Meet The Maker: Mark Hester, Formworx
I have nurtured a passion for design and crafting for as far back as I can recall. During my childhood, every yoghurt pot, cardboard box, or straw became a canvas for my imagination, transforming into robots, spaceships, or racing cars! Yet, even in my early years, I recognised a disparity between my imaginative visions and my ability to bring them to life. This discrepancy arose from my limited skills and experience at the time.
I recall crafting a bracket for my compact radio, enabling me to affix it to my bicycle’s handlebars. This granted me the joy of listening to music as I pedalled around. However, my exhilaration was short-lived. Merely two blocks away from home, I encountered a pothole, and I watched in dismay as the radio catapulted off the bracket and shattered into pieces on the road. This incident imparted a valuable lesson: the unsuitability of using superglue to bond plastic with aluminium! These setbacks didn’t diminish my enthusiasm; instead, they ignited a strong determination to acquire extensive knowledge in design, technology, and fabrication.
Design and Technology (D&T) swiftly became my favourite subject in school. In fact, I was so passionate about it that I convinced the headteacher to allow me to pursue it at A-level, despite being the sole student in the school seeking to undertake this course!
After completing my A-levels, I secured a spot at Brunel University to study Industrial Design, a pivotal moment that allowed hands-on creativity. During the summer term of my first year, I engaged in “workshop practice”. This essentially entailed several months of mastering techniques for working with wood, metal, and plastics. This workshop module is designed to give students a comprehensive practical skills experience. It equips us with the abilities needed to support our design projects throughout the course.
For me, it went beyond that, as I came to the realisation that I derived just as much, if not more, satisfaction from the act of crafting as from the design itself. Moreover, during my time at Brunel, I stumbled upon the concept of “modelmakers,” which left me astonished. Until then, I had held the assumption that designers created models solely to test their concepts, completely unaware that there existed a cadre of highly skilled professionals dedicated to making, consequently providing invaluable support to the design process.
From that moment, I was determined to secure a position as a modelmaker with one of the premier design consultancies in London. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to showcase my final year work at an event called New Designers in the summer of 1996. During this event, I met an individual from a company called PDD who extended an invitation for an interview. I commenced the following week, in my profoundly fulfilling career as a modelmaker. I devoted a total of 15 years to my role at PDD, with a notable hiatus during which I spent four years in Brazil and a couple of years overseeing a charity in West London. During my tenure at PDD, I engaged in a diverse array of projects, crafting an extensive range of models and prototypes. This covered everything from crafting minuscule, precision-machined components for beverage valves to creating a life-sized, anatomically accurate human body dummy.
I acquired proficiency in operating a wide array of machinery, ranging from the traditional to state-of-the-art CNC equipment. I vividly remember holding my first 3D printed part in 1997, and it was amazing to witness the remarkable advancements in that technology, coupled with a significant reduction in costs, making it accessible even to students who could now have 3D printers in their own bedrooms! That period was also immensely significant in terms of honing my crafting skills to perfection. I developed an intuitive understanding of how various materials behaved, mastered the art of achieving desired surface finishes, and became adept at joining components in a manner that prevented mishaps like my bicycle radio bracket from falling apart.
Within that period, my fascination with technology experienced substantial growth, leading me to teach myself programming for a device known as an Arduino microcontroller. This newfound skill empowered me to breathe life into prototypes by incorporating all kinds of sensors, motors, lights and so on. During my time at PDD, I seized the opportunity to rekindle my design skills by participating in a training course focused on “Human-Centred Design.” This exposure introduced me to a fresh perspective that served as a catalyst for a new phase in my career when I co-established a design consultancy named “The Imagination Factory”.
The Imagination Factory not only offered exciting opportunities to engage in fantastic projects but was also structured to allocate time for research and development, with the aim of generating revenue from the creation of new intellectual property. Being a part of a small business has proven to be an invaluable experience, providing insights into the intricacies. During our early days, we had the privilege of collaborating with several entrepreneurs who were beginning their product-based business journeys. It has been exceedingly gratifying to witness their progression from concept to market, seeing how their ideas have blossomed and evolved. We also collaborated with prominent multinational brands, and I had the privilege of observing how the human-centred design techniques I had acquired could assist them in surmounting many of the obstacles to innovation that larger companies typically encounter.
During this period, my role was primarily focused on business management and client interactions, leaving little room for hands-on crafting. While we did have a small workshop equipped with 3D printers, my personal involvement was limited. To maintain and develop my skills, I turned to wood carving, a craft that could be pursued at home with minimal space and equipment. Over time, I gradually accumulated a diverse set of tools and equipment in my garage, reigniting my excitement for working with wood and resins.
