Wednesday, 05 August 2015 14:43

The participants who travelled from far to Medicine Hat loved to bits 3-D artistic course

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Second from the left is Ellen Schön and instructor Aaron Nelson on the far right.. Second from the left is Ellen Schön and instructor Aaron Nelson on the far right..

The bits to atoms workshop offered in Medicine Hat from July 20-29 was the perfect symmetry of old versus new; history versus cutting edge technology.


The Medalta Historic Clay District and the Medicine Hat College teamed up to offer a unique and well-executed 10-day course which combined high-end 3-D printing technology with water, clay and mortar.
According to the course brochure, in the two separate-component course, students had the opportunity to learn about “digital rendering programs, 3-D scanning, printing, mold making, slip casting and finally firing.”
The collaboration between the college and Medalta had been in the offing since last year, but there was nothing concrete set. However, when the “intensive” two-week workshop was finalized, little did organizers know how well it was going to turn out.
The workshop initially involved spending time at the Medicine Hat College learning about 3-D printing from MHC drafting and design instructor James Kuehn.
Kuehn, who was a key figure in bringing in the 3-D technology to the college and the Makerspace initiative (which included 3-D printing) from earlier this year, was pleased with how the program unfolded.
He had pre-built the workshop’s curriculum and sent out a tutorial to participants on how to use it online so when they arrived at the workshop, participants hit the ground running. There was no wasted base-level, instruction time.
“It’s what we hoped for,” he explained with a smile. He was amazed at how far some people travelled to take part including one person who drove from Florida and made a holiday of it.
“It’s been a great group of people, who work independently, but still learning together ... (The workshop) is a good product and it’s proof that this concept is growing. Word comes out and people were able to wrap their heads around it. Now they’re on their way.
“People here are serious about this and it’s reflective of their work (and effort). It’s not an inexpensive course and we’re not getting people who are waffling about it. Everyone is really focused and it’s really great to be a part of.”
The love of learning didn’t come cheap. On the information pamphlet, the registration fee was listed at $1,895 not including GST. That seemed of no consequence to those who travelled to Medicine Hat for the event.
The actual making of the clay and mold making, slip casting and firing of the 3-D objects was instructed by Aaron Nelson, the artistic director at Medalta. He has a lot of experience having not only taught in the United States and Canada, but he also set up art studios in Montana, Victoria and Vancouver.
The studio component of the course was at Medalta’s Shaw International Centre for Contemporary Ceramics building. The 12,000-sq.-ft ceramics artists’ studio is complete with kilns, ceramic sprayers, clay mixers, pugmills and glaze lab.
 The participants learn the process of making plaster and rubber molds from their 3-D printing models. Using these molds, the students can then take them and then create their “digitally-rendered models into a permanent media of ceramics.
Nelson said he recognized the niché of blending the two mediums of 3-D printing and ceramics and pottery. He too was impressed with the work demonstrated by the students in attendance.
“Everybody is here to learn,” explained Nelson. “We didn’t know how it was going to work, but with the digital world growing we adapted it into this curriculum. We ask the individual what their focus is. We have been facilitating the artists’ creativity ... it’s been interesting. We’re learning as we go too. You take a risk to go to a workshop like this.”
For Nelson, it has been a learning experience too with a diversity of skill in a variety of mediums, but he adapted and the students were pleased with the results.
“You want to teach them the process and adapt to the process of 3-D modelling, mold making and utilizing from the clay side,” said Nelson. “(I’m) so impressed and (it’s) been really neat to see the creative aspects in all the projects.”
Jenny Judge, an art gallery owner from Whistler, B.C. was one such student. She was doing some research on different courses and found the Medalta/Medicine Hat College one on the internet. She said it was the closest thing to the perfect course she had seen advertised and signed up.
“I didn’t know anything about Medicine Hat. I knew about Aaron, but that was about it. I just never found the course I wanted which had one with the production side of it with the 3-D printer in addition to all of this mold-making processes. I had not found that until now. You go through all the processes and it intersects between 3-D printing and art,” explained Judge.
She enjoyed the blending of the two genres and eras for that matter.
