Small Business Stories: interview with accessories designer John Patterson

Retail Ready with Sniffle Co entrepreneurJohn Patterson is a musician and a designer. His musical passion is expressed through The Grates, while his graphic creativity lies behind the Brisbane based company Sniffle Co which he runs alongside his friend Melissa Perry. Most of John’s designing is done on the road, and the shot of his work space (above) is an apt illustration of his working lifestyle. John designs whimsical jewelry that is laser cut from poplar plywood before being hand painted and lacquered.

Read the interview after the jump:


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Veneer MDF – April Material of the Month

Stability of MDF with beauty of natural timber grainMDF is possibly one of my least favourite materials.  It has no soul, although it’s certainly very practical.  There is also something unsavory about the word “veneer”.  The connotation of falseness is ever present and is at odds with my like of material honesty.  But you cannot argue with practicalities of using a wood material that won’t warp or shrink or crack.  Besides, the veneer is a real timber – thinly peeled off a rotating tree trunk and laminated onto the MDF sub straight.   The different grains do look authentic and beautiful, and their surface can also be treated with various waxes and varnishes to both seal the surface and enhance the grain.  Check out the surface treatment options for the US and NZ wood materials.

The practical and aesthetic properties of veneer MDF make is an ideal material choice for display design and furniture.  Colin Francis uses Rimu to make engraved wineracks and similarly planar flat-pack Test Tubed vases.  The Hands shelf is by Studio Wun and is available in various finishes.

Wall art is another common application for this month’s material.  We’ve interviewed MODULA.R.T’s Donald Rattner in the past – MODULA.R.T have designed a whole customisable system of wall ornamentation using a combination of veneer MDF and colour acrylic or felt.  Otto Gunther’s approach to wall art is entirely different – combining digital fabrication with painstaking finishing by hand to produce one off pieces.

Veneer MDF engraves beautifully, and both raster and vector engraving can produce outstanding detail, like in Peppersprouts coasters cut from Cherry.  Blimp Cat Studio create custom cake toppers from Walnut veneer, and Kai Howells offers customised Rimu veneer trophies.

Even little objects like jewelry can be successfully cut from veneer MDF.  Australian designers Little Miso and Nevertheless are big fans of the American Cherry, and Bonnie Poplar uses also uses this material for her brooches, along with the Rimu.

On the topic of jewelry, this month’s free design files are for jewelry trees.  The small Swirl stand is designed for US veneers, while the large tree is designed for the NZ stock.  Of course, the base slots can be adjusted in thickness to accommodate materials from either hub.Ponoko US offers Cherry, Walnut, White Oak

Ponoko NZ offers Rimu, American Cherry, Maple, Tasmanian Ash, White Oak

Get your material samples of US: Cherry, Walnut, White Oak; NZ: Rimu, American Cherry, Maple, Tasmanian Ash, White Oak

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Jewelry Detail

Double-take for double-sidedWhen Auckland jeweller Kirsten Turnbull discovered that she had a creative streak, she started looking for ways of making her products look professional.  School craft fair aesthetics have their place in the world, but the goal was to move beyond that.  After some extensive searching, Kirsten came across Ponoko and two years later she is still using the service to laser cut the bases for all her Cheek Pinchy jewelry.

Now instead of hand cutting balsa wood and then sanding and staining it, Kirsten opts for laser cut beech and bamboo which produce a cleaner finish and are generally much more durable and solid materials than the lightweight balsa.  The shift to digifabbing has allowed the artist to extend her range to include necklaces, earrings, rings, cufflinks as well as the initial selection of brooches.At first glance, the jewelry pieces are a window into what could be termed as contemporary vintage elegance.  The simple geometric shapes are adorned with nostalgic images taken from vintage books, often children’s (apparently no children are harmed in this exercise).  These visually rich publications are what inspires Kirsten’s range, and she is always on the lookout for more.

The assembly process, as with most jewelry, requires patience.  Kirsten adheres the selected images to the plywood bases and applies several glaze coats before attaching the findings.

One of the elements that differentiates Cheek Pinchy designs from many others, is the laser engraved design detail on the back of each piece.  The patterns are intended to add another level of interest when the jewellery swings around.

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A beautiful necklace made with LilyPad Arduino

Making Arduino look beautiful.

