Gallery now online!

Welcome to my brand new Gallery section, added to bring this blog up to date. So far there are two galleries – one containing images of my jewellery collections, the other to showcase my photography projects. Right now it is still under development, so watch this space as I add more content. Enjoy!

Rise like the Phoenix…

It has been exactly one year since my last post on this Blog, and a lot has happened in the meantime. The good news first:  I handed in my PhD at the University of Dundee earlier this month. Writing up my research over the last year has been a great experience, but now I feel I have come to the end of a long marathon.

The bad news: there are many posts I half-started and never actually published on the blog, relating to events and things I have seen over the last year. I will be pushing them out one by one now that I have a bit more time, and hope that some of you are still interested to read about not-so-current events and ongoings in the world of Interactive Craft.

To jump-start this blog a little bit after my self-enforced hiatus, I have finally succumbed and joined twitter. This will hopefully be an easier way to keep the blog right up to the minute when I don’t have the time to write longer posts, and give you a chance to engage more directly. So if you want to comment, just use my twitter handle @FutureJewels to send me a message!

I have also given the theme a bit of an overhaul, and added image galleries of my work here, updated on a more or less constant basis. Feel free to visit my Jewellery portfolio website as well, but it is here I intend to publish my latest creations. I have also decided to finally show some of my Macro Photography, which has provided the visual inspiration for much of my work. I hope you enjoy the facelift and continue to read my rambling posts.

Hinterland

Last night I was fortunate to be able to go to the Hinterland event at the derelict St.Peter’s seminary in Cardross. As some of you know, my love and fascination with Brutalist architecture goes back a long time, and my years of living at the Barbican centre in London will forever be enshrined in my memory as perfect architectural bliss. The site of the abandoned St.Peter’s seminary has been on my architectural radar for a while, but I had always hesitated to make the trip there for fear of unexpectedly bumping into some of the vandals that have been steadily dismantling the site. I am not talking about some of the absolutely stunning graffiti that has happened there over the years, but rather the smashing of the fairly sizeable altar stone (how???) and other such random acts of destruction. So when the Hinterland event was announced as part of the opening event of the Festival of Architecture 2016, my tickets to go were booked immediately.

Arriving at the site by shuttle bus, we were handed illuminated walking sticks to navigate through the dense woodlands along a footpath that featured a rather spooky sound installation on some sections and led to the small back door of the sacristy. The outer wall of the sacristy immediately reminded me very strongly of Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, with its incredible thickness and tiny square windows set deep into the wall. The highly regarded chapel was completed in 1955, a mere eleven years before the seminary opened in 1966. Le Corbusier was reportedly a significant influence on architects Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, and this is evident in many of the features of this beautiful Scottish Brutalist masterpiece, such as the long columnar walkways, the open layout of the main spaces and the tiny dimensions of the novice’s individual cells.

Following a sloped, spiral walkway into the main hall of the seminary to the broken altar, the light installation staged by NVA created a surreal and fantastical colourful landscape on the graffitied walls and pillars of the seminary. In what used to be the central area of the knave, an oversized ceremonial pendulum was suspended over a shallow pool of water and occasionally set in motion by two priest-like protagonists, spewing forth thick white smoke. This was accompanied by eerie abstract choral singing and a ritual of welding steel inside a cage situated on the far side of the pool, creating an incredible interplay of shadow and bright white light on the ceiling, columnar wall and surface of the water. Progressing through the seminary, it became obvious what a tranquil and meditative space it used to be, and this struck me most when coming out of the recreation block into a secluded inner courtyard. The seminary is much more compact in scale than I expected and from ground level a warren of complementary geometries opened up like a darkly lit multistorey labyrinth. We spent about two hours at the site itself, and even though photography was not permitted inside the building, I managed to take a few of the outside as seen from the garden, although many more beautiful professional images have been released online since the event opened last week, and there is also some video footage  by others on Youtube.

Hinterland7 Hinterland5

Hinterland3

Hinterland1

Arts organisation NVA have recently taken on the site, with an exceptional vision to turn it into a venue where experimental art and community engagement events can take place – head over to their website to watch the beautifully shot promotional video that explains their plans better than I could, and maybe make a small donation? Further funding of £4.2 million has just been announced and it now looks like all the pieces are in place to go ahead with the building plans and hopefully re-open in 2017/18. I was particularly pleased to hear that they want to remake the large lantern skylight that was lost over the years, and which was a particularly stunning feature of the original building. For a glimpse of what the seminary was like when initially built and used by the Catholic church to train priests, have a look at this fascinating footage from the 1972 architectural documentary “Space and Light” by Murray Grigor. In 2009, Grigor also released the shot-by-shot re-make companion piece “Space and Light Revisited”, visually contrasting the current decaying state of the seminary with its pristine original condition. I am already very excited about seeing the restored building in the near future, hopefully to return and take some more competent photographs.

