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7/25/17

A Reluctant Designer, The Netsuke Hybrid Vessel Bead. (NHVB)

Mechanical Vessel, Sagemono inspired lanyard bead





Project Preface:

Since I began exploring modern machine work as an artistic medium over 15 years ago, my focus has been predominantly on creating a kind of machined fine art sculpture. Over time however, the connections I’ve made between my work and various spheres of design, engineering, and even the decorative arts have slowly expanded my conception of what my sculpture practice could be. In the past, I would never have undertaken some of the mechanical design projects I am now pursuing, likely out of fear they might distract, rather than compliment, my creative output. This fear I have come to realize was largely misplaced.

As I have sought to articulate my intention with my work on this blog, a recurring theme has emerged. From my position as a creator, (as apposed to a viewer) distinguishing between what is fine art, what is design, and what is craft, has become highly problematic.

From a process perspective, the act of making art is largely indistinguishable from making anything else. There is as much value (from a domain knowledge standpoint) in making something like a tool, as there is the most inspired work of sculpture (emphasis here on the making and not the viewing). I’ve also come to understand that domain knowledge is the well from which most creativity springs. It is the work that leads to inspiration, and not (as is popularly thought) inspiration that leads to the making of work. So whether you call it design, craft, or art makes no difference to the artist. The result of any single project may or may not invoke a sense of awe in others, but regardless, it is quite likely a step toward something that will.

Machined metal lanyard container, CNC art, Sculpture, EDC

With that said, today’s post is a new design collaboration that directly addresses this evolving outlook on my craft. It is my second project with Mike and Callye from Revolvemakers. This vessel-like work is an expedition into what most would characterize as the decorative arts. A bit of a departure for everyone involved, this work is an amalgam of disparate ideas I have encountered over the years that perfectly encapsulate the many intersections between art and design as they are popularly understood. 

The following is an attempt to describe all of the various inspirations and how they connect.


funeral urn by Chris Bathgate
Urn design from 2008

Inspiration For The Netsuke Hybrid Vessel Bead:

The earliest seed for this work came in 2008 when I was asked to make a small funeral Urn for a friend of mine who had lost her mother. I obliged this friend (of course) and made a small-machined metal vessel (as seen above). When I was finished, I was pleased to find that it had many of the qualities I was looking for in my regular sculpture work. Sadly, my preoccupation with only making sculpture at that time stopped me from pursuing the concept further.

What has finally brought me back to the vessel idea, and the rest of the inspiration for this peice, was my search for other contemporaries who are exploring the aesthetic side of machine work. Instead of finding other sculptors, I found a number of professional machinists who are branching out from their traditional roles to explore the more creative possibilities within their trade.


Lanyard  bead vessel, engineered craft, Netsuke design

These machinist craftsmen are primarily creating functional objects and do not necessarily consider what they are doing to be art. Their aim however, is not so different than mine, they wish to express themselves and maybe make something beautiful in the process. Rather than sculpture, they are making lanyard beads, folding knives, spin tops, fidget toys, pens, flashlights, and other tactical type accoutrements. Many of them are progressing into the type of embellishment and thoughtfulness of craft that has seen many industrial crafts blossom into a fine arts movement. Crafts like wood turning, glass blowing, welding, and ceramics have all transitioned from commercial industries to fine and decorative art traditions.

Sagemono, Chinese Snuff bottle, inspired art, cnc design,

My interest in how industrial processes morph into arts movements is what first set me on a path of exploring a kind of functional art of my own. Looking for similarities between the decorative arts and machining is where the rest of the inspiration for this work was found.

In doing my research for these functional projects, I began looking for older forms of utilitarian art. My earlier adventures in small sculpture had brought Japanese Netsuke to my attention (see below). Further digging revealed that Sagemono as it relates to Netsuke, as well as Chinese snuff bottles had qualities that I could relate to this project. These object forms with their long and storied histories seemed like they would be perfectly at home in the contemporary environment of machined decorative arts.

(Left) Sagemono with obi and Netsuke. (right) Carved Netsuke


What is Netsuke and Sagemono?


For those who are unfamiliar with Netsuke and Sagemono, I whole-heartedly suggest you take a look into this amazing tradition, but for simplicity sake, I have copied a simple description from the International Netsuke Society page.

