Archive for December, 2015

Critical Review: Carvy – A Digital Stylus for Pottery Makers

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015


How I get there:

I started with a question, people use tools to shape the outside of the pottery piece. But how could the tools help people to craft the inside of clay.


Context and scenarios:

For the first scenario, maybe you are trying to hide something inside a ceramic jar. You need a tool to guide you to shape from inside. And one more use case will be that crafters need a tool to quantify the making process and the material. Under current technologies, they have to build a mould. Creating a mould is not easy or flexible at all. Thus a tool that could measure and estimate can be used to unify the shape of material even the crafters are not in the same place.


A state of smarter objects:

The state of smarter objects haven’t changed the material or the making process totally. Crafter can still use their workflow and material that they are familiar with. But at the same time, they can create a much digitalized relation with the material that they use. For example, a computational tool in ceramics might be a 3D-printer that mixed different soils. An traditional physical tool is the weight tool to measure the weights of soils used in mix a new material. A smart object will follow the mix procedure but also tell the crafter what’s the possible outcomes based on the current mix ratio.


Then the question is, how could smarter objects help the transformative process of making. I would argue that in four directions. First, the smarter objects have limited computation but still, it’s computation. Computation could help shape the material in a much more strict way than human’s hand. Second, the smarter objects help people to learn without touching the material, in this case, the tool could mark a position without touching the clay. But using traditional tool, a physical marker will be left. Third, smarter tools brings extra functionality than the traditional tools. A digitalized brush could change its shape to provide vivid writing experiences. Forth, smarter tools pass digital data. With digital data, material’s shape can be imported to computer, to mobile phones. And the once the data flows to others, the data could be used creatively in generating new material practices. For example, masters can teach their students how to shape a pot remotely with this tool.

That opens possibilities:

I can see the tool be utilized in many area, e.g. Logan’s project; Automatic drawing machine that draw a special pattern from computer; A way to teach and learn; A remoted connected handler; Transform data from the pottery maker or the WWW, the cultural side can be visualized…


Prototyping Process: Carvy – A Digital Stylus for Pottery Makers

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015


From Machine to Stylus

When I brought the idea of carving tool. The first thing came to my brain was Machines that make projects from MIT. The goal of those machines is to create more machines out of that. They made lots of things look like CNC machines. Then the question became, how did I make that. While I was drawing, a new idea was generated inspired by the 53 stylus pens for iPad.


The First Design

My first thought on the curving tool is a kind of 2D-Printer on the wheel. Two motors will move the pin in Y-Axis ( from top to bottom), and X-Axis (from the left to right, but always starts from the center of the wheel. The bottom of the extension bar has two sensors to detect the distances to the bottom and to the wall. Thus the machine could the vertically placed pin to the wall and start curving.

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Prove of concept for the first prototype:

This prototype hasn’t been activated since it’s over complicated. It requires both customized materials and lots of trials.

Thoughts on the first prototype:

The first prototype actually starts with a hypnosis rather than a real world solution. So there are pros and cons for the first prototype. The down side definitely is the complexity of the system, it’s basically a 3D-printer without Z-axis movements. Another problem that will be generated by this design is the space issue. A low height structure will block user’s vision to the ceramic object. In addition to that, machines can only achieve single direction pock action, which is just a little part of the creative use of the carving tools.

However, the design has lots of benefits that couldn’t be compatible. Firstly, the design could run automatically. User could just draw simple lines in the software then the machine could be able to decode the drawing and transform it on the surface of the pottery piece. Secondly, the design could tell the thickness of the pottery piece’s bottom by moving the pin left and right. Since it has a distance sensor attached, and a fixed height. The differences of values can be considered as the thickness. Thirdly, the process of designing this machine informed me a lot of design principles, such as a changeable connection.


The Second Design

My second design simplified the machine. By changing it to a handheld device. User could be able to use it in a much flexible situation.

