Primary Tools & Materials:

Additional Tools & Materials: black paper, graph paper

This is one of those glorious accidental designs we all love to pretend we were planning all along. For this letter, I had to match carving/shaping with photography. I was a little burned out on wood so I started wandering my home looking for something else I could shape or carve. I found a set of Buckyballs - a little desktop toy comprised of around 200 small metallic spheres which are highly magnetized. The idea is to build little sculptures on your desk rather than get any work done. I grabbed them immediately, knowing I could create some really different letterforms using their shape and magnetism to my advantage. 

The first letter I made is the one you see in images 1-4. It's sort of blackletter-inspired, with a suggestion of a shadow along the right edge of each upright stroke. Working with these magnets gives you a grid you almost can't break - the magnets will only stick together in certain ways and sometimes you have to rotate individual magnets or change for a different one to get the correct polarization. It was pretty hit or miss. One thing I learned immediately was that I couldn't make a "small" letter from these magnetic balls. That's because if the two upright strokes were too close together, they'd be drawn together and the letter would collapse in on itself. These letters are all around 5" wide, for that reason. In photographing this first letter I had the happy accident of losing focus for a minute with my camera. It only happened for a second, but I thought it looked very interesting through my viewfinder. So I switched to manual control and blew out the focus on purpose. The result is this etherial yet geometric letter, made of soft yet well-defined shapes. I'm reminded of snowflakes or microscopic photography. See image 2 for closer detail. This is my cover image because I could not have created this effect through any other means than photography - one of my main components for this study. 

In images 3 and 4 you can see this letter's construction in clear focus, and in number 5 and 6 some alternate letterforms. In number 5, I couldn't get the left stroke of the U to stay where I needed it to, then remembered - these are magnets. Make it work. So I put one magnet on the underside of the paper and used it to fix the stroke in place. In number 6 I made a tube by wrapping a long strand of the balls around a shorter strand, then attempted to curve it upwards to make a U. The tube collapsed on itself a bit, but you can still see the helix-like tube made by the two vertical strokes of the U. The last two images are some shots of me exploring the flexibility and shaping qualities of the Buckyballs, revealing how they can be forced to create very organic or quite geometric, rigid shapes. 

As I said before, this medium forces you to work within a grid created by interconnected spheres, but also within the natural constraint of magnetism. This forces the magnets into certain arrangements and at times causes some frustrating situations which require some compromise. For instance, I wanted to put a more substantial serif on the lower right leg of the first U, but the magnets wouldn't have it. I also wanted to create more contrast between the vertical and diagonal strokes by using just one row of balls on the up stroke, but the magnets wouldn't allow this either. It was both irritating and challenging to work within these constraints, but very satisfying when a solution presented itself. The final step of purposefully taking a photo out of focus is essential for building out a full letterset in this style. The complex patterns created by this out of focus reflection of light from the spheres is something you can't easily "fake" in Photoshop. It would take forever, but I believe the results would be incredibly rewarding.