Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Handmade: Engineering a project

by Lynn Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

My second grader recently came home with a science project for school. He needs to create a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick's Day including at least one simple machine, such as a lever, a pulley, or a screw. Of course, it must be decorated to lure the leprechaun, and he must make this by himself with limited parental involvement.

Decorating the trap

When these projects come home, there is always a discussion regarding which parent is best equipped to help our son. My husband is an engineer, and I am an artist; however, both my parents are engineers and I am used to this manner of thinking. My parents would kid with me - they think function first, form second, and I reverse the process. We decided this project was best tag teamed. I have provided assistance through the various decorating phases while my husband has been in charge of helping our son make certain his simple machines work. As expected, my son has performed the majority of the work.

This project has me considering what I do every day. Yes, jewelry is art, and there is a strong element of form. We don't normally seek out the ugliest jewelry out there. Most prefer jewelry to be shiny, possibly colorful, or sparkly; however, unlike some art, there is a definite need for my pieces to be functional. It doesn't matter how beautiful a necklace may be; if it keeps falling off your neck, it is not very desirable. If a ring doesn't fit properly it will cause discomfort to the wearer. As such, my parents' words come back to haunt me. Which matters more? Form or function?

Tools of the trade

As noted before, my husband and I both handcraft our pieces, and there is a definite difference in how we think about our individual designs. I hadn't thought about it before, but my husband approaches his work with function in mind. As a result, he produces work that moves - spinner rings, lockets, moving rings on earrings, etc. They are very dynamic, but simple and plain in appearance. On the other hand, my designs are not plain at all. I utilize more textures, colors, and shapes. I produce work with intricate details, but it is static. If it meets the minimum requirements for function, ie. it hangs properly, fits, and/or doesn't fall off it is a success.

Engineering the trap

When my husband and I tag team a design we can obtain an equal balance of form and function, which happens often. We steal each other's best ideas and push it up a notch. My son is still young, but to date he has paid careful attention to both the form and function of his project. It will be interesting to see if, as he matures, one begins to become more important than the other.

Ready to catch a leprechaun

When you create your art, how much consideration do you give to how well it functions? A lot? Some? Or not at all, as long as it is pretty?

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