Key Approach to the second prototype:

The second prototype uses a C-shape structure to drop the pin in the middle of the pottery. A small led matrix shows the distance got from the distance sensor. The up and down movement can be captured by the distance sensor on the bottom. Another distance sense is used to detect the distance to the wheel. In this prototype the speed control of the wheel is added. The goal is to have a way to project the pin’s positions on the all 360 degrees.


Thoughts on second prototype:

The second prototype validates the way to combine distance sensor to grab the position of the tool’s pin. With data, we can also record a piece of user’s action and then use it as an instruction to help them repeat, or practice. But the device is still large and not easy to use.


Design presentation: Carvy – A Digital Stylus for Pottery Makers

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

My Original idea started with a limited space when I first tried throwing on the wheel. When I reached my hand into the inside of my clay piece, I was totally fascinated by the feel of touching. In that situation, I couldn’t see what was happening inside my jar. I have to use my fingers, my fist, and the rotation of the wheel, to estimate the position, to try my next move. The interactive model can be represented like this: We start with the feelings, then we proceed the feelings using our criterias such as the thickness of the wall, the shape of the surface, and the humidity of the surface. Once we gather all the information we need to make a decision, we push our hands again to perform, to change the pottery. Then we start a new round.


Then I’m wondering, is there a way to work from the inside?

Looking at all those images that people is trying to curve the different forms for their pottery, and the ways to do that are creative and novel. And most of them are seeking for duplications and orders in pattern making. But how could people reach the narrow, dark area inside of the the pottery. Also, the design challenge here is that, if you are shaping the outside of clay, the open space is quite enough to stretch your arm, change positions of hands, twist your wrist. But everything can be changed inside, it can be hard to grab a small tool.


The absence of inner pattern

I’m also wondering when when talk about the pattern, includes the graphical painting pattern and the pattern of repeated shapes. Inter patterns are hard to be found even the in the zen culture from east Asia. As the need of ceramic crafting is shifting to a much more personal side rather than production side. I’m also interested in the idea of smashing ceramics. If we can hide information inside of the clay piece and the only way to see it is to smash it. That will be a Erwin Schrödinger’s pottery, which can be quite fun.

Intro to Physical Computing using Clay

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Intro to Physical Computing using Clay -Critical Review


Motivation and Original Idea:



“The materials and tools we use as well as the approaches we take to design, prototype and build technology greatly influence how we think about technology, the collection of people who think about technology, and the look and feel of the technology itself.”[1]


This quote was a huge source of inspiration for my project throughout as I aimed to use clay as a material to lower the learning curve for Physical Computing.


To answer the questions as to Why teach Physical Computing? , this video captures the essence of that very well:


Concept Development:

Physical Computing has three main elements which are:

Input Output and Processing


Image Source:

But another main element of Physical Computing is the FORM. It is the form that gives meaning to the inputs and outputs of physical computing.

For eg. a glowing LED light by itself is not symbolic but if i cut-out a paper heart and stick it to the top of the LED, it starts to have some meaning.

Why Clay?

There are many ways to give form to such a project ranging from manual(sewing, paper craft, wood-working) to automated(3-D printing, Laser cutting) etc.

My exploration use Clay along with some other materials(pencil, magnets etc.) as a material because:

It is easily and cheaply available in most places

Easy to mould and shape

Can combine simple forms to each other to form complex forms

Can use tools such as knives, moulds, stamps etc.

It offers both malleability when it is wet and rigidity when it is dry

Can be painted on or drawn on when dry

Insulative(which is a very important property of any electronic circuit, the Yin-Yang  complement of conductivity)


I developed a set of prototypes with clay that demonstrated the concept. The next question was how to present this information to my target audience which was middleschool/highschool kids.

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Early Prototype- Bell mounted on Accelerometer—Plays bell sound in Processing when change in reading detected


Design Approach:

  1. How to step students through some concepts of electricity and introductory sensing and actuation?(incremental lesson plan)

The idea was to have a set of in-class activities that would allow students to learn some intro concept. Once the students had some confidence in building circuits they would be able to make personalized projects.

