#Letstalktools – CFPR researchers share three tools that are significant to them and explain why.

Last month Sofie Boons (Research Associate), and Tom McDonagh (Research Technician), kicked off a series of team activities by asking CFPR colleagues to share an image of three tools/instruments/apparatuses that were significant to their work.

They aimed to encourage people to stop and reflect on what they use to ‘make’ and ‘research’ – a task that seemed appropriately timed given the new home-working scenario, with many lacking access to their usual range of tools and having to think especially creatively about ways of working. Picking only three tools proved to be a challenge for many of our researchers, and the stories behind people’s choices sparked inspiring virtual team discussions. Over the coming weeks we will be sharing each of their choices here.

We’d also like to invite you to join in and share your three work tools of choice! Tag us with your images on Instagram (@cfpr_research) or Twitter (@cfprresearch) and #letstalktools

Sofie Boons, Research Associate:

When asked to choose 3 tools from the repertoire of tools available to use, whether it is to produce jewellery components, tinker with machines, or create models on a computer, was a challenging task. Looking around the studio space, which tool is more important than another. Should choosing a tool depend on its functionality, its portability, its impressive design, its history, or its development? And which of these in fact matter to me as the user?

After contemplating my approach, I opted to go for a representational one, picking 3 tools that represent the range of tools used as part of a specific segment of my practice. After all, in my practice the importance of each individual tool for each individual task is significant. Using a tool for the wrong task can have costly consequences. Every tool serves a purpose and choosing the right tool for the task – which is something I found rather challenging for this one – is what sets apart a skilled maker. As a jewellery designer I don’t own one tool that does it all, I own tool-collections that do it all.

For the first tool I chose a safety back smooth needle file to represent the (every year growing) assortment of tools I have at my disposal to work in metal, and other jewellery materials. The file was purchased before I entered my first metalmaking workshop and has lasted ever since. It’s quality is a representation of the quality I aspire to, when making work. It’s safekeeping after use, in a handmade fabric pouch, is a testament to the importance of care when storing tools to last a lifetime. I could have chosen many tools from the repertoire, and there is not specific reason why it ended up being my trusted safety back smooth needle file, aside from that it was already on my bench for use when I made my decision.

The second tool that made the cut was an adapted and very old screwdriver. Tinkering with machinery (which are also tools) is an inevitable consequence of owning larger machines that need more labour-intensive maintenance. Many of the machines in my workshop are second hand, their quality similar to my needle file, which means tools often outlive their respective owners. It is therefore customary for jewellers to sell their machinery and tools onto the next generation, which is how my workshop has expanded. The screwdriver in itself is replaceable and the set of tools and the function it represents is one of recycling, repairing and ultimately caring. That the screwdriver has been through some adjusting also adequately indicates that, when it comes to repairing machinery that is older than you are, you need to be inventive. If the common tool does not quite perform its role, change it.

The final tool in the series again represents a large plethora of tools accessible at the click of a mouse. The box-standard computer mouse might not be one of the most beautiful tools in my collection, but it enables the use of an ever-expanding range of tools that can be accessed through computer software. With the introduction of Computer Aided Design to my hands-on practice I was able to create pieces that could not be made by hand, or would not have been affordable to my market should they be made only by hand. The expansion of the tools housed in a range of 3D modelling programmes have enabled many new designs. They once again serve a specific purpose, and also require craftmanship, not just the handy manoeuvring of the mouse.

Fabio D’Agnano, Associate Professor:

Electronic prototyping boards mostly (here).
A soldering iron is missing in the picture!

Marine Shao, Early Career Researcher:

To pick my three tools was easy as they are the only things I brought back from the University to work from home. At the beginning of a PhD, research is like the exploration of an unknown territory where the discovery of something only leads to new questions and investigations. With this in mind, I have chosen the three tools that help to lead me in my exploration.

My computer directs the direction of my investigation, I use it to find information and to test what I have found. During this lockdown, the subject of my investigation is image processing, and my computer was my tool to test the algorithms and understand them; I downloaded programs, ran them on Python and managed to create my own processed images. My computer is also my mean to keep my research diary, to record my research and my reflections; writing my reflection on my research diary is a simple thing, but it is very helpful to take a step back and understand my research better.