In Short: A netsuke is a small sculptural object, which has gradually developed in Japan over a period of more than three hundred years. Netsuke (singular and plural) initially served both functional and aesthetic purposes. The traditional form of Japanese dress, the kimono, had no pockets. Women would tuck small personal items into their sleeves, but men suspended their tobacco pouches, pipes, purses, writing implements, and other items of daily use on a silk cord passed behind their obi (sash). These hanging objects are called sagemono. The netsuke was attached to the other end of the cord preventing the cord from slipping through the obi. A sliding bead (ojime) was strung on the cord between the netsuke and the sagemono to allow the opening and closing of the sagemono.



The entire ensemble was then worn, at the waist, and functioned as a sort of removable external pocket. All three objects (netsuke, ojime and the different types of sagemono) were often beautifully decorated with elaborate carving, lacquer work, or inlays of rare and exotic materials.

Assortment of Snuff bottles

What are Chinese Snuff Bottles?


Chinese snuff bottles, well? were used to hold snuff of course. But they were also highly adorned objects that represent a decorative art form displaying a wide range of experimentation with materials within a narrow range of designs. This art form echoes trends within the machining community where a single design is often iterated in a variety of metals and exotic alloys to achieve distinct looks and qualities. A link is here for further exploration.

CNC design, lanyard bead vessel, modern sagemono

My Take on it all:


Together, the Netsuke, Sagemono, and Chinese snuff bottles seemed analogous to some of the finely machined and decorated lanyard beads and other tactical pieces I was seeing in the machinist community. I sensed the potential for collaboration with the past. Both my recent past, which involves my urn project, and the distant past with these venerable decorative art forms.

While the look of these traditional forms may be quite different from the machined objects to which I am referring, I am more interested in the shared impulse they both represent. The impulse to decorate and improve ones most cherished utilitarian possessions, and how this act often grows to the point where the art begins to take priority over the original function of the object. Anyone who follows how gloriously large, complex, and impractical modern luxury watches have become can attest to how this can play out.

This transformation from functional craft to creative art form can happen over years, decades, or centuries, but the process is usually the same. The focus of the work becomes less and less about the usefulness of the thing, and more and more about the craft itself. The object becomes secondary to the act of making; eventually the original object can be completely abandoned in favor of new technical or conceptual challenges within the craft. What remains is a medium ripe for art for art’s sake.

Sagemono Vessel, machined metal, engineered decorative arts

Conclusion:

So to bring this all back together and how it led to this design. After my experience making my small urn, I have often thought of returning to making a vessel form of some kind. The thing preventing me from doing so was my inability to conceptually connect it to the rest of my work. But as I have pursued more functional art projects to explore a broader design and craft context for my work, I realized that I could link all of these disparate influences into one project.

The “Netsuke Hybrid Vessel Bead” is the result. It is something that I hope speaks to how universal the impulse to make something both useful and beautiful can be. How an items function can influence design across time.

Machined Metal art, urn vessel, Bead

Build Notes: 

Callye, Mike and I have been bouncing ideas and parts for this prototype back and fourth for months. The piece has slowly taken shape since January as the team worked out the bugs in the mechanics and made small adjustments to the design. We still have a little fine-tuning to go before we start producing an edition of these, but we could not wait any longer to share the project with all of you.

Dimensions are a bit over 2" Diameter by 1.5" Tall.  

So what is it for? What does it do? Some people may feel like this is a project that tries to do too much, tries to do too many things and so does not do any of them well. I say that is sort of the point. As functional art goes in my mind, the creative content is always the foremost consideration over practicality. 

Lanyard and Caribiner demo, ring box demo
(left) sagemono arrangement, (forgive my rookie knots).........(right) test with ring adapter (still needs work)

So, it is many things, it is a container (but a rather small one), but it is also a lanyard style bead (a rather large and impractical one) with a through bore to receive a piece of paracord. It could be worn sagemono style when paired with a second lanyard bead (obi analogue) and a carabiner (netsuke analog), something other machinist in the community could easily contribute to this project on. Those of you who machine or collect rings, you can use it as a ring box (something we have tested). Or use it as a snuffbox (something we have not tested), what ever you like. I am sure many of you will come up with interesting uses.