(problem based approach + constructionism)



I designed a set of activities which can be found here:

  1. Getting Started with Electricity(what is resistance, how does it change with length/area of cross section of conductor)
  2. Intro to Physical Computing (Digital input switch, Analog Variable resistor + Storytelling with form )
  3. Making forms with Clay (Making an interactive lamp form prototype)
  4. Intro to Arduino
  5. Going further with Arduino: Intro to Processing, Some more Sensors(accelerometer capacitive sensing)


The activities themselves can be found here:


Here is a short video demonstrating my work journey:


What context does your project stand in and What problems does it address?


Physical Computing lies at the intersection of the Physical and the Digital

My intervention explores using clay as the form-giver to physical computing projects. The problem it is trying to address is that of learning physical computing as a beginner. The material it uses are simple and easily available. A lot of projects in the maker community require skills such as 3d modelling, printing, sewing etc. (although there are plenty of examples with simpler crafts as well). My project puts focus on using Clay to solve this problem.


Clay can be used to give shape and form to and to materialize the imagination and stories of students.


Another, digital intervention is documenting the steps of the activities using digital multimedia. As my overarching goal is to teach, I am using the digital medium for its strength: replication(was able to borrow from existing sources that teach this and link to them),distribution(shareable resource) outreach.


What questions does it ask?


How can physical artifacts created with clay breathe life into electronic components such as sensors and actuators?


How to design a set of activities that is easy to follow  and engaging for students?


Does using clay give confidence to people that it is a material they can work with?


How do students Remix and Transform the activities to make projects which are meaningful to them?

The many forms an interactive lamp could take.



touch sensitive lamp

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Based on Diyas, lamps which are important in the Hindu culture (


Which of our readings does it relate?

The project is related to the Crafting Technology Reading[1] as well as the the Kit of No parts [2]. I also referred to a lot of blogs and websites in trying to compile my lesson plan:

Pencil CIrcuits:


What did it achieve?


My project was able to create a set of activities that introduced clay as a form-giver in physical computing activities. I was also able to document my steps in the form of a Step by step recipe.


What did it not achieve?

While I did come up with a lesson plan I could not think of a way to make certain exercises simple enough to be presented to students eg. the accelerometer activity with the bell or the touch sensitive lamp.

This would probably require a Participatory design activity with kids and teachers to see how best to present this information.



[1] Buechley, Leah, and Hannah Perner-Wilson. “Crafting technology: Reimagining the processes, materials, and cultures of electronics.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI)19.3 (2012): 21.

[2] Perner-Wilson, Hannah, Leah Buechley, and Mika Satomi. “Handcrafting textile interfaces from a kit-of-no-parts.” Proceedings of the fifth international conference on Tangible, embedded, and embodied interaction. ACM, 2011.


Exploring type-form through orderly & man-made metamorphosis.

Friday, December 4th, 2015

Digital Intervention : 

Initial concept featured a digital intervention in the process of developing a form and mold for ceramics slip casting.

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Integrating an ongoing Industrial Design tessellations project, I sought out how to incorporate ceramic slip with the unconventional mylar material. The digital intervention would highlight the complexities of designing and building an unanticipated form and mold. As the tessellations are build from 2 dimensional pieces, the pattern design involves a transformation of 2 dimensional parts into a 3 dimensional form. Due to mylar’s flexible nature, the expectation was that the slip would reveal the true 3 dimensional form in the final form design.


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Digital Prototype :

The development phase revealed several issues in the initial concept. Using processing to develop the pattern had its setbacks in the fact that pattern feasibility still needed to be tested by actually building the form. As well, the concept development behind the pattern influence was weak and stronger foundation was needed in the theory of what drives the pattern. The other issue was the use of mylar as a mold, weakening the casting of the slip into an artifact. The mold was too malleable, with the clay often distorting the actual form. The slip also cracked very easily in the process of casting.

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The solution was to go back to slip casting in plaster, and focusing on developing a negative mold with the mylar forms.

