Today we’re showcasing Tim Belliveau, a glassblower, digital artist, illustrator, teacher, and business owner. Tim’s creativity and capacity to bring together 3D printing and glassblowing has proven to be a success and this can be seen in his newest work of 3D printed steel molds used to create hand blown glass vases. We asked him a few questions about the story behind his work, the creation process, and what he sees for the future.
Who are you? Where are you located?
My name is Tim Belliveau, my current home is Montreal.
What is the inspiration and story behind your designs?
Well, the glass piece is a graduate research project in material research from Hexagram at Concordia so I’ll try not to be too wordy. About 2,000 years ago, Roman glassblowers started figuring out how to blow glass into molds and we still use a lot of the same techniques in glass today. I’ve been a glassblower for about 10 years and have been trying to figure out a way to form hot glass with 3D printing and I thought of making molds like the Roman ones. I went to see an exhibition on ancient Roman glass at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York this spring. That exhibit really highlighted the technology of the first century and how the glass is a record of the innovations at the time. I wanted to do something like that with the technologies of today and have tool marks from the mold on the glass too. You can even kind of see the deposition layers on the glass from the 3D printed bronze if you’re nerdy enough to look for them. Since my vase was born from a computer basically, I thought it made sense to have it faceted and kind of low-res-looking but about the same scale as the old Roman ones.
What was the process you used to create your final pieces?
I made the mold in 3D software and tried to get it as thin as possible. I sent that file to Shapeways to be 3D-printed in bronze. Once I got the mold in the mail, I hired another glass artist, Armel Desrues to assist me at Espace Verre studio in Montréal; he held the mold in place while I would gather hot glass, make a small bubble and then inflate it in the mold. The whole process is pretty finicky; I broke a bunch of glass trying to get it right, but eventually it started working and we finished a small batch of glass pieces. Most glasswork requires assistance and teamwork so its great to have that in the studio since 3D modeling can be so solitary.
Was it necessary to post process your mold before use?
I didn’t have to do anything else to the mold which is great because I’m trying to keep this practice minimal by doing it all from my laptop. There’s something surreal about getting a 3D printed glass mold in the mail and then just walking down the street to make glass pieces from it.
Are others in the glass community using 3D printing?
There are lots of interesting projects popping up in the glass community and some that have been around for a while. I’m going to assist with a class led by Fred Metz and team at the Pilchuck Glass School this summer; its focused on interactions between 3D printing and glass. Sometimes 3D printed positives in plastic/wax are used to make a negative mold that fills with glass later in a kiln but there are lots of techniques.
How are molds for glass blowing typically created? Was 3d printing beneficial to this process?
For this kind of glass blow-mold the ancient way to do it is to make it by hand out of clay/ ceramic. The industrial revolution way was to cast metals (usually very thick) into molds. You can also use carved wood that has been soaked in water for a few days but those degrade faster and don’t have great detail, same with plaster molds- they’ll give you a few good glass pieces but nothing like the consistency of a metal mold. What impressed me with this process was how I could do everything from my laptop and the mailed pieces were ready to use. Its still very strange to me when I finally get to hold a 3D print that I sculpted but never touched until its done. I also have a lot of control over mold thickness and detail so I was able to get away with using very little material for this mold.
Looking back on modeling your mold and creating your glass-blown vase, what were some integral steps?
You have to be careful about having undercuts as with any mold-then it just gets stuck and won’t open when the glass goes in. Obviously you have to know the 3D software pretty well to do this kind of thing too. in the glass shop, a good assistant is pretty important too, so again, working with Armel was great.
For the next mold, what would you do differently? The same?
I’m hoping to use ceramic/ porcelain for the next piece; which is nice because it leaves a smoother surface on the glass than bronze does. I learned in this project that the glass can get a lot of detail out of the mold so there are lots of possibilities. I want to work a lot bigger of course but I’m not sure the next thing will look like this. I have a short attention span and change my ideas often.
What were your greatest feats throughout each of the production steps?
I took a risk printing as thin as I did, the glass heat can warp metal sometimes or stick, but I did something right, there. Blender wasn’t originally designed for 3D printing as far as I know so getting accurate dimensions are difficult in parts of the modeling. Glassblowing is a skill that takes years to acquire so combining that with all of these recent developments in 3D printing presented a big enough feat to keep me interested.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists? Who on Shapeways has inspired you?
I saw an excellent talk by Del Harrow last year. I’ve also been following the 3D printed work of Caspar Berger and Sophie Kahn (I don’t yet know many artists who work with Shapeways). In a bit of a different direction, I’ve been really interested in some of the work and theory Hito Steyerl is doing with digital media too.
How did you first hear of 3D printing?
A friend of mine told me about Shapeways at a party a few years ago; it sounded like the future and I like the future.
How did you learn to design in 3D?
I taught myself from online tutorials. The tutorials are mostly made by kids half my age and way smarter than me. Its humbling!
Do you have a preference in modeling software?
I mostly use Blender for a few reasons. One, is that its free and I work in the arts so I can share it more easily and download or teach it anywhere. The other great thing about Blender is that I can use it for modelling, printing and animation; the extra features needed are usually free plug-ins and the standard render (cycles) engine is kinda nice. Blender does have its limits though, so I have to come up with work-arounds for some of the ideas I want to do in the program. I started in Truespace years ago which isn’t around anymore and then got into Sketchup when it came out; I’ve also dabbled in Cinema 4D, Rhino and 3DS Max and currently I’m playing with some of Autodesk’s mesh repair and layer-cutting software.
What opportunities do you believe 3D printing brings to artists? How is that demonstrated in your work?
My work goes back and forth between objects that I make physically and art work that exist visually instead, which is sometimes hard to decide on. 3D printing is in a phase where it is expanding into all kinds of art and craft practices; its pretty novel now but in time I think it will fall into place with all kinds of other tools we’ve adopted over the years. I hope my work lands uncomfortably between looking handmade and digital – then it would be demonstrating the opportunities in 3D print. A lot of the things I build in 3D are full-scale large sculptures but I can work on them anywhere and store them for free. I think that’s also a big opportunity with this medium.
Do you have other 3D printing projects in mind?
Yes but I have an intense superstition about talking about new work until its done so I have to be secretive! A lot of the other work I’ve been experimenting with though is laser-cut as 2D layers and assembled into 3D sculptures after. Some of my upcoming work is using that process as well.