Reading takes an important part in the life of a PhD student; it is the core of the investigation, and the baseline of the work and of the project. Reading an article is a long enterprise, because understanding deeply the methods can imply the reading of multiple other support materials, the reflection and analysis on paper of the article.

Finally, my tea is my last tool, it is my fuel during my work, and my way to adapt to the British culture of the CFPR.

When working at the lab, my choice of tools changes to adapt to the practice. But my main tools remain the computer, the article, and the tea.

Angie Butler, Senior Research Fellow:

Roller gauge, composing stick (Cornerstone) and a type scale rule/line gauge

For me, the composing stick, roller gauge and type scale rule or line gauge are essential tools that enable good studio practice when printing letterpress. I realise that these items are linked to the craft of the letterpress process so perhaps not immediately accessible in understanding what each one is used for. However, most tools within the letterpress process act as extensions to the human body: utilised in combination with our own haptic understanding to measure, equate and organise in order to set up the press, type and paper for printing. They are seen as fundamentally important, as writer and book artist Nancy Campbell observes, when working with a printing press:
You have a connection, there is some control, but it is also a partnership. It’s the same with any tool that you are familiar with, that you are using it almost prosthetically and that’s when the best things happen.

I know that our bodies and our experience are central to the process of printing letterpress. Technical aptitude improves with the repetition of more formal aspects of the typesetting and printing process (including use of the above three tools) but does not necessarily lead to innovative ideas and creativity. Through focused attentiveness to our senses, we can learn and develop creative practice through our experiences. To learn skills through our own bodies: observations, experience, emotions and intuition. To develop them through sharing our practice with others.

Xavier Aure, Research Fellow:

Camera, lights, action!

Tom McDonagh, Research Technician:

My three tools range from hand to powered to automated.

The Vice Grip gives a human hand a superhuman grip. The mechanism is cunningly designed to apply an extremely high force at an adjustable pinch point and lock in that position. I mean you can grab virtually anything and use the tool as a lever. It is the burglars favourite tool (along with
the crow bar) and is certainly my desert island survival tool.

The Combi Power Drill is probably the power tool I used most. It kind of amazing how you could almost build a house (or tree house) with this one tool. I upgraded to an expensive Dewalt model which is super powerful though too loud.

I bought a Ultimaker 3D Printer about 5 years ago and it probably sat unused most of the first couple of years. It took me a long while to discover what it was good and not good for. I mostly think of it as a maker of brackets, but it turn out you can do lots of interesting thing with complex

Abigail Trujillo Vázquez, Early Stage Researcher:

Wifi, glasses and a Simurgh
Wifi to access knowledge from almost everywhere even in lockdown. Glasses to read and see clearer. Simurgh because it tells me that unity is based on community, and research is based on collectivity… And because birds always give me a clue.

Dr Sarah Bodman, Programme Leader MA Multidisciplinary Printmaking:

I have chosen three tools that I value the most (apart from a fancy new zine stapler which I have purchased recently and haven’t got round to using yet!). My camera, which I consider my drawing tool, it’s used to record images for both my research and my practice; it documents evidence of physical objects or situations, captures my works in progress and ideas in the making and finishing. My pot of pens and brushes, usually sitting on my desk at work, now whisked off home along to sit on the bookshelf of the makeshift home office. I can dip into this for different colours for notes or ‘to do’ lists or random quotes from books or ideas for making. I have been referred to (not unkindly) as Pauline’s Pens at home. And lastly this lovely strawberry teardrop bonefolder. It usually sits in my desk drawer alongside my Teflon one from London Centre for Book Arts which is amazingly accurate and I think of as my lucky bonefolder as it got me through making an edition of 100 books in two days. But this beautiful one was a present from Chino Crafts, a small supplier which supports artisans in rural Nepal. Their founder sent a box of supplies to share and give feedback on, and this one was sent for me to use. It’s so small I can take it anywhere to use it at fairs or when I’m away, and it scores and flattens perfectly. I also think of the artisans in rural Nepal every time I use it.

Andy Johnson, Senior Business Development Manager

Macbook, Phone and Eizo Monitor. Overlooked by Canon and Adobe Teddy

Laura-Beth Cowley, PhD Researcher:

The 3D Printer is the tool at the centre of my research, this Easy thread FDM Nano was bought for under £200, in order to get to grips with the repetitive processes of design, support, print, repeat that is the 3D printing process. Although 3D printing has changed a lot over the last couple of decades, it remains a relatively simple device, learning to work with and around its limitation has been an integral part of my research so far.

