Class 5 – Invisible Ink Characters – Fabricating with two materials

I created a main character surrounded by minor characters that define it, made of brass metal and layered colored paper cut by the laser cutter.


As for fabrication skills and materials, I wanted to learn how to print my own sketches as layered pieces. It was nice to create something more handmade (while my Adobe Suite skills catch up to what’s in my mind…) Next time I’d like to learn how to use the vinyl cutter. I didn’t go the vinyl route because I could only find vinyl with adhesive backing online, when I only wanted regular non-stick vinyl.

My second material is thin brass metal which is very bendable. I liked being able to sculpt it with my own hands, and rivet together different pieces.

When it comes to the concept of the piece, the larger question I’m asking is “How is someone defined by who or what surrounds them?”   This piece plays with ideas from a project I worked on over the summer.  You can read below about the background if you wish. The main and minor characters are chosen from a 19th century book, described below.


Background (not necessary to read unless you’re really interested! Mostly for me to reference later.)

This idea is based on a digital humanities project I contributed to this summer. My friends Sarah Berkowitz and James Ascher at University of Virginia explored the nature of character and digital transcription using github and analysis. Their project focused on Characters, the second volume of a book called Genuine Remains by Samuel Butler, a 19th century author in England.  Each chapter in the book is a brief description of a stereotypical person, such as “A Wooer, ” “An Astrologer,” and a “Corrupt Judge”. The descriptions are biting, witty, and act a bit like a dictionary of people. You can see online the transcription and analysis here on this website and over here on Github.

However, the chapters happen only feature male main characters. Not surprising for the 19th century! The absence made us wonder about the “invisible ink” characters that surround each main character. How do these passing characters add definition and meaning to the main character? Are they mentioned across multiple main characters? Sarah analyzed a group of chapters to categorize “non-specific humans,” “proper names,” “mythological creatures,” and “animals”.

One note – the main character in this project is actually an alderman, which is a word dating back before the 12th century but is still used to today to describe an elected official. For example, a city council member.  In this case, he’s surrounded by a king, a skinned rabbit, a table full of food, and a rooster. All of these smaller characters are mentioned as a way to describe the qualities of an alderman in a book I mentioned above.

The Process

I started with a sketch.   You can see I had the original idea of an empty figure who’s exterior negative space was taken up by little figures.

I switched from “A Bankrupt” to “An Alderman”. I thought a politician might be more relevant to the news today.


The chapter describing the alderman, found in its digital form here.

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Below is my first sketch in pencil and then pen. I found a picture of a person online to draw.

Honestly, it was hard to make a politician instantly recognizable based only on their outline. Something to think about going forward.


I selected the most visual and meaningful minor characters mentioned in the chapter above. And drew them.


I mocked up dummies to place around the figure to work out their sizing.



I went to Metalliforous, the metal store on 46th Street.  I asked for their advice on materials, and they suggested brass strips.


I went to Blick to buy mat board. But mat board was too expensive to buy multiple colored sheets.

So I bought cheap “railroad” paper for 86 cents each! (This photo is taken after I cut off what I needed to laser print).


Next, I figured out how to use Illustrator’s Image Trace to trace my sketches, properly join and clean up all of Illustrator’s paths, and then finally prepare each sketch’s layers so that I could print each shape on the right colored paper.

I also cut 5 x 5 inch pieces of paper to print on. This was large enough to fit all my sketch layers, but allowed me to save the rest of my material for another project.



Here is some chicken scratch (no pun intended) showing my measurements and layering logic.


The paper was on the thicker side, but still thin enough to be moved out of place by the laser’s “thumb”. I learned to tape a corner of it to the laser cutter’s bed.


All my paper parts.IMG_0137

I used needle nose pliers and my hands to bend the wire.


Testing the material.


Drilling the brass to later rivet with the rivet gun.



There are more pictures showing the figure with rivets but I can’t upload them. at the moment.

Here are more details of my final prototype.

The small characters are taped to tabs, upon which I added magnets.



Magnets shown (large flat circles). I borrowed them from my refrigerator. Next time I can figure out how to glue or affix them to the brass.IMG_0163