I recently acquired a new gig for the creation of a piece of wall art, so i thought, what better time than to employ the services of the laser cutter at Techshop to create a wooden piece. I discussed the idea of making a piece made from wood that was inspired by cellular structures in biology, which then led me to thinking about using the actual cellular structure of wood as a departure point for the design.
Before choosing and ordering a species of wood for the actual project, I decided to make some tests first, on smaller 1/8' pieces left over from other projects.
I made this at Techshop!
Step 1: Reference images
I started, as I always do, with taking a look at some reference images online, through a simple google image search.
One thing that is apparent with cellular structure in general is that they are roughly all the same shape and size but no two are identical. They all have slight variations in the number of sides, angles and number of corners.
Step 2: Illustrator time
This then led me to thinking, what would the piece look like if I layered several thin pieces of lasercut wood - the effect might be interesting by the three-dimensional spaces in the negative space.
With these ideas in mind, I headed over to Illustrator, whipped up a new doc with the stroke set to the normal red 255 and 0.01 px setting for laser cutting.
Next, I drew a bunch of squares scattered around - using the option key and dragging to make copies of the first one.
Selecting the point moving tool (hotkey a) I moved the various points around, using my references as a guide. To add new points to any of the squares, I used the pen tool with the square selected - hover over the place you want a new point and click when you see a little plus sign. If you dont get the plus sign before you click, you will make a new vector, instead of adding to the existing one.
Keep playing with the points and number of sides until you find a look that is good looking and still remembles the cellular nature of the references.
Step 3: Making the shapers more organic
Now noone wants a cell-inspired wall hanging to look like it was made in Illustrator, right?
So lets shake up the hard edged.
With points selected, I often smooth two vector lines out by playing with the Convert tool, in the menu bar. Switching back and forth between converting points-to-smooth/points-to-corner and manipulating the point's handles, you can change the shape radically.
Another way to smooth things out is to select the shape, or specific points you want to change, then use the Smooth tool, found under the Pencil Tool. Just draw over the points until you get what you want.
Step 4: Pathfinder and Path Builder is always your buds
Now is time to combine all the shapes, extract unwanted parts and prep the path for the laser cutter.
But before we get there, we need to duplicate the whole lot and drag it all away from the original. You can lock the original, if you like. We wont be using it until later....
Start by moving all the "squares" so they overlap one-another. Combine them all, them make them all one shape by using the Pathfinder/Unite tool.
All this is to get one big ass outline of the whole caboodle. So to save us work, lets draw a square over most of the interior, and them Unite it with the rest - this will illuminate most of the points you dont need. Finish this stage by Uniting the square with the rest.
Now use the Path Builder (hotkey, Shift m) with everything selected to join any remaining shapes. Then Unite them again, like the previous step. You should end up with one shape that outlines your original design.
Unlock the original and scale it into the outline. Your outline will prolly look as dodgy as mine, so feel free to move the points around using all the previous techniques to get a nice mirrored outline to the original. See the final image for my final design. I have also attached the Illustrator file as well.
Step 5: Cut er up!
I decided on two different types of wood to make a Triptych, with one type sandwiched in between two of the other. Three layers to each panel of three. Three is a magic number :-)
Each layer, I scaled slightly smaller than the previous. After the pieces were cut, I stacked them (three pieces with the different wood type in the middle) and slightly screwed them from the center. I played with their placement in relation to each other before deciding on a final position to glue.
I was pretty happy with the result, but for the final project, i thought I would go with the three panels being much longer, reflecting the traditional format for a triptych.