3D Printing Educator Spotlight On: Barbara Taylor-Harris, 3D Artist & 3D Pen Curriculum Developer, UK


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Barbara Taylor-Harris is a UK artist who sees the importance in passing her knowledge down to the younger generations. With a focus on developing curriculum for those interested in 3D printing, and more especially, the 3D pen, Barbara understands the need for an emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics)-based learning, as well as offering affordability and accessibility in any new product.

As the latest interviewee for our Spotlight on Educators series, we caught up with Barbara to find out more about her foundation as an artist, along with her current and future endeavors:

How did you become involved in 3D design and 3D printing?

“From an early age I had a passion for art which developed through lessons and then studying for qualifications in art. At age 14 I was very fortunate to have a hugely inspiring art teacher who taught formal art through themed exploration, experimentation and experience. She had great strength of character having had polio as a child, and could only walk with the aid of crutches. Every day was a battle because her art room was on the third floor of the school. She was fierce when necessary, a bit wild, but such huge fun.

Several staff and students would have break times with her in the art room, including me. From her I learned to value creativity, invention, and never to fear experimentation. Changing teachers and schools for a formal approach to A level art was so difficult and so my art friends and I kept contact with her as a friend and mentor.

Having had work experience in the design department of a local shoe factory and achieving an A grade at A level art I had career choices, university or art college. Guidance from my parents pushed away me from a career as an artist/designer towards having a safe secure and ‘proper job.’ I elected to go to a teacher training college, which taught me equally as a teacher and artist. Once again, I met a strong, uncompromising art tutor and opted for his sculpture studio where the focus was on exploration and experimentation, developing a wide experience in 3D tools, techniques and materials; such as, arc welding, aluminum casting, making molds, and stone carving.

At the same time I achieved a reaching certificate in Art and Primary teaching with specialisms in Early Years and Reading. I studied for a University degree: Bachelor of Education in Education and Art with specialism in Psychology, Philosophy and Sculpture.

So, my pathway was set to a career in education to inspire and teach children including some in very deprived areas, but always with my art experience and background informing my teaching style promoting experiential learning. I soon discovered I was a similar management challenge as my inspiring teacher and tutor! I railed against the discrimination towards women and the glass ceiling. The phrase ‘the iron fist in a velvet glove’ became my style as I moved up the management ladder to head teacher, art and thematic curriculum tutor, then Government Registered Inspector. From there I discovered the freedom and reward of being self-employed. I ran my own inspection and management companies until I was hit by a diagnosis of breast cancer. After successful treatment and recovery, I retired and returned to art work teaching myself painting because I did not have room to sculpt. Again, I tired quickly of flat paintings and began experimenting with mixed media creating visual and tactile high relief paintings and exploring alabaster carving.

Then along came the 3D pen and a new adventure in 3D pen and 3D printing.”

Elemental Weather: mixed media painting with 3D pen addition

Did it take you long to master using the 3D pen?

“My husband read about it and showed me the article. I went online and bought two early pens. Thick heavy machines. At first, I struggled with sculpting with it and turned to making 2D relief pieces to add to my mixed media paintings. As I developed experience, I successfully made sculpture too. It took about five years to be in the position of being able to make almost anything. The 3D pen and filament technology keeps developing so although I am now a 3D pen specialist, I am still learning. I hope to add to this exciting development, having designed branded products for 3D pens—including my own pens which I hope to be able to manufacture after launching my curriculum materials.”

According to online sales from companies like Amazon, the 3D pens are extremely popular, often outdoing sales on 3D printers themselves. As a user, why do you think they are so popular worldwide?

“I have come across attitudes within the 3D printing industry that denigrate the 3D pen as an elementary forerunner to 3D printing. I disagree.

3D pens are the most accessible form of 3D printing. Everyone is taught to use pencils and pens from an early age and already have the hand/eye coordination skill to write, draw and color. All anyone has to learn initially to use a 3D pen is to turn it on and master the various control buttons and begin a journey of exploration. Then it’s on to learning making and designing skills, application, and practice. The 3D pen is a tool truly only limited by one’s imagination and developing skill, and they will will continue to grow in popularity.

The 3D pen is a perfect tool for art, design, and making because it is possible to go very quickly from an idea to a prototype.”

Willow Dream: integrated 3D pen and mixed media paint

How do you use the 3D pen to accentuate your painting and sculpting?

“The 3D pen has become just another tool in my art/design box and its use has moved from adding 2D pieces to a technique where mixed media materials, paint, and 3D pen are interconnected. I have also had fun turning 2D pictures into 3D sculptures.”

In creating a curriculum with the 3D pen, what do you see as the most important elements for students?

“Many of the stencils included in 3D pen boxes, and other widely available free stencils, leave me cold and unexcited. I can see their use in getting the 3D pen purchasers started as soon as they open the box and as hobby support, but after you have made one do you really need another one?

