Whilst on holiday in Andalucia, I visited the Alhambra. It’s an incredible place and I was fascinated by the Islamic art in the palace and around Granada. In the Alhambra gift shop I bought a book on the patterns that gave possible constructions of some of the common Islamic patterns.
A few days later (I think it was on the 16th May), while sitting on a beach I was looking at some of the tiled patterns in the book. I came across something that looked a bit like this:
I immediately loved this tiling. The way you can see right angle triangles, equilateral triangles, hexagon and even rectangles; it just struct a chord with me.
I had the thought of displaying an image with these triangles. A couple of friends of mine were getting married in month, I thought I would make them a wedding present.
That’s how this project started. By this point I was really getting into tiling and also compass and straight edge constructions:
The drawing on the left makes bisects the triangles by finding the midpoint of each side. But then I realised that there was a far simpler way of creating the equilateral triangle cut in half three ways, which is the drawing on the right. The simplicity of this confirmed that it was this tiling that I was going to use.
On 23 May I created a Cinder application to create a triangluar (isometric) tiling. I can’t remember what happened at this point, but it wasn’t until the 27th that I commited the first bit of code for the project. The first screen shot of this process was taken on 31 May:
If this doesn’t look like anything to you, the original image is one of a couple wearing helmets. A man on the left wearing sunglasses and a woman on the right.
One thing that struct me straight away was the banding of colour. the tiling didn’t really come out unless neighbouring tiles are different, so introduced some noise to the colour selection process:
Choosing a resolution was proving to be tricky. I knew I wanted to make this a physical thing and it was difficult to understand the implications of a high resolution. I spent a lot of time walking away from my laptop and taking a look from a distance, going back changing the resolution and repeating.
Anyway, I felt like I had nailed the image creation process. Now it was time to find out what colours of acrylic I could get my hands on.
When I first thought about this idea, I envisaged laser cutting the triangles out of wood and spraying them. After realising that I was going to be dealing with thousands of tiles and that they would have to be quite small, I moved onto laser cutting acrylic. This would give me less freedom of colours but meant the production would be far easier. I headed down to Hamar to check out their samples.
I took a photo of all their samples and wrote a small Processing sketch and a bit Python via iPython to look at the samples to find a hue that had a decent brightness range. The photo looked like this (with markings of where the samples of colour were taken):
The results told me that blues where a good colour to use, with the folowing samples:
After closer examination, I realised that my method was flawed and the photo of the sides of the samples weren’t really the colours of the acrylic. For example, some of the samples were clear with a bit of colour, but viewed from the side they looked a lot darker. However, my attention was drawn to blues. I downloaded the Perspex Colour Selector and chose the blues from there. My colours were chosen:
I decided on my resolution and size of tile. On the 7th June, I ordered the acrylic sheets.
I had done some tests with offcuts from to see how I was going to cut the tiles. You could cut lines across the acrylic, joining edges of the triangles, or you could cut each triagle individually. The first option is a lot faster and would save both time and money on the cutter, but it resulted in more errors in the cutting. I was keen to keep the tiles as similar as possible as the accumulated error across the image would make it difficult to keep the regular pattern.
I got Cinder to output my triangles to a SVG file, where each triangle was shrunk from its center. I then scaled this to the appropriate size in the real world in Illustrator and exported to DXF.
I was using the mean of each of the triangles vertices for its center, so the final cutting pattern had nested hexagonal pattern:
I used the lasercutter at the London Hackspace where I trained to use the laser cutter for previous project. I took about 4 hours to cut around 5,000 tiles.
I learned a few things whilst cutting:
- The top side of the acrylic has a nicer cut than the bottom. (This was surprising for me because the focus of the laser was set to the bottom)
- The acrylic gets so hot from the cutting that it starts to bend. So you have to cut in batches.
Going back to the C++ application, I created a place by numbers guide to make the construction process easier. This was scaled in Illustrator to fit the size of the tiles after they were cut. Nothing fancy here, I just measured them with some calipers. It whole thing was made with 3 sheets of A3 paper.
At this point I was ready to start! I had been shown an amazing video showing how Moroccan mosaic tiles were made and I thought I would imitate their techique. My place by numbers guide was made with a flipped image, so I would place my tiles face down. At the end I would spray display mount on to the back of all them and stick them to a board of some description.
I’m in the lucky position of having both a sister and a girlfriend who are INFJs. They were very excited by the prospect of making the puzzle, so they helped for the first leg of the process. After that, apart from a couple of coloumns, I was alone.
The problem of gluing the pieces to something permament as still unsolved. I chatted about this with countless people, all with a slightly different idea of how to go about it. Finally, after a quick test with my flat mate’s wood glue I decided that I was going to spread PVA (or wood glue) on to the back of the tiles and place a bit of foam board onto it.
The tiling wasn’t as regular as I had hoped for. In some places it looked great but in others it was quite off. There was no way around this. Once you corrected it, somewhere else would shift out of place.
Once I had plucked up the courage, I started painting on diluted glue on the the back of the tiles. This way they would keep their structure and allow me to paint on thicker coats of glue. This technique kinda worked, but painting on the undiluted, thick glue was turning out tricky. At one point a load of tiles stuck to the brush and as I tried to keep them down with my fingers they stuck to them. It was a nightmare. In the end, I went for the Jackson Pollock method and squirted glue all over it.
I bought the foam board from Atlantis and had a chat with the sales assistant about my techique. He told me to leave the glue overnight as it dries with contact with air. I had the feeling that I had overdone it with the glue so I decided to do uncover a bit earlier than I’d been recommended.
The glue had seeped through the tiles and stuck to the paper that was underneath! But as the glue was still wet, I could peel away the paper and then wash the glue off with a wet cloth. At this point some of the tiles still didn’t look perfect so I made the mistake of cleaning them with a a bit of nail varnish remover. As I found out afterwards this was a really bad idea as it slightly removed the shine from the acrylic. Luckily I didn’t do this over the whole thing.
Finally I cut the foam board so that it would fit in the back of a 700 x 500mm frame.
More images can be found on the project page.