Amid grumblings of a “general fatigue” when it comes to software-based startups, a potentially transformative technology called 3D printing is poised to reach critical mass and mainstream awareness. Today’s news headlin...
Amid grumblings of a “general fatigue” when it comes to software-based startups, a potentially transformative technology called 3D printing is poised to reach critical mass and mainstream awareness. Today’s news headlines about the technology tend to focus on the extreme possibilities in being able to print objects on demand – from the terrors of things like a homemade 3D-printed gun to heartwarming tales of printed robotic hands for children born without fingers. But the innovation is also powering a revolution of a different kind. An emerging class of creatives are using 3D printing techniques, not to either save or destroy the world and the people in it, but simply create a little beauty along the way.
These creatives, makers of the new “handmade” goods, are selling their art in online storefronts like Etsy and Shapeways, as well as within brick-and-mortar stores, and even museums.
They range from technically adept programmers who never dabbled in hands-on art involving paint or clay or other materials, to formally trained artists and even do-it-yourselfers who taught themselves 3D modeling by watching tutorials on YouTube.
Regardless of how they got there, the end result is an output of affordably priced, print-on-demand goods that reflect their own unique vision and inspirations, whether that’s a new kind of jewelry that couldn’t exist before the capabilities introduced by 3D printing, one-of-a-kind items used to decorate your home, or objects which buyers help craft themselves, using simple online tools.
Here are some of their stories.
This is part one of an ongoing series which will showcase some of the art that’s being fueled by the increasingly accessible 3D printing technology, and the artists behind the work.
Part One: The Formally Trained Artist
Summer Powell has always been an artist. She has both undergrad and graduate degrees in graphic design, and has worked on a number of products involving mixed media, vacuum forming, and lenticular technology, while exploring the intersection of art and technology in years past.
Along with a collaborator, she once produced a clock which used high-resolution animations to tell the time, for example.
Powell says she first heard about 3D printing around ten years ago, and had been watching the space ever since, waiting for it to become viable for use in her art.
“I had industrial designer friends in New York, and I’d go see their prototyping 3D printing machines,” she says. “They were making prototypes of consumer electronics and some furniture.” But it wasn’t until a few years ago before Powell had the opportunity to begin playing around with 3D printing techniques herself.
She decided to pay a visit to Silicon Valley-based TechShop, one of the earlier “maker spaces,” as these tool-filled workspaces are called. TechShop, which has since expanded to several cities in California, New York, D.C., and elsewhere, offers a wide range of professional equipment which members can train on and use for just about any kind of project. It was where Square co-founder Jim McKelvey once built the first three protoypes for the Square card reader, and where a datacenter technology startup called Clustered Systems designed a prototype of a fanless liquid-cooling system which outperformed IBM in a “chill-off” contest.
But Powell didn’t want to build gadgets or technological components; she wanted to produce art.
“I created a prototype of this idea I had – which I still want to produce – of salt and pepper shakers,” she says. The object is designed to look like a wall socket, if laid flat on a table. The actual shakers then extrude upward from that. “It’s sort of a funny, visual pun,” says Powell.
Coming from a background in graphic design, Powell was used to doing a lot of what she describes as “virtual” work. But 3D pri