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4/15/15

Digital Schematics update

CAD, Industrial design, Schematic, Blueprint Drawing, technical Drawing

Not too long ago, I did a really fun interview with make magazine. In the article, I got to talk about my sculpture work, my experiments with 3D printing, and other digital aspects of my practice. I was also invited to give a little background on my blueprint drawings. From that experience, and because I have been preparing for an upcoming exhibition, I have found myself doing some additional writing on the topic of the schematics I produce. I have been reassessing their evolution over the years; how they have come from crude hand drafted pencil sketches to become highly refined pieces of digital draftsmanship. I have been thinking about my early approach to them, what they have represented to me along the way, and most importantly what purpose they now serve.

Schematic, Blueprint Drawing, Digital Drawing, technical Drawing,CAD, CAM,

To start, I think it is obvious that drawings of some nature are necessary to flesh out my sculptural designs. To be successful at the highly technical process of machining metal, a large portion of the work must be extremely well planned. At a minimum, I must make drawings in some form in order to make my primary sculpture work. But as has been established, I have felt compelled from the very beginning to do more with them. My first layout for a machined sculpture was actually composed as an almost abstract geometric drawing.


Digital Fabrication, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM



When I was first getting into this kind of work, my instincts immediately led me away from treating my drafts as objects of mere utility. I was never comfortable with the idea of divorcing them from the conversation that I felt the finished work would go on to present. I always found myself wondering, if the sculptures were supposed to be the primary focus, then why was I giving so much attention to drafting detailed renderings of my work? I would spend hours meticulously laying out the lines on sketches which were never intended to be seen by anyone but me? I always had the nagging question in my head "If a sloppy unorganized drawing would suffice, why go further?" 
(See working sketch image below.)



Digital Fabrication, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM

Early on, my answer to this question was one of affection and integrity, because I cared about the process. I was moved to explore the drawing methodology like I was drawn to exploring every other facet of what it takes to bring one of my machined metal objects into this world. It was about not taking any of the steps for granted, and giving each phase of the process a fair chance to exert its proper influence on the design. It was simply fidelity to ones craft.

Blueprint, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM, industrial design

Over time however, I was inspired to expand my idea of what Drafting and CAD work could be. Did it just have to be a drawing that was accurate? Could it also look interesting for its own sake? Were there other aspects of this approach I was missing? Could they be considered fine art? It was this sort of searching that initially led me to think about ways I could print my drawings in a non-perfunctory way. This ultimately led me to seek out and acquire a blue print machine.

Blueprint, Digital Fabrication, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM

I reasoned that, if I was going to print and present my drawings as works of art, I did not want to simply have my drawings printed on a modern ink jet, I wanted a process that was as involved as the rest of my work. Something that required some sort of technical knowledge related to what I was doing. Blueprinting, while admittedly novel, also served the function of providing a tactile way of realizing an otherwise purely digital aspect of my work. As a sculptor, tactile experiences are never to be underrated, and so it was an experiment I undertook with the hopes that it would contribute something of substance to the work, rather than just being a means to an end.

Machine art, CAD art, CNC art, Digital Fabrication, Blueprint

Initially, making blueprints presented a number of interesting challenges. The process of running an ammonia spewing, UV powered printing operation that was sensitive to dust, light, temperature, and the opacity of paper itself, provided plenty of adversity. Managing all of those logistical concerns, suggested new ways of thinking about making the drawings, which influenced how I implemented their visual appearance. All of this, if you follow my work, is the kind of form and function duality I often seek out in my sculpture. This in turn, helped to further my conception of my schematics as art objects in of themselves. It all seemed like a good fit, and I am happy with the results I achieved during this experiment.

Blueprint art, CAD art, CNC art, Machine Art, Metal Sculpture

But unlike machine work, once the initial constraints of printing were explored, and the novelty of using an antiquated printing process wore off, there seemed little new territory to move into. I was left with a somewhat limiting set of parameters under which I could work and there was little I could do to expand on it. The machine itself was admittedly old and finicky, but the paper was also an issue. The largest I could print on my setup was 24x36, which prevented many of my drawings from being to proper scale. Additionally, the paper is fast becoming extinct.

Technical Drawing art, Schematic art, Industrial Design, CAD/CAM, Blueprint art


When my initial supply of paper ran out, I had to do some serious digging to find more. I ordered through three different manufacturers before I was able to obtain a supply that was neither too old, nor too damaged to use. The usable paper I eventually ended up with produced a very different shade of blue than my original stock.  Gone was the rich cobalt blue of my original drawings, and in its place, was a less acidic, denim blue color. In some ways, it makes no difference; the new color still looks nice, and the inherent variability of the end product was part of what drew me to blue line printing in the first place. It was all part of the fun.

Digital Fabrication, Schematic art, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM

Now to be fare, all of the obstacles listed above could be overcome, I could make my own emulsion and paper, and I could invest in enlarging the scale of my printer. I could even outsource the creation of the master prints. But the ordeal I undertook with the paper made me realize I was expending a lot of energy on things that had very little to do with the actual core of what drew me to making these drawings in the first place. I felt like a rethink was in order.

