By: Kim Foli Ikpo
What do art and engineering have in common? More than you might think.
This past semester, a group of engineering students at Texas A&M University has been working closely with an artist from New York to help her design a new smoke painting tool. Rosemarie Fiore isn’t a traditional painter. Instead of using paint brushes and paint, she uses fireworks and colorful smoke to create beautiful large-scale paintings.
Last month, about 100 people from the community witnessed Fiore create a new piece destined for the Zachry Engineering Education Complex. The team of students assisted during the performance, bringing Fiore new fireworks and helping her load them onto the tool they designed. That tool — Bring Your A Frame — was based off an earlier design Fiore created, but was modified to be more efficient.
Fiore said that art and engineering often work in tandem.
“They rely on each other and can create great things when applied together,” she said. “I think engineering is at its best when it extends beyond the mechanical into creativity and design.”
Fiore began smoke painting several years ago after accidentally burning herself with fireworks on the 4th of July. She instinctively dropped the fireworks and as it rolled across the pavement, it left behind a beautiful mark. Since then, Fiore has focused almost solely on smoke painting.
“The entire smoke painting process fascinates me, but what intrigues me the most is the way smoke reacts to changes in the environment,” she said. “The weather, temperature, air pressure and inversion all affect how smoke behaves.”
Electrical engineering student Michael Bayern, said it was very interesting to work on such a project.
“It was a fun change to jump from an engineering project with known constraints and some sort of testing and data to this project, which was more like an engineering art project,” he said. “It was much more creative and free form than other projects I’ve worked on.”
For sophomore manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology student Mikaela Casuga, this project combined two of her passions — art and engineering. Casuga was in the Engineering Innovation Center when Fiore first visited campus and a friend encouraged her to sign up for the team.
“I love art, and I enjoy drawing, painting, writing and singing,” she said. “For me, hearing there would be an engineering project involving my passions, I knew I had to join.”
Casuga said the experience taught her that she can combine both her passions and delve deeper into her own field of engineering — applying metallics and nonmetallic materials in the construction of tools that can be applied by artists.
Bring Your A Frame was an improved version of a tool Fiore designed in 2016. Made of aluminum and mounted on wheels, a pole is used to maneuver the tool across paper. Fireworks are lit in unison and inserted into mounts. Each fuse is the same length, causing the fireworks to go off at the same time, creating pressure which pushes the pigmented smoke out of the holes on the bottom of the tool.
“The students worked from my original design, creating changes to improve my experience using the tool,” she said. “For example, higher quality wheels were installed. Also, the bottom pattern can be switched out and firework mounts were installed to allow for easy loading.”
Unlike tools Fiore has made in the past, Bring Your A Frame was made of aluminum, making it easier to clean and more durable. Fiore said she was very happy with the end result and plans to continue using the tool for future art works.
The piece Fiore began last month is now back in New York where she will finalize it before it is displayed in the Zachry Engineering Education Complex permanently.