Thesis: Process, Process, Process

Thesis: Process, Process, Process


The photo with the prototype flower I would up using for PR.

Being in my third and final year of my MFA puts me firmly in the category of being a “thesis-year” student. It’s a special time. Professors take you more seriously, and ask how you are doing with more frequency. Other students do the same. And it lasts the whole year, and no matter how you are doing with your thesis (believe me, there are a lot of ups and downs) there is a community of people invested in you.

The time is getting near for the exhibition. It’s about six weeks away now. I’m now in heavy construction mode, working pretty much constantly. As much as I’d like to be searching for a job right now for after graduation, I just don’t have it in me. All my energy is going toward finishing my degree with a bang.

It has been an interesting road. When I first put together my thesis project, I thought I was going to use a theory of astrophysics as a metaphor for grief. My sister died five years ago, and my thesis is focusing on the immediate period after a traumatic loss, when there are no rules and the world seems half-there. The more I worked on the project, the less comfortable I felt with using a metaphor, and a began to steer the work to focus more on the direct emotional experience of grieving.

Flower designs in Illustrator for laser-cutting.

Flower designs in Illustrator for laser-cutting.

So much is involved. So much research, so much trial and error. A couple of weeks ago we (all the thesis year students) had to turn in a PR photo and blurb for our projects. For most of us, that meant making a prototype object, or early production object, the subject of the photo. It was a good thing, since it kicked me into high gear.

I decided on making a couple of transparent acrylic flowers, which will be making up a little garden in my project (among many other transparent acrylic objects). First, I had to design the flower in Illustrator, a vastly underused software in my opinion. Our laser cutters in the fabrication facility can read Illustrator files, and I’ve become pretty good at making files that work well with the laser cutter.

One of many sources I've gone to for bending and forming acrylic.

One of many sources I’ve gone to for bending and forming acrylic.

The next step was forming and adhering the pieces together. Not as easy as it seems. The acrylic responds well to heat for bending, but the adhering process is very exacting. I made all the cuts so the pieces would fit perfectly, but heat changes the acrylic, even if I tried to keep the heat gun away from the particular spots where I have to bond the parts together. So I had to do a lot of troubleshooting on each different design.

The resulting prototype worked out nicely, I think! I’m now in the process of making the rest of the flowers (around 30 total), and am moving on to thinking about cutting some larger pieces of acrylic on our CNC mill! It’s really hard to believe that this will all be over so soon!