Tom and Tracy Hazzard chats with Bridgette Mongeon – sculptor, artist, and author – who shares with us what motivated her to go beyond traditional sculpting techniques. She talks about how 3D printing plays a role in her fine art process by helping her sell clients on new projects and making her more productive. Through her book called 3D Technology In Fine Art And Craft, she explains the flexibility of 3D printing, what and how to use different mediums for creating memorable art pieces.
Listen to the podcast here:
Art And Culture Through The 3D Looking Glass With Bridgette Mongeon
Hi. This is Tracy and Tom. This is the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast. We’re finally going to get to talk to an artist/designer. That’s great. We’ve been doing a lot of podcasts where we’ve been doing talking industry people and material specialists, software guys and sales guys and all this stuff. That’s great. But we finally get to talk to someone who’s on the same wavelength as to what we’re doing. That’s really exciting because I understand she’s really a fine artist. She is, she’s a sculptor.
It’s Bridgette Mongeon. She has already written a book called Digital Sculpting with Mudbox, which is a ZBrush type of tool, which she says that she goes between both. She’s got a book coming out in September called 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft: Exploring 3D Printing, Scanning, Sculpting and Milling, which is quite a big use of digital tools. We really just talk about FFF here or FDM, whichever way you want to term it. We just really talk about that. She’s doing much broader things with it. We talk about our process a lot here. Bridgette is going to talk about her process and some really interesting things that she’s done and some projects that she’s been involved with. All of that ties into just this complete interest in bringing art and technology together to create. On the other side of that is the really important opportunity to make a living doing that. This is someone who is making a living clearly doing this. She’s added it into her process and she can make a bigger living, she talks about that. Let’s listen to Bridgette.
We’re finally going to get to talk to an artist, designer. We’ve been doing a lot of episodes that we’ve been talking to industry people, materials specialists, software guys, sales guys, and all this stuff. That’s great but we finally get to talk to someone who’s on the same wavelength as to what we’re doing.
That’s exciting because I understand she’s a fine artist.
She’s a sculptor. She’s Bridgette Mongeon. She has already written a book called Digital Sculpting with Mudbox, which is a ZBrush type of tool and which she says that she goes between both. She’s got a book coming out called 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft: Exploring 3D Printing, Scanning, Sculpting, and Milling, which is quite a big use of digital tools. We talk about FFF here or FDM, whichever way you want to term it. She’s doing much broader things with it. We talk about our process a lot here.
Bridgette is going to talk about her process and some interesting things that she’s done and some projects that she’s been involved with, but all of that ties into this complete interest in bringing art and technology together to create. On the other side of that is the important opportunity to make a living doing that and this is someone who is making a living clearly doing this. She’s added it into a process and she can make a bigger living. She talks about that.
Bridgette, thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
We’re excited to talk to another artist. It seems that we’ve been mostly talking to lots of business podcasters, educators, which I know that you are as well. It’s nice to talk to other artists and designers out there. We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say and what the focus of your book is. Tell us a little bit about that book first.
Thank you for letting me share. I have been trying to pitch this book for years. I had publishers tell me, “There is no need for a book of this sort.” The book is 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft: Exploring 3D Printing, Scanning, Sculpting, and Milling. I took those things because, for me as an artist, those were the things that I was using on a regular basis, the 3D printing of course and the CNC milling because I go large and not small. I am a traditional sculpture, as well as a digital sculptor. I needed to have scanned in there and it combines them all. I’m featuring 80 artists from all over the world, incredible artwork, designers, architects, a little bit of everything. It’s for the artists and those people who are starting out that don’t know how to do all of this but also for those people who may be a graphic designer or maybe someone who’s dabbling in 3D printing but they want to explore other venues and either go larger or smaller or combine these processes.
Combining traditional and new technologies at the same time.
I’m excited about it. It’s an exciting book.