Many amazing projects have been made with Arduino, but “beautiful” is usually not the first word that springs to mind. Even when electronics are used in a fashion-specific context, the aesthetics tends towards a high-tech Star Trek kind of feel, so it particularly impressive to see someone achieve a completely different, more traditionally feminine, aesthetic.

The Crystal Necklace by Sylvia Yang uses a LilyPad Arduino, which is specifically designed for integration with textiles, along with LEDs and a variety of traditional jewelry components.

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Wearable Geometry in 3D

Exploring form and space in 3D printed jewelryTexan designer Melissa Borrell has an interest in sculptural geometry, and the aesthetic is evident in much of her work.  We’ve already featured some of her work on the blog.  She’s certainly not new to digital making and has worked with fabricators on material experiments for various projects.  Her work has been recognized by Enterpreneur magazine, where her company Melissa Borrell Design was named as one of the “100 Brilliant Companies to Watch” in 2010.

Currently Melissa uses Personal Factory as part of the fabrication process for her jewelry.  Initially she experimented with laser cutting, producing a lace neckpiece out of felt.  Most recently, her focus has been on creating 3D printed pieces that reflect a strong formalist approach.  The jewelry is printed in Durable Plastic, then the pieces are dyed with fabric dye and finished with findings and sometime silver and gold elements.  Melissa’s choice of the material is very deliberate:

I love it because I can create things that are too delicate to cast in traditional jewelry making techniques or make things that are linked or have moving parts that are made all in one piece.  I think this is very exciting and has so much potential!

A few words from the designer after the jump:


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Small Business Stories: interview with jewelry designer Janice Law

Retail Ready with Little MisoPerth jeweller Janice Law branched out from graphic design and illustration when she came across Ponoko and realised the potential of making with Personal Factory.  Step by step, the new hobby turned into a small business – Little Miso.  The acrylics and cherry veneer are turned into spirited words, quirky characters and little tokens of happiness that are designed to make people smile.

Getting Started

What made you decide to start your own business? I never intended to start my own business, but I’ve always been interested in making, designing and creating things. It just happened as a natural progression – from wanting to make a piece of jewellery for myself, to launching collections and seeing people wear them.

How did you decide on jewellery? At the time when laser cut jewellery was just starting to grow, I stumbled upon Ponoko.  I had a few ideas on my mind that I was searching for myself, so I thought why not just make it?  Jewellery has come to be a really versatile medium. It can be made from so many different materials, shapes, sizes and colours, and suit someone that’s 5 years old or 55 years old.

What skills did you already have when you started your business and what did you have to learn? I studied advertising and graphic design, so already knew how to use vector programs, use photoshop and basic photography. My passion for illustration and design also helped with branding, packaging and marketing the products.  Getting into the real business / admin side of things was the hardest – I still struggle every time tax time rolls around.More from Janice on running her business after the jump:


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Bamboo – March Material of the Month

Seriously, it’s not just flooring material. Bamboo, either in laminate form or as plywood has been a popular material choice in interior finishes since the 90’s.  The sustainable growing and harvesting reputation has aided bamboo’s popularity, and it’s now featured more and more in product design.

The wood products’ prominent grain and warm hues make it stand out from a myriad of other plywoods and timber laminates.  Bamboo also laser cuts beautifully and is one of the most popular material choices in Ponoko US and NZ.  Both hubs offer different thicknesses of bamboo in plywood and natural laminate form.

Get a whole lot of bamboo inspiration after the jump:


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24/7 Design with Colin Francis

Design passion is when design is both your day job and your after hours hobby.

By day, Colin is a Product Designer.  Outside of work his occupation is never far away, but in a very dissimilar way to the mass production clockwork.  When it comes to making stuff, his creative background isn’t exactly glue and popsicle sticks.  Working for a large kitchen gadget manufacturer that creates mass-consumer products, Colin gets a serious daily dose of 3D printing and dealing with factories for mass manufacturing.  In his spare time, his design persona is entirely different.  Getting to design his OWN products, means the focus shifts to small scale, on demand fabrication, variety of [non-plastic] materials, and often, quite involved artisan finishing.