The Snips are part of the post-processing of printed parts allowing for quick support removal before the sanding begins. Also useful for wire cutting in armature creation, tin, brass and all materials were scissors won’t quite cut it. They should be part of any makers toolbox.

The Callipers integral to everything when working in miniature scale and within tolerances of milometers. It is sometimes difficult to  visualise the real parameters of an object in a digital environment in which you are working at a larger scale to the final thing. It is important to have a measuring device on hand to keep the real-world values of your measurements in mind. This is also vital when translating something real into a digital file. My first pair were analogue and plastic, my sound pair which are digital are stuck in the office at the university so this my third pair which will live in my home office from now on.

Professor Carinna Parraman, CFPR Director:

Hear Carinna explain her choices

When Sofie asked me to propose what three tools that have significance for my work, my longlist included a camera and laptop as well as plenty of hefty printing kit. However, as I was beginning to ponder which tools, lockdown happened. This made me reassess what were my fundamental tools, what would happen if I had no access to equipment, no electricity, no files, or given a desert island scenario, what could I grab before everything was washed away?

I decided that I needed have a more back to basics approach: what tools could help me as part of my daily problem solving? If I had a spare 5 minutes, what tools would be useful to me? as a way to aide mindfulness? or generate new ideas during our current lockdown?

Thinking back, and as life-long cutter, doodler and paper folder, I have finally chosen a cutting blade, pencils and ruler as my three tools.  I have kept them small so they can fit into a bag or my cycle pannier, and held together with an elastic band, they will not go astray.

These tools, will perform a multitude of functions – pencils for sketching and drawing, making notes and drafting ideas. The cutting blade is useful for sharpening pencils and cutting into things as well as scoring into paper. The ruler for marking, creasing, and smoothing. I have cheated a little as I have included a range of pencils: a soft white and a brown-ochre for drawing on coloured paper and adding extra highlights, 5B and 2B pencils to obtain a good black and tonal range, and F for some detail and marking.  If only allowed to select one pencil, then I would choose the 2B as a good allrounder.

Of course, my hands are the most important in manipulating materials, likewise some materials as well would be useful, if not envelopes and newspapers are good alternatives.

Sam Alderslade, PhD Researcher:

20 year old scalpel handle – things start with drawing and a blade leaves no room for error. Apple mouse – computer processing. Resin 3D printer – my newest tool.

Jed Hammerman, KTP Associate Craven Dunnill Jackfield:

My three tools are the Artec Space spider (3D scanner), Rhino 6 and Adobe Illustrator.

The Illustrator logo in this case represent a range of software in the adobe suite, specifically Illustrator, Photoshop and LightRoom. As the project moves forward, AI plays a lesser role, and more steps are completed on PS/LR.

My research focuses the use of 3D technology within ceramic restoration. Although I use some physical tools in my work, the vast majority is screen based.

90% of my work during this project is completed on Rhino, using a specific set of commands tailored to the process, alongside a collection of macros I have written to save time. A selection of Python scripts borrowed from the rhino message boards are also utilized. Although Rhino is my tool of choice, PS/LR play an essential role, they are used to edit 2D images of 3D renders of ceramic tiles for use in restoration projects, I now have a specialized workflow incorporating these tools that ensures continuity across multiple designs.

Coloured scan data is captured using the Artec Space Spider and imported into rhino/Meshmixer for editing. A 2D colour image of a 3D surface is exported from Rhino and imported to into Photshop to be converted to greyscale, next it’s exported to LightRoom for further adjustments before returning to rhino to be remapped onto the original mesh. Next my macros can be run, dramatically reducing the time taken per design. What was 30 minutes of work per design and roughly 700 individual mouse clicks, is now 1 mouse click and 2.5 minutes of work. On completion of this project, the intention is that hours/days of work can be reduced in a similar fashion, saving valuable time and money through the use of new technology.      

Niamh Fahy, Research Associate:

Hear Niamh explain her choices

My chosen tools serve to remind me of the joy of making. At times, every artist experiences doubt, an empty space where an idea was expected or perhaps a failed experiment that sits in the corner of the studio. With this in mind I have chosen three familiar tools that help to lead me back to the heart of my practice and trust the knowledge I hold in my hands.