That’s great because there’s so little out there. When Tom first told me that he wanted to start 3D printing, I was like, “Okay.” I’m a research person. I always pull all the Kindle books I can possibly pull, figure out what’s going on in the market, and read everything I can and there was nothing out there. You can get a basic overview but there was certainly nothing about application and design or art and that’s fantastic that this is going to be coming out.
If you’re an artist or if you’re a designer or, even if you dab a little bit in 3D printing, there are people that come to the table and they go, “I don’t even know if my computer can handle the software. How do I figure that out?” It’s those basic things. Can you 3D print by a push of a button? No. There are all these other steps.
We say that all the time. It is not that easy.
People don’t know. Also, what’s cool is people don’t know that there’s so much out there that’s free. You don’t have to invest in a lot of things. You can do a lot of this for free and we share those resources.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got started and what attracted you to 3D printing?
As a sculptor, several years ago, I lost the use of my right hand and all that use of pushing that clay. My husband at the time said, “Why don’t you think about 3D sculpting? Maybe it’ll extend your career.” I did. I was asked to write an article in sculpture review back in 2007 and that’s how I know exactly when all of this started. I kept watching it because I would go to SIGGRAPH, which is a conference for those people who are into computer graphics but the output was not something that would interest me at the time. I kept watching it going, “You’re not right there yet.”
It’s a little too soon.
Give it some more time and either it was not there yet or it was too expensive. I watched as these things progressed and where they came from. Of course, I had surgery on my hands, so I’ve got the use of my hand back, but what I discovered was I have a tool that can play a huge role. In 3D technology, I can create 3 to 4 times as much artwork in my year of creating artwork than I could doing traditional processes.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the process that many sculptors are going through with using three 3D printing?
There’s a chapter in the book which I love, it’s called the Foundry of the Future. I take everybody through one job that I’ve worked on, which was a fifteen-foot tiger for Grambling State, Louisiana that was cast in bronze. I take everybody through that entire process because I started the digital design on the computer and that was approved. Sometimes I use these digital designs also to sell my client on a job. I can often sell up the job because I can display it in a way that nobody can see if you’re sketching it on a piece of paper.
In the book, I took people through that. In that one chapter, I go through all the different traditional processes of lost-wax of bronze casting. I show how 3D printing is infiltrating those processes at different levels and in different places. To me, that was a fascinating connection to make in my own mind. There are three things that I mentioned, of course, the build envelope, which is the size that things can be 3D printed or milled and the detail that can be gained in that. You have the building envelope, the detail, and also the cost factor. The costs have got to come to a point where it’s feasible. It’s much cheaper for me to go and sculpt and cast a bronze than it would be to 3D print a bronze, but those things are coming into play. They’re starting to even out. I’m excited about that.
We’ve been hearing about these bigger build envelopes. What was the size of that one?
It was 2x2x2ft. It was big.
The Gigabot was under $10,000. The price of an even larger build envelope is coming down.
Some of the artists that I’m featuring in the book who are doing 3D printing and clay, which I’m excited about, they’re doing some massive pieces with this 3D printing and clay. I’m fascinated with that too.
Because we’re furniture designers first and foremost so the size is a big thing for us, the idea that it could be happening for us as well. I’m sure for artists as well as it is for us as designers, the iteration process is a critical part of it. Obviously, when you’re casting in bronze or doing something like that if you’ve made a mistake, it’s costly.
The other thing with being able to use all these processes, for example, I did this fifteen-foot bronze sculpture for Grambling using the CNC and enlarging through the CNC, which is computer numerically controlled for those people who don’t know and it’s a subtractive process. At the same instance, I had a digital model, so then I could go and I could 3D print smaller pieces. I’ve expanded my sale point because not only did I do this huge monumental piece but I did the smaller one. I can sell these to the school and I can take the design and do other things with it, which I can do much more readily and easier because it’s manufacturing. It’s not costing me as much to manufacture as if I were to send it to China and do it that way. I can experiment with that. You could see how my sale point has grown with these processes.
