I recently had the opportunity to share some email correspondence with Chicago-based designer Samantha Alaimo. Her work can be found on her project profile on the Inventables website as well as on her personal website.
Elliott Mickleburgh: I’d like to begin by speaking about your Artist Palette Cutting Board. How did you come up with the exact shape for the design? Did you base it on one specific palette you might have seen or did it come from a remix of several palette shapes? Or perhaps the shape is entirely original, something you concocted purely from imagination?
Samantha Alaimo: The bamboo plywood material inspired the design. It is a material commonly used for cutting boards, but I wanted to both show off the beauty of the wood as well. I borrowed the standard ergonomics from a classic artist palette and merged with a modern cutting board shape.
The Artist Palette Cutting Board
EM: Using the image of the painter’s palette for a cutting board is a very interesting gesture I think. It speaks to a threshold that lies somewhere between aesthetics and an object’s utility. This leads me to my next question, somewhat cliché but appropriate in this context: what do you think the relation between art and design is? And is that relation something you hold close to your own practice or something you would prescribe investment in to other makers?
SA: I think sometimes it’s hard to hash out the difference between art, design, and personal practice. I went to a fine art’s college, I have painted, sculpted, made puppets even, but I really enjoy making useful products. My art, my personal practice, is designing. I don’t see much use in trying to define the relationships between those things. What I think is exciting now, is seeing how artists are influencing and getting involved with the maker movement.
EM: I’d like to talk about your Classic Chess Set a little bit now. Indeed the project has a very classic appearance with white and black pieces and a modest wooden board. You’ve also essentially open sourced the project through the Inventables website by offering files, a materials list, and other necessary information someone could use to fabricate one of these at home. This latter aspect of the design would give someone the opportunity to begin customizing your very traditional chess set. Are you interested in this juxtaposition between what might be perceived as a rigid classic aesthetic and offering the potential to subvert that rigidity through open sourcing your design?
SA: Yes. I wanted to provide a classic set as a template for people to “hack” and “fork”. I looked on sites like thingiverse.com, and while there are yoda head and minimalist chess sets, there wasn’t a traditional one. I wanted to contribute that to the community.
The Classic Chess Set
EM: Playing with or making another designer’s open sourced projects seems like it could be creatively productive in a number of ways. It also leads to serious questions of intellectual property rights and creative authorship. Do you yourself ever make other designers’ open sourced projects (not just those listed on Inventables necessarily, but from any open source library)? Do you think there is an ethical boundary to such open source experimentation?
SA: I will admit, the first time I was exposed to the idea of open source design, I didn’t get it. Why would I want to work hard on something just to give all the secrets away? But, it is about growing collective knowledge of the community. Everyone should have access to everyone’s knowledge so that someone can make something new and innovative. I have made other designers’ open source projects, and it usually makes me appreciate the hard work the designer put in.
EM: Fun question to round everything out: what are you working on now?
SA: I am working on a few some collaborations right now. I am working on some custom designs with a local wood wallet start up. I am also teaching a few artists how to use digital fabrication tools in hopes of making collaborative work.