New ideas, old fashioned thinking
You don't have to mass produce to be cost effective. There are old-fashioned, low-tech ways of making that give you remarkable things that earn us a reasonable living at the same time. We make hundreds, we don't make millions. Archie was an idea that started on a trip to France several years ago. We'd heard about a family run company in a small town in Northern Bavaria successfully making things in a way that hadn't changed in almost a hundred years. Their process allowed small runs of less than fifty items be made quickly, cheaply but - most interesting of all - to a style and quality that modern-day machines just can't match. One of the group had a whippet called Archie. We all knew she had a whippet because she just wouldn't stop taking about him. The German company's technique was making things in a natural shape that couldn't be reproduced by a machine and had no seam. They made things by hand before blowing them up like a balloon at just the right moment.
Naturally a lamp
So, we wondered, would it be possible to collaborate with these Bavarian craftsmen and make a lamp based on Archie. A lamp tested the 'no-seam' claim and being a whippet Archie would have to be very natural shape. We visited Coburg, a little town where things seem to have stood still for the perfect amount of time and people in the bars, cafes and restaurants liked to talk about the things they - and their town - made, which was quite a lot.
The real Archie visited our Dalston Studio a couple of months later where he (mostly) sat patiently while we drew, photographed, videod and generally fussed over him. For those of you who don't own whippets, they like a short burst of madness each day in the park but after that they're remarkably calm and docile.
One of our group, Myra Heller, is a St Martin's School of Art trained sculptor. The German process required us to make a hard-wax model 'positive' they could use to create a copper mould (more about that later). To make the positive we started with a clay model. It was a little harder than we thought. Whippets are slender elegant things and the clay had a habit of drying too quickly. Poor Archie lost his head several times.
...and here's Archie in Wax
Once you have the clay model the next stage is to make a silicon rubber mould. Less creative than the clay but a lot more fun. The mould is cut open, placed into a casting pot then hot wax poured-in and left to go very hard. The silicon rubber is removed from the wax and the wax positive trimmed and finished for the final stage.
It's put into a bath of good old school chemistry set copper sulphate and left for several weeks to grow a skin of copper over the wax. The mould is gently heated and the wax poured away and we're ready to start making Archies.
Skill plus excellent Timing
This is the skilled part. Thermoplastic is placed into the mould and spun so that it spreads evenly. The copper Archie mould is natural and one-piece so if it was left to cool we wouldn't be able to remove the lamp body and there's a good chance the mould would be ruined. Instead the lamp is removed while still very hot and flexible and 'blown' back into shape in very much the same way that hand-made glass is blown. It takes a lot of skill but the end result is natural and seamless (so there are no ugly lines when the lamp is switched-on).