 That the work has such flexibility in what it can be used for opens the door to additional collaboration with makers in the future. I am looking forward to seeing how it is interpreted by others in the machinist community.

Mechanical Iris vessel

Other thoughts: 

One of the final noteworthy considerations in designing this was wether we should leave the mechanics of the iris visible to the user. There is no doubt that it looks incredible, however leaving the mechanics exposed opens the door to getting particulate matter into the iris, which could lead to a jam. For now we have decided the benefit of leaving the mechanics visible outweigh the risks, so a bit of care may need to be taken when considering what to use it for. This is a limiting factor of the design, but my aim all along was to put the aesthetics of the piece ahead of other considerations.

Machined metal Lanyard Bead Vessel

How can I get one?

We are planning on doing a preorder later this week for those of you interested in collecting one of these works. The initial run will likely be around 50 pieces total (that is our working number, we may adjust this some). Whether there will be a second batch or other variants in the future is unknown at this time.

Because demand has been so high for my small projects (the last edition sold out in under an hour), we will be following a similar protocol to previous releases.

The pre-sale will go as follows.

I will post a link to a sign up form on Friday July 28th at 11:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time). I will send the link for this form via email newsletter first, I will then post it here on this blog, last I will post it to my Instagram account.

I know time zones and distance play a factor in how quickly the link shows up, but for those of you who want to attempt to sign up first, I have done my best to give you accurate info to give you the best shot.

The pre-order will stay open for exactly one week.

Everyone will be limited to just one piece, and one sign up per person.

First 25 names on the list will get to reserve one of the works outright. The other 25 or so spots will be distributed raffle style to the remaining names on the list. 

As is my policy, I do not post pricing on publicly facing media. Pricing info will be included on the sign up form. Obviously this is a very complex project, those of you familiar with the price of previous editions might be able to arrive at a reasonable guess. But simply check the form on Friday if you are curious and decide from there if it is within your means to collect.

If you are thinking of throwing your name int he hat on Friday, Good luck.

4/18/17

The S1V2

Kinetic art, fidget, sculpture, pocket art.

And now for some color.

As promised, a return to some smaller work with a new edition of "Slider" style pocket sculptures. Although similar in composition to the original S1, this is a complete redesign with a lot of carefully considered changes. I am going to call this the "S1V2".

I was originally going to go with S3 for simplicity, but I have a concept that is still incubating that reflects a more proper evolution, and so is more deserving of that moniker. I will get to it one day I promise.

There are a number of reasons I wanted to return to this form from last fall. For starters, over the many weeks I worked on S1, I kept coming up with small but meaningful changes I would have liked to try. Eventually, this list of changes became long enough that I started drafting some of them just to see how they would have looked.

These sketches became a complete redesign of the work. But having too many commitments at the time, I shelved the drawings, not knowing if I would ever get back to them. 

Chris Bathgate, functional art experiment

Another reason I decided to pull the trigger on this edition was that even though I have released a number of other small works in the last few months, I still get near daily emails from people who are primarily interested in my original slider design.

This is of course, very flattering, and as focused as I might be on "new" new work, eventually the steady drum beat of people wanting works of this nature must have had an effect. Not usually one to cave to peer pressure, I suspect I was already looking for an excuse to dust off my V2 design and see where it might lead. Given how great they turned out, and how excited I am to start this project has helped to confirm that suspicion. 

Besides. I think I was able to cover enough new ground with this refinement to justify the indulgence.


Aside form the new profiles and insert details, there are quite a few noteworthy changes in this new design. For starters, these are about 30% bigger than my original slider (but not heavier), I always thought that the originals might be a bit small for some hands so I went for something a little meatier. 

This larger size was just enough to allow me to do some internal profiling on the bore that receives the insert. The radius on the tail end of the insert is an elongated profile, which requires a very small boring bar to turn the inside dimensions. The original S1 was simply drilled out using a 5/8" ball mill, which was limiting.

EDC art, CNC sculpture, anodized art

I had very briefly experimented with anodized aluminum inserts on the S1. What I initially found was that the friction inside the bore was too much for the exposed sharp edges of the inserts, which caused some chipping of the colored coating.

