I learned a new word last week – diorama. Dioramas are miniature three-dimensional scene in which models of figures are arranged against a background. They were used by Victorians as a theatre device and can be used in film animations.
Hooperhart creates magical little wooden worlds in boxes and pictures. Cal also makes jewellery, pop up kits and decorations, and embellishes them with hand painting and screen printing. She got in touch to ask if I could laser cut her miniature pieces from 3mm plywood.
Miniature pieces for miniature worlds
As Cal needs lots of small shapes for her scenes, she only needs one sheet of plywood shapes cut at a time. She sends new artwork depending on the shapes she wants, filling the sheet with little trees, deer, boats, clouds and mountains to get as many pieces as possible. Even the offcuts make me smile!
Stand up kits
Cal wanted a couple of stand up kits in her first order, so I needed to test the slots to make sure they would fit neatly. Plywood thicknesses are nominal, and the 3mm ply that I source is typically between 3.1 – 3.3mm thick. If the slots are created at 3mm, they are too tight and the kit doesn’t work!
Cal sent me two pieces of artwork to try. One was too tight and the other was spot on.
Fragile – handle with care!
Cal’s mountains, bears and moose are very robust as they’re chunky. Some of the trees, plants and deer are very fragile though. Look at the tree trunks in the picture at the top. Their trunks are only a few millimetres thick, so I pack them very carefully and they arrived with Cal in one piece.
Thankfully, plywood is inherently strong. 3mm ply typically has 3 layers of wood laminated together which helps, but it wouldn’t take much to break them.
Cal loves arranging her pieces in pleasing formations, known as knolling, another new word I’ve learned from her. She creates some of her pieces in this way, and her Instagram feed is a great place for her to play!
Karen Elwis of The Learning Cauldron became a friend through Fife Women in Business. She tutors students in English, German and French from her home. Recently, she asked if I could engrave a sign with her logo so that pupils would know where to come.
She had also been short listed as a finalist for the Perthshire Chamber of Commerce awards for 2018 and wanted the sign in place when the judges paid her a visit. This increased the urgency of the request considerably!
The Learning Cauldron logo
When Karen had her logo designed, she wanted it to look like as though it was written with chalk on a blackboard. The Learning Cauldron text is all white on a black background, except for the TLC letters which are all in chalk colours.
Laser engraving can’t be done in colour. The laser either engraves or doesn’t engrave, and the engraved surface of wood is a shade of brown. This is darker if the wood is darker and a higher power setting is used during engraving.
I suggested to Karen that there would be two ways of engraving her logo. It could be done so that the black square would be engraved and the letters unengraved. This would look closest to her logo. Otherwise, I could engrave the outline of the square which would be left engraved, and the text. This way, the logo would be recognisable with minimal engraving. Both options would look great depending on what she preferred.
What does engraved wood look like?
It was important that Karen knew what to expect. Most signs have small engraved areas like text. Karen’s logo was different to most that I’ve worked with as the engraved area would be much larger.
I showed Karen samples of how engraved oak would look. It’s such a beautiful wood with a lovely grain which would show through the engraving. Engraved areas would be slightly recessed into the wood, and growth rings of different densities would engrave to different depths. After engraving, varnish, stain or oil protect the wood, evening out and enhancing the engraved areas and improving the contrast between engraved and unengraved areas. You can see the difference it makes if you compare the picture above with the lead picture and video.
Karen was keen to have the sign looking as close to the logo as possible, so opted to have the square engraved. She asked Frazer Reid of FAR Cabinet Makers to make the oak sign. He dropped it off at my workshop and I got to work.
This piece of oak was less dense than some I’ve worked with, and the engraving had a nice depth to it. And the wood grain rippled like a wave across the surface and this was pronounced in the engraving, enhancing interest in the area. As there was so much engraving, a lot of dust was created as it is a burning process, so I gave the sign a good rub with an old sock and then gave it a hoover for good measure to remove as much as possible. Karen was delighted with it and decided to varnish it herself.
