The University Record, October 25, 1999

Art School, ITD project brings computers into design of art works

Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series on U-M projects that have been recognized by the Computerworld Smithsonian Program, announced in a Sept. 27 article that can be found on the Web

The “New Genre Media Initiative in Art and Design” discussed below with respect to jewelry also is used by faculty and students involved in sculpture, furniture, fiber arts and other works. In addition to enhancing design and construction work, the project has made it possible for students to design interactive art works, and has led to new ways of using technology to teach art and design.

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Professor of Art Hiroko Sato-Pijanowski shows off her platinum and gold necklace designed and produced with the aid of computers. Jewelry by Sato-Pijanowski and Nicole DesChamps, adjunct professor of art, is on display through Nov. 5 in the dean’s office at the School of Art & Design. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
Students at the School of Art & Design are taking an ancient art form into the 21st century. Since 1996, professors Hiroko Sato-Pijanowski and Nicole Ann DesChamps have been incorporating computer technology into the art of jewelry design and metalwork at the School. Thanks to a partnership between the School and the Information Technology Division (ITD), students can now explore three-dimensional design in ways that previously were difficult and time-consuming, if not impossible.

While the lab is still equipped with hacksaws, tweezers, scissors, vises, torches, files and goggles, computers have become an additional tool for the artists and artisans.

“This offers our students the opportunity to gain more skills and promotes creative thinking.”

The use of new software allows three-dimensional freeform solid modeling, and automated fabrication of prototype models with high fidelity, precision, smooth surfaces and fine features. Using such technological tools, students of the School are more prepared to enter the highly competitive worldwide jewelry market where design creativity, time-to-market, conservation of precious metals, product cost, and profitability are major issues.

Computer Aided Design software can produce solid modeling that determines volumes trapped within surfaces, thereby generating information that a fabrication machine can understand or translate through the mathematical design data. Computer Aided Manufacturing creates prototypes via Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (RP&M) using a subtractive method that removes raw stock material until only the designed object remains or through additive methods, depositing layers of material to achieve the desired shape.

“While other universities are using computers for design, they have not really been creating with RP&M machines,” says Sato-Pijanowski. “Now others are getting on to it.”

To help other instructors and institutions, Sato-Pijanowski and DesChamps have produced a publication, “Looking to the Future: Digital Technologies for Jewelry Design and Metalwork,” that evaluates three methods for producing jewelry prototypes. Profits from the publication’s sale go to U-M’s Jewelry Design Department at the School of Art & Design, a department that needs more computers and is willing to take another unit’s cast-offs.

The incorporation of computer technology into the jewelry and metal design process seems to have attracted more students to the program. “It has been very alive these past couple of years,” Sato-Pijanowski says. “We used to have about 80 students in two terms, but now have 150. Students want tools and skills that will influence their future — avenues to finding jobs.”

The Smithsonian Institution has a collection of Sato-Pijanowski’s work, and the two professors are considering donating a piece of “digital” work to the Institution’s collection.