What’s the point of portraiture in an age of 3D Printing? An exploration of a hybrid between the digital and the hand made.

 

Last week, I got the opportunity to take my research into 3D Scanning and printing portraits to the next level, when I took part in a 3 day workshop at college with expert 3D printer and artist, Jonathan Keep.

Jonathan has developed and made a name for himself by sharing his design for a self-build ceramic printer that prints by extruding normal wet clay. It is automated coiling, done via a large syringe of clay, pushed out using an electric compressor and controlled digitally. Talking about his practice, the fascinating thing is how Jonathan creates his work from its very code that he then prints out. Like manipulating the dna of the designs, he works from first principles and enjoys the impact of, for example sound, waves as a randomising algorithm on how the form is generated.

Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to print the scan of my head, that I had had done at the Royal Academy in the Veronica Scanner last September. I was able to print in buff clay as well as porcelain and I achieved my aim to to produce hybrid work, part 3 D Printed part hand made. The heads stand about 12cm high, and took about 35mins to print out. It was fascinating to watch as the printer whirled continuously but struggled to print out the chin, nose, top of the heads, anywhere that was unsupported and gravity exerted the full force on the damp clay. Jonathan stepped in and place his paintbrush under the chin to provide extra support, and we used a hair dryer to dry the clay as quickly as possible, so that it could strengthen the clay before it imploded.

The end results were interesting. Everyone loved the stratified layering of the clay. It made the pieces look like they might be part of the rock face of a canyon. But I was quietly delighted that the machines were not really able to produce a facsimile of the scans.

 

On the second day, after the clay had slightly hardened, I decided to intervene by hand in the heads and introduce a hand-made element. On the porcelain head, I took my traditional ceramic tools and got stuck in modelling more detail to the facial expressions, and trying to right the chin and nose that had got elongated as gravity distorted the print. The heads had looked like Bruce Forsyth might have been my uncle. Working by hand was fun but nerve wracking. The clay was still quite soft, and as I manipulated the clay, the neck began to sag somewhat. I did not feel like I could do too much in case the head collapsed completely, but the contrast between the facial detail compared with the slightly blurred layering of the printed clay was interesting.

On the second head, printed in darker buff clay, I borrowed Jonathan’s medical syringe filled with clay, and amplified the ‘errors’ that had occurred during the printing by adding extra worms of clay, to areas of the print that had come out slightly wrong. So the top of the head, shoulders, and eyebrow and along the front all have a slightly bonkers appendages.

I also had a go at creating a form in Tinkercad, to test my basic CAD skills and to see how they behaved when 3D printed. Not bad for someone knocking on 50!

For me, I would call this technique automated coiling. It is achieved pretty quickly, but as all ceramicists know, clay does not really appreciate being hurried, and coping with gravity on wet clay is one of the principal challenges of ceramics. Using a 3D printer was no exception, but the haste and impossibility of pausing the act of coiling, and in my view makes it a major drawback as a technique for portraiture.

Below is the celadon glazed portrait that I had printed ‘professionally’ by Shapeways in the Netherlands using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) and thanks to the digital manipulation of a wonderful digital Kurt at Conceptual Vision Studio who touched up the original file from the Veronica Scanner at the RA to make it water tight. None the less, this was the biggest print that could be achieved, and when compared to the detail on the original scan, I was disappointed by the lack of details achieved. Kurt tried to made concave details for the pupils, but the glazing blurred this, and the head looks like that of a blind person with white eyes.

 

 

 

The Bigger Picture: ShareHaUs

At the end of last term, we were set an interdisciplinary academic unit called The Bigger Picture, in which I was teamed up with four students from other programmes: 2 Graphic Designers, 1 Architect and a Product Designer. In commemoration of  500 years of Thomas More’s Utopia, we were asked to come up with a response to two questions, one set by the course, and a second formulated by ourselves in response to a series of 6 keynote speeches by external experts from diverse backgrounds:

How can my individual area of design practice help to realise a different tomorrow?

 and

How can Flexible Space be used to bring Positive Change to a Community?

