Women in technology are often said to have to work harder at the base level to gain access to the same sorts of opportunities that present themselves to men; whether this is true or not as an overarching blanket statement, the fact remains that discrimination is still a common shared experience. From gaining a foothold to fighting mansplaining to inappropriate conduct, women in the field often fight for their places. We’ve come a long way, though, and this month I look forward to continuing conversations with some truly impressive women in technology.
One voice in 3D design with a clear message to convey, and complex artistry to display, is Melissa Ng, the creator of Lumecluster and designer of works that have caught our eye for quite some time now. Her experience in 3D design and 3D printing shines bright with a unique voice and a heartening – and empowering – message. Ng was kind enough to talk with me to share some of her experiences in design, dreaming, and the industry at large, as I had A Few Questions For her.
We’ve followed your work with Lumecluster for some time now; can you tell us about how you came to establish Lumecluster?
“In the beginning, Lumecluster didn’t have any 3D printed art. It wasn’t even art-focused. Lumecluster actually began as a blog where I wrote about my entrepreneurial experiences and thoughts on marketing when I was just starting out with my other small businesses. It was meant to be my little place where I shared my ‘illuminating cluster’ (hence, ‘Lumecluster’) of ambitions, hopes, ideas, and struggles that I hoped others could learn from.
As time went on and my small businesses got steadier, I could no longer ignore my dream to pursue art. It was a ‘now or never’ kind of moment. So, I gave myself three months to try to make my first 3D model/print and to see if I could make a name for myself. If not, I’d put away my dreams about art and return to my usual work. But things worked out better than expected and I’m still here.
The Lumecluster you see now is still very much about encouraging and inspiring entrepreneurial and creative types to find the courage they need to take action on their dreams. The only difference now is that I have my 3D printed Dreamer art to emphasize my message.”
When you first turned to 3D printing in 2014, what drew you into the technology? How have the capabilities of 3D design/printing influenced your designs?
“I was drawn to 3D printing because I was uninspired by every other medium I tried over the years. I’ve tried painting, charcoal, paper cutting, sculpting, digital painting, leather working, pyrography, laser cutting, ink drawing… None of them resonated with me. So, when I first learned about 3D printing at a Maker Faire here in New York, I was excited by the challenge and possibilities it offered.
3D printing allowed me more freedom to create the things I’ve always dreamed of–intricately detailed masks and armor. If I didn’t stumble on 3D printing, I probably wouldn’t be making any of the things you see now.”
What 3D design software and 3D printing hardware/materials do you tend to use the most?
How does the spirit of the dreamer come into play for your work with Lumecluster? You’ve said that “the Dreamer theme serves as the creative’s armor against the nightmares that seek to tear us down and acts as a promise to continue to build dreams that inspire and uplift others” — can you tell us more about how you choose to manifest designs that uplift?
“There are those who like to use the word, ‘dreamer,’ as a way to insult. And while I’m all for being practical and realistic, we also need that dreamer to dream up new ideas, right? We need dreams to fuel what we create.
Whether it’s masks or armor, I wanted to make designs that embodied the idea of the Dreamer and serve as an ongoing tribute to what I believe makes dreams beautiful. So, when I thought of the word ‘dreamer’ or ‘dreams’ I envisioned something that is both delicate and strong, calm and chaotic…
Whenever I’m creating something new, I’m always terrified. So, seeing or wearing Dreamer masks or armor helps me pretend to have the courage that I know I lack. I get to pretend that I’m brave…and before I know it, I’ve pushed through and achieved one little success after another. I hope my designs can do the same for others.”
Can you tell us about the basis for your Dreamer Creed?
Several of your designs bring together feminine aesthetic with typically masculine subjects, such as your two complete sets of armor, the Dreamer Regalia and the Sovereign; what drew you to bring these empowered creations to life?
“As someone who entered into 3D printing without any art training or 3D modeling/printing knowledge or experience, I’ve dealt with my share of critics who made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to be here. They often called me a ‘dreamer’ as a way to put me down. So, I decided to find a way to reclaim that word.
Over the span of several months, I wrote the Dreamer Creed, which is a compilation of beliefs I look to whenever I feel lost. It also helps me stay true to what Lumecluster stands for and what I believe in whenever I’m deciding on what step to take next. Overall, it helps me set my mind back on track and I hope it offers others a boost when they’re feeling down.
But the biggest reason I created the Dreamer Creed is to empower those who lack the courage to take action (it’s also a big reason why Lumecluster’s tagline is ‘where dreamers find courage’). There are too many people who stop before they even start. I suppose you could say it was my first piece of armor before I started actually designing armor. Because, let’s be honest…creating something that’s important to you takes courage and many choose never to share their creations out of fear of criticism or potential ridicule. After all, no one likes to be torn apart.
