3D Printed Art

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Image of Joshua Harker's 3D Printed Permutation Prime
Feature image: Permutation Prime by Joshua Harker

Some people debate whether 3D printed art is actually ‘art’.

The English Oxford Dictionary defines art as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Per the above definition, 3D printed objects can certainly be considered art. To create unique 3D printed objects, you need creative human skill and imagination. The 3D printer and associated design software are simply tools that enable the artist to manifest his or her creation not unlike the paint brush, the chisel and the camera enable manifestation of creativity in the form of paintings, statues and photographs.

To me, there is really nothing to debate. Who among us does not appreciate certain 3D printed objects for their beauty or the amount of creative skill that went into their production?

Many high schools and colleges have embraced 3D printing and offer courses through their science programs. Below I will highlight three art schools that have courses dedicated to the 3D printing art form. Furthering the proposition that 3D printing is an art form, there are even marketplaces for artist to showcase and sell their creations.

In this post I highlight some of the artists and educational programs leveraging 3D printing as tool and medium to create some pretty astounding works of art.

College Programs

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and The Savannah College of Art and Design are three colleges with programs having 3D printing as part of their curriculum.

The Digital Fabrication course offered by MCAD allows students to explore both 3D printing and bronze casting to provide experience with historical and modern technologies for making art. MCAD’s Fine Arts Professor, Brad Jirka, says “making is not really about the technology or craft … it’s more about being able to make things that we envision or imagine … digital fabrication is just another tool for that.” The faculty at MCAD has also seen the computer modeling aspect of 3D printing help students visualize their ideas and create things.

The Sculpture degree program taught at the Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) incorporates 3D scanning and 3D printing in their Digital Fabrication course. SCAD also offers coursework in certain certificate and minor degree programs that incorporate aspects of 3D printing and computer modeling. The school’s Jewelry minor program includes “CAD and Rapid Prototyping for Jewelry Design” and teaches students how to transform their designs into tangible objects through computer aided design and 3D printing and the Electronic Design minor includes the Computer-aided Product Design course that teaches students techniques to create computer models for 3D printers and CNC machines.

Image of 3D printing lab at Tyler School of Art
3D printing lab – Tyler School of Art

The Tyler School of Art offers courses in CAD/CAM and Rapid Prototyping as part of their Metals/Jewelry/CAD-CAM degree program. In the Rapid Prototyping courses, students use ZCorp Z406 color 3D printers to test their 3D models as well as creating and building finished objects. Tyler’s web site features a number of student works created with 3D printing technology. All students at the Tyler School of Art also have access to the Digital Fabrication Studio which offers free 3D scanning services and 3D printing services for nominal material fees.

Marketplace – Buy And Sell 3D Printed Art

Alright, so you’ve just received your bachelor’s degree in fine arts but you don’t have thousands of dollars to open your own studio. What now? Where can you sell your creations?

There are a number of e-commerce sites like Treatstock and Etsy where makers can sell their wares. Two that I found to be more specifically directed to the 3D printing and artists are Shapeways and Saatchi Art. Each site has a different business model with Shapeways being dedicated exclusively to 3D printing and Saatchi Art being dedicated to artists working in all media including 3D printing. The common thread between the two is a marketplace for 3D printed art.

Headquartered in New York, NY, Shapeways started as a consumer 3D printing service and has grown into a full service platform helping individuals and businesses design, make and sell their 3D creations. With factories in New York and The Netherlands, the company has grown their network to over 1 million creators with over 10 million objects 3D printed.

What I think is cool about Shapeways is that they offer design and fabrication support as well as a marketing platform. This is a great resource for the artist who has visualized a work but does not have the resources to make multiple copies of their creations. For the 3D printing artist that has a fully developed design, Shapeways will process orders, 3D print and drop ship your artwork freeing up your valuable time to creating your art.

View Shapeways Art marketplace for inspiration.

Saatchi Art provides a platform for selling and purchasing art work including paintings, photographs, drawings and sculptures by over 60,000 artists worldwide. The Saatchi collection contains over 80,000 sculptures alone; many of them are high quality 3D printed objects with advanced post processing techniques.

Through Saatchi’s website, buyers can work with a curator to select pieces tailored to the buyer’s needs, budget and space.

Using Saatchi’s, user friendly, Visual Search option, buyers can peruse hundreds of works right on their computer screen. When an interesting work is clicked on, the search tool automatically enlarges the image of the selected work and also includes related works. Through further click selections on the works image, buyers are brought to a detailed description of the work including the artist’s summary of the piece, additional works from the artist as well as similar works from other artists.

Saatchi provides a step-by-step tutorial for artists including tips on writing your profile, photographing your pieces, pricing and shipping. Sold works are shipped directly from the artist to the collector and artists receive 65% of the profit on each sale.

Artists

There are many artists utilizing 3D printing to bring their visions to fruition, in this section, I’d like to highlight a few of the 3D printing artists whose work I admire.

Image of Joshua Harker's 3D printed Crania Anatomica Filigre
Crania Anatomica Filigre – Joshua Harker

Joshua Harker is a pioneer in 3D printed art. In fact, his silver Crania Anatomica Filigre is the highest kickstarter-funded sculpture to date. Mr. Harker’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. In addition to being featured in hundreds of articles in publications such as TIME, WIRED and Forbes, he has multiple awards and nominations dating back to 2009 when he won the Best 3 Dimensional award in the 33rd Annual Beverly Arts Center Competition.

Credit is given to Joshua’s Tangle series for being the first to penetrate beyond design and manufacturing limits of possibilities. These works are simply fascinating and are believed to be only possible through 3D printing.

The process that Joshua uses to produce these exquisite bronze forms starts with digital sculpting using design software. Next the pre-form is fabricated via a binder jetting 3D printing process where a binder material is jetted onto a layer of polymer powder in a specific pattern. Layer-by-layer this jetting process is repeated until the final form is complete. The polymer form is enclosed in a ceramic mold and then melted away leaving the negative of the original form within the mold. Liquid bronze is then poured into the mold cavity and left to cool. After removing from the mold, the cast piece is sandblasted and polished into its final presentation.

Image of Bethsheba grossman's Balancing Squid and Metatron
Blancing Squid and Metatron-Bethsheba Grossman

Bathsheba Grossman works primarily in 3D printed steel but also produces pieces in plastic, brass and precious metals such as silver. Using Rhinoceros and Blender as her primary design software, Bathsheba creates, what I would describe as, intricate, twisting, entangled pieces. She also has a series of bottle openers including Squid Pro Quo which self-balances on the bottle cap. A true creator, Bathsheba is writing a plug-in code for Rhinoceros to generate sculptures.

Bathsheba has quite a few pieces that are very reasonably priced and her Metatron is actually one of the earliest works of art to be 3D printed in steel and whereas Joshua Harker’s pieces are relatively large, say roughly the size of a basketball, Bathsheba’s works tend to be smaller making them ideal for jewelry. She also offers .stl files for a few of her works for others to print at home.

Marco Mahler specializes in mobiles and kinetic sculptures. His 3D printed mobiles are believed to be the first of their kind created by additive manufacturing and have been featured in 3D print shows in California, Paris and Dubai.

Unlike mobiles designed and built with conventional manufacturing methods, 3D printing technology enables Marco to design and build mobiles that come out of the print chamber fully assembled with all pieces connected as designed. His Quaternary Tree mobile has over 1300 separate pieces so assembling this piece by hand, without the benefits of 3D printing, would take hundreds of hours.

You can purchase Marco’s mobiles on Shapeways. His works range in price from less than $10 to $2800.

Mr. Mahler also works in other media. In fact, one of his non-3D printed mobiles was recently featured in the new movie The Upside with Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman. He also keeps track of other 3D printing artists and has compiled a listing on his website

Conclusion

Just as the hammer and chisel are tools to release the statue from its marble encasement, the 3D printer is another tool available to the sculptor to create the form he or she envisions.

3D printed art is real and progressing.

Colleges are investing resources and teaching students how to create in this medium. Artists are practicing their craft, expressing their creativity and making money with this new technology.

Through marketplaces like Shapeways and Saatchi Art, 3D printing artists are connecting with collectors and further advancing this relatively new art form. Watching this field blossom is going to be exiting.

What will you create?

If you are an artist, a collector or just have an interest in 3D printed art please provide any insights you have in our comments section below.

Image of author - JeffJeff is a mechanical engineer, designer, maker and registered Patent Agent with a passion for and professional focus on 3D printing and additive manufacturing.
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