Every child has dreams about what they’d like to do when they grow up, but only some of us are lucky enough to achieve those goals – or to have any career that we love and are passionate about. When Mazuir Ross (who also goes by the name Rosalee Moore) was a child, she’d never heard of 3D printing, as it was barely beginning to exist, but it turned out to lead her to the job she loves. It was a winding path, but Ross, who runs the 3D design and printing service bureau Maz and Attero with her partner, Attero, is now living the creative person’s dream – making and teaching as a career.
In addition to designing and 3D printing for clients, Ross also builds her own 3D printers and creates her own art – which has included some unusual projects such as a life-sized 3D printed cow. One of her most recent projects was the Portland Art Museum’s Rodin Remix project. We were lucky to have the opportunity to talk with Ross for the latest installment of our Spotlight on Women series.
Tell us about yourself – your background, history, current work, how you got into 3D printing.
“I’m a thirty-something female who grew up in the not-so-wealthy part of Omaha, Nebraska with a single mother and older sister. As soon as I could hold a crayon I would draw on just about anything, including the house walls, and get in a lot of trouble for my vandalism. Both my biological father and stepfather committed suicide when I was very young and I have practically no memory of their existence. My sister is seven years ahead of me and our interactions weren’t always the greatest when we were young like most any siblings from the 80s. My mother was like Superwoman, who I didn’t see that often because she had to work just about all the time to make ends meet for the three of us. We weren’t poor exactly but didn’t have the new and coolest Nintendo like my neighbor. Due to traumatic encounters in my early childhood I have always been an introvert and avoided interactions with others, especially adult male figures. Most of the encounters I had with males made me feel objectified so I figured out early on to avoid them as much as possible like my mother did. I was lucky enough to be part of the Girl Scouts and I enjoyed being away from home for a few weeks every summer. The one thing that I was disappointed about with the Girl Scouts was how the boys were always doing cool stuff at camp compared to what the girls were doing. I wanted to learn how to build a fire and learn archery. For the girl’s camp we mostly made crafts and rode horses. (I am frightened of horses by the way.)
Throughout all of my young education I made sure to be part of art class and would compete in the contests pretty often. I fell in love with all things art because I knew it was the one thing no one could take away from me. Life changed a lot when I got into high school, I wasn’t picked on anymore for being weird or the class clown. I also haven’t really ever been popular, even in high school. Freshman year I had to decide what I wanted to take for electives other than art all four years. I really didn’t want to do home economics like all the other girls so I picked the weirdest thing! I picked traditional drafting as my second four year elective. All four years of high school in my drafting class I was the ONLY female. In a way it made me feel safe and was a good practice to not be scared in proximity of males. My senior year drafting class was converted into a 3D modeling project to create a model of the high school that was used as a ‘Virtual Tour.’ Me and one other student were chosen to work on this project and I was so amazed by 3D space!
After high school I had toyed with the idea of being able to go to college because really only wealthy people went to college. Strangely enough I wanted to go to beauty school so I could dye people’s hair and do nails professionally. Thankfully my sister talked me out of that preposterous idea! I mean really, me a stylist? All my clients would look like The Joker or Marilyn Manson. I really wanted to continue with what I had already studied the last four years: drafting architecture type stuff. The representative for ITT in Omaha strongly advised I enroll in the Digital Media program instead. She claimed I would be more comfortable and told me I could learn things like Graphic Design, Web Design, and even 3D Animation. I agreed and later found it funny when I would pass the CAD program students in the hallway, realizing they were all male. I also tested horribly in math which was another strike against me pursuing the CAD program.
