Discrete Curiosity: From Digital to Physical

Discrete Curiosities is happy to announce that we have (finally) successfully crossed the threshold between our digital design and its physical manifestation.   The approximately 420 unique panels made from either a combination of fabric and dyed resin or from a stained birch are now happily labeled, collated and ready for assembly.

This was very much a process of learning and experimentation (read: trial and error).  Below I’ve documented one of the more interesting investigations we’ve been involved in between the months of January through March.

Despite the panel shapes and sizes having been determined in the computer several months ago, our struggle began when we could not find a material with the aesthetic we desired for the panels.  The average acrylic sheet was too brittle and shiny, while most rubber-based materials lacked transparency and were not rigid enough to hold their shape.  We began to create a hybrid material by casting fabrics into resin.  The fabric varied between floating toward the top of the casts and falling toward the back.  This gave us the organic surface texture we wanted.  By adding the blue dye, we achieved the an a dialectic between the old-world materials (linen, wood) and an electronic new age aesthetic (translucent blue resin)  After testing many different fabrics, resins, and dyes (you can imagine the number of permutations) we arrived at a material we were happy with.  We’d like to throw out a special thanks to Kaplan’s fabrics for patiently educating us in the different characteristics of fabric types.


The unique aesthetic properties of our newly created material came with an equally unique set of problems.  The thinness of the casts made the molds and panels highly susceptible to temperature change during the curing process.  Consistency between the casts became impossible to achieve, with results ranging from brittle to pliable depending on the temperature swings of the week.  The fabric trapped tiny air pockets in the resin (one of our desired effects) which further increased the materials sensitivity to heat.  It became clear that to cast all the panels in a manner that was both consistent and predictable, we would either  need to do one of two things:  build a temperature-controlled room in our studio that was also well vented (difficult in our particular circumstances) or redesign our casting process in order to quickly pour all of them at once during the ideal conditions.  We went with the latter.  Rather than casting our panels as individual units, we waited for the perfect temperature conditions (thank you spring, for coming early!) and quickly cast large sheets.  We then took these big sheets to a laser cutter to cut the panel shapes.


While much time was saved by not having to create individual molds for each panel, we added time to our production process by needing to carefully plan the laser cuts on the sheets so as to maintain the correct orientation of the fabric grain.  We would have a similar exercise with the wood panels in order to maintain the correct direction of the wood grain.  While the extra step of laser cutting was not initially planned, it came with a lot of benefits.  We had a much greater dimensional accuracy, each panel’s identification could be etched onto its backside, and pilot holes for our fastening system could be added.

Given the scope of the project, our collection of 420 oddly shaped flat panels seems an insignificant milestone, yet their very existence embodies one of the original goals of the project.  They are the humble manifestation of weeks of research, a series of collaborations with artists and material experts, and a set of tools ranging from sowing machines to laser cutters.  While soon we will begin to introduce our very talented set of artists, we’d like to take a moment to recognize part of the process that helped us connect to much of Kansas City’s maker community.

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