Making a PCB – the Jeweller’s way! (Part 1)

Sometimes, having trained as a jeweller is surprisingly useful when it comes to working with electronics. After finally having got my head round the way in which ICs are programmed and used on circuit boards with this handy programmer, I decided that the easiest way to incorporate small-scale electronic components in my jewellery was to make a customised PCB (Printed Circuit Board) – it was time to put the theory into action! Not only would creating custom PCBs save me a whole lot of cash (the components are a fraction of the price of a finished circuit board), but it would also allow me to fully control the shape and size of my PCBs.

The first step in this endeavour was creating the circuit design files. Now, there are a number of ways to do this, and which method you use depends largely on your skill base, the complexity of the circuit you want to design and what method you will be using to produce the final board. There are a lot of great freeware packages available online, the most popular probably being the EAGLE PCB software offered by cadsoft. However, I could not get the freeware version to install on my system, and so decided to look for alternatives in the meantime. Fritzing offers a PCB generator as part of its package, but I wanted to use a software that would let me customise tracks and components easily, while offering a library of ‘pre-fab’ parts to play with until I am more familiar with the pin spacing of components and minimum track widths, so after a false start with the very basic FreePCB, in the end I chose the DesignSpark PCB package (v.7.1). Equipped with a full library of parts, as well as a searchable online database of parts offered by UK electronics distributor RS components, this program was really easy to use and before long I had laid down my first PCB design. For the experts out there it is also possible to make PCB layouts in any vector-based graphics software (such as Adobe Illustrator), but of course you will have to be 100% certain of your design as there are no automatic checks or set design rules in a graphics application. DesignSpark has customisable rules and warns you if components are spaced too closely together or if there are missed connections. It is by no means perfect, and I ended up tweaking some of my PCB designs in Illustrator after finalising the layout in DesignSpark to account for crooked or awkward tracks, as well as adding my logos to the boards.

Once I was happy with my designs, I tried to figure out which would be the best way to get them onto the copper covered particle board. After initially considering using the iModela at our MakeSpace, I decided that maybe the old ways are the best and ordered the chemicals required for photoetching. From my time as an undergraduate at ECA I still had some PNP blue resist lying around the studio, and even though some people swear by the slightly more accurate UV-exposure method for transferring your artwork to the resist, if you have a laser printer at home the PNP is easily the most hassle-free solution. After transferring your design to the dull side of the film with a laser printer or photocopier, the film is ironed onto the thoroughly cleaned and de-greased surface of your PCB board. When ironing on the resist, don’t put too much pressure on the iron, as it can spread the ink and make your tracks bleed into each other. There are some great tutorials online about this process, although I would recommend the use of a glassfibre brush (available from enamelling suppliers) for degreasing your board rather than acetone, as it is more reliable and there’s no need for chemicals.

Once you have transferred your artwork to the board, gently peel off the PNP film, and touch up any imperfections or gaps with a black indelible marker pen. In order to preserve the rest of your board, mask off any areas that are not to be etched with brown parcel tape. You should end up with something like this:

First PCB01

The shiny exposed copper areas are going to be etched away, leaving only the black track marks behind. Depending on which chemical you use, prepare as stated on the packaging and fill a small plastic tub with just enough solution to cover your particle board. Gently slide in your board, and agitate the solution roughly every two minutes either with a feather or by gently tipping the tub from side to side. Eventually, all the copper will have been eaten away by the acid, at which point the board needs to be removed quickly from the acid bath with plastic tweezers and rinsed thoroughly under running water. Don’t ever leave your board unattended in the acid, as the acid can undercut the tracks if left too long. Some people have also successfully used the sponge etching method, but I prefer the traditional way as you have a lot less direct contact with the chemicals. After the board has been thoroughly rinsed, you can remove the parcel tape and the resist with acetone.The end result will look similar to this:

First PCB03See how to finish the job in part II…

The Arts Foundation Jewellery Awards 2016

Happy New Year to all of you Smart Jewellers out there! With 2016 only a few days old, I suddenly realised how terribly I am lagging behind with my blogging and there are a few long posts about my research activities still in the works – hopefully to be found on here soon!

But first I wanted to share some excellent news I received last November – I have been shortlisted for the prestigious Arts Foundation Jewellery Award 2016. With the awards ceremony at the end of the month fast approaching, I thought this was the perfect time to remind everyone to cross their fingers on my behalf on the 28th of January! You can read all about the awards and the other nominees in the Jewellery category in this recent Press Release or on the Arts Foundation website, where you can also find all the other categories and past award holders- for all you material enthusiasts out there the Material Innovation Category will be particularly exciting!

