At first blush, careers in craftsmanship may seem antiquated, conjuring images of a blacksmith working a forge or a seamstress operating a loom. However archaic these crafts may seem, creative endeavors like these and others still are viable commodities.
The creative industry is projected to grow 4 percent by 2026 and add nearly 35,000 jobs, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Knowing this, it’s fair to wonder how technology has changed the way creatives, well, create. Do woodworkers still saw and sand by hand? How has digital imaging changed the way photographers deliver portraits? To find out, we set out to capture Eastside artisans on the job.
Photos by Jeff Hobson and Rodrigo DeMedeiros
From the invention of the camera obscura more than 1,000 years ago, to daguerreotype studios of the mid- to late-1800s to shopping mall portrait studios like Glamour Shots, portraiture always has been considered an artful occupation. However, the technological advances that placed cameras in many pockets largely challenged the field. How can one artisan compete against every millennial with a smartphone camera in portrait mode? One Eastside couple has an answer.
After lengthy corporate careers in California, Dawn and Alex Morse didn’t want to be unemployed in their retirement. Instead, they pursued a new adventure, or as Alex calls it, “funtirement.” The duo had three core requirements for their new endeavor: It had to keep them engaged with tech, people, and the local community.
The couple explored many ideas, but it was a trip to visit Dawn’s parents that served as a catalyst in founding HoloDeck three years ago. “I come into the house, and there is my dad,” Dawn said, pointing to one of the many small 3D printed sculptures on the wall of the couple’s Kirkland storefront. “I came back with the sculpture and showed my husband and I said, ‘I think this is what we need to do.’”
The Morses looked at a variety of 3D scanning setups but found many of them to be problematic. “It took anywhere between 8 and 14 seconds to scan a person, and you have to be really still,” Dawn recalled of one of the systems the couple considered. “If you are trying to do a 2-year-old or a dog or a cat, it just doesn’t work.”
Other options included a vast array of DSLR cameras, which would cost more than $200,000.
Ultimately, the duo went with a setup by Twindom, a California startup founded by three University of California Berkeley students. The system has close to 90 cameras, each running on Raspberry Pi — a series of small single-board computers.
Each camera captures a photo of the subject simultaneously in the blink of an eye, and sends the images back to a computer, where they are stitched together to form a digital 3D model of the people, pets, or objects that were photographed. From there, the Morses’ team of digital designers go to work perfecting the mold, smoothing out any flaws in the scan, and getting the image ready for print. This task, Dawn said, is where craftsmanship comes into play. “This is not Photoshop; this is like being an engineer — it really is not easy.”
Once a 3D rendering has been perfected, it is sent to a contracted third-party printing lab where a batch of statues are made in a 12-inch bed of powdered sandstone and silica by bonding the mixture with colored ink. Depending on size and the number of people in the group, figurines can cost up to $989. Why such an expensive price tag? Dawn said it’s because one in every three prints fail. Despite the high failure rate, the Morses said they’re glad they are pioneering the technology, knowing their portraits will stand on family mantels for years to come.
Interior Woodworking Specialists
The art of woodworking can be traced back to the primitive era, when ancient tribes learned woodworking largely for survival, developing tools for hunting and constructing shelters. In contemporary times, many see woodworking as having to do with construction or as a garage-based hobby — à la Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ ongoing boat project on NCIS. However, one Eastside company has married the tried and true techniques of the past with the latest technology of the 21st century.
Redmond High School graduates Doug and Tracey Hepner had one of those garage woodshops 32 years ago that has grown into a 36,000-square-foot workshop manned by more than 50 skilled artisans. The Redmond-based Interior Woodworking Specialists (IWS) shop creates custom wood fixtures, which can be found in many Washington restaurants, casinos, retirement communities, and offices.
The woodshop at IWS has all the things one would expect to find in a woodshop: carefully organized peg boards lined with hand tools, the occasional sprinkling of sawdust, and the faint smell of varnish. The unexpected, however, is the large machines which expedite the work of the craftsmen. General Manger Ed Basher said beam saws, wide belt sanders, and the company’s computer numerically controlled router are the most technologically advanced tools. The latter of which can feed up to 30 sheets of wood through the routing process automatically.
Despite the technological advances in the industry, Basher said there’s no substitute for working with one’s hands. “We are at a place that no matter how much tech grows, you are still going to need someone who knows the characteristics of the wood — how to bend the wood, how to machine the wood by hand,” Basher said. “Maybe no one here has a master’s degree in anything, but they are true masters.”
These time-tested techniques are something Basher said he feels obligated to impart to the next generation of craftsmen. “The kid we have over there,” Basher said, gesturing toward a young worker with a glue bottle in hand, “He came from a school, but he’s just now learning stuff even though he was trained formally.” All that is needed, Basher said, is a good attitude, everything else can be taught.