At some point while I was in college I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if I could work for myself? It was a pretty crazy idea at the time and with the recession during 2008 I couldn’t even get a non-specialized job. The first 8 months out of college, after just getting my Bachelor of Applied Science in Digital Entertainment and Game Design, I couldn’t find work and finally I settled for a clerk position at a small copy and print shop. That job quickly became me doing graphic design, wide format printer operator and mounting, pre-press specialist, and even shadowing assistant manager. Sometimes I felt like I could run the place and it all went to my head. I racked up three credit cards and bought a lot of silly things including a loan on a 2008 Mustang. I started to not like my life very much and thought it was my current job so I left the copy and print shop. I took a job that paid more, was closer to home, and I got to learn how to use flatbed printers, vinyl cutters, and making designs for screenprinting. Turns out I had taken a job at a small company that had a lot of drama which showed its face everyday I was at work. Somehow I would get caught in the middle of it and started blowing off steam by binge drinking every weekend. I actually started to hate my job however I still loved the machines I was privileged to operate. Since all my interactions had turned sour and would result in a blow out, I was granted a special arrangement to work nights and run all the printers by myself. I was the only person there at night and I loved it! Me being alone with those printers every night was a dream. The dream didn’t last long due to their business demands getting low that resulted in my hours getting cut in half. At the time I had accumulated over $100k in debt from college loans, credit cards, and a car loan. My dreams of being successful and getting to do what I had learned in college were so far away from me, all I started to care about was trying to not binge drink myself to irreversible alcohol poisoning.
In January of 2010 I dropped everything and ran away from Omaha. I landed in Medford, Oregon with Attero’s mother. Attero and I had already been together about four years and he is a saint for making it through too many rough times for a new relationship. With no phone, no car, no bank account, and only an email address I looked for work in what I already knew how to do, printing. I took a risk and accepted a graphic artist position for a small printing shop. Medford became too small for me and my awkward social skills made it near impossible to make friends with anyone.
I conned my mother into dropping everything and moving to Portland, Oregon January 4th, 2013. All three of us, my mother, Attero and I, shacked up in a cozy place in Gresham, Oregon. I told myself, this was the last time I was going to start over and try again. I spent the first year looking for work in anything I knew I had skills for with no luck on landing a job. I felt like I had lied to myself and my mother in this ‘new beginning.’ Attero and I started doing farmers’ and artists’ markets selling his photography and small prints of my paintings. Things were pretty grim looking and we had no money. We made maybe $6 a week and occasionally $20 from the markets. We really needed jobs but no one would hire us for some reason. Most of the time the money we made would pay for gas to drive to the markets just so we could put up our tent and show off my art. I kept telling myself one day someone was going to buy one of my paintings and that hundred some dollars would buy us food for a few months. That day never came and we were a year into sleeping on a hardwood floor barely surviving on potatoes and barley, with the occasional splurge on cheese. My mother was paying for everything and we couldn’t bring anything financial to help, but we were trying. Someone at the markets, who we are still friends with today, told us about the Oregon food stamp program. We applied and suddenly had food again!
Now not worrying about where our next meal was going to come from, we had the ability to think about what do we want to do. No one would hire us and all my side gigs of making graphics for small business owners wasn’t enough. Near the end of spring in 2014 I discovered the existence of 3D printing through Shapeways. I was like, what? How has this existed all this time and I didn’t know about it? It was actually embarrassing to be honest. So I started designing 3D printed jewelry to sell at the markets. I took all my savings from about three months of markets to make my first order of prints to sell at the markets. By all my savings I mean about $30 to buy four pairs of earrings. I took them to the markets with no success of sales even though everyone who saw them thought they were cool but didn’t understand what I meant by ‘3D printed.’ So I said whatever, how about since I have brushed up on my CAD skills I’ll apply for drafting jobs. It was a good idea because I was getting interviewed but because I hadn’t used AutoCAD in about ten years I was quickly told no at the end of the interviews. But it felt so good to get attention for a potential job, finally.
For some reason my gut was telling me I should look more into this 3D printing thing. Attero had discovered these small desktop 3D printers that melted plastic rope and had bodies that looked like strange ‘A’ shaped robots. Logic aside and completely ignoring our current financial state, I told him we have got to get one of these strange things! I didn’t know why at the time, but I knew we needed a 3D printer.
