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.

 

 

 

Click and collect my work

I seem to be crossing another Rubicon. My ceramics are now available to buy via Made In Arts London, (MiAL) a not-for-profit enterprise, promoting and selling art and design by UAL students and recent graduates. That includes me! I was so excited when my work was chosen by the selection panel to be included in the MiAL curated collection.

So if you have friends who enjoy spotting and collecting emerging artists and design talent please share this post with them. Or you fancy buying one of my pieces, ‘an early work’ then please click here and take a look at my new shop window. They are all one-off ceramic sculptures. The prices include the MiAL commission and delivery. Learning to sell my work will be one of the most important skills I hope to graduate from Central St Martins with … so please watch this space, and let me know what you think.

Digital Me

 

Here’s the digital rendition of me by Factum Foundation following their 3D scan of me a couple of weeks ago in the Veronica Scanner at the RA. It is quite amazing, you can scroll over and under and see the ‘subject’ from all angles. Have a go by clicking https://play.autodesk.com/pub/15450368?splash“>here.

Great reference material for a self portrait.

I can’t wait to print it out in ceramic medium and see if I can then manipulate it by hand to explore the hybrid possibilities.

Thanks Factum Foundation and the Royal Academy!

 

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!

 

 

 

Convicts Portraits

So I realised that if you are not working from a live model, to sculpt a head you really need two views of the person in order to come up with a decent likeness. But where could I find the front and side views that I needed as visual reference? Then the idea of sculpting the portraits of convicts came to me, and I was amazed to find a treasure trove of black and white mug shots from the turn of the nineteenth century through the 1930’s that are available to download from the internet. I spent hours trawling through the websites of US museums of penatentury, and choosing the faces of some extraordinary people, some of whom were murderers, some of whom petty thieves.

Below are the original mugshots and what I created as a result.