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Bridging the gap: software engineer turns creative craftsman

Mar. 30—ASHLAND — A formally trained software engineer has seamlessly woven his technical expertise from the digital world to the physical one by creating pieces that bridge the gap between technology and creativity.

In his coming of age years, Mitchell Vincent was surrounded by the emerging and quickly evolving world of technology which eventually introduced him to hobby after hobby.

Vincent said his fascination with how things work led him into software at an early age, recalling a time he used early '90s software to develop an automatic test grader — or Scantron — for a teacher's biology test at just 9 years old.

Thanks to a bad bout of mono and an extended absence from school, Vincent said he turned to reading tech-related literature in the America Online era, which would solidify his passion for all things tech after graduating from Ashland Blazer.

"I've been self-employed the vast majority of my life," Vincent said, adding he went head first into the software business after graduation.

Through contracted work, Vincent found himself in Arizona for a stint before returning home to Ashland after his father was given a grim diagnosis.

"I came back in 1997," Vincent said, following a doctor giving his father just three months to live.

"He lived 13 more years," Vincent said with a laugh, aiding in his decision to stick around.

Presently living less than a block from his childhood home, Vincent transformed his garage from a non-insulated outbuilding to a pristine workshop with high-tech machines humming, pulsing and clicking in a near unison chant.

After decades in the software industry, Vincent said he grew unhappy with the digital world despite all the coding and programming and desired to produce something tangible.

By incorporating his pastime of "tinkering" on new machinery and technology, Vincent opened the door to dabble in 3D printers and laser embroidery — which ultimately turned into the whiteboard filled top to bottom with customer orders leaning against his workshop wall.

"It was just another hobby," Vincent said of 3D printing and laser printing gadgets.

An obvious lover of new technologies and learning the components on how things work, 3D printing and laser work was tacked onto Vincent's "7,000 hobbies," and as it would turn out, Vincent said he was "pretty decent," at curating desirable items.

Also a lover of history, Vincent said he gets the most joy from creating military tools and hand stitching treated leather to recreate the country's founding documents.

Rolling out scrolls of different color variations of stained leather, Vincent showcased the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, which Vincent said some that were sold were life-sized.

"With my leatherwork, nothing is imported," Vincent said, adding the U.S. made leather is treated with dyes and his own airbrush techniques to create an antique aesthetic.

"I love keeping things alive," Vincent said, adding the recreation of founding documents was no brainer when mastering laser engraved items.

"In the laser space, it really wasn't a viable business until recent," Vincent said, elaborating on the extreme technical advancements made on machinery in the past few years.

Vincent pointed out the several different laser engravers across his shop, explaining how high-voltage electricity travels through a tube, which focuses on mirrors to create the laser engraving.

He said the beauty of using his equipment is getting it down to a simple on or off switch.

After designing the desired image or letters, Vincent said it's left to a flip of a switch.

"We tell it where to go and 'on' and 'off,'" Vincent said.

In addition to the laser engravings, Vincent's 3D print set up is just as impressive.

Once Vincent programs, designs or lays out the desired object's dimensions, it's then sent to printer, which compacts material into layers to create the desired item.

Vincent said he uses biodegradable resin, the same plastic material as a milk jug, which comes in various color choices that Vincent hand paints for the desired look.

In addition to providing custom work for a wide range of customers, Vincent also takes time to create for other local makers.

For example, when discussing his hobbies with The Daily Independent, Vincent's 3D printers were operating in the background, the nozzle slowly rotating out the resin to create millinery tools for a local hat maker.

One hat block took a whopping 17 hours to print, Vincent said, leaving plenty of time for him to dabble in creating Patriot and Iroquois-era tools, even war hatchets, axes and tomahawks.

Vincent said he locally sources with several businesses, including Christian Alexander, Gilliam Pharmacy and signage for Cowboys & Angels in Camp Landing.

While Vincent's printer churned out hat blocks, his lasers zapped away at engraving medals for a local high school for personalized student awards.

"Supporting local ... It's all I want to do," Vincent said, explaining he wants everyone to find their niche.

"I want people to learn," Vincent said.

However, "equipment doesn't make an artist," Vincent said, adding a paintbrush doesn't make one a Picasso and a pencil doesn't make someone a writer.

"You have to want to learn," Vincent said.

With his willingness to dabble in all things tech and software, Vincent eventually partnered with Forme & Ash Trading Company to further share his creations and customer base, now sharing his makings as far as the United Kingdom, Brazil and Argentina.

With virtually no software market in northeast Kentucky, "Technology opens the door to stay local," Vincent said.

"People think if its customizable, it has to come from overseas. It doesn't have to be mass produced," Vincent added, believing quality work is more likely out of shops like his.

"It's just incredible to make stuff that makes people happy," Vincent said. "I like making stuff that people like, even if I don't always think it's worth anything."