Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rewind To May 2015, Jewelry Design

Computer model

Real life jewelry pieces

In May, I started looking into 3D printing and realized that it has become so affordable in recent years that I'd like to explore its potential and learn its limitations. To do this, I designed and created a line of geometric jewelry. This first line was produced by an online service bureau. It's beautiful, but so intricately detailed that I could never print these myself with affordable equipment. If I made them larger, though, maybe I could print them myself... Hmmm...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rewind To July 2015, 3D Printing

[M3D printer doing its work.]

[finished piece with attached supports]

[supports removed]

[biggest possible piece with supports removed]

Continuing the tour through my year of loose sails flapping in the wind of my muse...

This Summer saw me spend a while learning the ropes of 3D printing at home. The machines are so affordable nowadays that it was cheaper to buy an entry-level machine than it would have been to take a 3D printing class at the local community college.

The idea was that I would learn to design for the many limitations of the home printing technology, then build a bronze-casting studio to hand cast my creations. I learned a lot in the process. After gaining some experience, I found a big flaw that has sent me in other directions for now - the printing speed. Since each piece needs to be printed individually before it can be cast, I need to factor in the time that it takes to print a piece and make sure that time is paid for. It's hard for me to believe that customers would pay the kind of prices I'd need to ask based on the long printing times with the current technology. 

This technology is growing so quickly that I'm sure it will change in the next few years and I may revisit this business idea when it does.


The media focuses on the printing aspect, telling us about how "they" are printing bridges, guns, medical appliances, and more. They never talk about the rest of the steps as if you can just say to the machine, "print me a gun, please!" Of course it's not that easy, and most of the things that the media squawks about aren't even possible with consumer-level machines. There are a few steps, and learning the options available at each step will increase the likelihood of success.
  1. Design. The item to be printed needs to be designed. knowledge of the limitations and good choices at this step will enable the other steps.
  2. Slicing. The printer can act on a very limited instruction set, essentially "heat up, move left, right, up, down, squirt out plastic." It's up to another piece of software, called "the slicer" to translate the 3D design into these simple instructions. The slicing step is critical.
  3. Printing. Finally, the printer is prepared and the instructions are sent to create the finished piece.


I do all of my design in Blender. ( It's a full-featured 3D software package, developed and maintained by a huge number of talented folks. When I say "full-featured" I really mean it. This software rivals the big, expensive software used in 3D effects houses. I'm sure that, these days, there are big studios who do some or all of their work in Blender.

To slice my blender models, I tried a few programs and finally settled on Simplify 3D. ( The biggest feature that sold me on it was the fact that I can place and control the support structures by hand. Support structures are necessary because the extruded plastic can't just be squirted into space and magically hover there. Support structures need to be printed below these parts of the model. Simplify 3D gives me control over how substantial the supports are, how much connection they have to the main model, and more. It takes some experimentation to find the right settings for speed, stability, and ease of removal.

The printer is from a company called M3D. ( It's quite affordable, less than $300 when I bought it, and a great introduction to the technology. It would not be suitable for production work, but it's an amazing machine to learn on. Its control software works well out of the box, but the machine can also be driven with other software packages.

I used the M3D printer software out of the box, and found some of the options lacking compared to another printer control software called MicroPrint ( During the months that I worked with the printer, M3D got their act together and their control software improved to the point that I could use it, but Tomas really saved my bacon there for the time that some glitch between M3D's program, the mono framework, and my OS would have left me dead in the water.

So that's what I learned on my Summer Vacation. 3D printing is finicky and difficult to learn, even for someone with a lifetime of computer and 3D design experience. It's also slow, and produces nothing that can be brought directly to an art market. Next!

Rewind to January 2015, Palette and Pattern Experiments

My favorite "summer" tea bowl

The extracted palette, applied to some pretty math

In the next few posts, I'm going to record some creative tangents that have flared up as I explore options for what to do to support myself after weaving.

These images show a little project I did last Winter, dusting off some old code that I wrote to analyze a photo and extract the "feeling" from it in the form of a color palette. I then use the extracted color palette to "paint by numbers" in a mathematically-created design.

A few years ago I created hundreds of these types of images with the idea that one day I'd do something creative with them. Well, I'm not ruling out that idea quite yet. This method of extracting color and applying it to pattern is still swirling in the back of my mind to find a place in my art world.

Return, return, return!

Hellooooooo, out there! Is there anyone else who, like me, doesn't get around to unsubscribing from inactive websites? If so, you're in luck! This blog is becoming active again.

Why, you might ask? Well, after five years of focus on my weaving, I'm finding that a singular focus doesn't serve me any longer. The repetitive motion is having longterm effects on my shoulder and my creative spirit is restless. Therefore, I'm unbranding myself as "The Weaving Monk", disconnecting the social media stuff around that part of me and focusing on exploration of other avenues of creativity.

I'm also refreshing this blog because I'm becoming disenchanted with the social media scene. It's easy, fluffy, and temporary. When I look back at my "feed" to remind myself where I've been, I'm appalled. There are few postings of real substance there. Instead, I seem to have slept for a couple of years, just passing on tidbits of other people's writing and "news".