Like a conversation with an old friend, after the initial awkward moments the tension dissipates and we slide into a familiar rhythm and flow. There is a trust that has grown over the years, I know their good qualities, their faults and why we work well together.

For me the Brayer celebrates the meditative rhythm of printmaking, it engages all the senses. Using the brayer to roll a layer of viscous ink, you can feel the resistance of the substance and soon after the nostalgic smell of oil and industry enters your nostrils. One complete revolution after the next creates a smooth harmonious sound that tells you the right consistency has been reached and is ready for your plate.

Lascaux Tuche Wash, sediment sits at the base of the bottle, waiting to be stirred into a thick black ink for drawing. As the ink dries it holds fine reticulation, a key feature of the Lithographic process. A rich layer can sit like velvet on the page, tones and density can be built with each coat applied. I love waiting for the ink to dry so as to witness the handmade line and untameable ink merge together to form some unpredictable mark.

Serak gouges, hand-made from the Czech Republic, they are sensitive to the pressure of touch, finely crafted, the precision and quality of the chisels extend the hand of the maker, pleading for the same care and consideration to be applied in the work that will be created. Opening the delicate box and carefully selecting the tool I need is a ritual that inspires me to work with that same attention and respect.

Sonny Lightfoot, Research Assistant and Technician (Product Design):

Hear Sonny explain his choices

To pick my favourite three tools was tricky as it changes depending on the project I am working on. The tools I have chosen are hand tools which I have used for the project ‘Smart Tooling for Clay Extrusion’ at CFPR and they represent three different aspects to the project. The tools are an adjustable spanner, a small flat head screwdriver for electronics and a wire cutter for clay.

The adjustable spanner represents the heaver side of metal fabrication. In particular, the construction of a hydraulic system housed in an adjustable metal frame. Also, with it being an adjustable spanner it is versatile and helps when switching between different types of fittings such as metric, imperial or BSP.

The small flat head screwdriver has been used when working on the electronics of the 3D printer we have been upgrading and customizing. We purchased a printer with a large print area to create tooling for the project with the idea that we will upgrade and customize the printer to make it capable of printing more exotic materials. The flat head screwdriver has been key in dismantling and assembling small components of the printer and the circuit board.

The wire cutter for clay represents the various ceramic outcomes of the project. The wire cutter is such a simple and basic tool but is key to processing the clay and make it possible to cut into cleaner and smaller pieces making it much easier to handle. It is used across ceramics practices from industry to studio potters.

The tools I have chosen show the contrast in materials and processes used within the project.

Sophie Zajicek, PhD Researcher:

Threading hook, shuttle, fish

The top tool is a threading hook – the red bulbous end is wooden and the long needle like and is metal with a tiny hook at the very tip. The needle slides through the eye of the heddle to catch a warp end. I then slide it back through the heddle and move onto the next warp end. I often tend to hold the threading hook in my teeth as I quickly adjust heddle’s and warp – there is something really satisfying about the metallic taste in my mouth alongside the textured warp yarns in my fingers. The middle tool is called a shuttle. It is wooden, with rollers along the bottom that enables the shuttle to glide easily through the weave shed. This is a very tactile object which makes a really rewarding clunky sound when it is pushed through the shed. The shuttle holds the weft yarn that is interlaced at right angles with the warp yarn to create the fabric. The shuttle is a tool that is in constant use during the hand weaving process it is a very personal object that many weavers often adapt and personalise to suit their weaving habits and needs. The bottom tool is an aluminium ‘Fish’ or Reed Hook that has a hook at either end for ease of use. It is a very light, narrow tool that is slotted through the read dents to catch the warp and to pull it back through the dent. This Fish is slightly bent at one end. I think this is down to me being right-handed and threading the loom from left to right – I must often put pressure on the end of this hook when pulling it back through the dent this has led to the develop of the slight curve. Another example of how weaving tools mould to the weaver.

Frank Menger, Senior Research Fellow:

Camera, tripod, lightmeter

I have been asked many times by students, colleagues and friends about photographic equipment, with the expectation that any advice given will enable appropriate purchases to be made and the perfect pictures will follow. Photographic images are as individual and subjective as the person creating them and the equipment enabling their recording.

