An interview with 3D printing artist Bathsheba Grossman

bathsheba grossman

Bathsheba Grossman

Bathsheba Grossman is one of the most renowned artists in the world of 3D printing today; her sculptures have changed the way we look at art, geometry, and symmetry. She’s been especially dominant in the arena of metal 3D printing. While most of her work is in the form of small, elegant spellbinding pieces, one of her latest feats was to design the largest print in North America, the 3,600 lb Rygo. Her work can be found in a wide array of publications, dating back as far as 2002. In this interview, Bathsheba Grossman walks us through her experiences with 3D printing.

The introductory statement on Bathsheba’s bio page sums up how her brain works nicely: “I’m an artist exploring the region between art and mathematics. My work is about life in three dimensions: working with symmetry and balance, getting from the origin to infinity, and always finding beauty in geometry.”


Three Quick Fire Questions

Favorite software?
Surface Evolver.  My secret weapon!

Biggest inspiration?
Nature.  Seeds, bones, simple animals like jellyfish, all those weird symmetrical microscopic things such as radiolarians, pollen, viruses.

Favorite material to print in?
Present: metal.  Future: transparent glass.

bathsheba showcase 1

I understand you completed art school, but could you tell us a little bit more about your background as an artist and how it tied into 3D printing? 

Well, originally I was a math major.  As an undergraduate I studied with the remarkable sculptor Erwin Hauer, and after finishing the math degree I decided to reboot as an artist.  In art school I studied a lot of traditional metalworking methods, and for the next n years tried to apply them to the designs I had in mind – but with little success.  This was difficult, but when 3DP started to be more accessible to individuals (the late lamented Z Corporation led the charge), I found myself with a portfolio that was well suited to the new medium.  From my point of view there wasn’t much foreshadowing of 3DP, but when it arrived it was a lucky match.

Can you take our readers through your process of creating prints? How long does each project usually take and do you have your own printer?

I don’t have a printer at this time.  I’m not yet tempted by the part quality and undercut handling available in machines I can afford, and I feel like things are still moving fast enough that it’s a great time to be outsourced.  For production, I expect to stay that way but for concept models I wouldn’t be surprised if I crack within a few years.

My design process is very dull: I sit in front of a laptop from midnight to 4 AM every night for three months, then if I’m lucky there’s a sculpture.  A lot of what I do is circuitous workflow caused by trying to make incompatible software work together.  Occasionally I’ll make a sketch, sometimes I write code, but I mostly make barely-perceptible changes in Rhinoceros models and import and export files.  Frequently I just go through a lot of gin-and-tonics.  Three months is a modal value, actual elapsed times have ranged from a day to a year.

You’ve definitely been presumed both, but do you consider yourself more of an artist or a mathematician? Why?

Absolutely an artist.  Mathematicians do a lot more math than I do!  For me it’s an inspiration, and to the extent that I can use it a tool, but I feel more like a fan than a serious practitioner.

3D printing technology is always finding areas to advance – you even mention 3D printing as “…the wave of the future” on your website. Where do you think this technology is heading next, and where would you like to see it in the near future?

OK, I exaggerated a little.  What I see coming soon is mostly incremental: slightly better materials, slightly more flexible processes, slightly better resolution, a little more market share year on year.  I don’t anticipate wholesale replacement of traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding.  I do expect many more niches to be discovered, those specialized sweet spots where 3DP can add enough value to be useful.

What I’m most interested in personally is archival materials.  To me the real game started with steel printing, and I’m keenly interested in ceramics, cement, glass and of course other metals.  Silver and gold will be a watershed; cheap aluminum would be huge.  Ranging into fantasy, I hope to live to see glass with voxel-wise color and opacity addressability.  Farther out, let’s envision multi-material printing, e.g. interpenetrating glass and bronze…it’ll be fun, but not soon.

bathsheba showcase 2

Outside of design, what do you do with your free time?

Marketing!  Ha, ha.  Seriously, I ride freakbikes with my favorite nerd gang, SCUL.  And I take a lot of dance lessons: mostly blues, sometimes tango, belly, hiphop, anything that seems interesting.  It’s a quiet, normal life.

It seems like you’ve focused mostly on sculptures and jewelry; have you ever thought about transitioning into a different niche within 3D printing?

Not very seriously.  A more lucrative niche than fine art would be nice, but my creative machine does what it does, and I’ve found that asking for something specific to happen is a great way to shut it down for a long time.

bathsheba showcase 3

I know quite a few designers and 3D printing enthusiasts look up to you; any tips for artists just starting out?

I don’t know much about being a designer – I’m not especially called to make useful things – but I’ll pass on a tip I got from an art dealer back when, and that I’ve come to agree with.  The fun part of the job takes care of itself, but what makes a pro is being ready to do what you have to.  No one else will handle your bookkeeping, your print ad layouts, your Google Shopping feed, your packaging design, your PowerPoint talks, your HTML5 compliance, and fifty other things you could care less about, so be prepared to dive into these skills and spend an unbelievable amount of time on them.  Does keeping it a hobby sound fun yet?

Thanks for answering my questions; is there anything you’d like to tell your fans and 3D printing enthusiasts around the world?

What cool toys we have! Let’s make things.

And while you’re doing that, keep complaining.  Do everything you can with the state of the art, and then ask for just a little more.  This works; I’ve seen it work.  It’s only going to get better.

The Final Word

And with that – we would like to thank Bathsheba Grossman for taking the time to interview with us. She has created some fascinating work, some of which is available for purchase. Be sure to check out more of her designs at Bathsheba.com, and on her Facebook page.

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  • http://www.engineeringink.com Pamela Waterman

    I’ve seen a number of her works at RAPID shows – so definitely cool. Thanks for sharing this background discussion with the rest of us.

    • http://www.kraftwurx.com Chris Waldo

      Sure, she was a lot of fun to interview. Bathsheba is pretty good at what she does!

      -Waldo