But on reflection, I realized I had it backwards all along. I started to wonder, what if I swapped the anodizing to the body? I reasoned that doing so would mean that the smooth and reasonably protected inner bore of the body would be the only portion of the coating that would be exposed to sliding friction. I wondered if that would be enough to prevent any chipping? A test was going to be the only way to find out.

So I made a prototype (the orange one) and have been putting it through it's paces all weekend. I am happy to report that it is holding up beautifully, even to some brutal accelerated aging. so I am now reasonably confident that this combination is going to work perfectly fine.

The reason for all of this trouble was so that I could produce the gorgeous array of colors you see above. Anodized aluminum is really the only way to produce such colors on a metallic finish, and it was something I thought was lacking in my other works. Plus it is quite fitting for a spring edition.

The aluminum is noticeably lighter, but the larger insert makes the total weight close to the S1. The sound of the sliding action is different from the S1 as well, which is a rare look at the acoustic properties of different metals. (there is always something new to be learned in with this craft).

       
Purchasing?

So, as I have done with other small editions, If you are interested in adding one of these works to your collection, I will be opening these to pre-order only.

I expect demand will likely outstrip my ability to produce enough of these, so I have come up with a system that is as fare as possible, if not a little clunky and complicated. (all of this will be detailed on the pre-order form once I settle on the number of works I think I can make)

Pre-order will open this coming Thursday (April 20th) at 11AM (EST). I will send out a follow up to this newsletter at exactly that time with a link to a google form. This form is how you will reserve your place in line to purchase one of these sculptures. The form will also detail the pricing, shipping, and how payments will be processed.

If you are not on my mailing list, please sign up here before Thursday morning and white list the following email address in your mail client "chris@chrisbathgate.com"

This will likely be the only run of these I will make, as I have lots of other exciting things in the works.

So keep an eye out for the Thursday pre-order email.  And if you are reading this at some distant point in the future, I am sorry, but the moment has passed.

As always, comments and questions are welcome.

4/11/17

Over 1000 individually machined parts later, a new sculpture emerges. (Sculpture BM 792314)


CNC art, Industrial design, Sculpture, Machinist sculptor

Last year, I spent the fall making a small army of pocket sized sculptures. They were very popular and a blast to make, but they were relatively simple as far as designs go. So as winter set in, I felt that I was ready to turn my attention to something bigger and more technically complex. Now it is spring and I have emerged from my studio hibernation with something I think is really special.

For the last 14 weeks I have been undertaking one of my most ambitious works to date. Not ambitious in terms of size (although it is a largish piece), but more of a personal record in terms of the substantial number of parts I was required to make to execute this idea. It is a design with well over a thousand individually machined parts. If you count spare parts (I always make extras), almost 1100.

Digital Fabrication, industrial design

While still a healthy size as far a machined metal sculptures go, it is by far the largest parts count I have ever attempted. I had to make hundreds upon hundreds of custom bolts, pins, and spacers in addition to the dozens of other more intricate parts that make up the assembly.

 (Sculpture is 20.5" tall, 17" wide, and 11" deep. It weighs 88 pounds)

engineering art

This work is also unique in that it has a rather complex interior space, something that I find difficult to work into many of my designs.

 The opening into the interior is approximately 5" at its smallest, so you can easily stick your whole arm through the center of this piece. 

Digital Fabrication arts

As far as my design motivations for this work?...Well lately...rather than thinking about these sculptures in terms of representing one big idea or one specific meaning, I am finding it more useful and accurate to say that these works speak to a collection of smaller ideas, some overlapping, and even conflicting at times. 

I bet many artist feel pressure to impose meaning in places were maybe there is none, and are reluctant to reveal other meanings in service to creating a tidy narrative around their works. There is a belief that a concise narrative makes the work more accessible to others, but this is not always true with my type of work. I find a fixed narrative or interpretation betrays the complexity of the creative process, and can even be alienating if it does not fit with a persons own perceptions of the work.

So I have started to say that I collect lots of small concepts, bits of technical information, personal meanings, and compositional elements as I work. Then I take these simpler elements and smash them together and recombine them until something more complex and refined emerges. 

I think comparing disparate pieces of information is how most new ideas are created, it is certainly the case with this work, I could speak to over a dozen loosely connected points of interest that went into this composition. But as you already know, I am only willing to share a few of them.

design art, metal fabrication, cncart


One example of an influence that I am willing to share, comes in part from planning my most recent exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
(see link and show details here)

The BMI was originally an old cannery that now houses an array of machines, products, and tools from across Baltimore's industrial past.

