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Color and light have always fascinated me. I've been a fan of mid-century, Danish and modern lighting design for quite a while. I’ve been collecting retro swags for a number of years, as seen above because I love their look - they represent one of the most innovative times for the use of plastics in lighting design.

Multi-part, modular construction pieces however, like the PH Artichoke lamp and IQlight (recreated as an Instructable here: https://www.instructables.com/id/Universal-lamp-shade-polygon-building-kit  as well other multi-part designs peak my attention as they represent an approach to the design and structure of housewares that made the owner part of the process, either by providing their lamp in kit form forcing the owner to build the lamp themselves, or by providing a number of like parts that could be assembled in various ways to produce different outcomes.

A number of designers responsible for that approach were architects turned furniture designers. A few of the more famous mid-century designers attended Cranbrook Design School, a few miles from my home. Charles and Ray Eames ("Eames Era") met at Cranbrook  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranbrook_Educational_Community#Notable_alumni_and_faculty

A quick visits to the Cranbrook Art Museum to see their works in their native setting started the creative juices flowing, and so, inspired to give it a shot, here is my Instructable on making a mid-century modern style lamp shade using AutoDesk 123D Make.

This Instructable is a jumping off point and instructions on "how to approach" not necessarily a "how to reproduce” my project. Let creativity guide you and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Step 1: Design - Chicken or Egg?

While working on my other Instructable entry for the Hurricane Laser Cutter Contest https://www.instructables.com/id/Cool-AutomataFaux-Steampunk-inspired-CD-Case  - I went out to the Autodesk 123D web page and viewed the 123D Make tutorial movie http://www.123dapp.com/make  While watching it, my attention was captured by a model of a torus done in interlocking slices mode (waffle) that made me think - "man if that were done in a colored acrylic, you could drop a bulb in the middle of it and make a really cool mid-century style lamp!  Additionally, the software provides an animated "how to put your model together" animation that would make an amazing instruction manual if you processed the screen shots into a booklet.

While cool as it stands, it certainly wouldn’t be much of a project to simply package someone else’s work, even if that someone was a computer program :)   I  wondered if some editing could be done to the individual model pieces to alter the shape, add some additional protrusions, perhaps making it less symmetrical or add additional details. I exported one of part's outline into Illustrator for some quick editing, then a second import into a 3d program to see what was possible.  While possible, it quickly became evident that due to the way the pieces had to go together, chances were good my editing of the original shapes might  destroy my ability to assemble the model - after all, acrylic is not a very flexible material, and if I made an edit that didn’t allow the parts to pass through one another as required for assembly, I could be stuck with a big pile useless cut plastic

The correct approach would be to design the "completed" 3D shape first then have 123D MAKE slice it into kit parts.

Step 2: Understanding/exploring the Basics of Autodesk 123D MAKE

Before you go too far on designing your "completed" 3D model for the lamp you actually want to make - take some time to get to know 123D MAKE and how it treats the shapes you feed it. I found in 3 minutes of playing with the controls you can master a basic understanding of the software interface and be on your way to creating something cool.  

Begin by downloading and installing 123D Make.  Currently you can get it by clicking the 123D tab at the top of this webpage. Once installed, start the program, and select FILE>Open Example Shapes> and select one of the shapes.  As you can tell,  I am a fan of the Torus. Once the model appeared, I played with the software settings till I landed at the settings shown in the screen capture above and ...ta-da....cool lamp shape...then I changed a few settings and...cool lamp shape 2.  Play with the controls and find your inspiration.  I exported my 123D Make "practice lamp shades" into my favorite 3d modeling software to add the lamp parts to get a good feeling of what the model would look like as a completed lamp.

Step 3: Creating the Actual Model for Your Lamp.

Start by finding or creating your inspiration shape. Once you have that, open your 3d software and create the model. If you dont own 3D modeling software, check out Autodesk 123D  3d modeling software, also available free from the 123D tab at the top of this page.  The shape I've decided to go with is a mash up of 3 buildings whose architecture I've always enjoyed: The original Sands Casino (previously) of Las Vegas, the Capitol Record Company Headquarters in LA and assorted old school Holiday Inn hotels across America. All three were basically canister shaped buildings with circular balconies surrounding each floor.

Begin by reducing your inspiration to its simplest state - remember 123D Make (with the exception of stacked mode) is going to soften some of the detail on the model you create - this isn’t a bad thing, its job is to create the "external balloon" if you will of a master shape. My simplest state is a cylinder with other disks (flattened wider cylinders) protruding through it.