Attero found a 3D printer kit for about $300 and I had just landed a paid project for a website design. Attero wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into because we had no idea how to operate this thing, let alone how to assemble something with wires, bolts, and motors? This was definitely not like buying paint brushes and canvas. Attero said he would do his best to figure out how to put it together and I could be the one to design my jewelry to print on the printer. We both knew this $300 could buy us more food or even maybe a fancy dessert but we both went for it and bought the kit. After buying the kit on October 1st we spent the next two months in nail-biting agony going, ‘Oh no, did we just flush $300 down the drain for a kit we might not ever receive.’ At the end of November, the kit finally arrived and we started assembling the printer. We spent the first entire day trying to assemble this thing only to realize the kit was missing parts. I was really scared because it felt like buying an unassembled stove and the manufacturer forgot to include the burners so you couldn’t cook food. Frightening! For the rest of that week I would spend most of my time crying because I thought I screwed up again but somehow Attero kept his cool and assembled this thing. Attero finally made it move and it felt like seeing a new child for the first time, it was like magic and so emotional. Once the printer was operational I started printing my jewelry on it and selling it both at the market and on Etsy. I was finally making money again, not a lot of money, but enough money to buy fancy things like hair dye!”
How did you begin working in the 3D printing industry?
“In September 2014 we found the Portland 3D Printing Lab (PDX3DPLab) when searching Google for someone who might make 3D printing filament locally. The first meetup we went to was held at the Lucky Lab Pub where they brought their 3D printers to show off, talk about 3D printing, and have a beer. Me being my naturally socially awkward self, I picked a table and kept my head down mostly. I wasn’t in the corner or anything, just at the table farther away from the door. I brought my 3D printed jewelry, that I had designed and had printed by Shapeways, and displayed it on the table near me. The first person I met was Alex Dick of ProtoPlant (the local filament maker I was looking for) who noticed my Shapeways prints and told me they were cool. We spoke briefly, not for long of course because I’m just that bad at being social. Plus, I was the only girl so I was in a general feeling of anxiety. I mostly absorbed the chatter while sitting at the table because it was all really fascinating to listen to. Then Shashi Jain (founder & organizer of the Portland 3D Printing Lab) walked into the bar holding a 3D printing pen! I lit up like the fourth of July inside and pressed through my anxiety and asked him if I could use it. I hadn’t even introduced myself to this guy yet and I was demanding I use this thing he brought in a little box. Shashi was kind enough to let me play with his 3D printing pen and so I sat at the table making hairpieces with flowers on them. Shashi expressed he really liked the flower hairpieces I was making and requested I make one for his daughter. Shashi and I talked a little bit about what I did with markets as an artist and how he couldn’t believe this was the first time I ever touched a 3D printing pen. Claimed he couldn’t use it that well himself and had it for a really long time already. I was having so much fun with this pen that I drummed up the courage to ask this stranger if I could borrow it and unexpectedly Shashi said yes. Trying to hold back my tears of joy, I quickly clammed up and kept making stuff until the meetup was over.
That next weekend Shashi drove out to Gresham to get back his 3D printing pen and while there told us about this contest Autodesk was having for Design Week where the winner would receive a $100 Amazon gift card. He also said it would be a good place to go for a chance to meet someone for a potential job. I was so eager to have a chance at winning that gift card because that was a lot of filament I could buy for the printer kit we just ordered. I designed a lamp shade immediately and then asked Shashi to print it for me. I didn’t have any money to pay him for the printing and he still said he would do me a favor this one time and print this project for me. I felt like I was in a completely different world, a sci-fi world, a new world. I had found someone who believed in my creativity and was excited to work on projects with me. He printed my lamp shade for me and I ended up winning that Autodesk contest. I was in the clouds! I felt like a completely different person, I mattered, I had found a potential purpose, and could end the feeling that I was wasting away doing markets.
