Friday, September 23, 2016

casting course: sand casting and a siderant

My advanced Metalsmithing course this semester is Casting. My students have their first major series due this Tuesday. They were asked to create a six piece chess set series from original patterns that they created or sourced for sand casting. I'm pulling this from my experience of 3D printing the ReadyMake series from Bryan Cera and Scott Kildall and then metal casting from these prints. Many of the students were interested in utilizing Rhino or Sculptris to design their patterns for 3D printing. Many of them have never used these programs so this was new to them as I did some short crash-course tutorials in Rhino, regardless that the course would not usually cover this content. I'm rolling with it... 

I find it interesting that for the last several years we have looked at technology as something separate from the usual or traditional approaches to making. In Milwaukee the technology was severed from Jewelry and Metalsmithing so as to create something "new", and there became a separation between Digital Fabrication and Design and Jewelry and Metalsmithing. At that time I believe it was a response to a possible influx of Chinese students who were planning on attending UWM and we needed to create a program that would fulfill Chinese Ministry of Education requirements for students to get an "Industrial Design like" (whatever that means) degree from a US University. There was also need to protect jobs that had been created for sabbatical replacements and such. Splitting things made sense for those reasons, but not for serving our immediate students in the best way to assist them in building their future. In addition, I began to see digital fabrication programs popping up all over in academia and new media or physical computing programs  that were adopting all things 3D printing/laser cutting/ and CNC machining.  "Experts" are being hired in these areas and we are seeing the Maker community continually preach the gospel about these "new" processes but what happens when the processes and projects suffer from the same fate as the the feed on my Facebook page; when I see the same thing over and over and over. What happens when there is no grounding in traditional methods of craft and the work lacks depth due to the separation of technology from intense and specific knowledge about materials and process?

Now that I am at Appalachian State I see the need for integrated use and an adaptation of the methods in which we teach the traditional approaches to design, production, and artmaking. I need to infuse the new with the old and let the old inform the way in which we can create new ways of making and even more...new ways of teaching. Let's face it though, this is difficult when you don't have a roadmap for how to do this. In my opinion it's not sufficient enough to walk into to a Intro Intermediate or Advanced Metalsmithing course and teach the same exact content that we've all been teaching for the last 70 years, with just subtle additions or adaptations of particular processes. I believe things have changed so much that we cannot afford to be doing things as we have been doing for the past 70 years! With Universities becoming more driven by the corporate model, the number of jobs in the jewelry/metalsmithing/art field dwindling, the types of jobs available in the jewelry/metalsmithing/art field changing, the number of graduates leaving school and not finding jobs (and having school debt), and just an overall change in the value of higher education, I feel that we need to stop and reevaluate what it is that we are preparing students for. I'm sorry to say, but it all returns to classroom goals and objectives on the syllabus/ on each project description and how that translates into a wide set of goals and objectives that get our young people on down the road to better things than working a minimum wage job. Sounds bleak doesn't it?

 On the positive side of this, I am witnessing an expansion of new kinds of jobs that didn't exist that require the same or similar skillset along with the creative process and a knowledge of how to harness technology and process to serve an idea or workflow. It requires serious foresight though to try and project what the students of the future need to know for a job that may or may not currently exist. That said, I feel like you can't go wrong with setting up students to have a strong work ethic, a broad range of skills that becomes "a toolbox" for them to draw from, an attention to detail, and teaching students methods to be creative by solving problems, and instilling the desire to never stop learning so that they can later use this to expand their knowledge when they leave school. Providing students with a set of skills is essential to their success! Most of my students coming into their Freshman classes have a very limited vocabulary when it comes to figuring out how to make something three dimensional from raw material. We have to cover a lot of information and give students an expansive set of tools for them to be able to draw from when it comes time to solve a problem creatively. I can't afford to divorce new technologies from traditional processes and I can't simply teach the same curriculum that was meant for Higher Education during the early sixties when the world was a very different place.

I am finding that there is a real commitment to teaching here at Appalachian State. It's impressive. I have found so far that the faculty here are really devoted to teaching students and making decisions that will serve their students future. There is also a commitment to making and teaching the necessary skills and processes that will insure students can be creative. I feel like this is a good place for me to be able to merge my ideas about technology and how traditional processes and depth of knowledge actually fuel and feed what you do with technology; thus creating innovation and contributing to new knowledge.

All of this leads me to how I should be integrating technology into the standard traditional courses that I teach. In this casting course I hope that we can begin to test the impact of the introduction of computer modeling as another resource to aid students in the creative process. I'm also intrigued by the use of the 3D printer as a way to create casting patterns. I know this specific example is not groundbreaking and that I have preached about this before, but what IS groundbreaking is NOT setting up specific labs/studios, and curriculum that focuses specifically on digital content and curriculum. What IS groundbreaking is finding a way to introduce these tools into current curriculum so it just becomes standard practice and the technology component get assimilated into "what we do" as creative practitioners.

