06 November 2006

answering glorianna's questions: personal story

"OK now go into what you have discovered about the physical world by building something.... tell a very specific story about making your giraffe -- what did you have to start, how did your understanding change?"


oh boy. Don't I already talk about this enough? ;) Anyway. Maybe I'll tell several stories. Life is all about stories.

I needed a demo and I needed it bad. I had one week. I had wire. And I had whatever was around me at the lab to use because I didn't really want to waste my time searching for parts and waiting for them to arrive when I could be using that time building. I only knew one thing: the theme was "dance." One afternoon, I sat down with one of my friends and brainstormed about different objects/animals dancing. I decided that I really liked the idea of a giraffe, mainly due to the fact that I really like the elegand awkwardness of the giraffe. And I really like the way their eyes look so gentle. So I set out to make a wire giraffe that danced. I went through a few different design ideas. I knew I wanted to use a spring for the giraffe's neck so it would wobble. Other than that, I knew I wanted to use a wire gear a la Arthur Ganson. I asked Roger if we had any springs lying around and he handed me that one. I asked Roger if we had any motors, and he gave me that motor... a simple DC motor with a max output of Not Very Fast. I decided upon making a crank rocker and having the giraffe rock back and forth, with its neck swaying extra. Since we had a laser cutter with lots of spare acrylic around, I decided to make the base out of acrylic. I wanted the part that the giraffe was on to be green like grass but all they had was this glass green color. And I wanted the rest of it to be clear, but all they had was black. hrm. I went with what I had. I underestimated the amount of gearing down that a worm gear to a spur gear creates, and as a result, ended up with a giraffe that doesn't rock as quickly as I'd like, even when the motor is at full speed. For the programming of the Gogo board, we thought it would be nice to have some sort of differential for the speed. So we ended up settling on two touch sensors that the faster you could run on them, the faster the motor went. All that was left was to have a base for it. Again... I had wire and one day left, so I decided to wrap wire around until it was stable enough to support the giraffe and its base. I had used this technique before when making little wire figures. It was a fun demonstration of principle, but I think I could do better. The design was heavily determined by my previous experience (mostly none) and by the materials I had readily available (in and around my office).

+my graduation hat
This all started because I wanted to have a thinking cap... a crank on the left side of my head. So I made a crank to a worm gear to a spur gear, again using the same basic beginnings that I'd used on the giraffe, but in a different context. Instead of going to a horizontal rocker, I went more for a swing version with a little guy sitting on a swing in a graduation hat. I wanted it also to have a lightbulb on it. Since I had cleared out the insides of a lightbulb earlier so I could use the lightbulb as a small flower vase, I had this lightbulb lying around. So I put a fake filament inside it. And just for geeking's sake, I made the hat spell MIT. Anyway. Again, this design was heavily determined by the materials I had available... only wire and a bit of brass and some aluminum can from the energy drink I was having while staying up late to make this. All tooling was done using pliers, a dremel, and a knife, which is what I had in my office. It sounds unglamourous to say this, but I'm trying to be honest here. Also, the design was unplanned from the beginning; I simply made it up as I went. Luckily this worked, and I think I ended up with a crank rocker of a bit more simple elegance than the giraffe. I want to make another one for my next graduation. This time more elaborate. But I would be unable to do that had I not had the experience of dealing with this first hat.

+wire man with sword
I talked about this a bit in my entry (below) about my meeting with Arthur Ganson. This is the design that is most driven by a strong idea of what the motion and overall feel should look like. The design process is getting easier but still I find that I fight a bit. Intuition is getting better as to how to get wire to react how I want. I find that I appreciate making arbitrary limitations on the design process (such as using only found/cheap materials) because it limits my vision to a manageable chunk.

Anyway. What does all of this have in common? There was a lot of learning between the giraffe and the man, even though the man isn't done. The man is closer to my original concept, whereas I find the giraffe to be a bit gauche and inelegant at times and not quite what I had wanted. The graduation hat was an important step to learning how to make more elegant things quicker. After finishing the man, I'm sure the next things I attempt will be quicker and even closer to my original design thoughts. My intuition about what is feasible has started to affect what my design is.

Having limitations is nice because it gives me a smaller area to explore more fully and more confidently. I even set limitations in my drawing, even though I feel that's the area in my life that I have the most control/understanding. Setting limitations allows me to push the boundaries of those limits, to explore freely. And through examining the limits, I learn when certain techniques might be useful, and I might also pick up some physical knowledge that I otherwise would not have gained. For example, I've lately been drawing quite regularly with either my left hand (I'm right handed) or by not looking at the page. Arbitrary limitations. By drawing with my left hand, I'm more aware of the feeling of the pen on the paper. And from the beginning I usually just concede that the drawing will have a certain lack of control, which allows me freedom to explore the feeling of the pen on the paper. By drawing without looking at the paper, I've been exploring the link of the line I make to the line my eye makes as it follows around the object. And as a result, I become aware of the link between my eye and my hand.

1 comment:

  1. Laura,
    this is fabulous stuff. You talked about different aspects of this on video but the text can be integrated into the thesis so it is good to have set it down. Urgency and gifts... a nice combination. Art...or .. demo? a nice tension. Question: At one point in the first piece you shift from I to we.... re the GoGo board... can you explain? G