My relationship to the upcycle project can be categorized as nothing but tumultuous. The aspect of the this assignment with which I struggled with most was not time constraints or a lack of resources, but rather a barrier of creativity and originality through which I could not breach. I saw upcycling as a beautiful concept: at times, turning something vaguely useless into something with purpose; and at others, converting an object from one use to an entirely new one. But I found myself completely devoid of creativity or inspiration for this project. I don’t really need anything for my room, and while a shelf or wine rack would be nice, I wasn’t all that interested in making one. While I do have quite the surplus of wine bottles on my desk, and I toyed with the idea of making drinking glasses or wine glasses or even a light fixture out of the empty, dormant bottles, I found these ideas entirely devoid of originality. Searching “wine bottle chandelier” on Google returns countless search results for images of elegant bottle-adorned arrangements, accompanied with a step-by-step guide on how to obtain this exact result in one’s own upcycling project. And this left me, time after time, completely devoid of interest in that particular project. The nature of DIY on the internet is one of immense accessibility, with Pinterest and Instructables at the forefront of the scene. And while they give individuals the ability to produce things they maybe never thought they otherwise could have, I personally feel like they take the creativity and originality out of production, whatever the product may be. In order to subdue any possible feelings of imposter syndrome on my behalf, I decided not to try to use the internet for inspiration, and instead chose to look inward for inspiration; exploring my own interests and passions and extrapolating them out into more fleshed out project ideas.
I briefly explored the idea of making a vinyl record clock, and did actually follow this project through to fruition. I took apart an old clock, which I had lying around my home, and reassembled the components into a retrofitted vinyl record, which came from similar circumstances. But I found this project to be immensely unsatisfying, from both an aesthetic and technical standpoint.
In the process of delving into the depths of my own psyche, I thought of graphic and poster design as two of my most genuine interests and passions, and almost instantaneously, I thought of legendary Swiss graphic designer, Josef Müller-Brockmann. God of the grid, Müller-Brockmann pioneered modern design techniques and continues to be a major influence for designers from all disciplines. Some examples of his work are pictured below.
Poster designed by Josef Müller-Brockman for the State Theater of Zurich in Switzerland
Poster designed by Josef Müller-Brockmann to list showtimes for the State Theater of Zurich in Switzerland
Poster designed by Josef Müller-Brockmann for the Opera House of Zurich in Switzerland
One of my all-time favorite posters was designed by Müller-Brockmann: a Beethoven poster for an event to be held at the Zurich Town Hall, which can be seen in the featured image as well as below.
Poster designed by Josef Müller-Brockmann for a Beethoven event to be held at the Town Hall in Zurich, Switzerland
Inspired by this truly classic and groundbreaking design, I decided to recreate one of my favorite pieces of functional art using materials other than paper and ink; or to be more specific, I wanted the base of the poster, which would be representative of the paper, to be acrylic, while the actual content of the poster (i.e. the design itself) would be made from vinyl records. The vinyl records would be tangible representations of the music-oriented influences and meaning behind this poster; I wanted any onlooker to be able to look at my creation and know that it was in some way related to music, devoid of text or music-related imagery. But more than anything, I wanted to create something that would do justice as an homage to one of the most iconic and beautiful posters ever made, which to me, was a nearly impossible order.
In keeping with the minimal design of the poster, I kept the materials used to create my piece relatively minimal as well. In all, I used a total of three materials: an 11″ x 16″ x 1/4″ sheet of clear acrylic which I procured from the scrap section of McGuckin’s for a modest $2.18, a total of three vinyl records which I already had at my house, but were likely purchased years ago at a garage or estate sale, and finally a very minimal amount of hot glue to secure everything together.
I first started by printing off the poster onto a sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper in order to take measurements of the arcing, black semi-circles which make up the majority of the poster: this process was done by use of a ruler and a compass. Next, in very non-Müller-Brockmann fashion, I took my design to the computer and recreated the poster in AutoDesk Inventor; my reasoning behind using the Inventor platform over a product from the Adobe suite, which would be a more modern and traditional platform for poster design, was because I planned to laser cut the vinyl records and sheet of acrylic on the laser cutter in the ITLL, which requires the use of .dxf files. An image of my design in Inventor can be seen below.