We’ve been hearing that. You mentioned the Foundry of the Future that many foundries are looking at doing that because it’s great. If your sculpture goes into a museum, the museum might want to offer these in their museum store and there are many more opportunities for continued business.
I finished a bust for Dallas Baptist University and they called me and they said, “The family because it’s a deceased, loved one said, ‘Can you do one maybe 80%?’” It’s like, “Yes, I have a little button inside of me that I can press to go 80% but I can scan it.” They thought, “Maybe we could use these as awards. We’ve got the big bust in the school and maybe we’ll give these little ones away.” I’m constantly having this thing where another client called and said, “We want an eighteen-inch figure but we’d like to give one away to everybody in the field that’s a little smaller.” My possibilities are endless.
Have you experienced scanning your sculptures yet?
I scan them all the time.
You do it yourself?
I have a NextEngine scanner. That’s also part of my process. I probably make more work for myself. I may sculpt it on the computer. For example, I’m working on another project, which is a monumental sculpture of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter tea party. I did this sculpture inside the computer to sell it to my client and then they said, “We don’t want life-sized. Can you make the rabbit eight feet tall?” Instead of me having to go and make another maquette, I press a button and ZBrush and make this guy bigger and the table smaller and I can rearrange all these things. What I’ve done with that process is he saw the digital model and I tried to train my people into saying, “The digital model, what you see is not what it’s going to look like. It’s kind of what it’s going to look like.” They’re pieces that I throw together because half of the time I haven’t sold the project when I’m putting this together.
Your artistic process is going to take over and you’re going to discover ways.
I want to do it as fast as I can. I take it downstairs and I do a maquette in the studio. I did a ten-inch maquette of the rabbit. I scan the rabbit in and then I brought him into ZBrush. I cleaned him up. I write about this in the book, there’s a new job thing and that is the middleman between us artists who want to create and the 3D printing companies. I send my stuff off for somebody else to fix the files and make them workable because I don’t want to have anything to do with it. It’s a whole new area of income for people who are interested in doing that.
I had a couple of people fix one of the pieces for Alice in Wonderland because I’m 3D printing. I’m hiding 150 elements of the story in this Alice in Wonderland monumental sculpture. The 150 element is because this is the 150th anniversary of the story. I’m sculpting these things on the computer and then I 3D print them. I’m taking them downstairs into the traditional studio and I’m embedding them into the bark, the tree, the leg or whatever so people have to find these 150 elements.
Where’s this going to be installed?
It’s in a park in Texas. I can’t reveal that until the next park.
That sounds great though. There’ll be lots of interaction.
You’ll be able to go to the park with your picnic and sit down at this bronze table and have lunch with the Mad Hatter and Alice. If the table is taken, walk around and try to find those 150 items.
It’s one thing to design in a computer and yet another thing to interact with it. We always go to full scale, which there are so many companies that don’t and it’s evident when you buy the product.
In my research and some of the people that I’ve been talking to with all these artists, I was curious because there’s also this disconnect between having something on the computer and then touching it. I have found that people said it took 3 to 7 3D prints before they felt that the modifications that they needed to make were perfect in that design. I thought that was interesting.
I find at least that many.
Do you tend to be on the higher side of that? Maybe more like seventeen brands?
It depends on how complicated your design is. We are definitely pushing the edge of what can be done in 3D printing. We create all original art for our models. We’re not downloading things and building off of them in general. It definitely is a long process.
I’m interested. It seems that to have a fused deposition modeling printer there that can print it off real quickly that you could hold it, you could look at it. It’s like going to the Xerox and Xeroxing it quickly and then being able to space it out. Do you find that it would be beneficial for studios to have this cheaper print and then be able to go later on once they’ve revised all these things?
I would say definitely because all too often we get surprised by certain things and that’s an expensive surprise if you’re using outside resources. That’s part of why newcomers to 3D printing don’t realize it’s not necessarily that easy like pushing a button, even with the easier FDM machines or FFF machines to use like a MakerBot or something. I highly recommend it.