Attero and I kept working on my Etsy store, selling a couple pieces of 3D printed jewelry here and there, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough to justify what we were doing. We were pulling in about $60 a month from Etsy which was a ton of money to us, considering what we had went through the year prior. Around that same time Alex Dick had forwarded a job opportunity to the PDX3DPLab for a 3D Printing Instructor to teach high school kids. At that point I had blown off ‘professional’ calls to places hiring for quite some time because I had such terrible luck, but something told me I can’t blow off this one, I mean it made its way to me from Alex Dick, he’s pretty cool. I applied for the position and quickly forgot about it because I didn’t want the emotional pain of not getting called. Within about a week I got a call for the job and scheduled my first interview, AT A BAR. Who meets at a bar for a job interview? Awesome people meet at a bar for job interviews. This was the first time I met Janice Levenhagen, CEO and founder of non-profit organization ChickTech. If you haven’t heard of ChickTech, definitely go check it out because they do amazing things helping people. Little did I know this woman would be the energy behind complete restoration to my desire for existing. I quickly absorbed the overwhelming amount of good energy this woman has in her. I made it fuel my future decisions, keeping in mind it doesn’t matter if I am female, I can do cool stuff too. I basically started shedding all the negative assumptions I had about the, ‘men do this, women do that,’ type mentality that was drilled into me since I was a kid. Oh, and I got the job. I signed myself up for a 3 year project to teach at-risk high school students about 3D design and 3D printing for about 3 weeks out of each year. It was an amazing project to be part of and we enjoyed each year of the project.
After getting paid some real money from the ChickTech project we then spent the money on re-investing into building more 3D printers. We used the money to build four 3D printers over the last three years. Without meeting Alex Dick so long ago, that then led to meeting Janice Levenhagen, I don’t think we would be where we are now.”
What first attracted you to the technology?
“The idea that I could potentially hold what I created in the computer. In college when I would make 3D models that later went into my animations, I dreamed about how cool would it be if I could hold this thing that I spent a long time designing in my hands. My favorite part of art in high school was the pottery portion and 3D printing seemed like a similar sensation.”
What are some of the challenges and rewards that have come from building a 3D printing business?
“Having to depend on yourself, for everything! 3D Printing is one thing, but having your own business is another. You have to know how to display what you’re trying to sell, figure out cost of goods, margins, best business practices, customer service, packaging, international shipping, handling lost parcels, making sure each customer matters and letting them know they matter, and most of all trying to pay yourself in the end. 3D Printing is an entire different beast; needing to know how to design stuff to print, waste management, configuring toolpaths, testing materials, maintaining the printers – including tightening belts properly, changing thermistors, and lubing bearings. The fact that we designed and built all our printers that fabricate the products we sell is a huge help because we know all the parts of the machines inside and out.
The rewards, knowing this is my passion that I am building with Attero and knowing it’ll be here for as long as I put energy into it. Those five star reviews on Etsy are because I put in those painstaking hours keeping this dream alive, creating what I love, and putting in all my heart so the customer enjoys it too. The scariest thing about working for someone else is becoming passionate about what you’re doing, and then the part where the rug is pulled out from under you, because the owner doesn’t want to work with you anymore, for unspecified reasons.”
What were the challenges of 3D printing a life-sized cow?
“In January 2015 Shashi asked me to design him a cow for Urban Farmer that would be 3D printed to life size. The biggest challenge with this project was the fact that I was using a very old computer not meant for 3D sculpting. Of course, I thought Shashi was a little crazy for wanting me to design a life size cow to 3D print, but that’s irrelevant at this point. It took me almost two months to design the cow into fragments that were later 3D printed by members of the Portland 3D Printing Lab. The reason it took so long was because I sat there at my computer moving one point on the sculpt and then waiting five minutes for it to update so I could move the next point. I was insanely determined to show I could design such a thing. I have since built a Skylake machine that runs lightyears faster than the computer I used for the cow project.”
Tell us about your involvement in the Rodin Remix project.