Technique and process are common considerations in all creative pursuits, one has to understand the first and repeatedly practice the latter in order to shape the outcome. The most basic technique becomes joyful and addictive by being performed with well crafted and beautiful tools, which are not only functional, but also durable, sustainable and of the best quality affordable at the time.

My go-to photographic kit therefore consists of the following:

  1. Rolleiflex 2.8E twin lens reflex medium format camera.
    This square format mechanical camera has been my companion since my days as an apprentice in Germany. It was already over 30 years old when I bought it and hopefully it will still be used in 30 years from now. In use, it dangles from my neck and I look down into the viewfinder to compose and focus, I look up to survey the scene to be captured, my body is in tune with the camera as it rests on my belly, my thumb presses down the shutter release while I hold my breath to let the light do its magic through the lens. I know the tonal characteristics of the optics and can visualise the result on the print that follows.
  2. Berlebach wooden tripod.
    Photography happens as much in front as behind the camera, and a sturdy camera support is an essential tool to provide stability, flexibility and durability. A tripod can be cumbersome, heavy, cold to the touch and downright ugly. These wooden ‘legs’ are light to carry, warm to the touch even in winter, and absorb vibrations. Made from ash in Germany, it also connects me with my roots on whatever soil I put it up.
  3. Minolta digital spotmeter.
    Measuring light in all shapes and forms, natural, artificial, continuous or in flashes. A scientific comparative exercise that combines technique with process, and brings together all elements from creative thought to technical execution and enables repetitive tasks to be performed consistently. A lightmeter for me not only translates light values into technical data, but helps me to reset and calibrate my eyes to seeing photographically and helps me to visualize the final outcome.

Constanza Dessain, PhD Researcher:

My three tools are for an idiosyncratic method of taking gelatine ‘casts’ on paper, a process for making imprints hacked from parts of the woodburytype method.

The first is an aluminium plate that was milled for me by a friend. It has a shallow depression of 3mm CNC carved into it leaving a rim of higher material around its edges like a window frame. It means I have an image area with a controlled Z-depth. Within this lowered area I can play: I fill it with wax to carve, or a collage of tinfoil, or flood it with pin needles. From these reliefs I can then
take a ‘cast’.

My granite block is also precision engineered flat but was bought online and comes from a quarry in West China. I heave it around in a wheelie suitcase and it means I have a portable ‘press’. Weighing 17 kilos I can just lift it and lay it over the gelatine plate. This lets me take gelatin imprints at home in lockdown or out ‘in the field.’ It is very important to me that I do not hide any of the labours involved in the ecology of my image making. Keeping the mechanical aspect of my printmaking process so simple means my role in the making process can’t be obscured by technical mystification.

Lastly gum tape has been a great ally in attempts to control the unruly nature of gelatine! As the imprints dry the water leaves the gelatine slower in thicker areas, so the image is prone to contort and curl up. Taping the image onto board with gumstrip means they dry flatter, though at points they do burst off their backing if the rooms humidity changes too suddenly. So gum strip is actually a tool I’m hoping to leave behind. I’m experimenting with adding glycerin to the mix for flex, and alum as a sealing agent that stops its hygroscopic reactions to air humidity changes. But more importantly I’m hoping to find ways of embracing the movement of gelatine. Rather than trying to force it to look like other images I want to find ways to frame its liveliness as part of the meanings of the artworks I make.

Davina Madden, Deputy Director (Operations and Partnerships):

Atlas not strictly a work tool but keeping me sane amid the mundane

Dr Susanne Klein, Associate Professor and EPSRC Manufacturing Fellow:

Hear Susanne explain her choices
  1. Camera. Cameras have always been a main ingredient of all my research. From the detector cameras at different synchrotron facilities to the camera in my mobile. I use them to record data and I use them as a notebook. I am a big fan of analogue silver halide photography since the information density and the permanence is superior to all digital techniques so far.

