Drastic advancements in technology have affected our generation in countless ways. The way we think, communicate, eat, shop, watch movies, travel. The way we create. I recently sat down with the Brooklyn based design studio, Magnetic Kitchen, to discuss their work...and the beast of a laser cutter that lives in their studio space in Greenpoint.
The popularity of 3D printing and laser cutting has grown over the past five years. Dan Dittmar, a founder of Magnetic Kitchen, was exposed to the power of the laser cutter at Savannah College of Art and Design as an Industrial Design major. While practicing this craft in college, Dan met Kayla Colaizzi, a Graphic Design major at SCAD. It was the laser cutter on campus which formed the beginning of their design collaborations. They were designing and printing a variety of different pieces for both personal use and school projects alike. There were only a few machines, which meant access to it was limited and always needed to be scheduled. This got old quickly as the two had an endless supply of great ideas and a hunger to create. So, they took matters into their own hands and decided to buy their own. It all started with laser cutting and expanded into all facets of design, branding, filmmaking and photography. Thus, Magnetic Kitchen was born.
Caroline Aylward: How did you come up with the name, Magnetic Kitchen?
Dan Dittmar: Word association, just spewing stuff out pairing different things together. We wanted to capture the technical laser aspect and the fact we are creating things in an unusual space, back when we worked out of my garage.
Kayla Colaizzi: Some people think we have a restaurant. But overall the name works.
CA: You guys took charge and decided to purchase your own laser cutter?
DD: Yeah, we wanted to be able to create on our on time. We started hashing out what it would take to buy one and eventually just borrowed money from people and pooled everything together. We set up a payment plan to pay them back and bought our first machine. Once we got the machine we started to gain some traction with SCAD students and local businesses.
CA: So essentially, Magnetic Kitchen started in a garage in Savannah?
KC: Pretty much. I had already graduated and was working at VICE here in Brooklyn for a while. Dan actually cut some stuff for them while he was still in Savannah and sent it up, which was really great. Magnetic Kitchen kept growing and we started having serious conversations about really starting the company. I quit my job and went down to Savannah for a month to hash it out with Dan. Next thing, we were looking at spaces and driving the laser cutter up to New York.
DD: This was right as I was graduating so things were really busy. We had a couple of big projects going on in Savannah right before we left. It was an intense time but all worked out!
CA: Sounds exciting. How did you decide on Greenpoint?
KC: I had lived in a lot of different areas of Brooklyn at this point so that gave me the perspective to filter through where we should get a studio.
DD: There is such a huge creative community here and in Greenpoint specifically.
CA: You had the space and the machine… What next?
DD: Once we got into the space, the machine started to act up. The point of the machine is to be super precise. If it’s off by a 16th of an inch that’s actually a lot. We purchased our first machine really cheap. It was the “generic brand” of laser printers. No customer service. Kind of a “learn as you go” experience.
CA: So its lifespan was questionable?
DD: Yes, definitely. A lot of the time in Savannah was spent keeping it going. There was no number to call and no clear-cut instructions. We had to teach ourselves but we benefitted from that in the end.
KC: We put the deposit on a big enough space to facilitate a laser cutter. So when it started acting up we had to get another one. We ended up selling the old one on Craigslist thanks to Dan’s impressive Craigslist skills. A couple of people drove up from Texas to get it. It was on Craigslist for a few weeks.
DD: Yeah, we were definitely sweating a little bit.
CA: How else would you guys have gotten rid of it?
KC: Well we thought about lighting it on fire…rolling it down the street….Really anyway to get it out of here.
DD: Yeah at that point we had paid ourselves back for the machine so we just needed to put it somewhere....else.
CA: The new machine seems to be working out well.
DD: For sure. Trotec is the brand and a few other people in New York have them. If you are doing professional laser cutting you have one of these machines. One of the guys from Mythbusters actually owns one and keeps it in his crazy man cave garage for personal projects.
CA: So once you have a finished design and an item to engrave, can you explain how the design prints onto the item? (in layman’s terms!)
