A perspective on bringing digital tools into ceramic art
Watching a talented person spinning pots on a wheel is a thing of beauty. In terms of speed, a 3D printer cannot begin to compete with the potter. But spinning on a wheel limits the base of the forms to circular shapes. While the artist might continue to work a piece into something fantastic, the limitations of starting on the wheel can hold them back.
Thousands of years ago before the wheel, potters used coil building to create forms that were not limited by spinning the clay. By laying down layer after thin layer, the early potters actually had great creative freedom. The problem was that coil building was very slow and with the advantages of the wheel technology, coil building faded.
Today, specialized 3D printing technology is bringing back the ancient coil building method of building shapes layer by layer. This “digital coil building” frees the digital ceramic artist to explore new forms using new methods. It will not replace traditional pottery but it is creating an exciting new era for ceramic design.
There is always resistance to new ideas and for some, “it's not art if it's not formed entirely by hand” However it is talent of the artistic mind that forms the sculptural statement and not the tool. It's how the tools are used.
As a boat builder my preferred material is wood but what draws me to 3D printing ceramics is how it opens up the exploration of new forms. While the digital sculptor can design “freehand” using 3D software, digital tools also bring the power of math into creating shapes. The digital sculptor can harness the same mathematical principals found in nature and this bio-mimicry can express forms we are already intuitively familiar with. We can combine our humanity with engineering, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, nature, sound and even erosion into our artistic expressions. It is a new frontier that adds rather than subtracts from traditional methods to produce ceramic art.
Creating finished ceramics is complex and spinning pots on a wheel is just one step in a very long process. With the exception of the process of a potter spinning the pot on a wheel, digital ceramics requires all the same traditional materials and techniques to process the raw clay, trim/sand the piece, dry, bisque fire, glaze and re-fire the piece. Clay is not an easy material to tame. Add in electricity, circuitry, pneumatics, robotics, stepper motors, jack screws, bearings, belts, gravity, etc and it can be diabolical. Digital ceramics take more time and effort to produce. The failure rate is high but the results offer an evolving continuum for an ancient craft. With so many new skills to learn and limitations to grasp, digital ceramics will not become common place for many years. It's not an easy path.
Today we looked mostly at the "why" rather than "how" of digital ceramics. In our next blog, we will look more at the actual process. Digital ceramics is one of those rare places where art and science meet. We are just starting to scratch the surface of what is possible. Join our newsletter and stay informed as we explore this exciting, emerging world.