Joshua Harker has been a maker and artist his whole life. He worked professionally as a product and toy designer for a few years before turning to 3D art. Within the last year and a half, he’s created the first and fourth most funded sculpture projects on Kickstarter, and sold thousands of beautiful works of art, all created with 3D Printing. I spoke to him about his process and his views on the current state of the 3D Printing industry.
Can you talk about your process? What sort of software do you use? What does your prototyping phase entail?
My tangle pieces are very much done “live”, so to speak; I do not do sketches or preliminary concept art. I let the pieces grow using the surrealist practice of automatism and work on their balance, composition, and overall character as they develop. I’ve mostly used ZBrush and Solidworks but also a half dozen others. I typically get “proof” prints to verify the quality before offering anything publicly.
Do you own a 3D Printer? If so, what do you use it for?
I used to own two very high-end Objet polyjet printers when I had my design studio. I sold my partnership out in 2008 to return to art full-time and completely changed how I run logistically. I now have a network of vendors and outsource for all my printing needs.
If an SLS [Selective Laser Sintering] printer comes onto the market at desktop pricing I would definitely consider it, given the volume of pieces I make, but for now the network serves my needs well enough. I have a Type A Machine coming within the next few weeks that I’ll be using for a show in Mexico (LaCalaca Festival) in November. That printer will ultimately be donated to a tech school there.
How long does it take to print some of your more complex tangle pieces?
As of right now, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 hours. It used to be more due to the technical aspects of preparing the models for printing. That part has gotten better over the last few years, but originally it took nearly as long as the modeling.
Was the Anatomica di Revolutis Kickstarter project your first venture into creating something with moving parts? What sort of new challenges arose due to that?
I have done many mechanical assemblies that include complex gearing, clutches, timing, cams, etc. but they were all more industrial design type projects. This was the first thorough integration of that kinetic aspect into my sculptural work. The biggest challenge was designing for any variables or inconsistencies in the printing process so that all the pieces functioned as expected regardless. I was used to doing very high tolerance work when it came to mechanical engineering so I had to “loosen my collar” a bit to make sure there was some necessary “slop” designed into it. As with anything, prototyping went a long way to working out the bugs.
How do you think Kickstarter will effect artists getting their work out? Do you think 3D Printing has effected art in a beneficial way?
I think Kickstarter is a great tool, but as an artist one has to be careful not to turn their art into a brazen commodity (unless that’s the goal). The 3D Printed medium was a very natural fit and simple way for me to experiment with the platform without compromising my art, and it worked wonderfully. I guess I’m saying that crowdfunding should be used (ideally) as a vehicle to get your work seen and not the primary effort… art 1st, marketing 2nd.
3D Printing has affected art profoundly for me–I can now make what was unmakeable just a few years ago. That ability is a big deal in regard to art history and the story of humanity. On the other hand, there is a lot of pedestrian work and blatant rip-offs out there, so for many the medium takes precedent over what they’re actually creating. I do not think the medium is necessarily for everyone; it’s not some kind of comprehensive replacement. There is a tactile connection that is necessary for some artists. I see 3D Printed art as being particularly important in geometries that cannot be made by any other means: how it is disseminated and reproduced (regardless of it’s geometric sophistication).
3D Scanning will come into the fold more; I expect it to approach similarities with photography regarding captured compositions and collage-type applications. I see it being used to create physical, 3D visualization of nearly any data set. Materials engineering will play a major role in the medium as well, particularly with large scale, structural, and “right off the printer” pieces. The maturation of full color and multi-material printer technologies will be huge as well.
Where do you see 3D Printing going in the future? Do you think most families will own one within the next few years?
I see it going everywhere. This is not hype or buzz but it’s what’s happening. From art and design, medicine, architecture, space exploration, fashion, you name it… it’s all increasingly touched by the technology. I’m not sure if most families will need to have one of their own, but most families will absolutely use 3D Printing in one aspect or another. I see the desktop printing and digital photography revolution as having already vetted some models of operation, and part of what’s working well for that industry will apply directly. For example, I do not own an inkjet or photo printer anymore. It is cheaper for me to go to Kinkos or the drugstore to get 15 cent photos than to pay for a machine and ink cartridges that will dry up if I’m not printing stuff everyday. I think that model will work well for most people. Shapeways (and the like) are great volume resources and I can only imagine the Kinkos of the world (as Staples is already doing) will enter the game as well.
Regarding your massively publicized “pull” of 3D Systems from your kickstarter campaign – are you fearful that lawsuits will continue tarnishing the 3D Printing community?
I think it’s all about perspective and what you see as healthy for the community/industry as a whole. If the lawsuit against Formlabs & Kickstarter doesn’t work out, 3D Systems is likely in some real trouble. They cannot justify their product price point just because they choose to use outdated technology. Given the undermining factor that a startup SLA [Stereolithography] machine (not to mention the developing DLP [Digital Light Projection] market) can put out the same quality at a mere fraction of the cost of their flagship product brings a lot into question regarding their commitment to innovate versus litigate. You know that Formlabs will be developing bigger, better, faster machines themselves and there is no one that is going to stay in bed with 3D Systems, given that kind of option. I think the demise and scattering of the IP ashes of a 3D Printing dinosaur could be healthy for the industry, in a perfect world.
On the other hand, if in fact they have a viable lawsuit and Formlabs indiscriminately violated 3DSystem’s IP and Kickstarter conspired & canoodled with them to make it all happen then, well… they gobble up the potential of what could have been for the likes of the Form 1 machine and break the back of the crowdfunding platform. That certainly doesn’t bode well for anyone except 3DS investors (which currently seems to be everyone & their uncle). Time will tell. In general this whole thing is being treated like a gold rush & many interested in the industry look at it as such and could care less about the possibilities outside how it affects profits. The real long term changes to come are from the community of people that are using the technology rather than sitting on it.
You can buy many of Joshua’s incredible pieces from his store. Here are a few examples of his work: