Vincent Edwards is an artist living and working in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His studio practice focuses on hybrid methodologies, specifically the intersection of traditional furniture craft and digital fabrication, employing new technologies with sculptural elements to elevate the functional aesthetics of architecture in both natural structures and decorative design. He currently teaches the methods of this practice at the University of Arkansas, where he runs the 3-D Advanced Technologies Lab. Now, in conversation with MIXD Gallery, Edwards delves into the ethos of his craft, his upbringing in the arts, and the boundaries he prefers to cross.
MIXD: Can you describe your background and your journey as an artist and designer?
Vincent Edwards: My parents are both artists, so I was lucky enough to be exposed to art and encouraged to explore creative outlets from an early age. Growing up, I divided my time pretty equally between music and visual arts. I spent a lot of time drawing, but also really enjoyed things like cars and airplanes which (looking back) definitely informed my interest in design. I built and flew model airplanes in high school, and there’s a clear connection between my design work and the vernacular of wooden aircraft. I studied printmaking in college, after first dropping out for a few years to play keyboard and tour in the band Murder By Death (dark americana, not metal). I later took a woodworking class in my senior year and fell in love with the material and process almost immediately. After a few years of pursuing furniture making on my own, I was accepted into the MFA program at Herron School of Art and Design. This is where I learned the CAD and CAM skills which I now blend with traditional woodworking techniques in most of my designs.
In 2016 I was hired to create the Digital Fabrication Labs at UARK, a job that has played a huge role in my development as an artist. I’ve put a great deal of time and energy into teaching students how to integrate digital tools into their practice, and I’ve learned a wide array of new skills in the process. In this time, I’ve broadened my creative focus to include ceramics in addition to furniture, primarily using the 3D Clay printer. I seem to always find myself taking on difficult projects which stretch my imagination and skill set.
Moving forward, I’m exploring ways to combine some of my seemingly disparate projects. This will likely mean furniture that incorporates 3D printed ceramic elements, metal fabrication, and emerging digital fabrication technologies. And I’ve learned to build bicycles!
M: Your work “seeks a synthesis of traditional furniture-making and digital design and fabrication.” Could you elaborate on the motivations that have driven you to dive into this intricate relationship?
VE: My ongoing interest in digital fabrication technologies emerged from the simple desire to push the limits of craft and create things that might be difficult or impossible to build otherwise. For me (and for most people, I believe) there’s intuitive creative intelligence that only comes from working directly with a material at full scale, and I just really enjoy that process—whether it’s working with wood, clay, metal, or even fabric. I get bored with limitations, and the digital realm opens so many new possibilities. Most of the work I’m happiest with starts out on paper, as sketches and iterations on an idea. Then I’ll open the computer and flesh out that idea further and figure out how I might want to build it. Most of the designs evolve a bit as I’m making them, since the computer screen just isn’t a great stand-in for real life. Newer technologies like Augmented Reality and VR help with this, but at some point you have to cross over and solve the real physical piece that’s there in front of you in the studio.
M: Your designs effortlessly blend precision with artistic flair. Could you share an example of a project where achieving this balance was particularly challenging, and how you overcame it?
VE: It’s always a challenge! The more (hybrid) work I make, it has started getting easier. I like to start with a sketch, usually something gestural and simple. I will often make a model, sometimes even a full-sized prototype if that’s practical. Then I look at what isn’t working and fix that before I make the final piece.
The precision work, I suppose, is a very different part of my brain compared to the side that’s making judgments about whether a piece is ‘working’ or not as a design. I jump back and forth a lot between these modes of working. Even back in undergrad when I was studying printmaking I worked this way- drawings became 7-layer reduction woodblocks that took 4-6 weeks to complete.
M: Architectural design involves envisioning spaces that people inhabit. How does this consideration of human experience influence your creative process?
VE: This might be the best time to mention that my father is a residential architect in Connecticut. So I definitely believe that the spaces people inhabit have a strong impact on their daily existence and well-being. I joke that I think of my furniture as ‘miniature architecture’… but this gets at something deeper that feeds into my practice. I think a large percentage of the modern world is happy to let ‘functional stuff’ get by with just being functional. I look at nature, and with (nearly) everything functional there’s also beauty and elegance. I don’t think we should lower our standards for the built world.
M: Which contemporary artists resonate the most with you at the moment, and in what ways do their works serve you as a source of inspiration?
VE: I suppose I should start with the furniture makers. Shin Okuda of Waka Waka in LA has been a big inspiration lately. I love Yuri Kobayashi’s work… she’s also an incredibly talented woodworker technically. Matthias Pleisnig is fantastic- i was lucky enough to study with him at Anderson Ranch. Julian Watts and Kieran Kinsella are both standouts when it comes to carving. In ceramics, I’ve been following Piotr Wasnioswski as he does truly inspiring things with ceramic 3D printing. Working at UARK, there’s such a wealth of talent around me all the time. I tend to seek out work that I find both emotionally resonant and technically inspiring. Some work… it’s just so clear that the artist found a boundary that could be pushed, and they pushed it really far.
M: Could you share any upcoming exhibitions, projects, or collaborations that we should keep an eye out for?
VE: I’ve been working with Edmund Harriss on the software for Ceramic 3D printing. I’ve taken a little pause in this work to finish some commissions which I will photograph and share on my website later this year. I’m planning to work with Edmund more on a series of designs that feature minimal surfaces. This work references back to the illuminated cabinets I made in Grad school which are in the Design show here at MIXD. But this time around, I plan to push what I can do with the fabric a lot further. And I’m looking forward to building some of the designs I have planned which incorporate both 3D printed ceramic work and wood. I’m also building a few custom bikes this year in anticipation of teaching a course at UARK next year. It’s too soon to say how this will influence my design work, but I’m learning a lot!
M: Finally, as an artist and designer, how do you envision your work contributing to the evolving landscape of functional aesthetics in architecture and design?
VE: Playing with and blending alternative processes and materials… I think my cabinets with fabric skins that also function as lighting provide a good example of this. I’m always seeking a challenge and trying to solve problems differently than they’ve been solved in the past. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see!