It begins with the artist - the eyes and minding hands that are he definitive tools of creation.
Recent advances in scanning, computer modeling, 3-D printing and machining technology allow artists a more varied and streamlined approach to the realization of their work.
At Bollinger Atelier in Tempe, Arizona, digital processes and equipment such as 3-D modeling software platforms, 3-D scanning, 4-axis CNC milling, and a DLP 3-D printing combine with traditional foundry work and art molding, casting, and finishing techniques to help artists bring life to their work. As the technologies evolve, so do the potential applications in sculpture. “CAD, or 3-D modeling technologies have only more recently advanced to the point where more complex and organic shapes and geometries can be created. In the past these programs were mostly utilized by engineers or architects, for more industrial applications,” says Jacob Sterenberg, general manager and digital specialist at the atelier.”
While many of these technologies have been around for several years, in the past they have been so cost prohibitive that it has not been practical for use by artists or fine art foundries. The recent proliferation of digital tools has driven the cost down to the point that 3-D modeling software and 3-D printers have become affordable for the individual.
“With the advance of digital technologies such as 3-D modeling, 3-D scanning, CNC milling, and rapid prototyping (3-D printing), more artists are using these technologies in conjunction with, or in place of, traditional sculpting and production methods,” Sterenberg says.
The technology enabled New York City - based artist E.V. Day (b. 1967) to replicate one of Monet’s waterlilies, which she supersized in stages of transformation echoing both literal growth and change and the sort of digitize, mechanized rebirth brought about by a Star Trek transporter beam.
Day plucked the original specimen for this work from Claude Monet’s famous flower gardens in Giverny, France, during her 2010 residency at the Claude Monet Foundation. She preserved the flower in a microwave press, then scanned and created a high resolution digital photograph from which a 3-D model was built. Day manipulated the digital files to create models of the flower at various elevations, which became the Polllinator (Water Lily) (2012) series of six cast-aluminum sculptures plus three etchings on glass. E.V. Day’s Water Lilies were created using digital technologies in place of physical models or sculptures. Sterenberg says.
Computer modeling allowed Day to explore the image of the water lily at various sizes and elevations as she created her sculpture.
“In this case the digital modeling process allowed greater flexibility in creating a series of sculptures that had the same general design characteristics, but were manipulated digitally to create several unique sculptures ,” Sterenberg says. “Rather than create several individual physical models, one digital 3-D model was created and, under the artist’s direction, 3-D modeling software was used to adjust the composition to produce the individual designs.”
The modeling software itself became a medium of sorts for the etchings, as Day used the wireframe images from the digital files, sliced them into two topographical layers that were laser-etched onto separate sheets of glass, then combined them into a third image that was etched onto it’s own plate. She revisited these wireframe images with Waterlily - Transporter - Two Stages (2014), which display the two topographical layers of the flower etched onto two separate sheets of plexiglass precisely aligned to create the third image. In the artists words, “the renderings coalesce into a single, stylized image of the water lily, which appears to be magically suspended in three-dimensional space, like thread in resin.”
Digital modeling allows for not only a more fluid transition from concept to creation, but also creates the opportunity for the sculptor to find and address structural, engineering, and installation issues earlier in the process.
Enlarging is particularly tricky because there is never a direct translation to the larger scale. Details are lost or magnified, perspective change, and proportions easily become distorted. This is not due to inaccuracy in the translation from the maquette so much as to shifts in viewer perception as the size of the piece changes.
“These technologies sometimes allow us to produce works that would not be possible using traditional sculpting methods,” Sterenberg says, “or would be so labor intensive that it would not be cost effective to produce the works.”