Colin’s designs have a strong overall graphic element and feature a clear emphasis on form using two-dimensional laser cut shapes.  The laser cut products range from the Cuffmodern leather jewelry to homeware, such as clocks and vases made from bamboo. When it comes to his own designs, Colin prefers materials that age well: leather, brass, bamboo and wood.  Time permitting, CNC routing is the next fabbing process to experiment with in the near future.

The slot-together homeware products are designed to require minimal finishing.  The dyeing of the leather jewelry is more intensive in that regard, and Colin considers this part to be a soothing, hands on past time of tactile engagement, contrasted with the daily grind of eye watering digital work.  The therapy of using hands on something other than the keyboard is something many makers can relate to.

More from Colin after the jump:


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Small Business Stories: interview with clock designer Maiko Kuzinishi

Retail Ready with DecoylabAs promised in December, this year we’ve started a regular feature focussing on small businesses.  This year’s first interview is with Maiko Kuzunishi who has earned a worldwide following with her Decoylab range of beautiful eco-friendly and quirky clocks.  Maiko also creates jewellery that visually echoes her clocks, and more recently she added additional products for the home to her selection of existing and ever-evolving designs

Getting Started

• What made you decide to start your own business?

It was the emptiness I felt inside after dedicating 8 years of my life to working for design companies. Some say “In order to find what you want, know what you don’t want first.” That’s exactly what I did. The career oriented mentality, competing for “Best” designs, working endlessly on computer for seemingly unimportant projects – those are the things I no longer wanted. In 2006 I resigned the company and decided to “take a break.” I had no idea what was in store for me but took a step to move away from what I did not want.

The first year was chaotic to say the least but I eventually figured out that I wanted to be a mom and I began imagining doing what I love doing and making a living. Some sort of a paradigm shift happened soon after and both things manifested (at the same time actually). I did not imagine making clocks for a living but it was exactly what I wanted. After that, my focus has been to not waste my time (life) on something I cannot pour my heart and soul into.

Read the full interview with Maiko after the jump: (more…)

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Gilded Butterflies

Winged pendants with a unique twistOn the Ponoko NZ HQ glory wall is an old article about a very talented New Zealand jeweller and sculptor Lisa Black.  It’s up there because she lists Ponoko as one of her favourite things, and for extra brownie points, we love her work.  In a slightly embarrassing light bulb moment, I discovered that Lisa uses Personal Factory to make ornate parts for her Gilded Butterflies collection of jewellery.  The dots should have been joined considerably earlier.

Gilded Butterlies is a joint project between the Auckland artist and a graphic designer Dan Gordon.  They create beautifully detailed hinged pendants with real butterfly wings, which are mounted on bamboo and then sealed with a protective layer of resin.  For a number of years they have been using Personal Factory on regular basis to laser cut the bamboo wings and the brass hinges.  It was the discovery of the online fabrication service that inspired them to create this line of jewellery.  Initially Lisa came up with the butterfly concept, and the company spent years relentlessly testing a variety of prototypes and assembly processes.  These are still continuously evolving.

The total process, from design to fabrication to assembly is very involved.  The assembly is particularly delicate, and Lisa devotes hours to put together each piece of jewellery: prepping the wings, applying resin, waiting for it to cure and finishing the bamboo with linseed oil to enhance the grain and ensure durability.  The butterfly wings are sourced from different farms and suppliers.Dan Gordon emphasises that their design consideration isn’t purely aesthetic:

I think people want unique, genuine artifacts in their lives, which translates to using natural and raw materials. Sustainability is paramount as well. Butterflies are a fantastically renewable source, and farming them for research, education and collection ensures many species survival, we are still picky about the ones we chose though.

A few more words from Dan after the jump:

Have you been surprised by anything in the PF process: One big positive is that there are no surprises with your orders. You are totally responsible for your designs and you can make the smallest iterations without incurring incurring any extra time or setup costs.

Do you have any tips for other makers? Our strategy is basically “Make unique things, build good relationships” and it seems to be working out ok.

Wooden materials have grain, with the bamboo it’s a very pronounced straight grain. If you are making something with multiple parts it’s worth bearing in mind that if you rotate your designs to fit more pieces into the template, the direction of the grain won’t match the other pieces. It might not matter depending on what you are making, but for us with two symmetrical wings, inconsistent direction of the grain is really obvious and a bit of a deal-breaker.

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