  2. Books: My memory is a sieve, but I can remember where I have read things, more in a photographic way than in a content way. Therefore I need a proper library with paper books to function because I remember books by their covers and where they are on my shelves (which have no system to them). My ten desert island books are:
    – Max Born and Emil Wolf: The principals of Optics (Emil Wolf signed it for me)
    – Kurt Nassau: The Physics and Chemistry of Colour (This is the bible for colour)
    – Jacob N. Israelachvili: Intermolecular and Surface Forces (I have several editions of that book)
    – V. Adrian Parasegian: Van der Waals Forces (on the eccentric side, but really useful)
    – Griffith’s 5 minutes clinical consult (used plenty of times instead of going to the doctor)
    – Fachlexikon abc Arzneipflanzen and Drogen (used plenty of times instead of going to the doctor)
    – Bronstein Semendjajew: Taschenbuch der Mathematik
    – Scientific papers of C V Raman (ok, it is more than 1 book)
    – Anthony Gross: Etching, Engraving & Intaglio Printing
    – Frans G. Bengtsson: Rode Orm (In English: The Long Ships: A Saga of the Viking Age)

  3. Roller. The roller is my trusted tool for all the printing I do except for Woodburytype. I use it for litho, etching, photogravure and lino. I find that with a roller I have so much more control over the amount of ink I apply and how I apply it even when it is mostly wiped off in etching and photogravure. It can also be used as a makeshift printing press. And I like my own rollers with my name engraved.

Wuon-Gean Ho, Research Associate:

Hear Wuon-Gean explain her choices

These three tools represent different aspects of printmaking which I practice.

The V-gouge is a carving knife for wood or lino. Its Japanese name is a ‘futatsu-wari mokuhanga-to’. This means, ‘woodblock knife with a handle that splits in half’. There is a long central blade, made with a sandwich of steel, such that an extremely sharp but brittle front edge is supported by a softer grade of steel behind. The blade itself is long enough to last daily use for up to 70 years and is enclosed in a wooden handle that splits open like a fan. As you use it, you can move the blade upwards to keep the length a perfect fit for your hand. I’ve had it for over 20 years.

To keep my tools sharp, I use a sharpening strop, which is a piece of Italian leather, glued to a piece of plywood, and covered in honing compound. My friend, Umberto Giovannini made it for me, when I was teaching in his workshop, Opificio della Rosa, in Montefiore, Rimini. The compound is a blend of wax and silica that polishes the blade to a mirror-like finish. Before I start work, and regularly during work, I often pause to polish the tools. The time spent on using the strop is like a moment of reflection, and also a comforting routine that reminds me of past and future works.

The final tool is a printing brush for Japanese woodblock technique. It’s called a surikomi bake, and is made of deer hair set in a bamboo handle. It’s actually quite new, as my last batch of brushes were partly attacked by moths. The brush is used in an upright way to mix ink, water and glue on the woodblock to just the right uniformity so that it can be printed. I plan to keep this brush for printing lighter colours.

Professor Steve Hoskins, Founder of CFPR:

Hear Steve explain his choices

The cutting mat, I bought when I was at the Royal College of Art to complete a Pop-up book I was making at the time (1981, so its nearly 40 years old). It cost the equivalent of 20 pints of beer at today’s prices, but was worth every pint. It revolutionised my life, to be able to cut through paper, stop and start the cut easily, plus using far fewer scalper blades was amazing. At the time cutting boards were much softer and held the blade firmly as you cut.  Sadly the mat has now gone hard and cracked, but I still use it as a glueing surface and for messier jobs.

The cutting compasses were bought when I got my first screen printing job in the 70’s and I still use them regularly today. In those days you cut your stencils into film by hand. On a good day I could cut very serviceable 72 point Helvetica. Not a skill I have retained!  I also still have a traditional analogue drawing board, which I wouldn’t be without.

Finally, the scalpel goes without saying, I probable have a dozen handles in my workshop and at least 2 boxes of blades. I suppose my primary point is that if you buy good quality tools they last a lifetime. I still have some of my Kolonsky Sable brushes I bought in the 80’s, that are as good today as when I bought them. It is one of my great sadnesses for today’s students that the college shop no longer stocks good quality brushes and tools!