Create the individual shapes that make up your master shape. Do not worry about removing the material in the center of your model to make space for the light bulb - we will complete that process in 123D MAKE. Be sure your model is in its most finalized form before you export it - if items are supposed to be centered or aligned with each other, use the appropriate commands to do so while the model is still in your modeling software - 123D MAKE has a couple of specific jobs, and editing your model isn’t really one of them. Use your software’s "group" command (whatever command your software uses to take multiple items and "glue" them together) to create a single exportable model.

Export or Save your mode in .stl or.obj format.

Step 4: Import Your Model and Slice It!

Fire up your 123D MAKE software.

From the left-hand side of the window under the "model" section, click on the IMPORT button.

Navigate to the model you created for the project and click OPEN.

Once your model appears, hold down the right mouse button and using the mouse, rotate the model into the best position to view it for your specific model - I like mine almost straight on, but tipped down slightly.  This allows me to see what both the front and the top of the lamp will look like as I change "slice" settings.

Under the Construction Techniques section, select the technique you planned to use based on your earlier experimentation and planning (for those that are following along with my model, select "radial slices")

If your slices are not running in the plane you expected, jump down to the SLICE DIRECTION section and click the button, this will present you with two control markers (a dot and a triangle) that you can use to align your z and x axis directions . Click and hold on the dot or triangle and move the mouse to pull your slices into the desired planes.

Before playing with any other controls, go to the MANUFACTURING SETTINGS and click the sprocket button, this will allow you to specify what thickness of materials your model will be built from.  It’s important to do this early on as it directly relates to the number of parts 123D MAKE will create in order to fill an area - remember, you can fill one inch of space with either two half inch pieces, or with four quarter inch pieces.  If you aren’t specific up front, you’re going to get results you might not have imagined....which isn’t always a bad thing.

Once your parts are oriented correctly, you can play with the controls in the SLICE DISTRIBUTION section - this is where things get interesting.  123d make will build a model of your shape that is basically a framework of "material" and "open spaces" If you've ever taken an art class, you probably remember the relationship between materials and no material is what makes things interesting. Play around with this relationship by adjusting the numbers in the SLICE DISTRIBUTION section.  As this is a lamp shade, give thought to how much filtered light you want vs. how much direct.  As you play with these numbers you will notice that 123D MAKE automatically updates and builds the "cut" list of parts that will be required to create your model on the right hand side of the screen.  If you are cutting items by hand, keep an eye on what you're creating to avoid overwhelming your cutting hand - if you're sending your work out - keep an eye on it so you stay within budget.

If while running through settings you come across a group of settings you like, but you're not sure it’s "the" one - screen shot it, or save the file under a different name.  You will undoubtedly come across a number of models you like on the way to your final one;   save them as you see them.

Once you land on your finalized design, there are two more items we need to take care of.  The first is scaling this model up to its true size (meaning - how big do you want this thing to actually be?)  you might be wondering why we didn’t start with this step - two reasons, first, the model details remain proportional so it doesn’t matter what size it is when you're designing, and second, it gives you time to think on how you're actually going to use this shade.  One of the most obvious ways is to swag it, so it’s independent of any sizing issues, but, you might want to go out to Ikea, the Salvation Army, or dig through your basement to see if there's something in an old lamp body that might work for this project.  Once you find it, you can scale this project to match.  To scale, use the settings found under the OBJECT SIZE section of the left-hand control pane.  Why didn’t we find the lamp body before we started the project you ask?  Stop being so organized - be an artist, live on the edge a little ;)  You can let your inner engineer out when it’s time to wire this thing

Lastly, 123D MAKE has no idea what you will be using your fantastic model for, so it doesn't know to remind you that at this point there's no room for a light bulb or the empty space around the light bulb necessary to keep it from melting your model.  It is however happy to help you create that space.  Before attempting, rotate your model (hold down the right mouse button and roll the mouse around) so that it’s positioned in a way that would allow you to look up through the model if it were a lamp shade.  Then from the control panel on the left, select the MODIFY FORM button. At the bottom of the screen, select the HOLLOW tab. Using the controls, slide the controller till the hollow cavity being created reaches the size necessary.  How big is that?  Well, depends on a lot of things.  My best suggestion is that you open it up as wide as possible and use a low wattage bulb to reduce heat output.  I'm an artist not an engineer so as with everything here, use your best judgment or ask a friend who knows what they are doing.

If you saw my other Instructable “Cool Automata/Faux Steampunk inspired CD Case” https://www.instructables.com/id/Cool-AutomataFaux-Steampunk-inspired-CD-Case/  you probably know I kind of enjoy the little surprises in these projects - like when your parts arrive from the cutter and you finally get to put it together and see what you've created.  Well, one of the interesting little surprises here is that you can actually see your model rendered in any of three materials - giving you a feeling of what it’s going to look like once it’s actually completed. To see you model mocked up in cardboard, plywood or acrylic, click ASSEMBLY STEPS button at the lower left, once the window opens, select your material of choice by clicking on the button at the bottom left of the window.  TA-DA, look at that, you're a midcentury modern designer.

