Tuesday, March 20, 2018

OBDF and the Thing Tank

Newly hired as Assistant Professor of Object Making and Emerging Technologies - I had two main goals in mind: 1.) Build a digital fabrication curriculum, and 2.) Develop a lab for prototyping, tinkering, and exploring emerging fabrication technologies.

One of the most exciting things about ACAD, in my eyes, is that the Media Arts (New Media) area (which is technically the area I work in), unlike any other institution I know of, is situated within a framework of Craft-based disciplines... making our part of the college the "School of Craft + Emerging Media" (SCEM).  I immediately became intrigued by the idea of utilizing this exciting intersection, and building a digital fabrication curriculum that plays to the strengths of ACAD's robust craft areas, and helps strengthen their connections to the Media Arts area.

By the end of my first year, I managed to create a new minor area of study, OBDF (Object Design and Fabrciation) whose electivity would span across SCEM's areas, and several areas in the School of Visual Art and the School of Communication Design.  I also wrote three new courses:

OBDF 110: 3D Object Design
OBDF 210: CAD and Digital Fabrication
OBDF 310: Algorithmic and Parametric Design

The next step (realistically it was a simultaneous step) was to develop a dedicated space to support this curriculum.  Enter the Thing Tank...

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As soon as I could, I applied for internal funding for the lab. While I waited to hear back, I brought some of my old equipment in (including the first 3D printer I ever built).

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I also managed to restore and retrofit a CNC mill that was collecting dust in the Jewelry and Metalsmithing area's storage room, and did the same with a broken CNC router that lived in ACAD's woodshop.

Alas, the lab did not receive funding the first year - which is understandable as the program was brand new, and would not officially be offered as a new minor until the following Fall.

Even so, I was able to utilize the equipment I cobbled together to work with students to explore digital fabrication methodologies and potential integration into their existing studio practices.

A great example of this can be seen in the work one of my students, Heather, a ceramics major, is doing:

I'd show you some of the latest work she is doing, but it would be a bit of a spoiler for my next post, in which I plan on sharing where the majority of my energy has been devoted to in the studio. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Alberta Bound.

[Picks up blog and blows away 18 months of dust]...

Dear readers,

It has been almost a year and a half since my last blog post.  At first, I blamed a series of exciting, crazy and sometimes overwhelming events (which I'll begin to touch on below) for my lack of blogging.  But I've finally reached a point where I have no valid excuses left - it is time to re-start what was once a crucial facet of my creative practice: the web log.    

Not to mention the fact that two of my role models / mentors / friends / former professors are again actively blogging again [1] [2] gave me the extra nudge I needed to jump back in.

I shot this photograph of Louisa on one of our last days in Milwaukee.  Oh, did I mention that we don't live in Milwaukee anymore?  Or Wisconsin... or the USA, for that matter.  We moved to Canada!

I had the opportunity to join the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) as their Assistant Professor in Object Making and Emergent Technologies.  A brand new position at the school, my role would entail writing new courses in digital fabrication, designing an interdisciplinary object design minor program, and starting a student-ran digital fabrication lab from scratch.

After three years of teaching and developing curriculum between the departments of Math and Computer Science and Visual Arts at Cardinal Stritch University, I felt ready for the challenges ACAD proposed, and, after several multi-hour discussions with Louisa, took the job.

We sold over half of the things we owned (including my Honda Metropolitan scooter, which I still have dreams about) to help supplement the travel funds ACAD provided.

And everything else was crammed into a standard uhaul truck.

My father and Louisa's parents took turns driving the uhaul, and Walter and Francois joined Louisa and me in our Honda Civic for the three-day journey to the land of the maple leaf.

Some parts of our journey to Canada look like this - flatlands where the skies stretch so far you can almost see the curvature of the Earth on the horizon...

And others are like this - lush evergreen forests and majestic mountains surrounding us as if the land itself was giving us a welcoming hug.

And this is the city we now call home - Calgary, Alberta.  The forth largest metropolitan city in Canada, it feels a bit like if you snatched the greater Milwaukee area from the midwest and plunked it down in the middle of the wilderness.

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While I miss my home city, Milwaukee, every single day, it is hard to overlook the fact that this may we the best time in my entire life to GTFO of the USA.  I doubt I need to explain why...

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I also deeply miss Cardinal Stritch and my students there.  But am excited to tell you more - in the coming weeks - about my new school and the students, colleagues, friends and challenges I've met there.

Western Canada is one of the most beautiful parts of the world I've ever seen - sometimes it is hard to believe that what I'm looking at is real.  Above is one of my favorite places to spend time with Louisa - Moraine Lake - just over an hour drive from our house.

Oh, and I've taken up a new hobby...

