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There are many fields where the interaction between art and technology is essential. 3D printing is one such field. Because of the limitless possibilities of 3D printing, different people in different fields have found their own unique ways to utilize the technology. Tom and Tracy Hazzard interview artist Kate Blacklock. Kate has been using 3D printing to create fresh ceramic art. She shows you her way of properly integrating art and technology, even if she’s not the most technically-inclined person.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print Ceramics – Collaboration Between Art & Tech
Kate Blacklock is an artist out of Rhode Island who is doing a lot to help 3D printing advocacy as well as in 3D print ceramics. We saw a Public Knowledge blog post about the panel discussions that have been going on for the 3D/DC 2016 event in April. It was an event designed around bringing exposure to Congress of 3D printing and what it can do. The idea was to get them excited with 3D printing by showing it, to make them aware of 3D printing as well as letting the government to allocate more resources and funds for the education of 3D printing is important.
She calls herself an unlikely spokesperson for 3D printing. I love that as an artist. We haven’t had an artist for a while. I was really looking forward in talking about her design process. She is not a technical person which makes it exciting. She is an artist and a professor teaching others Industrial Design in the Rhode Island School of Design.
Thanks so much for joining us,Kate, we are so excited to talk about art and 3D print ceramics today.
We got connected with you, and ironically you are in our home turf where Tom and I met back in Rhode Island, but we got connected to you from the 3D/DC 2016 Program. Tell me a little bit about what 3D/DC is about and what particular thing that panel is meant to do there.
It was my first time participating. It was on Capital Hill, and it was a conference put together to get Congress people interested and aware of the different aspects of 3D printing. The panel that I served on was related to the art. What was going on and how 3D printing was affecting artist organizations and things like that.
What is your take on that and what can congress do for our artists?
Understanding and being aware of what is going on, and helping to allocate money for education in the arts is what is happening here. Seeing what is happening in 3D printing, within schools, cities, and how that can be supported through legislation.
There are lots of great things that 3D printing is going to do here for independent artists and freelancers. Its got a lot of interesting interactions with intellectual property and design rights as well as whole bunches of business issues. Maybe there is something that can be done.
Yes, that is one of the things that we discussed on the panel. One thing we discussed is these issues that are related to printing, and fraud. Issues that have been around before 3D printing in making projects and pictures have been around for a while. These were tricky to discuss. Now it is creeping into 3D printing.
There is still a lot of counterfeiting and fraud happening there as well. It has been around for a long while. I agree with you on that. 3D printing is raising it back up to a level of interest again, but it is something that we have to learn to deal with to work in the industry. Tell us a little bit about how you got started in 3D printing, and 3D print ceramics.
I feel like I am an unlikely spokesperson in 3D printing. I think three years ago in one of the classes that I teach at the Rhode Island School of Design, I teach in the Industrial Design department. I teach a tableware and ceramic production class. I have this student doing this research on a cup project. He brought some photos that he got from the internet. I was looking at this cup. I could not figure out how this piece was made. I did research on it and the first most shocking thing to me was that it was actually not a ceramic cup. It was a rendering of a ceramic cup. It only existed virtually. It was designed by a Spanish designer who has this design company It was designed to be 3D printed.
I was trying to found out more about this as he was printing through Shapeways in New York. I saw actual pieces that he has printed, rather than just the renderings. They were printed by the facility which was in Boston. It was just in my backyard. I contacted them and got really interested in this process. The possibilities that transformed in ceramics let me realized that a lot of the stuff that was printed outside of this rendering were pieces that could be made many other ways in ways that were much easier.
That is fantastic and it sounds like the same kind of path when we discovered that stuff out there are things that can be done in so many manufacturing techniques. What needs to be 3D printed should only be 3D printed.
I totally agree. The material has limitations with ceramics. The process has limitations particularly in the way that you are talking about the process of production with hand building. When you work something by hand, you have more flexibility, but you can be spending a thousand hours on a piece that is very intricate. You can do intricate pieces with 3D print ceramics; you can also do them in production. That makes it pretty exciting.
There was someone who created a different espresso cup every day. We were fascinated with her. What we really were questioning at that time in that episode was looking to understand whether or not 3D print ceramics is equivalent in terms of its strength, capabilities, and material. It has the same characteristics. We can talk now about that.
Tell us a little bit about the differences on the overall characteristics when you get your plate cup or whatever that is done in the end of the day. Do 3D print ceramics have the same properties?
That depends. I think there is a difference between working with the material and looking at the material. I think looking at this image would be hard for anybody to not say that, except for the form of the pieces. It is unusual with its kind of material. Working with this is more difficult than with working with clay. Fundamentally it is ceramic material. The main difference is that you can accomplish it in terms of form. It is evolving the concrete that I was working with. It was continuing it to last since we started developing the powder that they were using. It is changing pretty rapidly. There are some issues with it, but those issues are that more people are using it. The company pushed them to try to develop better surfaces.
