The Frontier of Making: Q & A with Alumna Caitlin Skelcey

Posted December 20, 2015 in Metals & Jewelry Design, Product Design, Alumni

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015/2016 issue of Portfolio. View the complete issue here.

Forget moving upward – for Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) alumna Caitlin Skelcey (’11, Metals and Jewelry Design/Painting), success comes from growing outward. In the wake of her first year in the research-focused MFA Metals program at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (UICU), Skelcey has been developing experimental materials that could unlock new possibilities – artistic or otherwise – for 3D fabrication technology.

Alumna Caitlin SkelceyCaitlin Skelcey

Q: You've been doing some very interesting research lately. What have you been exploring? A: I was awarded a creative research grant from UICU and two outside scholarships that enabled me to use fabrication technology to explore existing experimental materials and create new ones. I’ve bought my own 3D printer and a filament maker to create raw material I can feed into the printer; you can infuse PLA plastic with other materials like wood pulp or wax, for instance. These combinations could serve aesthetic or functional purposes, or they could become a new material that enables some kind of structural innovation.

Q: So what’s the endgame? A: UICU left the project very open-ended, and because it’s so research-based, it’s not always about the outcome. Of course, being a jeweler and artist, I focus on adornment; I want my work to result in something tangible. But knowledge and experience are equally valuable. I am going forward with an open mind and trying not to be concerned about an end product, because it can place a lot of pressure on you. As a part of research, failure is always an option too, but fear of failure to produce an end product shouldn’t be. Right now I am very optimistic.

Q: Metals and jewelry are disciplines with such a rich history and tradition. What place does that history have in your practice and in your current research? A: I aim to exist somewhere between the past and the future. My process is largely exploratory, and I’m drawn to both the slow, methodical nature of working by hand and the expediency and exactitude of new technologies. Too often, there’s a line drawn between traditional and new ways of making; it’s an aversion to what’s old or seemingly outdated, or a fear of the new and unfamiliar. I want to demolish those boundaries.

Broach created by Caitlin SkelceyCustom jewelry created by Caitlin Skelcey

Q: Were you interested in the discipline before you came to KCAD? A: I have always enjoyed working with my hands, making objects, and tinkering with things. I came to KCAD undeclared and just began taking classes. When I took an intro class in Metals and Jewelry Design, I was hooked. I was learning new techniques and creating 3D forms out of metals and other materials; it broadened my perception of jewelry and adornment as well as my concept of creating.

Q: What sparked your interest in fabrication technology? A: [KCAD Allesee Metals and Jewelry Design Program Chair] Phil Renato encouraged us to explore new ideas with CAD modeling software like Rhino, where you’re comprehending a 3D object on a 2D plane. It wasn’t long before CAD and 3D printing had become an integral part of my process. Drawing is still the foundation of my process – once I have a hand-drawn rendering, I model it in Rhino and then 3D print it. I then modify the print through painting, clear coating, or casting. I use 3D printing as a tool like any other. Just because I print something doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story for this object; you want to take it beyond that.

Necklace created by Caitlin SkelceyNecklace created by Caitlin Skelcey

Q: Was grad school a natural next step? A: After graduating, I worked at KCAD as both the Metals and Jewelry Technician and a FLEXlab Technician, and I also worked as a bench jeweler at Talsma Jewelry in Grandville. I grew so much during this time, not only in my skills and technical knowledge, but also as an artist and a person. However, I knew grad school would help me progress further, so after three years in the field I went for it. It has been a challenging experience, but more than anything it is rewarding. I aim to broaden myself as much as possible. I chose UICU’s MFA Metals program because it’s very research-focused and provides a lot of research funding opportunities. But I also wanted to push my practice further by meeting new faculty and students and learning from their different experiences.

Q: You taught an intro course at KCAD this summer and started teaching at UICU this fall. What’s the experience been like so far? A: It’s so rewarding when you help a student understand something, and then get to see them take that idea and create something of their own. I see in my students the same enthusiasm I still feel when I gain a new skill or learn a new technique, and that’s made teaching an extremely rewarding experience