I paid many visits to the BMI over the last 18 months while planning my exhibition there. I took a lot of extra time during those visits to appreciate the BMI's collection to see how I might make some connections to my own work. 

My time amongst the various industrial artifacts got me thinking about how artists have always appropriated antiquated industrial processes and given them a new lease on life within the arts (glass blowing, type setting, wood turning are all examples). Likewise, artists have also been some of the first to adopt new technologies to see what novel uses they may have (photography and video). I realized that this contrast between the old and the new is something that machine work, my sculptural process, encapsulates beautifully. 

There are processes that I use in my shop that have not changed for hundreds of years, there are also processes in my shop that represent the cutting edge of digital fabrication technologies. I think committing to exploring both ends of this spectrum has led me to some of my most interesting work. 

Walking around the BMI, I intentionally pulled a number of references from their collection for this particular piece, far more than I would ever admit to for any other design. I wanted some part of this sculpture to embody my experience there. 


metal sculpture, abstract, machine, art

As I said, there are many other influences present in this work, as the beginning sketches of this design go back almost 2 years. 

Ok ok, one more. Look up "John Ernst Worrell Keely", really interesting story in its own right. Was he a con man? inventor? or was he the first machinist sculptor?..

I'll just leave that one hanging out there.

CAD, technical Drawing, schematic art

The Drawing for this work is just as ambitious as the sculpture, but a bit too big for a blog image. 

It is actually too big for the printer as well, 60x60 inches is as big as my printing company can accommodate, but even this is not properly to scale. 

Sadly, it is very compressed above which compromises it a great deal.


But rest assured, each part is faithfully included in there somewhere. I took a bit more liberty with the use of a bold color (singular) and composition on this one.

 I can't wait to get this monster printed and on a wall somewhere, as it is like an engineers version of a mandala.


The exploded diagram and assembly breakdown is unfortunately another drawing that just doesn't scale well for the screen. 


The exploded assembly is just an organized mess until you spend some time wrapping your head around it.

Machinist sculptor Chris Bathgate, works

Additional process notes: Even after all the parts were completed, It took two entire days to assemble everything. Threading and torquing down each of the hundreds of bolts with custom made wrenches while taking great care not to scratch or ding the finish was quite the meditative exercise. I have never held my breath so much in my entire life. 

Machine work as sculpture

This project saw me spending many weeks with repetitive operations, so I made it a point to enjoy taking the time to refine and discover efficiencies for each step and part-program as the days went on. 

There is a lot to be learned from making 440 small spacers, even when you are on part 423, something new might still occur to you.

milling machine art, lathe art

I also had to expand my Anodizing lab to accommodate some of the larger diameter ring shaped parts. They simply would not fit in my existing tanks, but I knew they had to be orange, so I ended up refurbishing much of my anodizing line and installing new tanks just for the few parts in this work.

 I will be sure to put them to good use again in the future. 


Many people have commented that I do a bad job of illustrating the scale of my works in these posts. 

To remedy this, here is the hand spinner collaboration I did sitting atop a 1.5"diameter steel rod for scale reference.

 the stainless bolt heads on the work are each half an inch in diameter, and the large orange bolt caps on the legs are three quarters. 

(there are also a couple good desk shots in the montage below)


 Lots of other great process images for inspiration as well. 


So in conclusion, this is what 14 weeks of my life looks like...I hope you like the result.

 The pendulum will likely be swinging back to some small works for a little while, I have some things I want to try and some other collaboration announcements coming, so stay tuned. 


Also, in case you missed it, the newest version of my art book is now up for sale on the website and on Blurb, links below. 



as always, comments and questions are welcome. 


2/4/17

The Bathgate Artifact Spinner collaboration


UPDATE: 6/24/2017

When Mike, Callye, and I started this project, spinners were a little known object that was relegated to a small niche of collectors and enthusiasts within the maker community. Now that we are wrapping up the project and shipping the last Artifacts to their collectors, much has changed. Including the addition of these three very special "one of a kind" pieces to close out the project. 