Do you know about the durability of the 3D print ceramics that are made on Shapeways? Can they go on the dishwasher? If somebody were to make a tableware items out of this 3D printed thing, do they have the same kind of durability with that?
Yes, that is because at the end they have ceramic clays on it that is the same commercial clays that you might see on ceramic pieces. That is the surface. The difference with the actual ceramic underneath is it is more porous. Before it is glazed, it is a little bit more fragile. But once this has the glass coating on it, it becomes strong. You can then put it on a dishwasher or in the microwave. I pushed the intricacies of the form is what I wanted to do. It is probably not the best way to go on this point, but I do think that at some point in the future, this might be used in the industry to make table ware.
In what way do you think this will happen, in terms of its pricing and processing?
That is more of a chemical and technical development on the material. In terms of the pricing, I think it is a big stumbling block right now. The time that takes to print objects is also one blocker. The printing that was done with the machines that we were using takes more time with cask or grand pressed or when done in some of the other industrial methods that are used in the industry right now.
Isn’t it true that a lot of those designs are something that you couldn’t cast easily? It seems you are exploring forms in 3D print ceramics that are uniquely suited to 3D printing.
There is no way that this could be cast, because there are quadruple levels of layers. You couldn’t make a mold that would work. There are just thousands of undercuts.
These ceramic vessels have great intricacy and cuts. You get layers going on. You need to take a look on them, see them for yourself, and understand why they can’t be made with other methods.
That is what I wanted to accomplish. It was multi step process. I worked with a computer modeller because my skill in modelling is limited. The person who I worked with knew nothing about the 3D printing process, or the ceramic process. We were working with 3D systems, and it was real collaboration. It was another thing for me as an artist working alone in my studio, is something that is different for me. It was still exciting and enjoyable though.
I think that is really an enjoyable addition for us compared to the days when we were working solo. I hope you enjoy that too.
I don’t think that the piece that I ended up making is that there is no way I could have done them without the skills that Matt had on the computer. When I started, I had a rough idea in my head of what I wanted to make. I knew that it had evolved when I was working with him on the computer. That was fun because we see what the computer allowed me to do. I started with designs that I have done in Illustrator vessel. There were decorative elements that come from paintings that I was working on. Those were inspired by sculptures that I have done before.
I had a rough idea on it in the past. Matt understood what I was trying to do. He developed his own technique on his computer to allow me to do these things that I wanted to do. That was exciting for him and for me. The forms could only come about once he figured out how he do it in the programs that he was working in.
Is he somebody who is associated with RISD or was he coming from a different association?
He teaches at RISD. I was doing some asking around about 3D print ceramics and CAD and came to him.
Do you know what software CAD program he uses?
We don’t have the same background and experience there. We do that, where he has to come up with ways every time. People are always asking us, and I am sure that they are going to be asking you. How do you get that out of your CAD program? It is not straight because it was an art within itself. It is not a linear process. I can completely understand and see how these forms become very appropriate on the different aspects on it. People ask what is the best CAD program to use. There is really no answer to that because that depends on what you want to use. I am glad to hear that that has been your experience.
It is funny that the intersections and the way that the parts go in your 3D print ceramics, is the approach that we are taking in our own artistic work. The idea to do the intersections the way we wanted to have is cool. The finishing and the color pieces is really interesting too. I am curious on the finishing and the color placements that you have on a couple of your pieces. Is the glazing process that you are using with the ceramic give you that kind of flexibility, or is it difficult because that is traditionally done.
I approach 3D print ceramics in two different ways. I wanted some control, whereas the system glazes the entire work. I wanted some control over it so they sent me unglazed pieces, and I did the glazing in my studio. I had a power that I wanted. It was tricky because of the difference in the material. The glazing is not normal glazing. It does not glaze as expected on the material the way it is with normal ceramics and clay products. I had to figure out the color and the glaze on there. That took some time. There were also other pieces that I did where I used some of the glazes, and they did the remaining glazing.
I also make intersections because of the limitation that 3D print ceramics have. I wanted to make it as large scale as it gets. The only way to do that is to print things in intersections that I can stack in a variety of ways. Through this, I get the biggest bang for it. Stacking things in different orders to make pieces are also what I do.
Were you able to do the unglazed ceramics and work on to them more, and join them with additional wet ceramic material to make a piece before it is glazed? Or are they joined the different way or are they not joined?
All of the above. I would get the pieces fired the first time. One of the biggest differences that they have is that they are fired in the hottest temperature. The glaze firing is the lower temperature. The benefit of that is that they would be their most vitreous. They were not fragile as they would be if you have fired them first with low temperature before. I would get these pieces and sections, and I could glaze and stack them the way I wanted to. Some of them were glazed together. I would stack them with glazes on it. They would then be glazed together. It depended on the forms.
