Daniel Cutrone; writings based on the 2015 Robert Minkoff Academic Symposium at UrbanGlass


Finding a Balance Between Digital Technologies and Traditional Glassmaking Practices and Methodologies.


My interest in exploring digital technologies is to use them within traditional glassmaking practices, not simply as a “click and print” option. As artists and makers our value is in our creative voice and that voice is shaped by our vocabulary of techniques. Digital technologies expand the vocabulary of traditional making. However, technology alone, as with any technique is a simple vocabulary without deep meaning. It is our job as makers to create a meaningful syntax or context with our techniques.


So why choose to work with digital technologies? The digital is represented by data. This data speaks to the ability to address the needs of specificity. This specificity can take the form of a line or a curve. It could also be a face or a mountain. Not any face or any mountain nor the illustrated idea of them, but actual places and faces. This is the specificity that the new digital realm can bring to makers. I will add that all data is interpretable. By giving diverse forms to the data we allow that data to be perceived differently and to take on new meaning.


How do you understand the image below? Most individuals would read it as “THE CAT” However the middle letter is neither a “H” nor an “A”, but our minds perceive it so, because in that way the words have meaning, otherwise its just jumbled letters. The mind seeks advantage and that is always achieved through understanding.


My entrance in to the world of CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design, Computer Aided Machining) happened because I had the conceptual need for real mountains in my work. This was not the idea of an illustrated mountain, but actual mountains. Initially I needed Mount Everest and Mount Fuji and with that I needed their data, which led me to utilize CAD/CAM. What I discovered along the way was that CAD had become more than a workspace it became a think space. In an interesting way the CAD space allowed me to become intimate with these places beyond what occurs in the natural world. One of my conceptual considerations was the desire to have a conversation between the ideas of the natural world and those of the new 3D manufacturing technologies. I have been using tool-paths as a means of bringing the residue of process into the conversation. Tool paths are the method and direction that a material is either milled away or printed. Ultimately one can either make a perfectly smooth object or one can use the tool path to create patterns and designs on their form. The greater the distances between the tool-path the more jagged or stepped the appearance.


I am not interested in leaving the hand out of the process of making. My goal is to bring this tech back into the studio to still be a traditional glassmaker. In many ways the use of this tech has pushed me to be a more skilled maker. The specific nature of data and of my content challenges me as a traditional glassmaker. With this tech I have been able to create a specificity of form and bring a new vocabulary of form making that was previously unavailable to me. With CAD/CAM I have been making new tools. Specifically I have been milling blocks of graphite on a CNC to create molds. I have created molds that are both negative and positive in form. These molds are used in traditional and non-traditional ways in the glass studio.


As an educator I have brought this approach into the studio. My current challenge has been to give students who have no prior experience with working in CAD/CAM a way of quickly developing forms that move beyond the rudimentary and take on an aura of the personal. I believe desire is the only way to move beyond the challenges and frustrations of learning. There were two initial projects that I had my students work on. I used these as a hook to get them wanting to be involved with this new tech. The first was to 3D scan their own heads to create miniature “prunts” in graphite of their own faces. The second was to create a curve from their profile portrait in the CAD space.  They then revolved that profile curve around a central axis to generate a new abstract form based on their own face. They were then able, in the virtual space, to create a 2-part blow-mold. They then were able to mill that mold from a plaster block without every having to have made the object.


There is never any guarantee for making great art no matter what the tool, but I believe there is value in bringing CAD/CAM into the glass program. The creative voice is about what one wants to say. These technologies allow a new vocabulary to be brought in to the glass studio altering how we can speak. I would like to add that data is a common ground where we as makers from different media can meet and rub elbows. This type of exchange can only add to further fertile ground. One final point I would like to make is that when we are presented with a choice to either go the route of tradition or to take the road of new tech perhaps all we need to do is to change our perspective to see that the new tech might just lead us back to the traditions of our making.