Within just the few months it took to complete our project, the "spinner" as an object, has gone from something machinist and makers made for their own amusement, to a cultural and commercial phenomenon. Cheap plastic versions can now be bought in toy stores and even in the checkout lines at malls and pharmacies. News stories about them are everywhere. It is quite a lot to take in as the narrative I was writing to above has certainly changed a lot.

With anything that reaches a mass audience, there is praise and criticism, some people think they are the next pet rock, others express bewilderment as to why anyone would want such a trivial object, some think they are just kids toys.

But I stand by my original reason for wanting to make one.  No matter how spinners may eventually come to be perceived in the world at large, that the spinner represents an object that can be made in a limitless variety of shapes, materials, and designs, creates an excellent opportunity to experiment and talk about the intersections between fine art, commercial products, craft, and design.

It was a great project and that the spinner has attracted world wide attention (for better or worse) just helps to reinforce that belief.

The original blog post follows from here.


This piece is the second installment in a series of design collaborations I am doing with various machinist makers I have come to know. Like my previous joint project with Rich Stadler, the goal is to find projects that pose interesting new design constraints that may lead to sculptural insights I might not have otherwise considered.

This time, I teamed up with Mike Hogarty and Callye Keen from Revolvemakers to design what is known as a spinner. So first things first, a little bit about the two of them.

Mike Hogarty is a Master Mechanic and founder of Hotrods 2 Hybrids. He is a designer of custom motorcycle and automobile parts, and is a member at Nova-labs in Reston VA.

Callye Keen is a product designer and comes from a family background in low-volume, high-precision manufacturing, Callye now runs Red Blue Collective, a group that aims to help hardware startups get off the ground. Callye is also a member at Nova-labs in Reston VA.


So now then, why this project? 

It has been my observation that there are a number of aesthetic object making trends emerging within the machinist community. A small cottage industry has sprung up around making and selling things that are first and foremost, interesting to look at, but also serve some other utilitarian function as well. Some of these objects are becoming common enough that they are starting to represent tradition forms within the craft. 


One of the most common aesthetic objects is something known as a "spinner". For those who may be unfamiliar, a spinner is an object with a ball-bearing in the center of it, that a person can sort of meditatively spin between the index finger and thumb. Most often referred to as a fidget toy, I much prefer looking at them as a type of kinetic sculpture ( I just can't get on board with the "toy" thing).

spinners are extremely popular, both to make, and also as collectors items. 


A very basic spinner is easy to build, and the design allows a lot of flexibility as far as what one can look like. The bearings used in them are affordable and readily available. The main design constraint is that they must fit in the hand, and be balanced enough to spin without wobbling. I have seen immaculately machined versions, as well as 3D printed plastic ones, and even intentionally crude looking spinners made from rough cut wood.

The machinist community has exploded with likely hundreds of spinner designs. Their ubiquity is why I was initially reluctant to make one. But after a few conversations with my collaborators, I came to feel that if the spinner is going to become a traditional form within the machinist art community, it may likely become a sort of "rite of passage" to design and make one - and so I was in, and now here we are.


So down to brass tacks and design notes. While there have been many interesting spinner designs made already, one of the biggest criticisms (and it is a loving criticism) I could level at most of the work I have seen, is that many spinner designs do not transcend their medium very well. 

Much of the works are machined out of flat bar stock, which is perfectly reasonable to do, but the resultant works also tend to look like they were machined out of flat bar stock. This flat-bar look, to me, is generally not very interesting (but exceptions abound). 

So that was sort of my charge with this design, to break from this flat-bar mold and push the geometry into something that was not reflective of the starting stock. I wanted to find complexity within the relatively simple design that is the spinner.

But as an aside, I rather intentionally included the brass plate in the middle of this design, as a sort of reference to the flat stock criticism I was working against. As maybe a contrast, or some intentional dissonance, maybe even affection for those who came before, I think it is likely a little of each.


Having now designed and made a spinner, I certainly think it is a worthwhile exercise from a domain knowledge standpoint. I think younger machinist and people beginning to experiment in the metal arts can get a lot out of a project of this nature. Making a spinner addresses fundamentals of both machine work and visual composition, so in a lot of ways it is ideal.

Anyhow, I find the end result of my experiment to be such a nice little object to look at, I am not even sure it would matter to me if it spun or not..Im joking..mostly


As always, comments and questions are welcome.