 

Over a 4 week period we were required to prepare a group presentation our ideas, live, including an engaging interactive element. Plus write an individual essay. For our interactive element, we gave each of our 50-stong audience a small ball of clay, and asked them to hold it behind their backs and then gave them 60 seconds to model an elephant without looking, just by touch. The result was a highly energized audience and a herd of delightfully wonky mini elephants. It was an exercise in the importance and pleasure of making things by hand.

Rather than me paraphrase my essay click here to have a read.  bigger-picture-group-6-team-5-joanna-pearl

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Stoking the flames

Last week was extraordinary. A 3 day whistle-stop tour of the manufactories of Stoke-on-Trent, the heartland of British Ceramics. We got a unique perspective on the history, the heritage that still stands the test of time, current best practice and the future of our industry. Starting with Emma Bridgewater, who was amazingly generous in her candor, sharing her experience of setting up a hand-made ceramics empire in the dying industrial embers of Stoke-on-Trent over 30 years ago. Go Emma! To a tour of Endeka Ceramics, which has been producing clay for the industry on its present site since the industrial revolution. Endeka are kindly sponsoring our next project by providing the Second Year CSM students with their eco once-fired clay and glaze, to get us to think about reducing our carbon footprint in our production methods. This was followed by the impressive Wedgwood factory, museum, shop and design studio, plus Johnson’s Tiles – ceramic making on a gargantuan scale, and last but not least Armitage Shanks / Ideal Standard who are steadily robotising their factories and producing 100’s of thousands of ‘pans’ and sinks each week.

 

The numbers of people involved in Stoke’s production is dwindling. For the big boys,  robotisation is the only way to survive. Ideal Standard and Johnson’s tiles employ around 35 people to run their factory floors in any given shift, with the factory running 24 hrs a day 362 days of the year. While Emma Bridgewater’s USP is based on the handmade, and employs around 300 workers who run 3 shifts a day, manipulating the plaster casts and hand decorating the ware with hand-carved sponges to her English cottage-inspired style.

We got home exhausted but bubbling with ideas for Manufactoring and Materiality. Watch this space …. Looks like my project will be a rye challenge to Take-Away food culture, and reflect on the importance of sharing home cooked meal – all in ceramics of course.

What’s the Point of Sculpted Portraits in an era of 3D Scanners?

Over the last 6 months, I have been grappling with the challenging question of what is the point of attempting to sculpt portraits in an era of 3D scanners and printers. After all, these amazing machines can make exact facsimiles of complex shapes including humans, showing all the tiny details, like eyelashes and wrinkles. How can I or any practicing portrait artist possibly compete? This summer, I had a go, taking part in a 3 day workshop with Portrait Artist Hazel Reeves at Morely College. She was full of top techniques of how to capture a likeness. See my rendition of Anne below.

 

 

 

But it seems that the Royal Academy is thinking about this challenge too. A few weeks ago I noticed an article about the public being invited to be 3D Scanned by The Veronica Scanner, the high tech brainchild of Madrid-based Factum Arte, located this week at the Royal Academy. All the time slots was all sold out when I tried to book but was so excited yesterday when I received an email saying I had won a competition to be included in the cohort of people being recorded.

The scan took all of 4 seconds, and despite my best efforts to think about how I would like to compose my face, when put in the scanning pod, my face went into a rictus stare. Reminiscent of the stress of being in a passport photo-booth, only this time 8 cameras on a mechanical arm whizzed round the pod taking 96 photographs of me from all angles.  Factum Arte will email the digital file of me in the coming days. I am now mulling over how I can explore the boundaries between exact printed portraits and hand modelling. There is a ceramic printer at college so the first step when terms starts will be to print and fire the Mini-Me.

Watch this space!