Becky Gooby, PHD researcher:

Hear Becky explain her choices

I have chosen a spectrophotometer, the Mimaki TX2-1600 and Adobe Photoshop with the beta extension trial of Textile Designer as my three tools. My research investigates colour in digital textile printing (DTP). DTP has many variables, far more than paper printing,  primarily because the substrate surface is textured, not flat and smooth, and has complicated end use requirements. Achieving good colour matches, and balance, can therefore be more complicated.  The spectrophotometer is a new tool for me. I began using spectros in my PhD research initially to measure printed colour swatches, and assess the data, but more recently to create experimental ICC profiles. The Mimaki is a rather old machine but is the only inkjet textile printer at UWE. I love watching the print heads move back and forth over the cloth as the print appears. The machine makes a lovely noise and its still exciting to see the print appear on fabric.

My final tool is Photoshop. It hadn’t been until recently when I looked into what the tools actually do to the grid of pixels which make up an image, that I made the conscious connection with its heritage in photography. Which seems naive because of its name. However, Photoshop is used by a broad range of designers. In fact 90% of textile designers use Photoshop so they have released a beta trial of an extension called Adobe Textile Designer. The software can separate a design into 16 colours and put it into pattern repeats. This makes it easier to translate into screen/rotary prints but also easier to detect the off colour match in digital print. Colour separation compromises tone and intricate design qualities but perhaps potentially a helpful proofing tool to identify challenging colours which a designer can then resolve.

Dr Laura Morgan, Wallscourt Fellow in Design & Material Futures

Embroidery Hoop, Rotary Cutter, Wacom Pen

Dr Damien Leech, EPSRC Post-doctoral Research Associate:

Hear Damien explain his choices

The unfortunate truth is that these are three tools I use the most – they’re abstract and nothing to look at, but they’re concepts that I use in nearly every aspect of my work. 

The first is conditionals and loops – usually (badly nested) for loops. These provide ways of logically sorting through and applying functions to large sets of data and numbers. They are also useful in highlighting regions of interest in the data, such as peaks in data or my own silly mistakes.

The second in matrices – these are just fancy methods for storing data that have some multi-dimensional component to them. For instance, I may want to want hold all the data that describes the position of an object and I have multiple versions of it – I simply stack descriptors of their coordinates (x,y,z). This way each row represents a new object and each column represents a single coordinate (x,y,z) – these again allows for fast access and sorting.

The third is integrals – these have become especially important since I began studying optics where effects are typically the average of multiple versions of an event. The visible spectrum contains many different types of light and to provide a description of the colour of object requires me to understand how the object interacts with all those differing types of light. The colour is then simply the summation of all of those interactions.

Lisa Sheppy, PhD Researcher:

This palette knife is probably the oldest tool I own, evokes a time when I was studying Fine Art painting and bought as a necessary implement to mix colour. At the time we had an ‘Atlantis’ art shop in the school of art that sold raw pigments and I used to mix my own oil paints utilising this palette knife. I love this tool as it still retains a patina of past handling and the remains of oil paint, which is a beautiful teal blue colour.

The bradawl is another evocative object was bought as part of a set to make artist books when I was studying on MA Printmaking at UWE 2006 -9 and designed to pierce holes in paper. I have never used it for this purpose but it has always been really useful for making other creative objects. After my MA I was making work encasing metal foil and leaf within glass. The pointed end of this tool is perfect for piercing holes in copper foil and the tricky handling of silver leaf to position within the glass. The handle fits the contours of my hand and feels comforting to use.

I have been doing quite a bit of reading recently about hand tools and the other day I came across a wonderful quote by Steve Brown (RCA) who speaks so eloquently of the adaptable use of hand tools in the making process, ‘The knife and the hammer are tools that have and will be with us forever and generally speaking the less complex a technology the more versatile it is.’

This Wacom tablet is my newest tool and I bought it just as we went into lockdown from eBay. As part of my research on my PhD I am testing a digital drawing process that can potentially replicate engraving on copper for the tissue transfer process in ceramics. I wanted to test the tablet for this as I was hoping it might feel more akin to physically drawing rather than using a mouse and keypad. It requires a lot of concentration and is very time consuming. Being at home, working on my dining room table, grappling with this is really helping fill the day productively and take my mind off what is happening outside.

Walter Guy, Laboratory Manager and Research Technician:

The tools I have selected are –

  1. Engineers Combination square
  2. Vacuum cleaner
  3. Human hand

    The combination square is used to check angles – 90 and 45 deg, as well as checking measurements and repetition. For me this tool represents accuracy, precision and consistency. It is essential that manufactured items are correct in the dimensions that are essential to the working of that piece. Edges that need to align and fit together have to be 90 deg. Items need to have the correct dimensions so that they fit. Accuracy should not be assumed just because the pieces have been constructed using precise engineering equipment, such as the CNC mill. Sometimes things go awry, either during the process, or more likely due to user error. Each stage must be checked so that errors are not compounded through the work flow.