“Art has always been that way for me. It’s like the sewing machine. It evolved and progressed from the loom. I just see 3-D technology as another tool to create.”
Judge’s project was to take  GPS locator-compatible photographs of the Rocky Mountains near her home and create a 3-D model of them. From those photos she was able to plunk that information into the 3-D printing program which was able to create co-ordinates and supplied measurements to create a to-scale mold of the mountains. This mold uses the clay to form the model.
The information supplied was given to Kuehn who then ahead of time had the molds created by the 3-D printer at the college. The molds are created as plastic is sprayed into form within the 3-D printer using the co-ordinates supplied.
The end result was an art piece which will undoubtedly find its way into Judge’s home gallery — the Mountain Object Makers Co-op. The co-op also includes jewelry makers, ceramists and glass producers. Each member has a unique talent and perspective on art and Judge’s 3-D-generated piece will just add to the gallery’s eclectic collection.
Another participant inspired by geography was Ellen Schön of Cambridge Massachusettsts. Schön is the adjunct supervisor in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Clay Studio  at Lesley University College of Art and Design and near Boston.
She is highly-regarded for her fine-art ceramics and is also a cycle enthusiast.
Schön heard of the course while attending a conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. She was listening to a panel discussion when one of the panelists piqued her interest. The person noted she had worked at Medalta in the small city of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.
Schön wanted to find out more about Medalta and coincidentally she was also interested in the 3-D printing. She had hoped to learn something as well as build up some collaborative partners.
“It’s been so stimulating with Aaron and James,” Schön explained. “They share their expertise in the way of the future: industry has its way of doing things, we have our way.
“James is an amazing teacher. His explanation video he sent out made it so easy. I was thinking this is going to be so hard and that was counter intuitive.
“How could I use the image from the Tour de France? I looked at the mountains (from the 17th Stage) and I thought ‘how could I use that?’” Schön recalled. “I drew the map with the 3-D program (compatible with the printer) ahead of time before coming to Medicine Hat.”
Schön says looking at the contour, she then tilted the axis and now had an interesting and unique stem for her vase. Schön was able to produce something made of porcelain and at the time, her biggest decision was how to finish the project.
“Everybody did something relevant and important to them,” added Schön. “It is wonderful.”
Kuehn was impressed with many of the different projects and was glad to be able to contribute.
“I had wondered about the turnaround times with the 3-D printer in being able to get everybody’s specs done, but it worked out well,” explained Kuehn. “It proved it can be successful. It’s been an exciting year overall. I was just thinking about it the other day. With Makerspace going really well and the 3-D printer, the regular classes ... The college (administration) is really keen on that (long distance, online learning). It takes things further and allows us to reach users better. For this, artists don’t have to live in Medicine Hat to want to participate. For example Jenny (Judge) and I were working together on her project for weeks. The college’s 3-D print lab just has another user, another group which can utilize it. It’s pretty exciting.”
“We started three weeks to a month prior to me coming here; James presented me a whole learning video prior to the course,” added Judge. “I was already up to speed when I got here.
“Before I got here I had to look where Medicine Hat even was and I was surprised, there’s a lot of history here. There’s a great feel to the town.
“It's been great experience. James helped so much and now I’ve forged this relationship with Medicine Hat.”
Like Judge, Schön couldn’t have been more thrilled with the opportunities she has in creating art using the information she’s learned about the 3-D technology.
“It’s really exciting, but I know for some people it moves too fast and they feel slightly threatened by it. However, artists can explore and come up with creative new ideas in its utilization. There’s even possibilities with working with scientists or those in the medical field. A lot of the new innovations we have are because of the ideas of artists.”
Nelson noted it’s been interested to be part of something which started from the ground floor mixing traditional technology with emerging technology. She added while some artists have digital envy, it can be mind-expanding to add the digital age to art — if it helps their creativity and the end product.
“Any maker in their right mind would want to use the best tools possible.”

Read 4058 times Last modified on Wednesday, 05 August 2015 15:06
Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor