Exploratory sculptor uses full-colour 3D printing to articulate vision and transcend physical form
“3D printing is ideal for producing meaningful works of art and sculpture that can’t be produced in any other way. You can articulate geometry and form in a way that transcends physical form.”
-Keith Brown, Sculptor and Professor of Sculpture and Digital Technologies at the Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester
Like many sculptors, Keith Brown likes working directly with materials. A sculptor for more than 50 years and Professor of Sculpture and Digital Technologies at the Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, UK, he is also an explorer in the truest sense of the word.
Completely immersing himself in each project, Keith embarks on a journey to see what’s possible. Guided by intuition and serendipity, he progresses through the creative stages of exploration, discovery, realisation and, ultimately, understanding. Says Keith, “When you manifest something as an object, it becomes something else. Seeing, holding and experiencing the final sculpture is always exciting and overwhelming.”
Creativity meets technology
As a true innovator in his field, Keith uses CAD (computer aided design software) to explore possibilities beyond the physical, in a cyber environment, where creativity doesn’t depend upon the laws of physics. From there, he uses 3D printing to take his creations from the virtual to the real world in three physical dimensions. Says Keith, “3D printing is ideal for producing meaningful works of art and sculpture that can’t be produced in any other way.”
Traditionally fine artists have been slow to realise the possible applications for 3D printing, but that’s changed rapidly over the last few years. Keith has been predicting a sudden and massive take-up of 3D printing in fine arts for over a decade. He acknowledges that mastering CAD often involves a steep learning curve and, unless the artist has a compelling reason to use 3D printing, learning how to design in CAD software in order to produce a 3D file that is 3D printable can be off-putting. However, thanks to inexpensive 3D scanners, apps, 3D cameras and new capabilities of commonly-used software like Photoshop CC, creating input for a 3D printer couldn’t be easier. As a result, that sudden and massive uptake in 3D printer use by fine artists is here.
Liberating creative vision
Keith typically creates for a particular 3D printing technology, anticipating what it can do and then preparing for that output in his methods and design. Mcor uniquely gives him flexibility to realise his creative vision.
One of the earliest adopters of Mcor 3D printing, Keith created elegant and organic sculptures, experimenting with a variety of forms, textures and finishes to achieve his vision. For example, Mcor 3D printers enabled him to try various finishes, such as leathering using ordinary boot polish, which profoundly impacted the meaning or the statement of the final piece.
And since the material used in Mcor 3D printers is self supporting, it enables many geometries and forms that simply aren’t possible using 3D printers that require you to break off or dissolve support structures. Keith also appreciates that with Mcor 3D printers, you can produce finished works of art that are very tough and durable, yet have a wonderfully pleasing, tactile feel.
Realising creative vision
Captivated by the possibilities of true, full-colour 3D printing, Keith set about pushing the boundaries of his previous work to incorporate colour into his 3D printed sculpture.
Mcor 3D printers provide the best colour capability of any 3D printer. “It’s the only true, full colour you can get,” says Keith. He has used other colour 3D printers, but the colours have a more pastel quality compared to the intense, vivid colours produced on Mcor 3D printers. Other colour 3D printers he has looked at have a very limited colour capacity and can’t handle 24 bit because each individual shell requires a designated single colour and the number of colours and palettes are rather limited.
Once again, Keith’s vision was accurately realised with the Mcor 3D printer. “It was exciting to see my piece. The colour is excellent, much better than I expected,” adds Keith.
More recently, Keith leveraged Mcor’s full-colour capability to explore different relationships between, image and surface, form and colour. “You can’t comprehend these objects photographically,” says Keith. “They can only function properly when printed in full, 3D colour.” He applies photographic imagery onto a model – 2D imagery operating in a 3D form. The 2D and 3D form disrupt one another creating a perceptual juxtaposition wherein the 2D shape differs from the 3D shape. “What-you-see-is-what-you-get with Mcor full-colour 3D printing,” says Keith. “I got exactly what I saw on the monitor in a 3D print.”
He pushed his creative experiment a step further, projecting colour and imagery onto an object in a cyber environment, capturing a TIF image of that projection, then applying that TIF image onto the 3D form and, finally, printing the sculpture in three physical dimensions with an Mcor 3D printer.
Explains Keith, “Bitmaps are rendered from CAD and applied to new geometry in a way that can only be achieved through 3D modelling applications. However it’s almost impossible to see what is going on in a 2D photograph or rendered image between the 2D image of a 3D CAD model that has had a bitmap wrapped around it and applied to the 3D modeled object that has been especially prepared to receive it and then to be output as a 3D print.
In this case, the image and the object become inseparable and can only be truly experienced as a full-colour 3D print. The work could not be conceived of or manufactured by any other means. You need to touch it to understand what’s real and what’s an illusion…. it will fluctuate between the two.”
Mcor full-colour 3D printed sculptures also allow for light sanding if the finished effect Keith is after calls for a depth to the surface. The resulting effect is that the images appear embedded in the object in a virtual way.
Says Keith, “With Mcor, I can articulate geometry and form in a way that transcends physical form.”
Last model below a render; photos of that 3D print to follow shortly.