    The vacuum cleaner is a heavily relied on and overlooked piece of equipment in my opinion. Most of the work I do generates waste of various sizes. The vacuum is used to get rid of small waste, to clean equipment and to keep the work area orderly. This in my view adds to the quality of work performed – you can’t perform to your best in an untidy, unordered and unsafe workplace. The vacuum is a fine example of technological progress, a tool that improves all of our lives.

    The human hand is vital in all our work. The connection to manual tasks is clear. My own preferences for skilled manual work relies on repetitive learning and muscle memory. Where once the skill has been mastered, the desired effect just seems to happen in an almost magical way, when it did not happen previously, even when huge efforts at controlling the process and movements were made. But even the tasks we undertake, where skill has been removed and the task becomes wholly predictable, still require us to type on a keyboard or push the correct button at the right time. It might even be that we need to carefully place our material inside the machine. For instance, putting paper in the printer. Superficially this is a simple process, but if it is not done correctly, the machine will jam. The wonder of our own natural abilities and the part these play in what we do should not be overlooked.

Cecilia Mandrile, Artist Fellow:

In this temporary home, I luckily have with me some precious tools: Aquatone graphite pencil, CNC plates (thanks so much Tom and Walter), and my photographic camera. These tools don’t seem to dialogue among them but they represent three stages of my looping practice: a circular journey from the drawing, to the imprint, to the photographic document of their placements and displacements.
·     Water soluble graphite pencil : Drawing : Thinking | Dreaming stage
·     Plate : Making : Tangible stage
·     Photographic Camera :  Documenting :  Witnessing | Reflecting stage

Bec Chalkley, PHD Researcher:

My three tools form my research fieldwork kit: a rollerball pen using replaceable cartridges for sketching, exploratory writing and field notes; a Zoom H2n audio recorder that’s intuitive to use, robust and unobtrusive (currently sporting its windshield) for interviews, audio notes and field recordings; and a Nikon D3300 for visual documenting, which like the Zoom is a good compromise between quality of data capture and affordable price.

Dr Tavs Jorgensen, Associate Professor and AHRC/RCUK Innovation Fellow:

My three tools. However, I don’t actually use any of these tools in my research practice – I selected them as I thought they could provide a bit of reflection on tools and technology in general – so, I guess, they are research tools in that role. 

I bought the wooden hand plane during one of my weekly visits to the Marsh Barton car boot sale here in Exeter. Every week I see many of these beautiful tools for sale – usually for only a few pounds.  To me the wooden plane illustrates how technology is the disrupter of skills and working practices. Hardly anyone uses these wooden hand planes anymore and therefore you can pick them up for next to nothing at car-boot sales and markets. I probably bought this plane with an element of nostalgia, but I did have every intension of actually using it. However, I just found that my electric powertools where much more efficient, so this plane just sits on one my shelves looking pretty among another couple of fine wooden hand planes – all bought for a few pounds each.  

The electric multi-tool is a different matter. There is (currently) no romance attached to a tool like this. This power tool represents the hand tool of today. The high-speed oscillating action makes the multi-tool amazingly versatile and efficient. I use it for cutting, sanding, scraping and all sorts of other jobs. It has almost made my wood chisels entirely redundant. Professional tradesmen use this type of tool for today’s building work, but I guess in a hundred years from now you might be able find these tools cheaply for sale at the 22nd century car-boot, while some other tool or process will have taking over for contemporary needs.   

Finally, the hammer. This one was also bought during one of my car boot sale visits. The hammer is perhaps the oldest human tool there is – we have been bashing at stuff for millennia. This particular hammer has an amazing long handle and a very small head. To me it’s one of the most refined examples of the hammer tool. Unlike the hand plane I do actually use this old tool. It’s amazing to use but due to its highly tuned shape it does require a high skill level and I guess this aspect is worth considering. A tool is always just one part of the creative process, the  other key aspect is ‘skill’ in various levels and formats – such as tacit and explicit knowledge.

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