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Design Note #1: the Arbor Circle


An arbor is a small group of trees. I think of it as smaller than a forest, bigger than a grove. Ann Arbor (A2 to locals) loves its trees, and the co-founders of Ann Arbor named their new tree town after their wives, who shared a first name.

Like many of our designs, the Arbor Letter design has mathematical inspiration that has connections to nature. If you look carefully at the trees, you’ll note they are self-similar. Whenever a branch forms, the branch is a copy of the tree, reduced in scale. So the trees are fractals.

At first, we were taken with large (12”) diameter designs that we hung on the wall. And we have a pair of 20″ diameter with our surname initials for our front doors.  But reduced to 3.5″, with a loop added, it makes a beautiful, delicate ornament. We now make the design in a variety of sizes, and have written software for composing variations in the shape, positioning, and number of trees.

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Discovering a shared passion for art and design

I’ve had a few careers, all of them motivated by curiosity. Flying airplanes, writing software, financial engineering all provided a creative outlet, but as jobs go, that creativity was necessarily narrowly focused. I always enjoyed teaching, and figured I might take it up when I had explored enough other careers. To my surprise, I discovered teaching high school was the job that really indulged my creative side in the most general way. I taught high school math, physics, and computer science. Teaching computer science in particular enabled me to explore a trove of interesting problems to solve with the students. We wrote games in Scratch, constructed enormous structures in Minecraft using Python and Javascript, and sketched dynamic and interactive visualizations with Processing (and later p5.js).

Processing was especially inspiring. I used its pdf library to algorithmically generate drawings. It was this, combined with a visit to Ann Arbor’s MakerWorks, that ultimately led to Cherry Arbor Design.

MakerWorks has an array of maker tools, but I was drawn to the laser cutter, because I could see how the drawings created in Processing could be turned into precise wood or acrylic representations.  When I brought my creations home, Heidi was immediately intrigued with the possibilities. We started having our date nights at MakerWorks (yep, we’re nerds), creating earrings and other small items from thin cherry and maple boards, colorful acrylic, and Baltic birch plywood. Eventually, so that we could have unlimited access, we decided to buy a laser cutter. I do much of my work with Processing and p5, while Heidi uses Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

Today, Heidi and I spend much of our time together making things in our workshop, taking classes at the local community college, and exploring new materials and ideas.