As a fellow native Nebraskan, I feel a kindred connection to artist Kim Thoman’s work. As cliché as it sounds, there is something about the expansive skies and roads that go on forever. Her connection with elemental nature isn’t exclusively Midwestern, but there’s just so much open space where we grew up — begging contemplation. This is a perfect place for an artist (or writer!) to blossom unencumbered by the common urban distractions. Lately, Thoman’s work has been blossoming in the direction of a 3D printed sculpture series she calls “Emerging Venus.” This series takes her from the Nebraska Plains to the New Mexico mountains. As she explains on her website:
“The Venus Series was shaped by the landscape and sky of Taos, New Mexico. The Taos Mountain offered a sense of security as the exuberant sky manifested surreal visions that left the painter ungrounded, but responsive to the huge mound of earth rising upwards.”
Thoman’s art seamlessly incorporates 3D printing in a manner that connects the dualities of the natural and technological worlds. In fact. duality is a central theme in all of her work. Of her earlier 3D modeled work, Thoman explains to 3DPrint.com:
“In the Venus Series, I engage the idea of duality by creating diptychs that juxtapose panels that are digitally created with other panels that are traditional oil paintings. The electronically created panels are a more intellectual process while I use an intuitive mark-making process on the oil painted panels. It is an exciting investigation into new ways to approach the idea of dualities in all things.”
Thoman describes her evolution from a painter to a mixed media 3D sculptor/painter as a natural one. Her experience with 3D modelling her earlier Venus shapes introduced her to the broader world of 3D printing. This gave rise to her most recent Emerging Venus series-in-progress of 3D printed sculptures featured here.
Thoman told 3DPrint.com about her attraction to 3D color printing:
“I learned more and more about 3D printing and discovered the Z printer. As a painter, none of the other 3D printers are of particular interest…as the full spectrum of color is paramount for me. Since I was already wrapping the Venus shape with my paintings for the diptychs and triptychs, it seemed an obvious evolution to 3D print the shape. I am in the process of making new Venus shapes, wrapping with new paintings and designing new welded steel structures to hold her.”
Thoman is quick to widen her circle of support when describing her artistic production process. The Venus was designed in Cinema 4D, and Thoman works with an expert technician and artist, Andrew Juris, who uses 3D software for constructing models and prepping them for 3D printing in full color. Once the models are ready to go to print, Canada’s OffLoad Studios steps in to handle the nitty gritty of Thoman’s 3D printing jobs. A boutique studio located in the Fraser Valley (50 miles from Vancouver), BC, Canada, OffLoad’s clients are professional artists and from the entertainment industry. The studio works with three 3D printers: two are full color, powder-based printers.
Bill Henderson of OffLoad Studios described the Emerging Venus production process from his studio’s angle as the entity doing the actual 3D printing:
“Our work with Kim is typical of the kind of project we take on. Kim and her team in California produce the visual and physical appearance of the tactual. We then have to do the engineering to be able to produce it. In the case of the Emerging Venus, the piece has to be hollow for weight and cost control, plus it hangs from a wire rope. And the fragile shell cannot break under the weight of the hanging piece. There is a lot hidden inside the art.”
When asked how many pieces the studio has printed for Thoman, he couldn’t give an exact number but could state that there have been a “variety of different artist explorations, size, and texture varieties.”
Henderson also emphasized how important the right printing equipment is to achieve the color effect Thoman so desires in her work:
“We start with a stock ZCorp z510 Spectrum 3D printer, then make a few modifications so we can run the kind of files we use to ensure the highest quality. The ZCorp machines (now 3D Systems) are the only machines that 3D print in full color… produc[ing] shape and surface color (24 million colors in fact) at the same time. Working with an artist like Kim, who comes from the perspective of a painter, we collaborate on several color test runs of selected areas of the sculpture, before committing to final print. This gives the artist physical feedback on final color output. As technology has a wonderful habit of injecting its own opinion, texture colors can be modified to ensure as accurate color reproduction as possible.”