I love that. It is working with technology, but then adding in your own artistic hand.
The funny thing was the whole point of it is that I thought of each pieces to be in addition. Those first rounds of pieces were really one of a kind because of the way that they were cut and restacked. They could be reprinted and re cut and also restacked in the same way, but the second round of pieces I did were really more into the stacking. Those were the pieces that were printed and glazed by the company.
What do you think that the ceramic world and 3D printing needs to be more commercially viable besides speed?
My focus is more on education and studio art. I work with industrial design students, but my focus is more related to studio practice.
What is the art on it?
It is interesting. When I became aware of this, I decided that I wanted to put together an exhibition and invite artists that were not ceramic artists, but were painters and sculptors, to participate in this exhibition. This would be with 3D printed ceramics. These are for several reasons. I like the idea that folks that do not have ceramic sculpting backgrounds could now work on it. It offers the capability for artists to use the material even though they do not have the knowledge of the material. That was a challenge to me. It coincided with national ceramic conference. There were 4000 ceramic artists, teachers, hobbyists, and collectors here in town. We did a panel about 3D printing ceramics. It is interesting because there are a lot of ceramic artists that believe that you can only make things with your hands for them to be real art things.
That will open up a big can of worms and backlash to it.
I knew that. That was my interest in doing this and having this conversation. One of the other artists that I invited and into the panel have been doing some things that are 3D printed. It was a conceptual project that was very successful. We had 500 people that came to our panel discussion. I was waiting for a lot of skepticism. There was also a lot of excitement on it. There are also a lot of schools that now have MakerBot printers. The question is on what will happen with the excitement of the new toy.
When certain skeptics get to understand it better, I think it becomes another tool on your tool box. It is not the only tool, but it can become part of the process. I am a very big supporter of obviously 3D printing in general, and I don’t think that it takes away from the art or design of creating something. It depends on the artist or the designer in doing the work. If they let the computer rule them and just doing basic things that a computer is capable of in terms of creating geometry and algorithmic things, then that is one thing. If it goes otherwise, then that is legitimate.
I understand that the department has a studio or a lab of MakerBot 3D printers.
There are all sorts of 3D printers. I think pretty much in every department. I know that this has been in the last two or three years. Students will make models that are 3D printed. Seeing how that is also changing their designs and being able to talk about that, then that is pretty interesting. I am not in the ceramic business. I don’t think that they yet have a 3D print ceramics MakerBot printer. I am not sure.
I am sure that it is going to come eventually. Do you have any example objects that you would like to talk about to highlight some of the unique aspects of 3D printing that you are doing? Let’s talk about that form that is only capable of doing in 3D printing.
I don’t have a lot of pieces right now, but this is one of the first pieces which is an example of what we are talking about in terms of the intricacy of this piece. It is pretty large as it is 14 inches tall. It is in sections. This is one of the pieces that I altered. I cut them and reattached them in different ways, because some of these were test prints. There were issue with the printing that did not completely print. I found that really exciting because I can manipulate it. This is what I am talking about in terms of intricacy.
These are really complex forms. It is very 3 dimensional. It has different layers. If you made a mold for it, part of the mold would remain inside the part. You could never remove it.
The intricacy caused some areas that would just collapse in building. With the powder printing process, the powder creates a support system while it is printing and drawing, enabling it do stuffs. The inside and the outside also got this structure all the way through when I cut the piece. It is not just something in the outside layer.
Was this done by Shapeways or was this from the company in Boston?
This was the company in Boston that Shapeways was using to print their things. It was a part of 3D Systems. 3D Systems decided they want to get out of ceramic printing. Two principle of the company are starting up another ceramic printing company. They are in the process of that. They are wonderful and they are in the process of starting up again. They were bought by this bigger company and there were issues with that.
This is one of the sections. It is just amazing. The form language of these pieces that I worked on was basically related to the European horse runs of the 1800s. A lot of those are very decorative friends. People would spend hours and hours on it. What was great about working this way is that I just started with a couple of illustrator designs. We then made a tile of the design and built layers on it. We then made forms wherever and whenever we wanted to. The collaborative process and being hands on person myself was very interesting in that. We work side by side with the computer. We can manipulate the form. My hands were just all over his computer screen. Now I need to learn Rhinoceros to do this myself, but I think that is not going to happen.
It took us a long time. I don’t think about what commands I need to use with this, I just go creative and go on what I want. I do not discourage you form learning it, but it is wonderful if you have interest on it, because you have deeper relationship with the software.
