Being a baker’s son, I grew up accustomed to making hundreds of the same thing every day. After so much repetition, I recognized the nuances within multiples, which allowed me to understand good craftsmanship and to see when something was lacking that je ne sais quoi.
I worked on every part of the production, from mixing raw ingredients using family- kept secret recipes to the delicate stacking of cookies on a tray, to be displayed to the world. When it came time to make pottery my profession, I knew that I would be working in series; the real quest was how to create multiples in which each specimen was unique. Digital technology offered a streamlined process, but it couldn’t give me the accidents and spontaneity that the process of making things by hand does.
We live in a world that is obsessed with perfect tolerances (i.e., how well each part of an iPhone is put in place) and efficiency. We think a digital tool such as an inkjet printer must be perfectly aligned so that every letter it produces is legible, and we don’t expect this type of machine to be able to do anything but produce precision. Industry thinks it’s more efficient to have “World’s Greatest Mom” digitally printed on a mug with a standardized decal than with a decal that is individually crafted. The overwhelming number of great mothers in the world necessitates an expedient means of uniform production. The conundrum is how to honor the World’s Greatest without losing a sense of authenticity and without it costing a lot.
I propose that we alter our thinking and ask if it’s all right to let in messiness and unpredictability. Digital Craft is a burgeoning field that explores what it means to integrate digital technology with traditional crafts. My interest in both digital processes and surface quality in ceramics has led me to create a way to introduce chaos into a traditionally orderly way of production.
My series “Digital Calligraphy” uses a programmed toolpath on a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling machine to paint/print underglaze on a ceramic plate. The kicker? All the brushes it uses are handmade of various types of animal hair in different lengths and thicknesses. The custom 3-D – printed shaft of each brush acts as an adapter piece for the CNC machine, which generally only allows a one-quarter-inch drill bit in the collet. The machine completes its process the exact same way every time (with a deviation of up to 0.02-inch from its programmed path, similar to a desktop printer), but each plate comes out different from the last because of the qualities of the individual brush. This painting process takes twenty seconds from beginning to end; design and production of the brushes requires most of my time and effort....