I have had many conversations lately with one of my current colleagues, Travis Donavan about this. Travis teaches in Sculpture and I believe he is currently grappling with some of the same ideas that I am on how to be a more effective teacher and how our respective programs need to prepare students for the future. I think we're on the same page and see our students crossing over between sculpture and jewelry/metalsmithing and I also think we see that the integration of technology needs to happen at all levels until we don't even consider technology to be a specific or separate tool that needs to be taught in a separate classroom or a separate course. Technology just needs to become fully integrated so that we can actually just stop talking about it and get on with the making so we can reach new depths.

I hope that I am successful in finding ways to fully integrate new ways of teaching into the older style curriculum that I have begun to teach again here at Appalachian State. I'm starting off small with some of the things I'm implementing in the classroom, and ways that I am thinking about students accessing tools and technology. In some ways this new experience becomes phase two of the original concept that I had for the Digital Craft Research Lab in Milwaukee. I have the chance to assess and examine what I built in Milwaukee and the way in which that program prepared students for the future. I also get to integrate my interests in design, function, technology, and the role of Craft in society, more fully with my own background in metalsmithing and jewelry without feeling the pressure of fitting into a fake Industrial Design curriculum or worrying about stealing away majors from a Jewelry and Metalsmithing program, or worrying about people who liked to make decisions or say things to protect their own territory. It's refreshing!

I'm really loving teaching here and I see several students who are interested in taking in as much information as I can provide, so that's a great thing. I can't wait to see the completed chess set pieces next week and I'm even more interested to hear from the students about how this assignment expanded their knowledge and how they might see using this experience in the future. Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

fj40 fenders

As noted, I haven't had a lot of time, but each weekend since arriving here in Boone, I've tried to do a little work on the FJ40 to get it completed. A few weekends ago, I was able to get the fenders in paint and get the other ambulance door prepped for paint. I need to get the Toyota ready for the winter so I can have some mountain worthy wheels. The Ural also got a new front brake cable this past weekend so hopefully I can get it squared away after a much needed tune-up so I can commute with it in the coming weeks. I just have to keep at things so I can get situated and back into a routine.

app state metalsmithing and jewelry design studio

I'm six weeks into the new semester! Now that I'm starting to get settled in, I thought I would share a few pics and a bit of information about my position here at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Jill and I are loving it here so far (more on that soon)! 

I thought it might be nice to do a studio tour this post so you all can see where I'm teaching courses. The images above show the Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design studio where I teach. My office is located inside the Metals studio which is both really nice, and at the same time, bad as I think the additional space could be used for something more than my office and storage of all the materials that need to be locked up. Regardless, I like being in the studio and interacting with students outside of class time. I find I'm probably a better teacher one on one outside of class than during each class. I know for a fact that the students who hang out in the studio probably gain more from just "being around".

Anyway, Arthur and Marissa who were here before me, did a great job getting things set up and starting to update things. Arthur established the signage you see above on the entrance to the space and made many new tool purchases. I believe things had been kind of left to deteriorate before he got here, so he laid the groundwork for reestablishing things. It's funny to be here now because I followed his progress on his blog each time he would post, so it felt funny to first walk into the space. The studio felt really familiar in a weird way. I'm told that Marissa did even more organization in the year that she was here, and again I could see signs of that as well.

The studio is super small in comparison with what I'm used to, but there is something cozy about it too. I find myself wanting to expand the processes and things that we are capable of doing/making, but the space is a limiting factor in some ways. That said, I'm modeling the space right now, so I can move things around digitally and see if there is a way that I can create more organization and order that will allow us to reconfigure the space as needed. This takes me time though, as I don't want to rush into anything yet. I always hate it when I have been teaching in places and you see people come in and completely dismantle everything in an effort to "make it their space" or "mark their territory" under the guise of "improvements", so I'm trying to be cognizant of not disrupting the flow that current students and other faculty have in the space. To me, it's just bad practice to totally disrupt everyone else in order to gain that sense of ownership.

My biggest challenge in teaching in the space has just been knowing where things are located. I'm lucky that I have a few advanced students who have been particularly helpful in telling me where things are located. I'm slowly getting acclimated to the space. I've set up my 3D printers in my office so I can create a bit of a mini-DCRL there, and I have plans to further develop that space so we can expand our offerings. I'm hoping to add some other equipment in there and then try to find spaces outside the office to start locking up supplies and such. Again, I'm limited on space, but I'll make it work. Smaller studio just means less space to have to clean and be responsible for. Kind of feels good actually and hopefully leaves some time for setting up my own personal studio. I already feel good about the new equipment that I'm starting to contribute to the space and I think making some small strides in this direction will go a long way to creating a really nice space for students to learn and create. I'm looking forward to where this new challenge will take me! I'll be sure to post more as things progress.

fj40 soft top

The new soft top for my FJ40 came in yesterday. I installed it on this afternoon just before the rain started. The top is so well made and I'm really pleased with the quality. This top is patterned after the OEM Toyota tops except I opted for PVC rather than canvas and the rear side windows are large and there is only one window per side rather than two smaller ones. I had painted the softtop support hoops last weekend, so the actual top was the missing component. Now I'm waiting on toggles and the footman loops that will get installed around the perimeter of the tub. This will allow me to cinch it down tight and get better fitment. The addition of the soft top should get me back on the road soon and buy me some time to do some patch work on the hardtop sides.