It has crossed my mind so many times in the last couple of years that we have been 3D printing actively, that I wish I learned CAD at the depth Tom has. I realized that I could not – I gave up on it. The truth that Tom is a gift to me, allows me to sketch and learn on the direction is really nice. This collaborative partnership is great. We are not alone. Out there as well, I see other artists have a coder or a CAD specialist working with them. They are out there doing that. That partnership is doing well. Creating the art and combining that with technical skills is really nice.
Tom also has artistic skills which made our designs go to the next level. We benefit greatly from the intimacy of having been together for so long. We are extensions of each other, and that if you continue to work like that, you will find the same thing. You won’t have to spend time to work on CAD.
If I have a spare 10,000 hours I would do it.
I remember that there was a class that was very expensive. You could go and learn it if you wanted to. The reality is as modern CAD 3D modelling came to be, we just immersed ourselves doing it and started doing it along the way. A lot of people know CAD.
From an educational standpoint, it is the same growing pain. When we were there and just having one CAD station, the same thing has been happening for a lot of universities and colleges where there is just one 3D printer. It is going to start to embed itself in the curriculum. Today, you can just industrial design with no CAD in it. The one you discover is really exciting for me. The next generation that is going to have is really exciting.
I want to say that when I did that project with the artist, I also included my students from my class. Each one of the students designed a cup that we had 3D printed. Because they are mostly senior and juniors, they all have experience in working on CAD. The pieces that they made were really amazing. They made it to the point where they were also learning ceramics. They were getting a little bit of the knowledge of the material, but their designs were just beautiful. I also emphasized with them that I wanted them to push what could be done and not just make pieces that we could not. Every single one of them pushed the design in one way.
I think we should drop the microphone there. It is wonderful. Thanks so much, we would really appreciate for taking the time for us. There is so much valuable information. I hope students would really find this valuable because these are so fascinating.
Thank you, it is really fun being here.
3D Print Ceramics – Collaboration Between Art & Tech – Final Thoughts
I think there are so many fascinating things that we learned on that interview about 3D print ceramics which makes me excited. One of the things that I don’t want to do is to debate on if it is design if you are using the computer. The computer is a tool, and so it is yes. We are in the messy middle. I do think it is valid. It is art and it is design if you use the computer. But I think Kate is really the perfect example of that – an artist that is using different tool for her, finding it, and making it work for her. The reality is that we don’t see 3D printing as a toy. That is not how we degrade it in our design process. We integrate it into our workflow and design thinking. Once that happens, it is not anymore a toy. It is fun, but it does not have to be a toy to be fun.
What I really like hearing about is her students that are doing some small ceramic cup designs and creating 3D print ceramics. When you take a real design student who understands how to create things and how to think about as well as what to make in making emotional connections with people, and combine that with opportunities that 3D printing presents is really wonderful. You do not have to explain to a design student about everything. They see what the tool and the technology can do, they are already there. We can teach anyone how to 3D print, but we cannot just teach anyone on how to design. That is the harder part. Figuring out what to design and how to design is not as easily talk. It takes a long time to teach that. It takes a long time to spur that thinking and practicing to be good on it.
The universe is conspiring to send us a message that we should be involved in 3D print ceramics. When I asked her, I had no idea that it is going to be about 3D print ceramics. It was just coming full circle this month that I think we have to consider it. I wanted to have our dishes to be 3D printed. I want to test it and put it in the dishwasher or microwave. Other than the surface quality of the 3D print ceramics, that material may be a little bit porous or have different characteristics than traditionally sculpted ceramics. It has the same properties once it is done.
If the 3D Systems machines make the ceramic, buyers go into that vitreous stage. Vitreous means that it has the properties of glass. It becomes on what to we understand to be plate and dishes. It is an industry term thrown out there. If we then were able to double glaze it in a more artistic work on the coloring work of that and glaze it again, can we do just that? We are designing on the podcast. This is like business opportunities. Those places are already made where you can pick something on the shelf that is done. You then paint it with the different colors, and they do the other things and they fire it. We did it once with our children and sister’s kids where they have their hands and feet on a big platter.
I want to do some of our own pottery and we could pay them a fee. If we are going to do a host of dishes, you can do it across and you can call a business experimenter. Is that an opportunity for some local business to differentiate themselves? Have some unique designs created for it already is important. How does one store compete and become a destination? It might be sending in unique content and 3D print it on your own private stock. Whether you are a small bakery and you are going to have 3D printed sugar art that you offer which is unique, but you don’t have the labor for that. You can freelance someone to do it. This is an opportunity for main street businesses as they differentiate themselves while going on the gap. We wanted to have it now, but it is like getting the Titanic to turn over. There are ways where we can infiltrate retail. I am super excited about this. I want to do this. 3D print ceramics will be our summer project.
About Kate Blacklock
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