When I fell for 3D printing, I was surprised.
I was a digital late bloomer and traditional painter when I entered NYU’s Studio Art department. I learned Photoshop just six months before college, and Microsoft Word was the extent of my digital and technological expertise. I didn’t know how a computer worked or how to operate complex machinery. Learning computer applications was always challenging, and it would take far longer to comprehend the core concepts and mechanics that my peers seemed to effortlessly grasp. I was laughably tech-less, but I accepted that about myself. It was a moot point anyway; I was planning on spending my college years canvassing New York City with my paintbrushes. My brain was not programmed for tech literacy (or so I thought).
But then I dropped painting in 2011, and was at a serious fork in the road. I wasn't sure how I wanted to proceed as an art-maker. Frustrated and insecure, I was stuck; I spent a semester away from art classes as my confidence as an artist began to tank.
Then, by happenstance, I discovered Mark Johnson’s Digital II class at NYU. I cannot really explain my decision to enroll, due to my aforementioned luddite status. But Digital II set in motion a transformation so great it influenced just about every aspect of my higher education experience.
A great awakening arrived with 3D printing. I relished everything about the process; it was an exciting new part of art to explore. I loved trying and failing and learning new ways to render. I spent an entire spring break working to perfect my first 3D printed model. When it was finally printed, I experienced a feeling of satisfaction and confidence that had been long overdue.
But the surprises were only beginning. My professor then recommended me and a fellow classmate for two open student staff positions at the Advanced Media Studio, NYU’s digital lab, where all the 3D printing and laser cutting was done for our class. I submitted my resume and was hired that May, with my new boss handing over to me not just the necessary paperwork, but a key that opened up a whole part of the map.
3D PRINTING: AN EVOLVING DISCIPLINE
Since becoming a student staffer two and a half years ago, the presence of 3D printing at NYU has significantly increased. In the third quarter of 2013, the Advanced Media Studio has welcomed more machines to the lineup. On top of our zCorp 650 and Connex machines, the lab acquired a Projet7000 SLA printer in August of 2013, which has brought in significantly more student and outside client work. AMS also replaced their 18X24 inch laser cutter with a new Universal Systems industrial machine with a 24X48 in cutting platform that cuts half an inch materials, something previously impossible with the old laser. A Makerbot Replicator2, and 3D Systems Cube were purchased as well, and the lab is literally bursting at the seams (It will be moving to a larger location in the next year, an exciting expansion long overdue). The Studio Art Department has also rebooted its media facilities with several MakerBots, a laser cutter, and a CNC machine.
The recent expansions have also brought about a wider range of diversity in the students using 3D printing. When I first started at AMS, the majority of students using the technology were graduate students in the Interactive Telecommunications and Design for Stage and Film programs at the Tisch School of the Arts. Currently, we have seen an influx of art and design students, medical students, and even business students coming in to prototype products, print reference models or molds, and experimental artworks. The lab has also been welcoming outside projects as well from artists such as Heather Dewey-Haborg, Josh Kline, Ben Schumacher, Carlos Reyes, and Triple Canopy (for this year’s Whitney Biennial). This has been exciting for me to see, not just because I can see a variety of projects through production and play a role in its creation, but in how it echoes advancements in the broader 3D printing community. We're witnessing more 3D innovation — in everything from medical to fashion to engineering. To witness the medium grow firsthand, and to be an early adopter and contributor, have been thoroughly rewarding. This is the right place and the right time for 3D printing; I constantly encourage every student I meet to learn about it and participate in what NYU’s state-of-the-art facilities can offer them as makers.
This community that the Advanced Media Studio has fostered has allowed me to develop a surprising side to myself, and make my own unique mark with 3D printing. In August, my colleague and former classmate started TheLaserGirls collective, through which we create 3D printed fashion, most notably our 3D printed fingernails, and other specialty fashion items. We have received an incredible amount of positive feedback on our work, and have been featured on innumerable nail art and tech sites, as well as given opportunities to participate in fashion shows and exhibitions. Our recognition as TheLaserGirls has also allowed us to exhibit our personal work as digital artists, which has been especially rewarding.
Being involved with NYU’s 3D printing community has completely changed my path as an art-maker, and has profoundly changed my outlook on what is possible. My 3D printing education has been wonderfully interdisciplinary; it has taught me to think like a designer, an engineer, a chess player, and even more so as an artist. It has pushed my work to a new level of conceptual standing, tangibility, and audacity that I struggled with in the past, and informs my other, non-digital work in a way that has given it further dimension. It has made me more well rounded of a person, and gives me opportunities to take risks and continue to learn and sharpen my skill sets. It has revitalize my overall passion for creating. Now, as I begin to apply for jobs and prepare for my new path after college, it is great to not only see many jobs wanting 3D experience, but to also confidently submit a diverse and dimensioned portfolio of what I have so lovingly worked on. It is going to be extremely difficult for me to leave the Advanced Media Studio, but since they cannot keep me forever (and I really do not want to be a student forever), I will move on, forever thankful and confident in what I've learned.
With 3D printers influencing a multitude of disciplines and platforms, having the skills to 3D render, 3D print, and operate such machinery becomes more of an asset; and with those skills comes a great depth of interdisciplinary knowledge. I always encourage students to invest in their skill sets. Similarly, I would encourage every university to pursue the opportunities that 3D printing can provide. It will benefit the future of its students, and the future of an exciting and constantly growing community and practice.
New York-based digital artist Sarah C. Awad is a member of the collective TheLaserGirls. Visit www.sarahcawad.com for more information.
[Editor's Note—We are delighted to welcome the insight of New York University student and 3D innovator, Sarah Awad. Central to our mission of offering comprehensive views of the technology industry, we include voices from all systems stakeholders — directors, managers, buyers, users, and student operators of campus technology. If you have an EdTech story to share, Tweet us: @AVTechnologyMag —Margot Douaihy, editor, AV Technology Magazine and EDUWire.com]