006: Fab Project no. 1 Talisman Wrapup

Here are the slides an annotations for my phase 1 project wrapup.

My interest in creating talismans is related to the research I am doing for my thesis. As of my latest question reformulation, my thesis will be focused on researching and creating digital objects that can work as memory charms — self-reflection tools that may also live on to communicate with future-humans. More detail about how I hope that will work, can be found in the storyboards, mind map, and system diagrams.

My inspiration for this topic comes as much from literature as it does from other fields. Proust is of course the king of modernist olfactory memories, but I also love the Narnian idea that with the right magic artifact, one could end up in an entirely different world. In this case, that world is our own past, shifting as we re-encounter it once and once more. I am also inspired by HCI work from Katherine Isbister and Kristina Höök on supple, private, and autonomous experiences.

In a previous prototype last semester, for augmented reality studio, I created a work around experiencing my memories through scent and sight. Users would pick up up objects — papier mache with scent strips glued on top and AR markers on the bottom — and smell, triggering the onscreen experience. While I was happy with the project, the use of mass-produced objects resulted in some limitation on how to present the memories. Reliance on my own dexterity to shape these objects was also a bit of a limitation.

For a look into previous works, I looked at the history of mold-making and casting. These techniques are of course very ancient, being used to create both art and practical objects (like coins) for centuries. Bronze-age molds for spear tips have been found as well as ancient Greek molds for clay figures. Silicone was invented in 1943 and since has spread to become a common material for artists, bakers, and jewelers alike. The material picks up fine detail, sticks to very little, and is very flexible. Its biggest flaw can be cost, but since my creations are small, that was not a big worry. 

Design-wise this work is situated square within the history of talismans and reliquaries. However, rather than focus on drawing luck via symbolism, I am more interested in how we might create objects people can invest with symbolism themselves.

For my test items, I chose four icons. Two, from an icon set, I have used in my pre-thesis brainstorming work and have come to be representative of the project. The other two elements, the blob and water lines, I created in order to play with different types of shapes. I am hoping a range of items will help illuminate various characterists of the materials.

It took three tries to mill the wax correctly. First the wax must be faced, with a layer removed but for a small lip. This creates the "tray" which will be the base of the silicone mold. The first facing attempt ended in a giant divot being removed from the wax when the material came loose from the bed. I had used Glue Dots to secure it, and they just weren't strong enough. The second facing attempt ended with a very thin wall and then, in attempting to add the engraving, a misaligned file caused the mill to start cutting into it. (It was at this point I discovered the top-down view is highly superior to the isometric one.) Unlike previously, I did not have issues loading the files themselves and I feel like I understand now the procedure for loading and laying multiple SVGs in order to cut different depths.

Next was pouring the silicone. The  biggest problem in casting is avoiding bubbles. Following advice on the Othermill Snowflake tutorial (of which this project is an adaptation), I poured slowly and from a height, and the only bubbles I got were on the back of the mold, where they do not matter. I was suprised how very file the detail lines on the icons ended up being, but the silicone got them all.

I finished up by testing two materials in the mold: resin and plaster of paris. The resin picked up detail great but came out pretty bubbly. After the viscous plaster pouring, I think I underestimated the speed at which the resin came out. These talismans are very durable and I look forward to carrying them around. The plaster picked up much less detail than the resin, so much less that the thinner icons do not appear at all. It is also more delicate than the resin. However, I like the touch of the clay somewhat more so far, and I think there is an interesting exploration of what purposes a delicate talisman might serve.

Next Steps

This project was just a first phase in what I hope to be an ongoing work. I plan to go on to mill wood; to test bigger shapes and different reliefs; to cast clear resin with objects suspended within: grass, glitter, etc;  and to cast concrete and wax. I've also found a set of blog posts on creating stronger plaster by mixing it with wood glue, so I plan to try out this approach. 

Overall, I am super happy with this project.