DD: The machine has a giant laser tube. There is a gas in there and the gas produces a really powerful light that essentially hits a couple of mirrors and comes down onto the work piece. The rest is based off of CNC. You can design and print in Illustrator, AutoCAD or Rhinoceros.
KC: It’s pretty straightforward actually. You print to the machine directly from these programs. Using the Trotec machine is so much easier and a lot more user friendly than our old machine.
CA: Does the size of the object effect the level of printing difficulty?
DD: Not really. The difficulty comes with the asymmetrical objects. The more symmetrical the easier it is to print.
Magnetic Kitchen created 17 unique skate decks, each board reflecting a part of their own personal style, ranging in design from small, intricate patterns to a large floral print titled “Shakah Brah”. Their original artwork is engraved on to a 7-ply premium maple wood board. A small layer of the board’s surfaces is burned off and the design is then revealed. The contrasting colors of the wood grain give the boards a great texture that you suddenly feel the urge to run your fingers over. You can choose to skate with the board or hang it in your home.
Magnetic Kitchen launched a Kickstarter campaign back in March of 2014 to aid in a larger scale production of the boards. They managed to raise over $15k and gain quite a bit of press through the Kickstarter community.
CA: Engraving the skateboard decks must have been tough.
DD: Yeah! But they were fun. We couldn’t have done it without the money we raised on Kickstarter.
KC: The Kickstarter community has really been awesome overall. The skate decks got such great exposure that way. We gained a following from it. Their community is so large and their reach is invaluable regardless of how much money we raised.
DD: Yeah it’s great having them in Greenpoint too. Their office is just down the street from where we live.
CA: Have you been commissioned to produce other skateboard deck designs?
DD: We’ve done decks for some great artists. One was for the UK based illustrator MEGAMUNDEN and some for the skateboarding company FTC. Just different applications for the decks. More art oriented applications.
KC: We also produced the NIKE SB skate deck that is up on our site. We worked with Mr. Kiji (www.mrkiji.com), a local illustrator. He has a studio nearby and contacted us to do the boards. It was great working with him.
CA: This seems like a pretty perfect space to fit your laser cutter. Has anything changed in here since you moved in?
KC: Yeah this space worked out very well. Price wise it made sense & aesthetically it is what we were looking for. For a while it was just the machine and a table, sitting in the middle of the room… Then Dan went on a serious Craigslist mission and found a giant sink in Connecticut. He drove to go get it with some friends. And now we have a sink!
DD: We added some shelves and the chalkboard wall. Other than that not much has changed.
CA: So what roles do you play in the company?
KC: I feel like it changes every day. I’m a bit more design oriented, more of the visual side of things. Dan handles production and does a lot of the machine work. When it comes to running the company, Dan is the “pseudo-accountant” and I handle marketing and social media.
DD: You really just do end up wearing whatever hat is necessary that day.
CA: What other work happens at Magnetic Kitchen aside from the laser cutting?
KC: Well we just wrapped up a project with Maybelline, which was more post –production; heavy editing and sound. Fabrication is really important but we are trying to move into the digital realm.
DD: Yeah, it was a fun project. We went on set and shot some behind the scenes photos and video and then handled all of the post. It was really After Effects heavy and Kayla handled most of that.
KC: It was the first project where we both got to excel at the same time, which is what we would love to keep doing. We collaborated with our good friend and founding member of Magnetic Kitchen, Wes Batts, who did custom sound design for the twelve videos.
CA: Your work spans across a lot of areas – laser cutting, graphic design, digital fabrication…
KC: Yeah we battled with whether that was too confusing or not. Eventually we decided to display work from every area on the site. We want to combine all of these assets successfully. So putting everything in one place is the only way it is going to form into what we want it to be -- a design studio and an overall creative atmosphere.
DD: We try out source as little as possible. We want to be able to do as much in house as possible and really go to work on it. Every now and then we need a little help and that’s a great chance to reach out to the SCAD network that is here in New York.
CA: What are the most random objects you have been commissioned to laser cut?
