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Creating the Modern Plaster Mold System

Creating the Modern Plaster Mold System - The Bright Angle

In 2018 I realized that there were a few rules that had to be implemented to choose dimensions for the new line of lighting:

1. It had to fit a bulb.

Okay, simple enough.

2. We needed a standard.

We know that currently we are limited to a certain diameter with each of our pieces, because otherwise there would be too many sizes and it would get out of hand. Any wider than twenty-one centimeters after shrinkage and the forms may lose their structural integrity. [For more on the structure of our porcelain, see our recent blog post] 

3. Our aesthetic involves facets that are dictated by the seams.

The resulting forms could not be round. We are so over the two-seam look, but the number seams still had to be an even number, because it made more sense with our process. Four seams merely makes a square, which would not be enough volume. Everything would feel flat and have less structural integrity. Six seams sounds nice, but it is the number of the devil! I thought the more sides these forms could have the more full or volumetric they would seem. Ten sides would mean we would need ten mold parts to complete a 360 degree form - too much. There needed to be some balance.

So we settled on eight. In architecture, eight-sided structures have been erected instead of the typical four-sided structures, because certain architects and engineers claimed they had more structural integrity. (Pagodas, octagon houses, etc.) But most of our design decisions at The Bright Angle are based on dimensions. They become obvious to us . . .

A mug lip has to be a certain width so you don't hit your nose. The foot has to be a certain width so it doesn't tip over. It has to hold a certain amount of liquid, which dictates the height of the vessel. 

We knew that the forms would have eight sides and the largest diameter would be twenty-one centimeters. The narrowest diameter would be six centimeters so that a socket ring that holds the bulb could also hold hardware to the porcelain shades.

The first iteration we saw of these octagonal forms were the Skyscraper Vases. To design this, I scaled up Laurie Caffery Harris's Sprout Vase that she designed exclusively for our Flagship Collection. I used the transition points in those dimensional parameters, moved the hip and the neck up and down and chose from dozens of variations until I settled on a final three.

Then, the models were made from packing clay in a laser-cut wood frame. Since they had eight sides, we could make a two-part mold. (I still was not really ready to pursue the full collection of mold parts.) We had to test to see how the Skyscraper Vases fired and if they behaved in the way we needed them.

It worked! They were full, elegant, sleek, handsome, and they held a presence. We could cut them down to have a few variations, but at this point they were still very much vases, centerpieces. By this point, we knew that we could take our process and go bigger! The process worked.


Math and the Modular Mold System

I love dissecting forms and proportions. Considering the foot, the hip, the waist, and the lip. Each one of the Skyscraper Vases had at least 24 faces, so we began breaking down those faces. We would build forms from eight faces?

Fast forward six months - the amount of time to digest this iteration. We needed possibilities. So what if each face was a separate mold part? But twenty-four faces? That is a lot of mold parts to make! So, what we needed was a system to make mold parts.


Brian Parnham and Precious Pattern

Brian Parnham, a jeweler, ceramicist, problem solver, and critical thinker with a wild imagination began his Design Residency with us in the Fall of 2018. He entered the residency with the desire to make a cup. He had been focusing on adornment, wearable utilitarian objects with strong intentions to accentuate metal materials for their value - jewelry. Unpacking his gear in the residency space in The Bright Angle studio, he pulled out a sheet of copper with an incredibly intriguing pattern embossed on the surface. He explained that he had been doing studies of creating movement, attention, and precision.

Brian is a geyser of creativity. He used sheet metal, because flat faces could fold up into volumes. He embraced the opportunity of the sheet as a canvas for embellishment. And then the magic happened. An alchemist of sorts, Brian created a bath of acids that he ran electric current through to create a reaction. He masked off the sheet of copper with the pattern he wanted and let the magic bath of charged chemicals etch through the copper. After the copper bubbles had changed color into a mesmerizing show of wizardry, he gently pinched the copper with a pair of pliers, drew it from the bath, and rinsed away the residue to expose a clean series of repeating lines. This pattern had to be in porcelain.

Brian started to measure a volume for the cup with eight flat sides. He considered the lip, foot, stack-ability, and how they would feel in the hand. We chose a form and focused on a single panel from one of the eight sides. We had surface and dimensions. We needed to contain the plaster to get an impression of the copper texture. And the container had to reflect the mold part that could be placed side-by-side in an octagon to create the negative space to pour in the liquid porcelain.

We made tools to make more tools to make impressions. We needed containers to hold more containers. With the dimensions we settled on, we were able to 3D print a form that was the negative of a block that, when strapped together, would create an octagonal negative.


The Mold Alphabet

Do you see the decisions were made that were logical, rational, and built on each other? What emerged was the first iteration of modular octagonal forms covered in Precious Pattern. We had a system to make the shapes. It was time to build an alphabet of forms to create a language of vessels that were proportional and intentional. This was our first Lego piece.

We would need a variety of heights and diameters to be able to build a library to hold evidence of the language we had created. We had to speak form, proportion and scale. There had to be transition and nesting points, dynamic stories to carry the eye. So how many shapes would be in this alphabet?

We decided to use the golden ratio, some higher power decided to implement it into the natural world, so why not take advantage of that in our designs? Six was our smallest size and Brian had already validated eight, so we chose 6, 10, 13, 16, 21. It was a ratio supported by nature.

To get that height we would need to stack them. 2.5 cm was the shortest we could choose without the shapes becoming too fragile. 2.5 times 5 plus 5 times 2 equals 10, so we had three heights that were interchangeable. There we are, 30 forms.

I hope at this point it is clear how much time, energy and passion went into creating this form alphabet. (Which I will get a tattoo of I love it so much.) Pair that with the complexity and sophistication of the tools needed to make these forms into vessels. The material knowledge and testing to create the most pure and refined porcelain we could with our resources that we would access.

The countless hours of skilled labor by meticulous craftspeople to utilize and embrace this system and turn angles into porcelain shades that glowed. We place a lot of value in the intersection of these factors and we don't want the compromise or diminish the thoughtfulness of the resulting object when we introduce them to trade in capitalist society.

That's right, we alchemists, designers, and makers are operating in a society where you have to convince others of the value of what you do and that is translated into monetary systems of trade.

We want to reach an audience that acknowledges, appreciates, and values what we do. That's why it's important for us to explain just how sophisticated our modern plaster mold system truly is.