“At the end of 2016, Shashi came into a project with the Portland Art Museum that requested having Rodin sculptures split into pieces that could be easily reconfigured, like an action figure. We were the two designers he contacted to do the design work on this project. We decided it best to glue metal washers and strong magnets into the limbs, head, and torso to be used for remixing like how Rodin created his sculptures so long ago. We used Autodesk ReMake to prepare the 3D scans of Rodin’s sculptures and later used Autodesk Fusion 360 to add the pockets for the washers and magnets. Once finished doing the design work we packaged up the files and sent them to our project manager Adam McGee to distribute to the members of the Portland 3D Printing Lab for 3D printing the pieces. It was really fun being a part of this project and we even got to take Mila (one of our 3D printers) to the Portland Art Museum to 3D print a Rodin torso at the museum. All the people who came up to see Mila printing said she was a really cool looking printer. They were even more blown away when we told them we built Mila. We would definitely print on the spot at the Portland Art Museum again if they asked.”
“Designing and building our tools, to then turn around and design and build something on the tools we built. It’s just amazing. Really, I am most proud of being able to completely understand what I am doing for once and teach it to children and adults. Seeing that spark of wonder in their eyes every time we teach someone new makes me relive that spark of wonder in myself. Right now, what we are doing with our technology as a whole is just amazing in how far we can push our evolution further as a species.”
As a woman working in 3D printing, do you feel your experience has been different than that of a man in a similar position?
“I think my experience with 3D printing is completely different than anyone else because it is my own. I don’t think being female has much of anything to do with it and I don’t really size myself up to the opposite sex because I honestly think it is unhealthy. Have most all of the people I’ve met in 3D printing been male? Yes. There are not that many women I have met, maybe a couple in person. I know the internet has more women in 3D printing than I have ever talked to before. The one woman in 3D printing I can think of at the moment that I have actually interacted with is a lady named Barb who lives in New York.”
What advice would you give to a woman pursuing a career in 3D printing?
“Don’t let your gender influence what your mind wants to do. Just because you might identify as a woman doesn’t mean you are incapable of anything. Everyone is capable of doing anything and everything. If you want to do 3D printing, do it. Read, explore, ask. Be fearless in your desire to explore new technology. Local community means everything, and that is the most important thing I have learned since moving to Portland.”
Do you have any advice for someone looking to start a small business in the 3D printing industry?
“Understand your tools inside and out because you will be grateful for it later. It is near impossible to successfully run a business if you can’t fix your 3D printer on your own and need to wait for a specialist to come out to fix your printer so you can print your customer’s order. Above all, please make as many environmentally friendly decisions as possible. You might not be able to be 100% green, but you can at least try. Design better to use less support material, or none at all. I truly believe the point of us all embracing this technology to make our everyday goods is to end the factory standard. We don’t need to make 5000 of something just to sell 50 and let the rest sit in a landfill. Make it green and on demand. Support the filament companies that are trying to be environmentally responsible like Proto-Pasta and Faberdashery.”
“Attero and I have dreamed of having our own little special place for people to go. Before all this, when we were in college together, we wanted to have a studio/restaurant/dance club where the second floor was a studio to house local art, a restaurant on the first floor for local chefs to come and express their unique recipes, and the basement be a dance club for local musicians and DJs to play. Of course our lifestyle is completely different than back then. Now we talk about one day having a place where you can go to learn artistic CAD, build what you design, have a small cafe section for local coffee and brew, and lastly a studio to show off the work made by the artists. It’s a big dream…maybe someday. I just started vlogging on YouTube after being told by so many people I should give it a try. We’ll see if that goes someplace. For now we’ll keep running our gift shop, teaching CAD through ChickTech, and building our printers.”
Many people struggle with obstacles in their careers, or in finding their way to their ideal career. Ross is proof that by persisting in doing what we love, we can build a life around it. If you’re in need of 3D design or printing services, look up Maz and Attero Design & Manufacturing Services (they’re an official 3D Hub!), or check out their Etsy shop or YouTube channel.
Share your thoughts in the Mazuir Ross forum at 3DPB.com.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.