Making a data pot is a very involved process that can take weeks or sometimes months to complete. The effort that I invest in each artifact is a way for me to make the object precious and to value the experience or aspect of life it represents. The design and making of each pot is an iterative process. I view it as an ongoing conversation between myself, the digital medium data and the physical medium clay.
Deciding on an Aspect of Life
The design process of each data pot starts with deciding on an aspect of my life or the life of a person close to me that I want to turn into an everyday tangible memento. The aspect can be an activity, a specific accomplishment or a relationship that I want to be reminded of as I go about my day.
Finding and Selecting a Data Source
Next, I decide on the data source that can represent this aspect. I have used calendars, email, text messages, GPS location histories and other activity logs as a basis for pots. Sometimes when the data about the aspect I want to visualize is not readily available, I specifically log it or infer it from other data I have. If I make the data pot for a friend or a member of my family, gathering the data can involve asking them for an excerpt of their own records.
Ideation and Experimentation with Digital and Physical Materials
When I have found my data source, the next step involves playing with it, selecting aspects that are interesting or representative of the experience I want to capture and creating initial graphs to get familiar with the general shape of the data.
I then start sketching ideas for the design of the decorative pattern and the basic form of the object. Both the shape of the data and affordances of different clay decoration techniques influence this step. I draw inspiration from other ceramists as well as from information design and develop a set of ideas for potential representations.
In parallel in the studio I start trying out some of the ideas and decoration techniques on test tiles. This gives me a idea of what ceramics techniques and materials work best for creating a pattern and in turn, how the pattern needs to be adjusted based on the limitations of the physical materials.
The choice of what basic shape the object should have, whether I want to make a bowl, vase, mug or a teapot is influenced by the topic, the person it is for, how I envision it being used and integrated into daily life and how I hope it can best trigger reminiscing and reflection.
Creating Visual and Physical Primitives
When I have decided on a form and pattern I map the data to simple visual marks such as circles, lines, rectangles etc that make up the pattern. I usually use standard software such as Excel or Tableau for this step, but I have also written my own software to more easily access and visualize common personal data sources such as calendars or GPS logs.
In the meantime in the studio I throw and refine the basic functional object.
Assembling the Pattern
When I have created the visual marks I use Adobe Illustrator to assemble them into a simplified version of my design. If necessary I print and manually adjust the pattern until I have created a version that can be transferred to clay. I use the measures of the physical object to determine the scale of the pattern in Illustrator or my own custom software.
Applying the Pattern to the Pot
For different clay decoration techniques, how a pattern is applied to the objects varies. What transfer method is most appropriate depends on the pattern, the form of the object and the decoration technique.
When using stencils I either manually cut them out from the printed pattern or use a paper cutter that that automatically cuts the stencil based on the input vector graphic. Using such digital fabrication is particularly useful for complex or fine grained patterns. For simpler patterns the manual process is quicker.
If the pattern is one dimensional simple measuring tape can be used to transfer the pattern to the pot. For more complex patterns that are painted onto the pot (e.g. by using techniques like sgraffito, stains, slips or incising) I use transfer paper to apply a printed pattern or project the pattern onto the pot using a setup with a pico projector.
Finishing the Pot
After applying the pattern I finish the decoration of the pot. As a last step the pot is then glazed and fired. This process can sometimes be serendipitous and it is difficult to fully anticipate the results. Sometimes it can take many attempts until I am happy enough with the outcome to use it or give it away.