Friday, March 23, 2012

interview with Sandy of UpToMuch

Today we bring you an interview with Sandy of UpToMuch in Edinburgh, UK.  Sandy is a talented artist with a very unique approach and creation process.  Hillary says she hopes you enjoy reading this as much as she enjoyed conducting the interview.

How did you get started with art and creation?

I've always been into making things, my mam and dad are both practical people capable of making things and fixing things so the house always had plenty of tools and materials slightly beyond the normal children's crafting stuff.  I built a lot of model kits, tanks, planes and the like, though was never very keen on painting and decorating them.  In fact, I was never very good at making them either, until my brother showed me that I didn't have to use ALL the glue, ALL the time.  I loved the way the parts interlocked, how some kits were so satisfying to construct.

How did you get from where you started to the items you make now?

[It was a] Gradual process of increasing the scale and complexity of designs, in
woodwork or in graphics, until they started to have real function.  It
was kick-started when I decided I wanted to go to study 3D design
(furniture and fancy stuff) at university, and I needed to build a
portfolio - this made me put a structure around my play, made me
define bits and pieces as explicit projects and led to a more
formalized and concerted year of varied projects, experiments and

I never graduated, but kept on making things all the while, and
revisited a couple of my university projects (thiswayup lamp) armed
with new processes and techniques that were suddenly open to the
general public like never before - namely laser cutting through
Ponoko.  The ease of this spurred me on to look more closely at these
new manufacturing companies that hid all the dirty manufacturing work
and delivered a very finished and reliable part - Shapeways was next
where they'd just introduced printing in steel, and I rattled off a
couple of designs for jewellery that I'd had for a while, and they
came out beautifully.  I opened a little storefront on Etsy just to
gauge reaction, and was very pleased by the result.

Your creation process is very unique.  Can you tell us a little bit about
how a design is conceived, then how it comes to be "printed" into a plastic or steel item using a 3d printer?

My design process is a very technical one - that was a place I was
very weak in university and felt it acutely.  I'm not good at
sketching, and I'm terrible at presentation graphics - I tend to
diagram and annotate rather than express, but I did learn to iterate
and iterate and iterate, produce as many drawings as possible rather
than labour over one perfect one.  My jewellery is not sketched on
paper first though, it's almost always created primarily in the CAD
software.  This is possible because I'm self-guided--I don't have a
brief--I just play with it until I get a form that appeals to me, and
then that becomes the jumping-off point for the rest of the design.
It's also because my designs tend to be technical and with repetitive
features, and they are hard to draw!

Once I've got a form I'm interested in seeing, it is exported as a 3d
model file and sent to my 3d printing company (I'm usually using
Shapeways at the moment), and I wait for a couple of weeks to see if
it really looks and feels as nice in the hand as it does on screen.
It's hard to judge the physical reality of an object without ever
setting hands on it - working just from an on-screen view, even with
the most photo-realistic renderings, is very risky.

The nylon pieces are made by using a laser to melt a pattern (a
cross-section of the 3D model) into a bed of nylon powder.  Another
thin layer of powder is added, and the next pattern is melted into it,
fusing it to the layer below.  A few hundred layers later, you can
shake off all the loose powder that hasn't been melted, and you're
left with a solid model.  This is really strong and light, great
stuff, and takes dyes beautifully, and can even be burnished to a very
handsome finish.  I use this for my bracelets and for prototypes.

The printing in steel is similar, except instead of a bed of nylon
powder, it's fine steel powder, and instead of laser, there's a kind
of glue that get's sprayed, like an inkjet printer head.  Once the
model is finished being built up and the loose material blown off
(still very delicate, only glued together after all), it's packed into
some other material, has a sprue attached and is heated and injected
with molten brass.  This burns out all the glue and fills all the
voids and makes the object entirely solid. After that it's cooled,
tumbled, polished, can be plated or further finished if required.

There are plenty of other processes and technologies, it's really
booming now, and some are really affordable.  I've got a little 3d
printer I built from a kit (eMaker Huxley) that sits next to my
computer in the living room and builds models by extruding layers of
molten plastic out of a computer-controlled nozzle.  Good for
functional prototypes.

What led you to using a 3d printer over other options available for
creating jewelry?

In a word, access.  I don't have the space or the money to run a
workshop and do messy, noisy, fiery stuff.  3D printing, and other
on-demand manufacturing like it (mail order laser cutting, etc.) give me
the ability to produce usable, functional, hard-wearing and beautiful
things without having to do all that messy stuff.  I love the messy
stuff, but I just don't have the space or the time.

This would seem to me to be the choice of someone who is inquisitive and is
always looking for new ideas... What other things are you inquisitive about
or what other new ideas have you explored?

My current most consuming project is my drawing machine (polargraph).
This is a pen hanging from a couple of bits of string, that can draw
pictures.  It's simple, there's almost nothing to go wrong, and it's
very appealing because of it.  It's drawing technique has a slightly
mesmeric effect - very watchable, which is odd considering it is just
wiggling a pen back and forwards.

But it captures attention and lots of people like it.  I love the idea
of a machine using human tools, especially in a non-imitative kind of
way.  This isn't a machine that draws anything like most people draw,
it's obsessively focused on the detail and has no concept of the
(literally) bigger picture.  We could draw like it if we wanted to,
but it goes so against our natural bent that it would be so difficult.
Whereas to get the machine to draw more like us (perceiving
patterns, objects) is entirely against the machine way of doing
things, it's not natural at all.

This is based on a machine called Hektor that was a spray-can drawing
machine made about ten years ago - I remember seeing a video for it
then and feeling so inspired to do something physical, something with
hardware, actual parts.  That was back when it was still quite hard to
do that kind of hardware hacking unless you knew what you were doing.
I just had to wait around for long enough, and eventually, projects
like the Arduino put that sort of power in the hands of people like me
- curious but fairly ignorant.

So I put together some off-the-shelf hardware and wrote the software
for this and it has gradually turned into something that is much more
suitable for general-purpose use, as a cheap way to make huge
drawings.  I made one for a gallery last year that was 6 metres wide -
took all week to draw a simple image, and the speed is a big part of
the attraction for me.  It was self-consciously an attempt to break
away from the standard formats (something that has to fit through a
printer or on a screen) and proprietary tools (special inks and
printers) that makes computer imaging sometimes pretty anodyne.  It's
easy to get stuck in that graphics ghetto of just working
in-the-computer because it's so easy to get a professional looking
result, even if it's a fairly vapid idea.

What would you say to other unique artists trying to make their start?
Produce, make, do, sketch, iterate, iterate, iterate. Whatever your
product is, just make it as much as you can.  Don't over-value any
particular recital, don't over-polish, it becomes brittle and fragile.
Do it, and if it's not good enough, do it again, and if it is good
enough, move onto the next thing.

Finally, Where can we find you and your art?
Jewellery and drawings:
Or can be bought from Godiva Boutique and Curiouser & Curiouser in Edinburgh.

Drawing machines:

General development:

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