It changed our design process a lot for us and that’s an important part to a lot of people. We talk about this quite often. It’s hard to justify the purchase of a 3D printer if you’re expected to have a return on investment happen immediately. Many businesses have that perspective. Also, they’re so busy that any time taken to learn the new technology is time lost in billable hours or whatever their businesses and that was the case for us in the early days. I had higher expectations on how fast we’d be printing something and Tom was like, “This is a great research project.” We started at an interesting time in our business.
At the end of the day, it took us six months before we got a good usable print of our own design. When we got usable prints off the machine, I don’t think they were at our quality of design level that I had expectations for. When that happened it was like, “A-ha.” We can keep going from there. We discovered our place in 3D printing design and how it fits our process. I can’t imagine our studio without it anymore.
There’s also that learning curve, which I don’t think that you can say, “After four months, this learning curve is gone.” There’s this learning curve when you’re designing in the computer that you don’t know how far you can push the software that it’s going to make any difference when you get on the output of it. You could spend hours and hours on a design and it’s not going to make a bit of difference because the output can’t capture that design. At the same instance, if I want something recessed, I may have to push it more at the size that I am going to create it and I don’t know that until I have it in my hot little hands and look at it and go, “I would have thought that would come out better.”
We have the same thing all the time.
You said that you use ZBrush.
ZBrush and Mudbox.
It would be interesting to know, for our readers, how long you’ve been using ZBrush and how long it took you to get comfortable to the point where you thought you were being productive with it.
I don’t think I’m there. ZBrush is such a huge program. I started working with Mudbox when we wrote the book Digital Sculpting with Mudbox: Essential Tools and Techniques for Artists several years ago. I like Mudbox because the interface is easy. There are still some things I can do in Mudbox much easier than I can do in ZBrush. I can’t figure out why that is because ZBrush can do so much. There’s this other thing that I talk with a lot about the artists in the book. Bruce Beasley is featured and he’s one of the pioneers. These guys have been doing this work for years. I can’t even imagine digital technology years ago because it seems new to me but it’s been around for a long time.
Bruce thought it seems rough still. Years ago must have been rough.
Bruce said, when he goes down in the studio and he works, “A caliper is still a caliper. Two years from now, it will be a caliper. It’ll be a measuring device that you use to measure and it will always be the same, but not the same with software. You could learn ZBrush now and in two years, I guarantee it’ll be a different ballgame.” It’s a constant learning curve. You’ll always have that. Do I know everything in ZBrush? No. If I spent all day long in ZBrush, that would be one thing. I’m traveling up and down. I’m going downstairs in the traditional studio and then coming back up and I forget what I know. That’s why I create tutorials.
Every product and every project is different. That’s what we find because the way that our projects work is that every single time, we approach a project it’s completely different than the last one. It’s not like we do the same thing again and again. I’m sure yours is the same way. There are all these new challenges you have to solve and try new things on the software that you’ve never done before on the printer.
There will be times that I’m up here working in ZBrush and I go, “This would be much easier downstairs.” I do have this poll inside of me. Downstairs, I could cut this off and move this over here and when it comes to shaping things and having that organic feel, I do it much easier with my hands than I do in ZBrush. It’s easier for me to start out that way than to start pulling pixels around. I have an easier time with that because I can hold it and I can see how it relates to light and shadow. It makes sense in my brain where, on the computer, it doesn’t. I hope that makes sense.
It completely does for us because we still sketch. We do that all the time because there are some things you can do faster with a pencil.
After I’ve gone through some sketching process, we discuss the factors around our design. I can see it in three dimensions in my mind. I go through a process of thinking about how I’m going to construct that in the computer before I sit down at the computer to do it. There’s definitely a lot of experimenting that goes on. Two steps forward, one step back type of stuff. Ultimately, I’m happy with the computer CAD design process. It worked for us. The quick feedback from the 3D printing has been wonderful.
I do wish that I had that. I don’t have a 3D printer here, so I have to send my stuff off and that is something that’s lacking in my system.