Machine Art, CNC machining, Digital Art, Schematic art, Blueprint art

So I asked myself, “blueprint making aside, what was I trying to do with these drawings?” Was I really just riffing off of a pre-existing aesthetic? I have seen many artists use the technical drawing as a motif for creating art: From whimsical juxtapositions of the rigid nature of schematics with more free-form imagery, to the meticulous design of completely fictional worlds and devices. All of them interesting in their own way, but they all seemed to diverge from what I felt I was doing in one very substantive way.  I was not just copying the look of drafting; I was emulating its substance.

Industrial design, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM, Machined Sculpture


Through all of my intention to explore drafting as a means of creative expression, I felt the one thing I could not compromise was their accuracy. No matter how I wanted them to look, the thing that underpinned the rest of my decisions regarding their creation was my desire for them to be a reference for the sculpture from which they were derived. Although limiting in a lot of ways, the relationship to the sculpture work was something that had to remain intact. Once I thought about them in this context, their function became clearer.

Industrial design, Schematic art, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM

That the works never strayed into fictional territory, that they never diverged from their original function to become their own creature entirely, was not for lack of vision. My insistence that the drawings be visually compelling while always communicating real information about their parent sculpture had to do with the fact that they represent something the sculptures themselves cannot convey in their finished form.

Digital Drawing, CAD art, Machined metal Sculpture, Blueprint art, CAD/CAM

So then, what purpose do they serve other than as a technical document? Lets look at my sculptures for a minute to see if we can bring the two together. In the context of the drawings, what is it about my sculpture work that makes it different from a lot of other sculpture in that it would benefit from a schematic accompaniment? Even sculpture fabricated by digital means?

CAD/CAM, Blueprint art, Schematic art, digital Fabrication, machine Art


If I had to boil it down to one primary distinction, it is this. Unlike a woodcarving, a bronze casting, or even a 3D printed work, which are all comprised of a single uniform material, my works are fundamentally engineered.  Where as the former represents a type of statuary, primarily meant to be appreciated for the superficial form or qualities of the material they are made from, my works are comprised of many intricately designed and interconnected components, many with real functionality such as clamping mechanisms or other fastening systems built into there internal structure that, while not always evident in the finished product, inform the look of the work they are a part of.

Digital Fabrication, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM

To say it another way, my sculpture works are largely about their own construction. They are designed to convey something of the complex array of process and mechanical qualities that go into their own creation. It is a bit like writing a story about writing a story (which admittedly might seem silly to some) but it is an important aspect of what I think is so interesting about how my works are conceived. They represent a type of Intentional design that purposefully eschews a correlating end function. They are an exploration of a process that is used to produce nearly every component of our industrialized society, and so the works are constructed in a similar manner, to lend an air of implied Utility. Even though they are static art objects with no function, they are objects that resonate with an implied, if indefinable purpose. That is one of the key contrasts I aim for with my machine work.

Digital Fabrication, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM, blueprint

Communicating this duality between the inner workings of each sculpture and its outward aesthetic function is something that is very well suited to the drawings. Indeed much of the engineering and design elements are completely hidden in the finished Sculptures, so the schematics are a natural link between this conceptual facet of the work and the physical implementation of the it.

Digital Fabrication, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM

With this primary function of the drawings now made clear, it seems much less important that they be realized in a way that lends them unique physical character that may detract from this function, or otherwise imbue them with superfluous novelty.  That they illustrate the relationship between the designed ideal and the workmanship that goes into creating the finished object is enough to justify their existence in nearly any form.  I now see the drawings as a way of memorializes a part of what is fundamental to my way of thinking about art that might otherwise be lost.

Blueprint art, Schematic, CNC Art, CAD Art, CAD/CAM

So to bring this all back around, while I have not lost any of my affection for my craft (which includes the drawings) I will no longer be pursuing the blue prints in their current form. I am opting instead to print them more traditionally so as to remove some of the limitations the blue line prints have imposed. I want my schematics to continue to pull back the curtain on the inner workings of my sculpture without compromise, and so I will be moving forward with that as my primary concern.

Chris Bathgate schematic print, Blueprint art, Industrial design

Above is an image of the newly printed versions that will replace the blueprints.

I am going to be doing a final print run with the remaining paper and supplies I have and the blue-line drawings will continue to be available until that stock is exhausted.

Chris Bathgate schematic print, Blueprint art, CAD art, Interior design

The new prints however, will be available very soon as full-scale color prints . They will be printed on Dibond, which is a 3-layer rigid panel with a plastic composite inside, and a layer of aluminum on each face.  They are very light, extremely durable, and produce a gorgeous matte finish. I could not be happier with my early test prints and am looking forward to my first exhibition, with the new drawings front and center very soon.

Chris Bathgate schematic print, Blueprint art, CAD art, Interior design

Chris Bathgate schematic print, Blueprint art, CAD art, Interior design, Industrial art

Chris Bathgate schematic print, Blueprint art, CAD art, Interior design, Industrial art



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