Final Critical Design :

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The final digital intervention featured using a base pattern of hexagons, arranged in 4 tiers. This produced a simple flat surface on which the tension points(pentagons) could be used to morph the flat form into a 3 dimensional surface. The inspiration for these tension points came from the chemical element makeup of Kaolin (Al2Si2O5(OH)4). Using the electron arrangements in the first 3 orbit shells, I would be able to specify where the tension points on the base pattern could be arranged.

This project development was highly inspired by Richard Sennett’s ideas on metamorphosis. This idea of seeing a design go through an “elaboration of its species” was mostly reflected working with the electron structure of Silicon. The pattern arrangement was highly modular and produced a variety of diverse forms.

The final design was realized through a process of building 4 plaster molds from 3 different pattern designs for Silicon, Beryllium, and Hydrogen. As this was my first time working with ceramics, a drop out mold was an ideal approach to test this project. My initial work with Silicon proved to be a great learning experience.

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The biggest issued was the unanticipated interaction between mylar and casting plaster. While the form had no undercuts to start with, the positive mold turned out quite different. Due to the density and weight of the plaster, the mylar was deformed further than I anticipated, leaving several undercuts in the process. The final prototype was not usable for a basic drop out mold.

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The next 2 sets of plaster molds we built a bit differently. I opted to drop the form into the plaster rather than pour over. But I found that this had its own issues, as plaster was still so dense that the weak mylar form buckles under the pressure. One solution was to pour plaster into the form at the same time, but this resulted in the form sinking too far to the bottom of the mold.

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The final mold was submerged with layers of clay to provide structure during casting. Overall, the approach to this project required testing multiple proposals as working with such malleable and dense materials was enough of a contrast to cause several issues in the process. Additionally, the pattern design had its own limitations, as there was no way to anticipate how the from would reveal itself during the assembly process.

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Culture Cache: Travel through Representation

Friday, December 4th, 2015

Concept Development:

Swift Creek Complicated Stamp pottery – Scholars believe SCCS designs may have been used to represent people. Taking a SCCS pot from one location to another may have been an offering or representation of an important person that was not able to make the journey.

Stone Mountain – Occupation of the area began before Euro-American contact. Woodland people that lived in the area created a rock wall on top of Stone Mountain. Stones were taken or even rolled down the face of Stone Mountain for fun. There are contentious feelings towards Stone Mountain due to the Confederate engraving on the front. Recently, plans have been suggested for a Martin Luther King, Jr. monument at the top. Stone Mountain Park has focused their interpretation primarily on the Confederacy slowly incorporating Civil Rights themes. American Indian occupation of the area is ignored as part of the park’s narrative.

Bringing It Together :

Culture Cache is a community experience that utilizes the ideas of representation and representational travel. Based on the idea of geocaching, Culture Cache invites users to create a piece of pottery that is imbued with their personality. Selecting an adventure in Culture Cache leads users to American Indian sites to place their representational pottery for others while picking up another user’s representation. Pottery traveling from site to site, with documentation within the app, allows users to travel through their pottery; all the while learning about American Indian history.

The home page offers the ability to search for cache adventures, as well as tracking your own caches and pottery.

The home page offers the ability to search for cache adventures, as well as tracking your own caches and pottery.

Cache Adventures are based around themes supporting American Indian sites.

Cache Adventures are based around themes supporting American Indian sites.


Adventure examples include:

Woodland Builder – These sites feature stone walls built by Woodland people.

Woodland Traveler – Sites range from Florida to Northern and Western parts of America, as a way to learn about and experience Woodland trade route.

Mound Builder – These two adventures focus on the monumental architecture of their respective periods.









Woodland Builder

Start page for an adventure. The significance of each adventure is explained.

Stone Mountain Site

Location page. Each location is explained within the context of the adventure.


Tracking geolocation of cache. Users can take photographs, record thoughts and share.

Taking a new picture.

Taking a new picture.

Documenting the experience through pictures.

Documenting through pictures.

Documenting thoughts and experiences.

Documenting thoughts and experiences.

The Trackables page shows pottery you have left at each site and their new locations.