I've got TONS to catch you up on in the studio as well... Look forward to MANY projects in my next post.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Atelier + Arts@Large

This Spring two students and I have been working in my lab, the Atelier, on a collaboration with Arts@Large.

Arts@Large is a Milwaukee non profit with a mission to integrate arts into Milwaukee Public Schools' classrooms. This fall, they asked me to work with 3rd graders from Hayes Elementary to 3D print the Milwaukee River Basin as part of a larger Wisconsin Watersheds project.

While my hands are a bit full with the four plus classes I am teaching this semester, I thought of a couple talented students I'd been working with who could take the reins on such a project. Meet Ty and Brooke:

These guys are awesome.  They have been sponges in my classes - picking up skills really quickly, and learning a lot by experimenting on their own as well. 

Check out some of the work they are doing in my classes this semester:

Our first task was to learn a bit about the Milwaukee River Basin (in red below)...

Then, our plan was to use some imaging software to turn a topographical - or altitude - map of that area into a 3D mesh.

We found some great references online, including a color-coded of map the river shed's Elevations.

Using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, we converted the map into a sort of paint-by-number. Brooke and Ty then assigned a number, 1 - 9 (lowest point to highest) to each region.

With much help from Tim Abler, we printed a large copy of the map onto canvas.

With beautiful results!  The plan now was to let the 3rd graders at Hayes paint this thing in grayscale.  That way, in a sense, they'd be collaboratively 3D modeling with paint.

But in order to do this activity with the kids - there are over 30 of them - we would need a batch of greyscale paints that span 9 values...

The method we devised was by measuring out - across 9 cups - an increasing white amount of white paint and a decreasing amount of black.  It was much like writing a for() loop with real material...

Prepping enough paint for two classes of 15.

A quick solution for air-tight paint containers: rubber gloves.  This was necessary because Ty and Brooke would need to transport the paint and supplies accross Milwaukee to Hayes.

Brooke and Ty spent two wednesday afternoons working with the kids at Hayes.  I couldn't take time from any of my classes - but they did a great job of independently leading this workshop!

Third graders intently focused on the task at hand...

Ty and Brooke showcased the map to me the following day.  I was blown away!  It was gorgeous, and exactly what we needed to create a 3D representation with some computer aid.

We ended up using a bunch of the recently added tools in Photoshop CC.  After photographing the map, we carefully isolated the map.  Adding a blur (above) will help smooth out the transition between steps in the model.  The resulting mesh looked great, but was missing something...

Brooke, Ty and I decided that, for a river basin map, the river itself was not well-represented.  We found a map that highlights the Milwaukee River and surrounding waters, and superimposed them onto the photo of the painted map.

The results were stunning!  This addition really transformed the landscape, and much better highlighted the rivers and waters.

We exported from Photoshop, and then cleaned and repaired the model in Netfabb.

A small test print to confirm that the complex mesh doesn't cause any issues in the printer softwares.

Ty and Brooke scaled the model and cut it into printable chunks.  We printed these in ABS.

Here are the results - in a variety of colors.

Next, Ty and Brooke sanded the flat faces of each piece, to prepare them for assembly.

To attach the pieces together, we used a mixture we call "Slurry" - Acetone with a bit of ABS plastic dissolved in it.  After painting the slurry onto the edges, we promptly aligned them and held them together with rubber bands.

Ty and Brooke carefully sculpted with marine epoxy to to fill in cracks and small gaps between parts.

For the paint job, they wanted to use a mixture of greens to reference the fact that a water shed actually refers to the land surrounding bodies of water.  They began with a base-coat of Rustoleum's Eden in a satin finish.  They chose Oregano and Sage for highlights.

While experimenting with some samples to figure out how they wanted apply the different colors, Ty and Brooke stumbled upon a way to create a moss-like effect with the paint.  By standing a bit too far back from the print - holding the can 2-3 feet from it, the paint began to dry before settling on the surface of the print.  Over time, the dust builds up, creating what looks like fuzz or moss.

Ty and Brooke refined the process - and applied it to the large assembled print.

The final product.  This was a huge success!  Congrats to Ty and Brooke for doing such a great job with this project, and to Arts@Large for a successful collaboration in the Atelier at Stritch.

Look forward to some professional shots of the model!  This will also be showcased at Arts@Large as part of this April's Milwaukee Gallery Night - which I will hopefully have time to blog about!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fall 2015 Student Work (Part Five)

Course: CS304 CAD and Digital Fabrication
Assignment: Final Project

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Hades' Lamp by Brooke S.

A video posted by Bryan J Cera (@cera.tops) on

The Omni by Ty C.

DIY Condenser Mic by Nick G.