DD: Oh man, the most random shit. The laser cut stuff is all very random.
DD: Yes, the shoehorns. We had the success with the skateboard decks because it takes a decent knowledge of the machine and a unique method to execute something like that. We get a lot of emails asking how to do it actually. But that whole process taught us how to go about printing oddly shaped objects and push our skills as far as they can go.
There are very few people in the world that can produce a laser engraved board to the quality we can, and for the cost we offer.
CA: I noticed a lot of graphic design work on your site as well. What are your favorite projects in that realm?
KC: Brand identities are always fun to do. It’s great working with artists and getting a feel for what they want out of their brand and just going back and forth on it. We’ve also done some album cover design. There was one rainy day in the studio when we happened to look at 2Chainz Instagram. He is always doing all sorts of weird shit. He was having a competition for designing his next album cover.
DD: So, we spent the afternoon designing it. We laser cut letters out of plywood to use as a stencil and filled them up with powdered sugar. He didn’t use it but we were really stoked on it (laughs).
KC: We have a couple of other album covers on there as well. Working in the music industry is something we are pretty ambitious about.
CA: You are having an open house soon. Is that something you like to do often?
KC: We love having studio nights a few times a year. Something awesome always comes out of having all of our friends in the studio. Also, the building hosts open houses every now and then, which are great to bring the local art community together.
DD: Everyone can meet the artists in the neighboring spaces. It’s a really fun event and is always great for networking. We just love having people come hang out and seeing what develops creatively from the collaboration.
KC: We really enjoy having people in the studio making their ideas happen and helping out. It just fuels the fire. We just put a bunch of beers in the sink and see what happens.
CA: What project are you most proud of to date?
KC: Besides the Maybelline shoot being such a great experience and giving us the ability to really work together as a company, I would say our custom typeface, Bonfire. I edited a short film for it and Wes Batts did the sound design. It was another random day in the studio, which gave us the opportunity to make something we are really passionate about.
DD: At this point in the company, a lot of the projects we are the most proud of are the ones we have made on our own time. Really customized, collaborative pieces.
KC: The Bonfire type already existed. We modified it in Illustrator and printed the letters on the machine. Then we lit them on fire and shot it with a macro lens. It was a really fun process. We got to let out our inner-pyro for the afternoon.
DD: We set up a photo shoot ready version of it and just played around. These kinds of projects are something we definitely want to keep doing. Making an unusual execution of a typeface and creating a video that is atmospheric that really gives you the feel for it. It’s a much more powerful experience than just seeing black and white letters on a screen.
CA: Do you still have the letters?
KC: We don’t. They were pretty disintegrated. We lit them on fire and then had to douse them in water so we didn’t burn the studio down.
CA: What is on the horizon for Magnetic Kitchen?
KC: We are currently working on a big collaborative project with a few of our friends called Line Inbetween. It is a built from a sound study of NY. Wes took sound samples from twelve different locations in the city. He is making them into tracks purely from the sounds he recorded on location. Our good friend and photographer Mike Laura went out and took a bunch of medium format film photos of different locations. I am working on designing an album cover. Essentially, the medium format photos will be digitally manipulated to reflect the emotion of each location to help the viewer see NY from various perspectives.
DD: It’s been a long time coming. It will be finished in the next couple of weeks. It’s going to be pretty sweet.
There’s a special energy at Magnetic Kitchen, a kind of energy that you don’t find behind corporate walls. Their entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring. I think they have found the professional sweet spot—right between a grueling protocol and a free spirit. Passion projects can be made while making a living. Magnetic Kitchen are finding their way on their own. Taking advantage of the times when they can ask, “What should we do today?” and using that as an opportunity to push themselves and their work. I can’t help but believe that you must do what you love and most importantly that you can. Seeing that in action is epic.
While their laser cutting capabilities have set them apart from other design studios, Magnetic Kitchen will be focusing on transitioning towards more digital fabrication. Be on the look out for Line Inbetween, coming September 2014 at www.magnetickitchen.com.