All of this is of great importance as you can see the fine design and craftsmanship that Thoman delivers in each one of her Emerging Venus sculptures. In fact, regarding color, Thoman tells the story of receiving her first print in the mail from OffLoad Studios. Henderson likes to deliver Venus wrapped up like a baby, and when Thoman unwrapped her first printed Venus she was pleasantly surprised:
“My first 3D printed object was this Venus shape and as it can happen, I had beginner’s luck. On screen, her coloring was a lovely mustard yellow. It was like Christmas when the package with her in it arrived. But, on opening, I was stunned as her coloring was anything but yellow. Once over my surprise, I was delighted to see a drop dead gorgeous pea green colored Venus. Once again, as a painter, color says it all to me. However, while I was thrilled, I felt the lack of control unsettling. Since then, Bill and I do lots of printing color test tiles, and most often at full scale because all painters know that the same colors at different scales are different.”
So far, Thoman has eight unique pieces that constitute her Emerging Venus 3D printed sculpture series. The printed Venus pieces stand at 19 inches tall, and because of the printer’s build box constraints, they were printed in two parts and then glued together. The Venuses are hung on welded steel structures that are very similar to each other with minor variations. In my view, the pieces blend the duality of natural and technological registers in captivating visual ways. The welded steel displays complement the curves of the Venus pieces, which are themselves emblazoned with Thoman’s naturalistic imagery that captures her roots in the landscapes of both her childhood and more recent years.
Since Thoman’s work has focused on the Venus for some years now, and Venus is a Paleolithic symbol of female fertility popularized by the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s, I asked Thoman how she views women’s current role in the world of sculpture and 3D printing. She thoughtfully answered that there’s still progress to be made:
“In my experience, I have to say definitely more men are interested in 3D printing than women. However, the fashion industry seems to be doing incredible things with 3D printing and there are several women who are making the headlines in that industry. The sculpture world has always been dominated by men, but punctuated by amazing females! Yet, it wasn’t that long ago (and I know things haven’t changed all that much) when sculpture departments at the art schools were filled with lots of testosterone and women had to work hard to be respected. It can be similar, actually, in a computer lab.”
While more men have dominated the sculpture and 3D printing scenes, Thoman is not deterred. She values her 3D printing design work for engaging the linear side of her brain: “Computer work is a much more linear or intellectual way of working than the intuitive way I use to make my paintings. And, now, I’m back to my interest in duality. I need both sides of my brain engaged at working in these two different ways and this provides me with that opportunity.” And, to prove this, she has many more Emerging Venus designs in the works.
Thoman will be showing her work in February at a digital sculpture conference and exhibition at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. She also has three upcoming solo exhibitions this autumn that will include both her paintings and sculptures: two are in the Midwest and one is in California. Thoman believes that the public needs to see more 3D printed art to understand the technology, and she has done her share here by curating a 3D art exhibition at a local college art gallery two years ago. But Thoman believes that the goal is to ultimately make invisible the mark of the 3D printing tool in artwork:
“I believe, actually, that as the artists use 3D printing more and more to make their work that the process itself will begin to disappear from view, in the same way that when you look at a beautiful Rodin, the first thing you think is NOT how did he make this. When the mark of the tool is no longer ‘visible,’ that’s when we know the technology has really arrived in the art world.”
3D printed sculpture (and Venus) devotees should keep their eye on Thoman: an increasingly “visible” 3D print artist and 3D printed art curator, her work is both down to earth and cutting edge in the same instance. If you’d like to help her realize her dream of a larger Venus, she is looking for financial backers for her largest project to date, which will be a sculpture that’s about 5-6 ft tall with a 3D printed 36” Venus to be shown in her upcoming solo exhibition at Soka University Art Gallery. The cost to print and build will be about $11,000. If anyone is interested they can contact Thoman through her email to be part of this project: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let us know what you think about Thoman’s unique take on the Venus figures over in the Emerging Venus Sculpture Series forum thread at 3DPB.com.