At the same time, dreams don’t blossom if you’re not willing to fight for them. And that means dealing with critics and haters whether or not you like it.”
We’ve also seen you create designs to raise funds for ill individuals; how do these designs fit into your overall body of work? Where else do you draw inspiration, and how else do you use your platform as a well-known designer to convey messages so close to your heart?
“While my armor designs have a lot of symbolism and meaning (which you can read more about in other articles), I personally have always loved armor ever since I was a child. When I was little, my sister and I would pretend to be a wizard or a knight and have our imaginary battles. We were just kids playing and then this adult came in one day and told us this kind of make believe wasn’t ‘proper’ for young ladies. He also told us that we should think more about dresses and not armor.
Like challenging the critics about my desire to pursue 3D printing, this was also a challenge against those who felt they had a right to dictate what they think a woman ‘should’ make. I remember I was at a grand opening of a 3D printer store in New York and the owner said something along the lines of, ‘Ah, I don’t know why you women seem to always love 3D printing shoes so much. It’s interesting that the women always seem to love shoes,’ which was followed by a lot of awkward laughter. Mind you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying 3D printing shoes. It’s just not for me. But when it came to me designing armor, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve automatically been referred to as a “he” in discussions.
It’s interesting because men can design dresses and we’ve got no problem with it. But for some reason, like being a woman in tech, there’s still this assumption that practical armor is a men’s only playground that only men can handle. Or that I should be making bikini armor or something instead. I won’t accept that. I like what I like and I’ll create what I enjoy. Everyone should feel like they have the freedom to create what they love.”
“The game-inspired fundraising potion pieces I’ve designed still use the same dream-like patterning that you see throughout my work. Whatever I make, I hope it offers healing in some way.
I often like to wander around in nature while sketching or doodling my detailed patterns. I also draw a lot of inspiration from video games and anime, especially the ones with good story telling, character development, and character design. Lately, I’ve also been diving deeper into researching and understanding historical armor.
I know that a good portion of my fans also love games, anime, fantasy, or armor, etc. So, if I can find some way to create designs that happen to appeal to both of our interests while also pushing for a cause I believe in, then that’s a wonderful thing.”
Working under the Lumecluster name rather than always by your given name, what can you tell us about the reaction from some who hadn’t initially realized you’re a woman?
“It’s funny because it’s not like I even hide that I’m a woman. My full name is also clearly labeled on all my social media platforms and website and yet on several occasions, I’ve encountered people who are surprised or they’ve assumed someone else did my 3D modeling for me.
It’s also amazing how many people have tried to mansplain my work to me. In fact, during a convention at one of my 1-2 hour panels, I even had a man (in the front row) explain to me and the audience about how anyone could easily recreate my work.
He then went on to look disapprovingly at me every time I answered an audience member question and then even interrupted me to tell audience members to talk to him after my panel. Honestly, this kind of treatment is not something I ever want to get used to.”
As a notable strong female voice in design, what is your view of and experience with diversity in the 3D industry as it stands today?
“In the context of the type of work I create (often fantasy / game related), I can find plenty of camaraderie in the costume, cosplay, LARP, or gaming communities, which have really grown in terms of diversity.
But when it comes to the 3D industry, I often struggle to find feIlow 3D designers I can turn to and simply to talk shop with or something. Sometimes I attribute it to my lack of an art/design background and not having those sort of connections, but I sometimes wonder if it’s only that. I suppose I feel kind of sad knowing that I don’t expect to be able to find many voices I can chat with and relate to (at this time).
I feel like the 3D industry still has a lot of growing to do, which means there’s still a lot of potential for more people to make their mark in some way and I look forward to seeing who those individuals will be.”
Ng’s work stands on its own merits, and we here at 3DPrint.com are certainly fans of her aesthetics – as well as her work ethic. She offers beautiful creations that show the artistic capabilities of technology, certainly underscoring that 3D printed art is in fact art, a case that some may argue from time to time. On a personal level, too, I know I would go broke if I tried to purchase everything she’s ever made (and, well, Felicia Day might fight me on some of that). Ng’s spirit additionally stands as a testament to the experience of women in tech today – as well as their capabilities, resilience, and refusal to settle for the status quo. Bravery, of course, is being afraid to do something — and then doing it anyway; one cannot be brave without knowing fear or resistance.
We are looking to continue featuring strong voices in technology today in our weekly A Few Questions For feature; please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions of or introductions to women and other diverse voices who you think might be a good fit!
Discuss in the Melissa Ng forum at 3DPB.com.