I first found out about Becky and thinknow through Etsy.com. above is Becky and thinknow partner Ron Mitchell along with some of their stunning laser cut/etched jewelery work. Enjoy the interview!!!
The Laser Cutter: So, Where are you from?
Becky Ellis: We are a studio based in Seattle, WA and each Ron Mitchell and I have lived here for 10+ years. In addition to our sustainable products line, thinknow, we both manage an architectural design firm and complete projects around the world.
TLC: How long have you been architect?
BE: Ron has practiced Architecture, and was trained as an Architect for 30 years. He has many creative hobbies as well, such as wood-turning, and looks for design opportunities in a variety of outlets. I have been an architectural designer for 10+ years; and created thinknow with him this past February (2009).
TLC: Do you have any formal training as an artist?
BE: Yes, Ron received his Master of Architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design & Cambridge University. I have undergraduate and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Environmental Design from Ball State University and the University of Washington.
TLC: When did you first begin using a laser cutter?
BE: We purchased a laser cutter in 2008 for building Architectural models after working with other independent modeling companies and wished to create models as part of the study/design process instead of simply a final finished product for presentations. We had basic training by the sales rep for Universal Laser Systems, and several hours of experimentation and refinement of the process. The laser cutter is housed in our Architectural Studio and has become a regular tool of design for both Architecture and the design of products for thinknow.
TLC: How do you set up your files?
BE: We use a combination of hand sketching, Adobe Illustrator and Autocad for the creation of our designs, and then set-up files for “printing” using Autocad/Windows. We also use a drafting program called Vectorworks, as we are on a Mac-platform, which we then convert to AutoCAD for final printing.
TLC: What’s your favorite material to laser cut? To etch?
BE: We have loved to collect wood samples from fallen trees, scraps from furniture crafters, and wanderings/travel – and each species produces such beautiful products when the rawness of the found wood is detailed with such intricacy as is possible with the laser cutter and the designs we’re enabled to produce. There is something absolutely wonderful about the simplicity of wood and the beauty of its variety. And simply speaking, wood etches and cuts beautifully.
TLC: Do you have any laser cutting horror stories to tell?
BE: In our R&D phase of materials research, we had run the gamut of eco-friendly natural products such as papers, matboards, and wood veneers upon which our designs are based. We decided to experiment with wool felt, which is 100% sheep’s wool and is available in varying densities and thicknesses. We had seen very cool bracelets with interesting fasteners, tableware such as intricately designed placemats and coasters, and even designer flower vases – all designed using thick wool felt and providing us with great inspiration as to the possibilities.
After deliberating over power, speed, and ppi settings at great length, we began to cut. Instantly we noticed a very…”natural”…odor from the cutting that smelled like…well, burnt hair. But as all laser cutting enthusiasts might relate….we persevered. Shortly thereafter, our front and back door to the studio was rattling off the hinges with urgent pounding, and in bursts the fire department armed and equipped with the entire range of fire-fighting necessities. Assuming that they had discovered the source of the smell that was invariably linked to the supposition of our amazing, historic, wood-construction artists’ studio burning down….and to discover that we were instead laser cutting wool felt – which was emitting a smell to cause the utmost concern for human and fauna sustainability in the building – lead to quite a scolding.
As you review our products, you will indeed see that anything made with wool felt did not make our Collections.
TLC: Where do you get your inspiration?
BE: We find market research to be absolutely invaluable as there are a tremendous number of laser cutting artists with products and designs to share. Our primary focus for inspiration is that of nature, as our “STORY” conveys, we find patterns in the geometries and abstractions of nature that inform our design. We have avid photographers on our design team, who provide inspiration with their work. We are often researching places and materials for our architectural designs that prompt ideas for product designs as well. And we find that travel sparks endless ideas whether from 30,000 ft or through a macro-zoom lens in appreciation of people and places.
TLC: Do you have any future laser cutting plans TLC may be interested in?
BE: We are always conducting R&D on new materials. And we’re particularly interested in translating 2D shapes/objects into 3D products – much like we do for our architectural models where each ½” thick building level is assembled to create a three dimensional hotel tower, for example. We are experimenting with this same concept for future jewelry/product designs as well.
TLC: So where can the readers reach you?
TLC: One last question… Is there any smell better than freshly laser cut wood?
BE: Haha! You’re right! And please do avoid “freshly laser cut WOOL!”