Screen capture of the poster design in AutoDesk Inventor
To produce the necessary .dxf files, Inventor requires a two-dimensional face on a three-dimensional object in order to export the face as a .dxf file: related to SolidWorks, which allows the user to export two-dimensional objects as .dxf files, this seemed like a series of tedious, but unfortunately necessary extra steps. Screen captures of the extruded pieces, which would eventually go on to become the vinyl pieces, can be seen below.
Top view of the extruded objects which make up the semi-circle elements of the poster’s design
An isometric view of the extruded objects which make up the semi-circle elements of the poster’s design
In addition to designing the components of the poster’s design which would go on to become the laser-cut, vinyl pieces, I also wanted to superimpose the design onto the acrylic, in order to ensure that all vinyl pieces would have proper placement. To do so, I made a negative image of sorts in Inventor by placing the semi-circle pieces onto an 11″ x 16″ extruded rectangle, using the geometry of the semi-circle pieces to cut through the extruded rectangle, and exporting the resulting top face to a .dxf file format. Screen captures of the end result of the process I just described can be viewed below.
Top view of the extruded rectangle, cut through with the semi-circle elements to produce a negative of the poster’s design
An isometric view of the extruded rectangle, cut through with the semi-circle elements to produce a negative of the posters design
As stated previously, the purpose of producing the negative image of the poster’s design was to ensure that all laser-cut, vinyl semi-circle elements would be properly placed on the acrylic: graphic designers make no compromises for perfection in their work, and in the pursuit of a proper and honest homage, neither did I.
The next step in the process came fabrication and assembly, which went in the following order: laser-etching the semi-circle elements onto the acrylic, in order to assure proper placement during assembly, laser-cutting all twelve vinyl, semi-circle pieces, and finally product assembly. Of the three of these, laser-etching the acrylic was by far the easiest and least time-consuming. The laser-etching itself took a little over ten minutes, which turned out to be only a small fraction of the project’s total time to completion.
After laser-etching the acrylic, I moved on to laser-cutting the vinyl pieces, which turned out to be much more difficult and time consuming than I predicted. The main problem I encountered when trying to laser-cut a few of the pieces was the mere fact that their size and geometry made them either exceptionally difficult or impossible to cut the whole piece on one vinyl record, while maintaining the monochrome black-and-white-only aesthetic of the original poster. With each piece having a stranger geometry than the last and varying in size greatly, it made positioning the pieces digitally in CorelDraw on a virtual square plane representative of the bed of the laser cutter exceptionally challenging, especially considering they would all need to be cut from a material which inherently has a circular profile. This part of the process involved a significant amount of trial and error, which resulted in an unfortunate amount of material and time loss.
The final step in the process was a rather simple, but somewhat unnerving endeavor, which was hot gluing the vinyl pieces to the acrylic. Each vinyl piece was secured in its proper place by dotting small amounts of hot glue along the perimeter of the piece, and then carefully setting it in place on the acrylic. The act of assembly took no longer than thirty minutes, but the results were far from perfect and didn’t quite meet my expectations for myself or this project.
While I did succeed in producing what I set out to do, the final product didn’t exactly meet my initial expectations or what I believe I am capable of producing. Several factors of this project have left me unsatisfied, including the spacing of the vinyl pieces on the acrylic, which is integral part of the poster’s original design being that Müller-Brockmann achieved perfect spacing on his poster with no other tools than a pencil and a ruler, the geometry of the laser-cut pieces, being that I neglected to account for the amount of material which would be cut away by the laser itself during fabrication, and the appearance of the vinyl after laser-cutting (the heat of the laser left clouding on the surface of the vinyl). In spite of this, I am still relatively proud of the project’s end result.
I would like to continue to refine my design and production, in the form of a complete redesign from the ground-up, until I am able to produce a recreation which I deem to be a proper and just homage to one of the greatest designers to ever live.