This week I thought about printing a lot. I had the opportunity to see a demonstration of the 3-D printer Morris library recently acquired. I spoke with the people that are working on the project. It was illuminating. On the same day, I spent time hand-setting type for my job in the Preservation Department in Morris Library.When Guttenberg first convinced goldsmiths to take up the onerous task of making little cast, perfectly-formed letters, they did not start with just the 26 letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case and a few punctuation marks. They very closely copied the style of calligraphy, with hundreds of shapes and forms of letters. These early books were meant to look and feel like a hand-made manuscript. And they very nearly did. They achieved a level of artistry that analyzed calligraphic styles from a totally new mindset. Some thinkers believe that it took more than a century for the impact and potential of this piece of technology to be fully understood. I think that we could easily make the case that my university, the middle class, abundance of material resources, plentiful food and clean water, and much more, all stem from this one piece of technology and its profound ability to transfer knowledge. I have seen people comparing the invention of computers and PCs to the invention of the printing press. I believe that the impact of this piece of technology will take a century or more to understand. I remember when computers used tape decks to manage minuscule amounts of data. This week I saw a computer, using Linux-based, community-built software print out a plastic 3-D object. One of these printers has been famously used to make a home-made prosthetic for a growing boy, by his dad. Then he posted the directions on the Internet, and they are freely available. I am a potter, besides being a parent, a grad student, and a number of other things. I believe that the handmade pot is much more than an object made to house nostalgia and Utopianism. The ideals of social justice that influential thinkers have tried to attach to craft work are noble. They just don't attach very well. We have a printing press in the library because it does something that no other currently, economically-available tool can do. It permanently adheres a custom durable title to bookcloth in a one-off process uniquely required for repair. The hand-made craft object is the same. It does not need watertight dogma to justify itself. When I look at it, feel it, use it, I know that it can do things that no mass-produced object can do. It can express freedom and looseness, accident and choice, beauty and agility of mind in a very concrete way that no other type of object could. It is not the perfect tool for every job, but there are things about this tool that cannot be replaced, ever, by anything else. Still, I have some ideas for some tessellated geometric sculptures that I would love to make up designs for and 3-D print someday.The kite designs were fabulous. Paper clay may have been a better choice for my attempt. My media choice, pottery, is limited, like all choices. I see its place in a new way when it is put in the context of a world with cheaply available 3-D printers. The meanings of tools and objects shift in a changing context. And I like that change. I like modern life, without which I could not have the job of my choice, drink clean water, eat as much, own property, move freely. The list goes on and on.
One of the best things about grad school is the very interesting things that other people are doing, all around me, everyday. This morning I got to watch Kelsey Wright making the third charge of glass into a glass casting in the hot shop next door. Kelsey is the one in the silver hot suit. It was very interesting to talk to one of the glass grad students about glass and about how the colors that are seen in glass depend on its shape. Since glass refracts light, its outer surface can be more or less like a lens, sending color in many directions.
It took awhile to love this thing. It’s a plotter and a vinyl cutter. These small machines have recently become much cheaper. Even smaller versions with a cutting mat are very popular in the crafter’s sphere. In this picture, I … Continue reading
After I made a series of hand-cut stencils, I started to explore ways to quickly make more elaborate, and hopefully, reusable stencils and resists. I started to teach myself how to use Inkscape, which is a freeware vector graphics program that is somewhat similar to Adobe Illustrator. I needed to learn to work in a vector graphics format so that I could generate and alter images to cut on a small vinyl cutter that I bought for my clay work. The software that runs the cutter works best with SVG files, vector files. Vector graphics are different from other images in that they are made from paths with nodes, rather than pixels. The end result is that a vector graphic can be magnified to any level without breaking up or distorting from pixelation. My previous post shows some of the early results of that work. Much of the imagery I have been working with has been natural elements like rock textures, floral imagery, and botanical drawings. But I also did some work with portraits, more on that later. To create a stencil that separates the gradients of color in this now simplified image, I created paths by tracing the bitmap using a small number for the color quantities. The TraceBitMap function is a basic part of all vector graphics programs. This yields a recognizable monochromatic image with a small number of distinct tones. Each of these tones is contained within the discreet loop of a path which I separated into different files by selecting, copying and pasting. This makes a set of stencils that can layer and create a complete image. Many thanks to Travis Jannsen, from the printmaking faculty here at SIUC. His input on using repositionable adhesive spray to mount my paper stencil to the paper carrier worked brilliantly. It still took many weeks of trial and error to create a simple system for making the stencils. Also, his suggestions about brayer choices for color application were a real help. To further refine the stencil, I would like to experiment with spraying the paper stencils with a poly or sealant coat in the hopes of extending their longevity, though the absorbent nature of the paper does seem ideal in making the stencil firmly adhere to the wet clay. The final set of stencils is three layers, here, spread out over four images. These layers of paper cuts, when properly stacked, can "print" the complex image of the chrysanthemum with only four gradients of tones.
Around 2011-2012 I revisited my long-standing admiration of the universal craft forms of paper cuts, especially Chinese folk festival paper cuts and German scherenschnitte. During this time I made a series of black paper silhouette portraits of some of my younger relatives, aided by templates from digital photographs. After making a small series of colorful hand-cut paper designs, I decided I wanted more outcome from the time-consuming and careful effort of making the paper cuts. So, I borrowed an idea from a potter from Northern Wisconsin, Mary Dosch. She uses imagery cut from bicycle inner tubes to create durable patterns and graphics for her hand-built slab work. The cut tube creates a shallowly-indented 2-D image. So, rather than cutting paper, I started to cut rubber with an x-acto knife. From these I made a series of celadon trays. I may try to dig up some of what I had made, or at least get pictures of the rubber stamps themselves.