As my tenure at The Imagination Factory came to an end, it became evident that dedicating more time to creating the things I am truly passionate about, was the natural next step. At that time, I was engrossed in reading a beautifully crafted magazine titled “We Are Makers,” which revealed artisans from around the globe. This publication served as a wellspring of inspiration for me, prompting the inception of Formworx.
Formworx is an online platform where individuals can procure some of my crafted creations or reach out to me for personalised commissions. Over the next two years, I’ll be studying a master’s degree in Regenerative Design. As a result, I’ve intentionally kept the range of products in my collection limited for now. However, there’s ample potential for expansion as I progress in my studies.
I don’t have a favourite material to work with; instead, I select the most suitable material for the specific design I’m creating. Wood is exceptional for crafting household items intended for long-term use, and it offers a delightful crafting experience. However, for certain products, the optimal approach involves casting them in resin or precision machining from high-quality metals such as brass.
I’m very mindful of the materials I employ in my work, which led me to discover Entropy Resins. I came across them during a surfboard-making workshop at Otter Surfboards in Cornwall. While it’s challenging for any resin to have a minimal environmental impact, I was notably impressed by the high-bio content resin offered by Entropy. Their dedication to the cause through their involvement with 1% for the Planet is commendable. Equally crucial is that the resins yield exceptional results. Through meticulous care and the aid of a vacuum degassing chamber, I achieve flawlessly transparent and bubble-free castings. This is particularly significant for a product named ARUNA, a playful eyewear holder
I’ve also discovered that blending clear resin with leftover wood offcuts is a remarkable means of rejuvenating materials that might otherwise be considered waste. This approach allows me to create spoons, bowls, and various other items that will endure for decades in someone’s home, all while sporting a unique and distinctive aesthetic.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working on some incredible projects. My favourite ones are those that blend technology with exceptional craftsmanship. During my time at The Imagination Factory, our team collaborated to design a unique kinetic garden sculpture, inspired by the principles of a harmonic pendulum. The sculpture was crafted using materials like stone, brass, aluminium, and carbon fibre. Employing an Arduino microcontroller and 12 hand-wound electromagnets, we achieved a fascinating effect. The 12 inverted pendulums moved back and forth, creating captivating patterns in the air that repeated in a cycle every few minutes. Observing this piece was a truly engaging experience; it could easily hold your attention for hours!
Working with materials like resins and wood presents various challenges. Developing the skills and techniques necessary to overcome these obstacles is a time-consuming process, especially if one aims to align the final outcome with their creative ambitions.
Fortunately, I’ve spent many years honing my craft in the workshop at PDD, in addition to my formal training as a design student. However, even with this experience, I still find myself reaching out to the Maker community for tips and insights when working on new projects. Nowadays, it’s much more convenient to access valuable advice online, whether through platforms like YouTube or dedicated maker forums. Additionally, there’s a newly launched app called HowTo, created by the organisers of the Makers Central event, which contains a wealth of helpful content.
However, in the end, every Maker must be ready to engage in extensive prototyping to achieve the desired outcome. When I conceive a new product idea, it seldom succeeds on the initial attempt. Despite my extensive knowledge gained from years of working with various resin casting techniques, there are instances where the unique shape of the object being cast necessitates a slightly different approach to prevent the formation of bubbles. To date, I’ve primarily crafted small resin items. However, I’m gradually gaining the confidence to venture into larger projects. An intriguing concept has been fizzing away in my mind. To craft furniture by encasing old magazines in resin, forming them into a sturdy structure, that also offers a striking visual appeal.
I have also been delving deeply into Sacred Geometry, which can be employed to craft truly captivating patterns. By transforming these patterns into 3D CAD designs, I can fashion objects using a laser cutter and CNC machine.
These objects can subsequently be enriched with pigmented resin to accentuate the intricate geometry. It’s incredibly gratifying to utilise modern technology and breathe life into patterns that have been part of civilisation for ages.
For those who are new to working with resin, I would recommend starting with uncomplicated, open shapes. Bubbles can be quite troublesome, and they tend to find their way into small crevices within a casting. Additionally, it’s crucial to exercise patience during the resin curing process. While it’s tempting to demould early, like unwrapping a gift, the frustration of finding smudges due to insufficient curing isn’t worth it. Just be patient, and you will see the best results!