If you’re running a business and you’re busy and everything, it’s almost like you need a technician to run it. If your business isn’t at that stage, the learning curve itself, and the technical aspect of it, it would frustrate me with the amount of work. Tom usually handles some part of it because I get too frustrated too fast with running it.
That’s one of the reasons why, with the 150 items that I’m hiding within the sculpture, I’m looking for companies that will volunteer to print these so that I can bring them into the book. I’m writing a book about the whole process. I’ll feature them in the book and the press on this thing is astronomical because of the 150th anniversary.
What materials are you having them printed in?
I need something that’s not porous. I’m going to be going from taking these sculptures, these 3D printed pieces, a resin or plastic is much better for me. I have to shove them in clay and then see how they work around the clay. I’m going to be giving some of the secrets to 150 items. The buttons on the March Hare, look inside those buttons, they might capture some of those things. Some things I won’t be 3D printing at all. Some of them I’ll be milling. The claws that are on the chair that Alice sits on are the claws of the Jabberwocky. I went through this whole process of what Jabberwocky would hold in his claws. There are four items right there.
Another one is the White Queen. It’s not like I’m printing 150 items. There are four elements in the White queen. One of them is that she has the face of my mother. She is the White Queen, where she’s placed. There’s a second book that helps you to find all these that are written in rhyme and riddle. You have to know something about the story to know that the White Queen is the person that says, “I imagine six different things before breakfast,” or something of that nature. It’s a fascinating journey of these things. Another example is I’ve inherited my mother’s tea set. All the teacups that are set out on the table will be my teacups that will be 3D scanned and then we’ll enhance those in ZBrush and then 3D print those out and then make molds of those.
If any of our readers are interested, they’ll be able to find you so you may get some volunteers.
I encourage people to go to DigitalSculpting.net website because I’m trying to make it a one-stop resource for those people who are wanting to learn. One of the difficulties for me, I don’t know how it was for you, I couldn’t figure out how to find all these vendors. Who do I need and where are they?
That’s part of the reason we started the show because we realized that. It’s not just for beginners. For us, we don’t use scanning in the normal part of our design process. It’s not a part of it but we had a need for one. All of a sudden, we had to find some resources. In your learning curve that you might go through for any given project or something, you might need some new resources. That’s what we’re trying to build up ourselves, these resources as to what we’ve gone through, a little more designer focused, and a lot less sales focused.
I applaud you for what you’re doing.
We were talking to a guy who was working on an educational program for children, which we find fascinating as well because we have two young daughters and one older one, one is six and one is one. We want them to have a full technology, design and art education. In the state of California, it’s non-existent in the public school system. The idea that she might learn digital design, 3D design at age six is fascinating to us. It’s the new economy, in a way. It’s the new way you’re going to make yourself a valuable career, whether advance your career, whether it is an artist or it is in business to have that understanding and basis of this.
This is cross-disciplinary because you’re talking about architecture. You’re talking about industrial design. You’re talking about art. You’re talking about geography. You’re talking about so many things when you’re talking about 3D that I don’t even know you would almost have to know it. I applaud those people who are working with programs to help teach the kids. People have been asking me to come into schools and talk for young women in math and science and I went, “Wait a minute, I’m an artist. Where do I fit into this?” It’s because of technology and when I think about it, it is all math. Everything we’re doing in these computers is math. When you can pull all that together, it’s exciting.
That’s what I keep adding in. I support the use of the word STEAM, where you add the art in there. I went to a meeting once where someone said to me that they designed their 3D printed objects by editing the G-code and I thought to myself, “You could visualize what that looked like?” I can’t even imagine what the object looked like. We have to get to a renaissance stage of education and development where we’re more well-rounded and we have art and essential elements of design. We understand these things because everybody’s designing nowadays. You make your own WordPress website. You do your own graphic logos. You print out your own business cards. You’re making design decisions all day long. You’re making color decisions all day long. Where’s some training in that?
