Creativity and Computer Go Hand in Hand
Jürgen Kull
HEPHAISTOS 5/6, 1995, pp. 4-5
Tr: Mike Spencer


An account by Jürgen Kull, one of Germany's most outstanding artist blacksmiths, of a project completed last year. His diligent search for exactly the right computer equipment and software pays off handsomely in overcoming otherwise insuperable deadline difficulties and closing an important commission. Kull is well established in the digital domain that other smiths are just beginning to explore.

Creativity and Computer Go Hand in Hand

Late last year we received a call from an architect who had seen some of our work and wanted to know if we could produce a gate and fence on short order to a design which she had already developed.

We arranged a conference at our premesis and the artchitect presented the design sketches, which were in an Art Deco style, consistent with client's house. She had, she said, made a lengthy search of the professonal literature and had found but little documentation of this period. The client wanted a substantial and sturdy design of the highest quality. The villa itself was already undergoing extensive renovations to the tune of close to a million marks. The client's son was himself studying art and was supervising the work on the site. Our work -- at the very least the gates -- was to be in place by Christmas. A glance at the calendar showed it was November 30th!

The architect had an appointment with the client later the same day and wanted to be able to give him a price and delivery date. The job was to include a [two-wing pedestrian] gate, 19 meters of grillwork to surmount an existing stone wall, a sliding [driveway] gate and two window grills.

I couldn't possibly make a price on the fly based only on the architect's sketches. Who could do that from a cold start? But so that she could have somthing positive to report to her client, I promised to have a proposal for her in a week. We would turn the sketches into completed drawings, work out construction details and then calculate the price.

Of course, just before Christmas, our workshop was working flat out. Every smith will understand: every contract is supposed to be completed before Christmas. Fitting up, galvanizing, lacquering, a beehive of frantic work! In the last week before the holidays we try to avoid any further site installations if possible since before Christmas Eve the client's house will already be cleaned and decorated for the celebration and in any case the client might want to begin the holiday a bit early.

In our case there was another item to account for: we tradationally have our annual open house on the first day of Advent. Our clients receive a personal invitition to this event. It's an occasion that at which we entertain some 2000 guests and begin their Christmas season with a flea market, seasonal pastries, mulled wine, forging demonstrations and all sorts of entertainments. So the pressure of another pre-Christmas contract came on top of party preparations, too. In short, it was just three days before the promised meeting that I even began to think about this new job. Needless to say, without any contact with the owner of the house and lacking precise specifications, the result wasn't entirely satisfactory. As a perfectionist, I never like to go to a client with an uninspired proposal and a big pricetag.

So I decided against using sketches and set about making complete drawings using our CAD setup [EDV-DTP-Anlage]. Once you become comfortable using this technology to work up designs, you often find yourself making more work for yourself than you'd like; The possibilities and alternatives are manifold. After three days and the better part of three nights, I had my proposal on paper, my maquettes forged and a price worked out.

I met at the appointed time with the client and the architect and they were quite impressed by the disigns. I was less so. There was no arch over the gateway and I learned that the mason would be laying up a semicircular arch the next week. In the mean time, we turned to the drawings; Maybe this here, or maybe that over there.... But in any case, the son and mother wouldn't make a decision without the father. At this point, we really couldn't promise the work for before Christmas and so the mood was restrained.

They asked me to leave my designs with them. The father, an international executive and difficult to reach, would be able to go over them and discuss them with the rest of the family. Then changes to one item or another in my design might be be settled upon. Once again I had to annoy eveyone present: "Until a contract is signed, I don't release any plans."

To mitigate the disappointment a bit, I offered to come back and meet with the master of the household himself. The next afternoon at 1:00 we got in touch and at 8:00 in the evening I went to a meeting with the busy executive, who expected to be on a plane and off to who knows where again the next day.

I had used the intervening day to make the suggested changes to the design and for this my CAD equipment did heroic service. Here a small change, replace an element there, create alternatives for these elements. Making new copies was no trouble. Making the changes on the monitor was a pure delight. Once the changes and alternative variants were drawn, the computer calculated the costs for the different combinations of design and stock dimensions. I was ready for the next day. I was beginning to get butterflies in my stomach. Time was passing, the shop was full of work with a Christmas deadline....

Promptly at eight I arrived at the client's house. First I had to lug in all the material for my presentation, then unroll the main drawings, lay out the detail drawings, the maquettes, the color chips, begin my explanation....

The client looked it all over and said, " Fantastic!" The son and mother were impressed that I had already incorporated their ideas from the day before and the dragonfly motif was now apparent. Why, he wanted to know, had the achitect fiddled around for two months with other metalwork designers when when "the best one was right there in front of him".

Now the delivery date became the thorniest part of our discussion. The client didn't want to quibble about the price. "If you can promise two panels by Christmas, you can have a check for 25,000 marks right now."

Well, I opted for the check and the pressure! At the same time I was trying to get out a quote on two smaller jobs for an inquiry from Paris and a project for the middle of 1995 was under discussion. Problems, problems: Trying to sell the work and make it at the same time, wearing two hats at once. Now I had to get my people commited to this job. This is the kind of situation where you learn what a good team really counts for. And once again our digital processing capability went to work: I could simply ask the computer for enlargements for all the design elements, the plotter would promptly turn them out and the smiths could get to work immediately forming the pieces and fitting them up.

A good relationship to our galvanizer meant we could get priority access to a galvanizing tank. Our in-house paint specialist got the timing of the lacquer curing and the multiple layers of size for the leaf gilding just right.

On the 22nd of December we were ready for installation, which didn't proceed entirely without problems because the site was swarming with tradesmen, all of whom had a Christmas Eve deadline.

Copyright © 1995 HEPHAISTOS Internationale Zeitschrift für Metallgestalter. Permission is granted to reproduce this article for educational or other not-for-profit purposes.
Updated 4 July 1995 -- Michael Spencer