For most start-up founders, late nights spent trekking through airports are little more than the cost of doing business. But for Ted Acworth, one particular layover at Philadelphia International Airport produced one of the more gratifying experiences in his time at the helm of Artaic.
“I happened to look up, and right in front of me was one of our works. Of course I recognized it, but I’d never seen the finished product installed as public art in a public space – it was gorgeous,” Acworth says of his chance encounter with one of the digitally designed and robotically assembled mosaics that his Boston-based company manufactures.
“That’s why I do what I do: to make the world a more beautiful place, and to bring more mosaic artwork to the world.”
For the past eleven years, Artaic has been breathing new life into the age-old medium. To do that, they use sophisticated software controlled by a team of mosaic experts to create bespoke designs that sometimes involve upwards of a million tiles, which are then methodically and precisely arranged by robots. Whereas traditional mosaic production is a (literally) hands-on and time-consuming process, Artaic can create same-day digital renderings that then ship in a matter of weeks or even days.
Much as a mosaic fits seemingly disparate pieces into a larger, cohesive picture, Artaic marries Acworth’s longstanding interest in the art form with his highly sophisticated engineering background. Exposed to the arts through his mother’s work as a mural painter from a young age, Acworth fell in love with ancient mosaics during summers spent hitchhiking through southern Europe, finding parallels between their methodical construction and the mechanical engineering principles he was studying back at Columbia University.
A robot laying Artaic tile.
From there, Acworth pursued both doctoral and postdoctoral work in the realms of digital image processing and mechanical robotics (including a stint designing telescopes for NASA), skills that were instrumental to approaching mosaics from a new angle. “Those are the two things that are needed to modernize the mosaic art form,” he says. “I realized my skill set was the right skill set to try to bring modern technologies into the art form to make it more affordable and accessible.”
So far, that’s exactly what Artaic has accomplished. Their average project was priced at about $75 per square foot back in 2007. Though the existence of 2,200 tile options in a wide range of shades, sizes, and materials means prices can fluctuate from project to project, Acworth says the company’s “sweet spot” is closer to $35 per square foot now. That sort of price point makes commissioning a custom mosaic feasible for large-scale public works projects and home renovations in a way that wasn’t previously possible.
An Artaic mosaic at the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove,
Replacing the human touch with machine precision might lead some to worry about a world where artisans are displaced by AI. But each custom piece that a robot arranges still originates from the mind of a designer, either in-house or through the company’s Tylist design software. That’s why Acworth sees himself as a competitor to companies who pump out mass-produced mosaics and an ally to those who want to produce their vision on a grander scale.
“Are we competing with artists? No. We’re at a different price point and artistic level,” he says. “I like to think of us as a practical complement to the mosaicists, and that strengthens the overall awareness and availability of the art form and makes it possible on a different scale too.”
It’s that ability to make “hyperpersonalized” projects at an affordable rate that Artaic hopes will both deepen our appreciation for the art form and revolutionize where and how we use mosaics altogether. “As we drive our accessibility and our costs, I foresee people considering mosaics as full wallpaper,” Acworth predicts. “We’re getting there.”