The challenge in this job arose unexpectedly as Karen finished her sign at home. While she was varnishing it, black specs from residual charred dust stuck to the brush and spread across the sign. It also contaminated the remainder of the pot of varnish I gave her from engraving my own house sign. Usually when engraved areas are small, the brush doesn’t contact the bottom of engravings and this problem doesn’t arise. In this case, a quarter to a third of the sign surface was engraved and it was a problem that I hadn’t even thought of. I learned something new that day!
Karen rang me up and we chatted over how we could sort it out. She removed the affected varnish from the sign using solvent and sanding as she thought best. Once all of the engraved areas had one complete coat of varnish, it was sealed.
A splash of colour
Karen wanted her sign to look as close to her logo as possible, and enlisted her friend Claire Brownbridge’s expertise. She mixed some acrylic paint to match the chalk colours in the logo and painted the T, L and C. Varnishing the sign first made it easier to remove stray paint from unwanted areas. Then Karen completed the final coat with a clean brush and a new pot of varnish.
Karen’s sign is now proudly mounted outside her door for judges and pupils to admire!
Sergeant Gordon Fullerton recruits medical personnel for 152 Medical Squadron based in Glenrothes.
He contacted me because the troops were refurbishing their mess area. They wanted their cap badges engraved on four oak cask ends to hang on the wall and wondered if I could help.
Cap badge detail
Gordon sent me artwork for the four cap badges for the Medical (RAMC), Nursing (QARANC), Logistics (RLC) and Staff and Personnel Support (SPS) corps. They were all very intricate with lots of detail, particularly on the crowns and the snake on the RAMC badge.
Gordon wanted them all engraved at 250 x 250mm. As all the badges were different widths, we decided to make them all 250mm high to keep them the same size as all the cask ends would be displayed together.
Gordon had found four different looking cask ends that he wanted to have engraved. You can see the cask end in the video has very irregular wooden boards. As the troops wanted the tops of the barrel staves to be part of the cask ends so it would look as if barrels were sticking out of the walls, Gordon used metal hoops to hold the stave ends securely in place.
Engraving the cask ends
Gordon wanted the boards of the cask ends to be vertical, and he’d allocated one end of each as the top for hanging. Once I positioned the cask ends in the laser in the right orientation, I found the central points and lined up the laser with them. This made sure the engravings would be centrally located. Then I started engraving.
I used my highest power setting to get as dark engraves as possible. We wanted the engravings to show up as well as possible against the oak. All the detail came out very well. The engraving looks a bit fuzzy on the video as lots of dust is created when engraving wood. It dusted off easily after production.
Gordon rubbed some Antique Oil over each cask end when it was finished. This brought out the richness of the wood and enhanced the engravings. He managed to install them in the mess before Remembrance Sunday so that the troops’ families would see them. I’m so please that the troops are delighted with them.
All sorts of waste is generated from LaserFlair projects. Sometimes, customers ask if they can take some for creative projects and I’m always delighted to help.
Marysia Lachowicz, a local artist, asked me to help her with a project to celebrate the Polish paratroopers stationed locally during World War 2. She spotted the formica offcut mountain in my workshop, leftovers from cutting shapes for Tom Pigeon’s Form jewellery range.
When Marysia asked if she could take some to experiment with, I told her to take as much as she wanted. She’s been back several times since. Last time, she brought Margot Hailey, another local artist, who makes prints with them. Marysia and Margot love all the cut out detail, and the sheets are perfect for printing with as they’re so thin. They also took some polypropylene sheets from cutting stars and baubles for Spandex Sign Systems. You can see the geometric shapes in the prints above and below. These ladies are some of my most regular bin rakers!
Children’s art activities
Earlier this year, I engraved some signs for Jupiter Artland. Jasmine spotted my plywood sheet offcuts from making stars, moons and unicorns for InkPaintPaper. She said they’d be perfect for their Little Sparks art classes for small children. Jasmine sent a couple of photos of the children using the sheets as templates.
Art school students and teachers
A year ago, Eva Jack was a final year textiles student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. Her final year project was to undertake some research into and produce a collection of new materials with a focus on functionality, experimental process and sustainability.
She wanted to make these new materials by using waste from existing manufacturing processes, and wondered if I had any she could have. So we had a chat on the phone about what I had, and she promptly got on the bus from Dundee and took as much as she could carry.