I have designed my curriculum, using my past experience in educational curriculum design, to engage 3D pen users in art/design tasks; to have fun with their pens and filaments but to help them progressively learn different ways to use their pen and develop a variety of making skills. The curriculum has a starter level designed for beginners—and particularly young children—to engage them in pattern practice and simple picture-making while learning to manipulate a 3D pen in a similar way to learning to use writing, drawing, and coloring tools.

The curriculum has three levels of challenge and 3D pen skill control. It is really a spiral curriculum. It offers flexibility as it is designed so that students can move sideways across levels but make something different if they wish. They can be used to generate STEAM related questions in analyzing the designs and making process.”

How do the stencils work?

“There is a pack for each level based around one subject which shows how just one design can make many different things. The stencil packs come with my teaching guidance, explaining the best way to make them. I usually test all my designs by making them myself which helps me write the guidance and adapt the design if necessary. My stencils are designed to ensure the student/maker is guided and supported well while learning necessary skills. By making interesting and useful objects students/makers begin to engage in art and design awareness, key elements and concepts though this is understated because essentially the activities need to be fun.”

50cm 3D pen Willow Tree

Do you work with many other women in your field?

“As a freelance artist/designer I collaborate with other local artist/makers but the 3D pen in the UK is not widely known and used. I am hoping to change that and regularly exhibit, give demonstrations, and do onsite creations. Mostly I use social media to link with other 3D pen artists internationally, many of whom are women.”

What advice do you have for young students putting their focus in careers that emerge from STEAM training?

“There is a huge need to have creative and intuitive individuals in each discipline who can also apply experience and knowledge of other areas to inform creation, invention, and innovation. It is an exciting world with development moving so quickly that multidisciplinary individuals have a huge role to play. My advice is to believe in your ability to affect change and eagerly accept every new challenge.

Building networks and relationships is one of the key challenges, but also very exciting. 3Doodler helped publicize my early work with their 3D pen. Ed Tyson (CEO of Rigid.ink) has been very supportive of my 3D pen work, helped put me in touch with other 3D pen colleagues, and took some of my 3D pen art works to the TCT show at the NEC in Birmingham. This was a transformative experience as it was great to be invited to go along too and I made several very important contacts which changed the focus of my work. I met and engaged with two key Chinese 3D pen firms/filament firms, Yousu (Guangzhou Yousu Plastic Technology Co., Limited) and eSUN who have both continued to be hugely supportive of me. As a freelance 3D pen artist/designer I am delighted to design and test new products with many 3D pen/filaments firms large and small.”

Large metal alloy sculpture in progress

You mentioned a recent week spent in Hong Kong and Shenzhen ‘sharing ideas.’ How did you grow from the experience? What did you learn, as well as share?

“I was traveling to Australia and decided to go via Hong Kong because I had never been there. Shenzhen eSUN Industrial Co.,Ltd  (eSUN) kindly put me in contact with one of their collaborators, Law Yee Ping (of 3D-INNO in Hong Kong), who promoted my stencils at the Maker Faire Hong Kong and arranged my visit. My husband and I had three days exploring Hong Kong which was amazing.

eSUN also kindly sponsored our visit to Shenzhen which is a huge, vibrant, and exciting place where the average age is 28 years. Various events were organized where I shared ways of using the 3D pen, the importance of design, and some simple making skills to a variety of teachers, designers, artists, and other interested individuals. This was great fun. There was fantastic publicity, exposure, and promotion of my brand for which I am very much appreciative.  It was an incredible experience and I met a wide range of lovely people, as well as making several useful business contacts.

I learned so much on this short visit and realized how much more there is to learn too. I had the opportunity to work with the new iSUN TLP4 low melt pen and eSUN low melt filament, which are good products for beginners and young children. The Shenzhen visit also exposed me to the potential of LEDs and stimulated extension ideas for my work. This short visit left me wanting to return and explore more of China.

However, when I return, I must get heavy, anti-humidity hair treatment. The Chinese people we met loved taking photos—I’m worrying when it’s a bad hair day!”

Can you tell us a little bit about your next exhibition, and how the 3D pen/3D printing plays into that?

“I just had a successful solo exhibition entirely focused on my techniques using mixed media and 3D pen. In 2015, I was chosen as People’s Choice at the annual Art in Lyddington fine art exhibition, so I will return as a previous winner in November 2017. I will enjoy showing some exciting new large 3D pen large sculptures and explorations of 3D pen on Perspex. This year I am traveling a lot too and am excited to be going to the 2018 CES Show in Las Vegas with Yousu.”

Share your thoughts in the Barbara Taylor-Harris forum at 3DPB.com.

If you are interested in sharing your story, or know an educator we should get in touch with, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing your stories. Find all the features in this series here.


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