The Trackables page shows pottery you have left at each site and their new locations.

Points show the details of travels, including user, site, and documentation.

Points show the details of travels, including user, site, and documentation.

Critical Reflection: Portal Interactive Lamp

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Original Concept

My original concept was to create a ceramic artifact that brings the nostalgia and feeling of “home” from video games into the real world through light.


Previous Iterations

My first concept was to create a physical manifestation of a digital skybox, but after critiques and further thought, it was concluded that a skybox would not contain enough of the “essence” of a game to bring it to life in a meaningful way.


My second concept was to create ceramic domes with a Portal theme, drawing on the game’s core gameplay element – shooting portals on various surfaces to travel through space and time from one portal to the other. The concept was to have two domes, where glazing would represent different areas in the game (interior and exterior), with portals on the inside and outside of the dome, allowing the viewer to be transported inside the dome by looking inside. Due to time constraints, these prototypes were made with epoxy and acrylic paint, rather than clay.

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Critiques from the prototyping session led to some design changes for the final product. First, it was suggested that the domes should be more interactive, especially since the video games that inspired the concept (and video games, in general) are highly interactive. It was decided that looking at the light sources to be cast into the domes would be an interesting way to use the portals to transport the user into the games. I also came up with the idea of adding sound as another element to bring the games alive.


Final Product

The final product built off of the previous iteration, and resulted in two domes, and a slightly modified concept. I built two domes to test different facets of glazing. The outside of the domes were carved and glazed to reflect the essence of the Portal game, while the insides were glazed white or clear (matte and glossy, respectively), to allow the lights cast inside the dome to reflect the games.

First, I coil-built the domes, and scraped them to form dome shapes.


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Second, I carved them to represent Portal.

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Finally, I glazed the pieces to reflect the colors of the game, based on the color analysis done in the previous stage.

Portal and Mass Effect


Then, the pieces were fired, and I began to build the electronic components.


I used Arduino and Processing to make the lamp interactive. I used buttons to simulate the feel of firing a Portal gun. When the red button is pressed, the LEDs in the lamp transition through colors from an image representing the game Mass Effect, while the theme from the Normandy ship plays on the computer speaker. When the green button is pressed, the LEDs in the lamp transition through the colors from an image representing the game Bioshock.

The images that inspired the exterior of the domes:

thecakeisalie1Portal and Mass Effect

The images that inspired the colors of the LEDs (the interior of the dome):

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What Questions Does It Ask?

This project exists in the intersection of the digital (video games) and the physical (clay artifact). It asks the questions:

How can physical artifacts created in clay interact with the digital world in the realm of video game immersive experiences?

Does the act of creating an artifact like this, or receiving a handmade artifact like this could bring a more personal feel to a digital and synthetic experience?

For me, I definitely feel a stronger connection to the games through trying to craft an experience to bring the games to life. The objects have a sentimental feeling to me from the time I spent working on them while spending time with my family. I would be interested to see if giving them as a gift would grant that “personal and real” experience to the recipient, and whether that would change his or her feelings towards the games.


What does it achieve?

For me, the lamp brings a real-world interaction experience to games that I had only experienced digitally before. I enjoy the fact that the domes represent a game (Portal) whose essence (traveling through portals to different places) allows me to be “transported” to the worlds of Mass Effect and Bioshock with the press of a button.


What does it not achieve?

I feel like the LEDs in the inside may not necessarily represent the games as well as a projector or a screen inside the domes might have. These other technologies would have allowed actual images or scenes from the game to be projected, rather than colors that represent the design styles of the games.


Inspirations from the Readings

Many of these were discussed in the proposal, but upon building the domes, some quotes came to be more impactful for me.

In the Ingold reading, we discussed the idea of clay or other materials coming into being through the process of the crafter interacting with it, often with the artist not really knowing what it will become until it does. I noticed as I was crafting the domes and carving them, that I kind of became “in the zone,” and wasn’t really consciously planning out how they were going to look or where I was going to carve. I was actually quite surprised by how they turned out.