Arts Foundation STDI am absolutely delighted to be on the shortlist with so many talented and forward thinking practitioners and I am looking forward already to meet all of them in person on the 28th.

Make Shift Do 2015 – Smart Materials Workshop bookings now live!

Exciting things have been going on in my studio, but for the moment I am too swamped with the academic year starting and resuming my teaching duties to blog about them here. However, over the next four weeks or so I am hosting two fabulous events perfect for adventurous makers, the first of which is a Smart Materials workshop. Organised again by my friend and fellow PhD candidate Jo Bletcher as part of the 2015 Make Shift Do conference at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee on the 23rd of October, this will be a slightly larger affair than last year and cover a more varied range of materials. There is a nominal participation fee to cover material costs, and a range of other workshops running in the afternoon, from 3D printing to creative electronics. The makings of an excellent day out for digital makers!

All workshops are bookable through this Eventbrite Listing – See you on the 23rd!

On a roll…

Two days ago I finally finished assembling my Filastruder and Filawinder. There were a few last minute tweaks that became necessary once I had decided on my final setup and positioning of the assembly in my studio, such as sourcing a longer cable for the Filawinder sensor and making a stand for the Filastruder to sit on. I had initially planned to go for a fully wall-mounted vertical setup, but the Filastruder is a reasonably heavy piece of kit, and as I don’t quite trust the strength of the walls in my studio, I ended up going with this 45 degree angle tabletop assembly instead, designed to fit the enclosure I am using. Going vertical should always be considered as the superior option, because of the way gravity aids the extrusion process, but you have to work with what you’ve got. Setting up the Filastruder on my workbench and the Filawinder on another workbench opposite gives me enough room between the two machines to drop the filament in a generous loop once extrusion starts, with the Filawinder sensor placed on the floor between them. The sensor cable that was included in the kit was not long enough for this to work (and as 3mm filament needs a slightly longer run before going into the Filawinder, I am guessing it would not be for most people extruding this diameter), but I sourced a 15ft version and the appropriate connectors, which should hopefully see me through all future eventualities.

With everything in place it was finally time to turn on the ‘struder and do the initial purge! Excitement mixed with apprehension as I turned on the heater for the first time and  watched the numbers on the display creep up, eventually reaching the target temperature of 171C. At this point it is really important to give the Filastruder enough time to heat up thoroughly – anyone who has ever used an enamelling kiln will know this as ‘soaking’. While the thermocouple might be displaying the target temperature, this is only measured on a tiny part of the assembly, and it can take anything from an additional 10-30 minutes for that temperature to reach other areas of the machine. Turning on the motor before everything has been thoroughly heated through can lead to disastrous results – in extreme cases even barrel deformation – as the plastic is not liquid enough to let the screw turn freely, putting strain on the motor and other mechanical components. After about 30 minutes I finally felt comfortable enough to turn on the motor. The PLA started shooting out of the barrel almost immediately, initially as very liquid blobs of hot plastic and eventually as filament. During the initial purge, this will be filled with metal particles and other debris, and it could take up to 8 hours to clean out the barrel completely. This gives you however plenty of time to adjust the temperature settings to suit your material, and really fine-tune the diameter of your filament. In my case, it transpired that 171C was far too high for the PLA I am using (Natureworks Ingeo 4043D) and eventually I settled on 155C which gave me a relatively stable output of 2.7-2.8mm filament.

Next: getting the Filawinder to work. 3mm diameter filament poses a further challenge for the winder, as it is a lot stiffer when it comes out of extrusion and thus harder to wind. My initial attempts to get it to work failed miserably, mainly because I had followed the assembly instructions to the letter and cut my length of PTFE tubing in half, making it too short to work in my setup. This resulted in increased strain on the spool which meant the motor was not strong enough to pull the filament and kept getting stuck. Luckily I still had the other bit of the tubing, and a bit of kapton tape later a full length PTFE tube means that the Filawinder is now working like a charm. This is really important for getting a consistent diameter – even moving the sensor during winding can mess up the fragile dynamics that exist between the extruder and winder and be the difference between producing excellent filament and something ready for recycling. After six hours my initial purge was complete and my first spool of filament all wound up:

FirstPLA01Of course, its contents will now be going in the bin as the contaminants mean the material is unsuitable for putting through a 3D printer or re-extrusion, but I’m still proud I made it this far and now have a working setup to extrude my own custom filament. More to follow soon…