While you have the ASSEMBLY STEPS window open, play with the slider at the bottom and watch as your model assembles and disassembles itself one piece at a time. Very cool.

Step 5: Mounting Your Lampshade

In most cases, there is one more step that may be required - adjusting the top most and bottom most slices of your model. This is necessary because we need to be able to get a bulb up into the shade (opening up the bottom slice) and we need to have some way of mounting the shade to the lamp (tapping a small hole in the top that either the lamp harp finial screw can pass through, or if swaging, that the threaded lamp pipe can enter through.) Depending on the design of your model, you may also have to edit some of the "uprights" that hold your top and bottom plate in place - I for example will need to shorten the bottom tooth of each of my uprights, otherwise my lower opening will still be inaccessible.

We need to know what we're connecting this to before we get started. So, what are you connecting this to? Lamp base or swag chain?  In either case, the approach is the same, but the measurements are going to be different.

Before we can make any changes to anything, we're going to need to get our hands on all those cut layout pages 123D MAKE generated. Click the GET PLANS button at the bottom of the control panel. Your 123D Make software will open your web account, then will open a new window with the full layout of your pieces, you can click the FILE TYPE button to select EPS or PDF format for printing.

Once you have the EPS files saved, look back your model window and determine what part number is your top slice and which your bottom slice is. Once you've located the appropriate part on the EPS files, open it in a software program capable of editing an EPS file.  In the software, create the structure shown below to provide venting as well as a mounting point for the shade to its lamp, or the shade to its swag chain.  Once correctly edited, save the file (in EPS format)  You now have a complete set of cut sheets for your creation.  As a side note, remember that the part you just edited is responsible for bearing the weight of your entire creation and as such, it may require some reinforcement, particularly if your model is big and the material is thin. While these cut paths have excellent fit tolerances, you will also have to hold your model together somehow - glue, a few screws, etc. 

If I could find the parts online - I'd finish out the lamp with a chrome base and non-centered post as shown in the computer rendered office shot.  More likely, I'll run to Ikea and for the time being, pick up the most minimal stem I can find for it, while I continue to look for the perfect base. 

Step 6: Why I'd Like to Win a Hurricane Laser Cutter.

Give a monkey a banana, he eats for a day.

Teach a monkey to make bananas; he'll stay out of your hair till dinnertime.


By trade, I’m currently a IT support analyst for the auto industry.  In my heart, I’m an artist.  Never in my life (so far) have I been able to find a job I love as much as my art, or find an art that pays as much as a 9 to 5 job.  I've always felt that somewhere inside me is a designer.  I paint, sculpt, I design sets for local community theater - I need an outlet.  It's not that I have to have a dream job, just something in my life that I can be passionate about.

Just as the digital camera has made everyone a professional photographer these days :) lots of folks are experiencing an urge to design and create.  But many of us have reached the end of our road, as we don’t possess the ability (financial, mechanical, or physical) to go the next step and take the design from paper to workbench.  The advent of 3d printing, hobby laser cutters and desktop CNC are starting to do for the creator and designer what desktop publishing did for the aspiring writer and photographer.  It’s a very exciting time to be an aspiring designer :)

As with all of life, things look good on paper.  It’s when the rubber hits the road that we find out if we have what it takes or not.  I would like to find out. I'd like to take my great ideas into the realm of reality, or fail trying.  I'd love to have a project that Im passionate about make it full life-cycle, rather than just die a great idea.

I love this lamp I've designed - I'd love to prototype and putter and perfect it, but currently my cutting is being done by a company in Las Vegas.  They do great work, but it’s the equivalent of perfecting your barbeque sauce recipe by sending it out to be baked by someone else - you don’t get to make those last minute changes, sample as you go, add a little more brown sugar.  You don’t find out you've ruined something till the day of the cook off, and then it’s too late. The blue ribbon goes to that other girl who had her own easy bake oven.  I come from a long line of tinkerers -  we need that constant hands on puttering.

In another entry for this contest, which I’ve already shamelessly plugged twice in this Instructable, I outlined some of the more practical reasons I would love to win one of these cutters. As this Instructable is more about finding your passion, let me just say I would putter, and tinker, and cuddle the hell out of one of these cutters.  I want to be a monkey who's so busy creating creating he forgets it's dinnertime.

Thank you for your consideration. :)

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