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3D printing

In summer 2016, I received Myers Foundation research funding from the WVU School of Art and Design to create the Character Generator series, my first body of work made entirely with 3D scanning and 3D printing processes. I began this series by scanning small temporary studies made from clay, metal, wood, and other found objects, a process which unified each of these disparate constructions into a cohesive whole. This aspect of the process was quite liberating, as it allowed me to work in a direct, improvisational manner, much like creating a digital collage. My preconceived notion of 3D scanning was that it would be just like making a mold to reproduce an exact replica of an object. However, I found this process was more akin to taking a fleeting, snapshot impression of an object, and I fully embraced the distortions and digital chatter inherent to these technologies.

In fall 2016, I had the pleasure of discussing this research project at the annual Southeast College Art Conference (SECAC) in Roanoke, Virginia. My presentation, entitled Fragments of Signifiers: 3D Printing & Scanning As Digital Collage, was part of the panel discussion No Hands?: Digital Fabrication and Craftsmanship chaired by artist McArthur Freeman, with fellow artist panelists Kelly O’Briant and Ryan Buyssens. All in all, I think The Character Generator series marks a significant and very exciting step in my artistic growth. The process of assembling these sculptures imbues the Character Generator series with appealing qualities of memory, humor, and cryptic beauty, and I have no doubt this research will lead to more ambitious art making endeavors using new technologies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In fall 2015, I taught an advanced sculpture course in the West Virginia University School of Art and Design focusing specifically on metal casting processes. One of the assignments for this class involved creating both a cast bronze sculpture and a customized container for this sculpture. I asked the students to think of this project as a 21-st century reliquary, engaging broader conceptual issues of memory, belief, history, family, spirituality, and time. There was also a strong writing and research component to this assignment, which enabled students to develop their ideas more fully over the course of the term.

For this project, students were required to make their bronze patterns using 3D printing and scanning processes. Most of these students had never cast bronze before, so 3D printing their patterns forced them to work at a smaller, more accessible scale. This technology also helped students get intricate pattern detail much faster than conventional pattern making. In addition, PLA plastic patterns can be burned out of investment molds just like wax patterns, which allowed students to learn the most fundamental principles of lost wax casting.

Students began this project by gathering family heirlooms, memorabilia, keepsakes, and other personal objects they deemed important. Next, they used a rotational tabletop 3D scanner to record these objects. Some students worked directly, scanning items imbued with personal significance & sentimental attachment, while other students invented or modified objects that evoked these strong qualities of memory. From these scans, PLA plastic prints were created using a MakerBot Replicator Mini Compact 3D Printer. To offset the material needs of this endeavor, I was happy to receive an Academic Innovation Technology Integration Grant from the West Virginia University Teaching & Learning Commons Sandbox

Students then assembled these patterns onto wax sprue systems & embedded them in traditional plaster and sand investment molds. After the patterns were evacuated from the molds in a burn out kiln, these hot molds were transported to the foundry area and filled with molten bronze. Students then explored finishing and patina processes to clean up their bronze castings, while resolving the final version of their sculptures using a variety of fabrication, construction, and display methods. I think my students successfully bridged the gap between traditional sculpture making processes and emerging technologies with this project, resulting in some excellent solutions to the idea of a contemporary reliquary.