It’s interesting that you said the G-code because when I started this book, my publisher sent it out to a bunch of people to review your idea and somebody came back and said, “You have art that’s done with code.” I got all glassy-eyed. It turns out, I would say, there’s at least 40% to 50% of the art that is in there is done with code and its amazing art. It’s interesting how you start with one area but then, and that’s what’s happening, the artists and the designers are pushing the technology to do things that it would never ever do before because it was made for the industry. We are pushing it there because we want it to go in that direction.
Our goal is to also help take it to the point at which, either you can make a living doing it as an artist or your business can be extremely competitive and this is what we talk about all time. Customer service focused. Make specialty items for your local community that you’re making a business and a living out of it.
What do you think is holding back more artists and designers from using 3D printing?
I constantly hear from individuals who are not into it, they say, “You’re cheating.”
They’ve obviously never 3D printed before.
That’s disappointing. Honestly, we see it as another tool in our toolbox.
Everybody that’s using it says the same thing. I’m not quite sure why the outsiders see it like that and it could be the fine art community and that it’s a collectible thing. How do we educate the museums and the galleries to accept these things when they would be more manufactured? A 3D print is a 3D print. There are all those dialogues that are taking place. As well as the education of it and the fear of it’s overwhelming as far as the education of it goes.
To wrap up a little bit, you have a podcast as well and your podcast is called Art and Technology Podcast. What’s your core audience?
I would assume that the core audiences are artists who are interested in pursuing this, fine artists who have never done it, graphic artists who think that, “Maybe I’d like to create something in a physical form but I don’t know how to go about doing it.” Those people who have already been doing it but want to expand their knowledge base and their resources. I interviewed Eric Van Straaten on the podcast and he was saying that he couldn’t do the designs that he does now and he’s selling his fine art. His hands can’t create them. He could see them in his head but his hands couldn’t create them. It’s the same with Joshua Harker when I interviewed him.
Have you seen his work? It’s great.
Yes, with the skull. A wonderful podcast and he had things in his head that you couldn’t even produce traditionally in casting because they were intricate. It does open up more doors for that, especially.
Thank you so much for your time, Bridgette. We learned so much from you. This is such a burgeoning field that we look forward to hearing more about how it’s expanding new artists and new designers. If you want to send anyone our way, we’d appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. I applaud you for what you’re doing because you’re helping us to educate everyone else. Thank you so much for having me.
That was interesting because there were many tips, tools, people, and referrals. She’s connected because she’s been doing this for a long time.
I am shocked at how much she has embraced all these modern technologies and a lot of technologies that some artists frowned upon and think that’s it’s beneath them.
There were so many great links and definitions of things that Bridgette mentioned. That will be on HazzDesign.com. You can contact us, comment on it. You can comment within iTunes or you can do it right on the show page. There’s a send voicemail message. You can ask us questions, which maybe we didn’t cover but we could go and get a follow-up question answered for you. You can also be a guest on our show. We haven’t mentioned that before. We’re always looking for interesting stories and if you’ve got one, we want to hear it.
That’s an overlooked aspect of life that a lot of people assume, “I won’t be able to do that. I don’t think that’s true at all.” Be bold.
- Digital Sculpting with Mudbox
- 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft: Exploring 3D Printing, Scanning, Sculpting, and Milling
- Bruce Beasley
- Art and Technology Podcast
- Eric Van Straaten
- Joshua Harker
- iTunes – WTFFF?! 3D Printing Podcast
- Twitter – HazzDesign
- @HazzDesign – Facebook
About Bridgette Mongeon
Bridgette is an artist, sculptor, writer, educator, public speaker, and wife and mom too. Twenty years ago she began experimenting with sculpture. She has had the opportunity to sculpt the famous, like BB King, countless children, adults, and even pets. Currently she is working on a monumental bronze sculpture of Alice In Wonderland’s Mad Hatter tea party celebrating Alice In Wonderland’s 150th anniversary.
You can learn much more about Bridgette by visiting her web site Creative Sculpture or reading her writings including her new book coming out September 2015 titled 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft.
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