, hopefully tonight i can tweak the oh-so-wonky tower and add my little people.


the laser cutter blues

man i’ve got ’em bad.

the past few weeks have¬†been an essential lesson in time management – don’t try to do *anything* in the workshops in the last 2 weeks before a deadline. cos every other bugger is doing the same and you’l never get it done¬†in time.

it would be easy to¬†put the blame on the laser cutter fairies who¬†spirited one of the machines off to the new build, leaving just the one to take the strain of summer deadlines. eventually the remaining one gave up the ghost – cue everyone having to run up to llandaff doing their cutting. but things break, are busy, that’s how things are, so¬†having a schedule, and building wiggle time into the end of that is pretty essential, especially – note to self – with a *big* final show deadline.

i’d hoped to get some covers etched/cut for the limited edition element of i am safe, so that i could run up a sample to go along with my submission. steve did offer to cut them for me during a break but the machine’s been going constantly all week, with everyone else trying to hit their deadlines.

the covers would have been experimental because i haven’t etched plywood on the cutter before. i hoped to achieve a gradient of depth/darkness to the etching by using lines which grey out towards one side. all fine lines including the text would be cut out. i adapted the text¬†(courier) to work as a stencil, without losing the inners of a and e.

i’m disappointed not to be able to show the edition alongside the original, but i feel i really should pursue the idea if not in this project then next year. short runs of artist’s books (as author or as maker/in collaboration) seems to be a very useful avenue for me to explore.

the raw and the readymade project development: radio

at long last i have the acrylic case for the radio finished. i’m still at the stage where i can mostly just see the defects, but i’m hoping that¬†the contents will draw attention away from these.

cutting and assembling the case has taken way more time and effort than i anticipated. quality control¬†has been my biggest problem, along with sizing issues – the mockup i made in foamboard turned out to be 3mm thickness rather than the 5mm i’d assumed. various versions had good etching but poor cutting and¬†vice versa. martin recommended that i should assemble the pieces with dowels rather than glue, but strength was less an issue for me than appearance (the case is not intended¬†to ever be carried) and i figured the chances of me messing up drilling¬†at least one of the holes was pretty high. the finish on the glued joins is¬†more visible than i hoped in places but within acceptable limits (and not visible in these pictures ;)).

despite checking and double checking the pieces against each other i have one join that doesn’t sit flush (back left) and the side pieces are fractionally shorter than the front and back. i’m going to cut/construct a channel in the base for the case to rest in, which will disguise this. visible in the pictures (right side handle) is charring of the acrylic from the heat of the laser cutter, which was cutting with more power at the bottom of a sheet than at the top. by this stage i figured i’d already spent enough time and materials trying to get it spot on that i’d just have to live with it. none of the various products i’ve tried has been able to remove it.

one last minute¬†change i made was not to use my original design of a cut-out circular grille on the front. i had issues with cutting on all but one of my samples, and the one that was good had botched etching. i decided that even the best cut grille (with uniformly clear, shiny edges) was too distracting when i want the viewer’s attention to be on the contents rather than the case, it visually obscured a large section of the interior. i decided instead to use a “faulty” piece where i’d forgotten to set those lines to cut – it still conveys the outer appearance of the radio but with much greater visibility. i’d also thought¬†i needed the cut-outs to transmit the sound element of the piece, but once i decided to use an opaque base to contain the electronics – rather than hiding them beneath/within the cityscape – i wasn’t limited by the size/volume of the speaker i could use.



the raw and the readymade project development: book

there were several issues that came up during my formative assessment that i wanted to address in the final piece. the first was how i was going to present the book. being a small and somewhat delicate object i knew it needed some kind of case or protection.

i first¬†considered making a beaded bag, a traditional way of carrying amulets on the person, as well as adding another layer of shiny magical protection (reflective surfaces being believed to ward off evil spirits). i also considered a traditional museum display case, to amplify the notion of the book¬†as an ethnographic artefact, but i worried that this would send a “look don’t touch” message, which i certainly didn’t want – this book is definitely for reading.

i finally decided¬†on a watch display case, being the perfect size to house the book, but hopefully more inviting than a secured case. i’ve yet to settle on a title for the work, but when i do i intend to “etch” it onto the top glass (the most practical way to do this will be to use dry decal transfer paper). i need to ensure this title/message will invite the viewer¬†to open the box and the book.

the case as purchased had a cream velour lining, which i dyed with drawing ink to a more traditional burgundy red. i cut liners to size from foam and covered them with the velour from the internal cushion (with virtually no material to spare). the end result isn’t exactly as i’d hoped – the foam pieces once covered were slightly too large, hence the crumpling of the fabric – but i’m happy that the book fits very neatly into the space and is held firmly in place which is the most important thing to me.

i also wanted to address comments that the quality of the typewritten text block didn’t really match up to the craft skill of the enamel covers. ever keen¬†to try¬†new processes i decided to¬†experiment with laser etching onto paper. the main motivation behind choosing this method¬†was to obtain¬†a digital version of the text block which could be reproduced as a limited edition.¬†artists books in short runs is something that i really wanted to explore further, beyond my experiments on the letterpress. i was pleased to find that it was actually possible to etch onto such thin paper (130gsm, the maximum weight that would fit in the covers) without burning through or any real¬†visibility on the reverse¬†side.

i chose a very simple layout because i wanted the quality of the etching to be the main focus, also because typewritten text/courier is a kind of house style of mine. (i just spotted that my online no-caps writing style has crept through into the example above as well. oops) laying out the text block was quite challenging as i needed to “print” the pages both front and back. getting the right pages in the right place was one thing, but getting the registration of front and back within such narrow margins was the biggest¬†test. i only missed by a few mm but given the size of the book unfortunately that does show, with the text creeping towards the centre of the finished pages.

the practicalities of using the laser cutter with such lightweight material also gave me a few hiccups. originally i’d intended to etch on the front, and then etch and cut the pages from the back. but once cut the pages were scattered by the power of the laser and left me with an almighty mess. there was also an issue with burning on the reverse of the pages, i think due to stray material on the lower grid catching in the heat of the laser.

in order to tame lifting of the paper and subsequent poor registration i ended up taping the sheets onto cardboard and i etched rather than cut the page margins and then cut them by hand. frustratingly, etching those lines increased the time-per-page from 10 minutes to an unwieldy 35. with the queue of people behind me desperate to get onto the cutter (the second cutter having been sent to llandaff for the fab lab) i was unable to re-do the wonky pages or produce more than one sample text block for the limited edition.

overall i’m very happy with the laser etching. the paper is a softer creamy colour which echoes the off-white of the covers, and while the text contrast is subtle there’s a noticeable engraved effect which to my mind gives a much more crafted look than the initial typewritten pages.

my final task on this project is to produce an etch design for the covers which i presume i will make from (3mm?) ply, as it responds so well to the process. i do need to bear in mind the weight of those covers, as the enamel book only just sits closed and the¬†covers are pretty weighty. by increasing¬†the width of the spine and perhaps enlarging the covers overall i hope to counteract the natural “spring” in the text block. if all else fails i’ll just leave them under a heavy weight as long as possible!

work in progress: radio

radio cityscape
industrial area
telecom tower
residential area
civic centre

the model radio behind is a mock up for laser cut clear acrylic case (to scale).¬†there’s a small speaker on the side of the power station attached to an ipod shuffle playing fragments of international broadcast radio.