If this sounds just up your street and you’d like some offcuts for creative projects, please contact us. There’s always plenty to spare.
Dan Brown is working as Digital Storyteller for Scottish Book Trust hosted by Fife Cultural Trust for seven months.
Currently, he’s working on a project to celebrate the ‘new town’ of Glenrothes being 70 years old next year. He’s working with locals to help them tell their stories and capture them digitally whilst increasing their digital literacy and raising confidence. He needed some laser cut shapes to use in stop frame animation workshops with children to create an identity for the project and asked if I could help.
How to choose materials
Dan didn’t know what was possible, so I asked him round to the workshop. He got quite excited when I showed him samples of offcuts of complicated shapes and the materials I could work with from card to fabric, plywood, Perspex and mdf.
He was keen to keep costs down, so I suggested chosing materials that would be light but reasonably robust as children would be attending the workshops. Lighter materials would be faster to cut, keeping production time down.
Dan took some material samples away to think about what he wanted. He could prepare artwork and think about the quantities he’d need.
Making the props
A couple of weeks later, Dan sent me artwork for hippos!
Hippos have become a symbol of Glenrothes. In 1972, local artist Stanley Bonnar created the first group of hippos with the help of post-graduate students. Now, hippo sculptures are dotted about the town. Six have been arranged drinking from a paddling pool in Riverside Park.
Dan wanted card cutouts of hippos, some with ‘Glenrothes 70 Years On’ cut out of their bodies. They were to be cut from leftover mount board and would create solid shadows which would be intriguing with the cut outs.
He also wanted 2mm clear perspex cut into rectangles and engraved with ‘Glenrothes 70 Years On’. Raster and vector engraving highlighted the letters or backgrounds for different effects. Dan had liked the samples of engraved perspex and how they threw interesting shadows.
Dan wanted to be present when I made his order so he could watch the process and film parts of the process.
The short animationabove was created in an hour buy two children at Digi Day in Kirkcaldy Galleries.
Dan’s project will culminate in January when the resulting films will be available online and screened at a celebration event in Rothes Halls.
You can find more information about the project here.
nga waiata is a jewellery designer from New Zealand who lives and works in London. I’ve worked with her for several years now, helping her to brand her distinctive rings and necklaces.
Last year, she rebranded her company’s name from her own full name, ‘nga waiata’ to just ‘waiata’ to make things simpler and easier to pronounce. ‘nga’ is pronounced ‘na’, but waiata is pronounced ‘wayata’ as it looks. When we first started working together, I asked nga waiata about how to pronounce her name and if the letters were all lower case, which they are!
New brand artwork
nga wai sent her new logo and a packet of wooden discs to engrave. I made up an artwork proof, and once she approved it, I was ready to start work.
First, I checked with nga wai what orientation she wanted the discs engraved in. All of them had a pinstripe wood grain. Obvious options were to have the grain going from side to side or top to bottom. nga wai asked me what I thought, and I suggested top to bottom as the logos were horizontal, so that’s what we did.
Engraving tiny wooden tags
All the wooden discs were around 22mm in diameter and appromimately 1mm thick. Being so small and light, it was very important to keep them secure in the machine during engraving. If left unsecured, the discs would just blow around in the machine under the compressed air jet that keeps the machine lens and the item for engraving clean and cool.
BluTac is a wonderful thing, and is perfect during jobs like this. I set up each piece individually for best results, and use a slow engraving speed that helps achieve sharp results on small, detailed engravings. These logos are only 16mm wide.
And as nga wai wanted a nice depth of engraving as well as good contrast, a slow engraving helped. As the dwell time of the laser was several times longer than my usual settings would allow, the engravings were deeper with a lovely tactile 3D effect.
nga wai was delighted with the new tags, and she drilled the holes and finished them herself. Branding items like jewellery and furniture can be challenging, and it’s important for makers to have their mark on their work.
I love seeing pictures of nga wai’s new work with the tags on. The fluorite necklace above was sent to the Caribbean a couple of weeks ago. Fearne Cotton has also been one of nga waiata’s customer’s recently!