The past five weeks have been overly creative for me. The reason for that is that between doing proper paid for work for a client, I hooked up with Melina at a party of a mutual friend of ours. Both of us have been talking about meeting each other more often, but somehow we never came to the point of actually meeting. This time, end of January something clicked at last. We both were looking for a way of doing something creative. At the same time, we both acknowledged that it would work much better if we could do it together with someone, so there would be a real reason to produce (or in this case, a real person to produce for). Thus we arranged for our first meeting together and I’ll tell you about the creative process we created for ourselves.
During that first meeting at Melina’s wonderful apartment (a house I would love to move into: modern, bright, huge living-/kitchen area and hidden corners for desks and clutter) we talked, over coffee and sweets, about our interests and the projects we’re working on and have done in the past. At some point we started talking about the Lego-workshop I participated in a few months ago. Melina used to work at Lego HQ for a while and she showed me some mood boards she created. Based on our joined joint enthusiasm for Lego, we decided what our first step in the creative process we were trying to establish would be: build something using Lego based on our conversations and show that to the other in one week’s time.
Phase one: build something based on our conversation.
Amongst the many things we discussed, Melina told me about her latest project, in which she tries to connect the local art scene to the place where she’s from: Palo Alto, a sister city of Enschede. Keywords were crossing borders and building bridges. At home, I opened my Lego box (yes, I bought Lego for myself, because you’re never too old to play with Lego) and found some artwork built by friends’ kids visiting us a month before. One of them, neatly stacked bricks to create a big cube, inspired me to just take it and expand it. Co-creation beyond borders (the kids live in Switserland), generations and time! I used the stacks of 2×2 bricks, created a bit of space between them and build bridges.
My build for the creative process with Melina. Abstract translation of building bridges. Can you spot my ‘easter egg’?
One week after our first meeting we showed our objects to each other. Melina actually had to buy some Lego first so she went to our local shop and actually found (and bought) a wonderful retro piece. This is what she showed me:
A retro piece on the left, brand new on the right. A representation of her quest to bring the funkiness (right) into the perfect dream (left), mixing the best of both.
Melina’s story was that the old piece was such a representation of the perfect (American) dream house, which in itself turned out to be not so pretty. The build on the right is very funky with a lot of unknown bits and pieces, which in itself is perhaps not entirely what you want either. Her ‘quest’ is to bring the funky bits and people into the perfect dream. Combined it will be something that works for everyone.
Phase 2: Create a poster based on the Lego piece and its representation.
Taking the pieces and the stories told around our objects, we would both create a poster. I like digital, Melina likes paper, so we both were allowed the methods we prefer.
I used this phase to get to know Illustrator a bit better and tried a lot of things. I had an abstract image in my mind, with on one side a perfect square and on the other side random spots. In the middle, where perfect meets random, something exciting should happen. Somehow, I couldn’t translate what I pictured in my mind to the screen (in paint I would be able to, but I didn’t have the time to arrange for that), so in the end I used the pictures I took of Melina’s build and tried all various manipulations on the photo’s. The thing that stuck was the option to create a mosaic of the photo’s, each square representing just the one dominant color in that square.
I decided to create a triptych: one of the perfect retro piece, one of the funky piece and one of both of them combined. To make the poster complete, I googled for quotes on perfectionism and I found a beautiful one from Hannah Arendt.
This is the poster I created:
The poster I created for Melina, using the pictures I took of her builds, creating a mosaic of both sides and overlapping them (on the right).
One of the things that struck me when overlapping the two pictures, that it lost vibrant contrast compared to each of the pictures separate. So would it actually be a good idea to mix them? I don’t expect an answer 😉
In return, this is the poster Melina created:
The poster Melina created for me, using magazine clippings and words to match the key terms in our conversations.
Melina took the classic approach, clipping magazines for things that reminded her of our conversations and sticking key words to it. Kragel? The keyword from the Lego-movie, which according to Melina covered exactly what we have been talking about. I still have to see the movie so I have to take her word for it ;-).
Phase 3: take the poster as an inspiration to make something.
There were many things on Melina’s poster that I connected with. Especially the object bottom left. After Googling a bit, we discovered it is called Centennial Chromagraph and represents the history of the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. Together with the other piece of data visualization on the poster, I wanted to create my own piece of tangible data with the 3D-printer I recently acquired. The perfect incentive to finally start learning to draw in 3D, using Rhino (still available for free for Mac, due to developing stage).
First step was to find a relevant dataset that would be easily translated into a model (read: few data to add manually). I stumbled upon an article on people living cross-border in Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. I took the dataset of Germans and Dutch living in the border region, a theme that fits right in with the whole building bridges and cross-border theme we have running during the whole process. Not knowing how to create 3D models, I searched for tutorials and found one on creating a cup. I used this to create two separate vases, with each layer representing one bar from the chart.
Step one: finding the Data
The number of Dutch and Germans living in the border region between 1996 and 2010.
Step 2: Creating the model
In Rhino, I created a vase for each dataset, each layer representing one bar from the original chart. Using techniques I learned from this video.
Step three: Printing the models
The two small vases that represent a dataset. Left: Dutch living in German border region. Right: Germans living in Dutch border region. 1996 is the bottom, 2010 the top.
Tadaa! My very first 3D data models.
Of course there are lessons learned. Biggest one: if you print something that becomes wider at the top, you have to take into account that the plastic needs to land on something. Doh! The model on the right printed beautifully, but of course the 90 degrees extensions of the model on the left are not 3D print friendly. The first layers are printed in…air.
I discovered the option to print the object with support material and I reprinted the bigger vase. Yet, it turns out to be not a very good solution. It was really hard to remove the material, resulting in damaging the print surface of the vase while removing it. Plus, the print quality underneath the extensions was still a bit…bad.
On the left the vase without support material. Notice the threads hanging loose. On the right the same vase, with support material still attached.
I had to use a knife and screw driver to remove the support material with a lot of force.
Just to proof it really is the same vase ;-). A lot of surplus material and a lot of extra printing time. Advise: design it at an angle that will print without support material. For PLA I read somewhere that you can go up to an angle of about 60 degrees.
The second main lesson about 3D designing: it is really an effort to learn to use 3D modeling software, but even when you stick some basic objects together, you can still surprise yourself. Plus: once you have a model, it is super easy to get it scaled to whatever size you want in the software that comes with the 3D printer.
We created alone together!
Melina didn’t have time to create her thing based on my poster yet. She wants to create a big triptych for her house, so that might take a while. For now, the process seems done. In two weeks time we meet again and see what we will come up with next. It might be a new process with a new theme, or it might be with someone else or it might be nothing at all.
Having to produce for someone else, allowing ourselves to explore big themes together, creating things in our own pace and style. It were the right ingredients to get into a creative flow these past five weeks. A big gift!