Designer Spotlight: Bathsheba Grossman

This weeks Designer Spotlight focuses on Bathsheba Grossman, a long standing and influential community member here at Shapeways, whose beautiful mathematical designs have inpired many designers, not to mentions a few past designer spotlights!

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? Where are you located?
I’m a designer for 3D printing, and my day job is trying to sell what I come up with.  I’m bicoastal, usually spending winters at Santa Cruz, and summers at the trendy hacker hotbed of Somerville, near Boston. I’ve been working with 3D printing as an art medium since 1997, that’s been quite the roller-coaster!  Overall I can’t say I’m getting rich (or at least not quickly) but the toys are great and my time is my own.

What’s the story behind your designs? What inspires you? 

I was originally a math major interested in geometry and topology, when as a college senior I met the remarkable sculptor Erwin Hauer, and suddenly it was obvious that what I had in mind was more art than math.  Symmetry is the foundation of what I do: there are many more ways to be symmetrical in 3-space than the familiar ones, but not so many that you can’t explore them all and delve into the most interesting ones. Over the years I’ve moved away from literal math — as the field has grown I no longer feel called on to make nifty math models simply because no one else is doing it! — and into more freewheeling biomorphic shapes.  But although now I play more with suggesting and breaking it, now I believe I’ll always be working in some way with symmetry.

What brought you to 3D printing with Shapeways?
When Shops were launched I already had some reputation as a 3D printing artist, and I was offered the chance to join early, so I leaped at it.  The chance to sell in a new venue with easy setup and no cost was very appealing: running a retail website was never part of my artistic vision, and this solution just has no downside.  Other people selling sculpture while I’m sleeping?  That’s my kind of business.
How did you learn how to design in 3D?
I’m self-taught, which arguably means I never did learn.  In the mid 90’s Rhinoceros was in beta, and you could download it for free so I did.  It has a command line and my day job was programming, so it wasn’t a completely unfamiliar environment, and slowly I figured out how to do some things.  Since then I’ve used all sorts of design software, and written some of my own, but I’m still more comfortable with a command line than a GUI.
How do you promote your work?
Mostly I just hang it up on my site, and of course on Shapeways, and hope. Sometimes I buy magazine ads, either in STEM-focused journals like Scientific American and Science News, or more general cultural magazines like Atlantic and Smithsonian.  I’ve experimented with various kinds of online ads, but never seen any measurable effect, so I no longer buy banners or AdWords or anything like that.

On the social media side I only have enough juice for one outlet, and I picked Facebook.  It’s good for the late-night moments when I’ve just finished something and I’m dying to show it to someone; in art school I used to rush out in the corridor waving the model, and now posting screenshots to Facebook feels a little like that.  I think readers respond to that feeling…it’s the best part of being an artist, so it’s nice to be able to share.

Who are your favorite designers or artists?
Of course I feel close to people who work with geometry and algorithms: Henry Segerman, Oskar van Deventer, Virtox, unellenu…and I’m especially awed by both the mathematical and marketing of Nervous Systems.  Overall I try not to surf too much, I get envious!
If you weren’t limited by current technologies, what would you want to make using 3D printing?
Let’s start by saying that I love 3D printing the way it is.  Before technology I worked with lost-wax casting, machining, fabricating, all by hand; since then I’ve watched artistic 3D printing grow from crude cornstarch parts to the sleek metal models that we see now, and I’m still over the moon about it.  It’s better and cheaper and more flexible than I ever hoped, and while I believe it will get better, if it never does I’ll be perfectly happy doing just what I’m doing now.

Personally I’m most interested in archival materials, like metals, glass and ceramic as opposed to plastics and resins.  Art buyers like them which is pretty important!  In that area it seems like the last frontier is multi-materials: interlacing different metals, maybe metal with glass?  Progress is slow because material science is hard.  We wait in hope.

Anything else you want to share?
I’m so glad we’re all here.  We all know how this community, Shapeways and designers together, has helped drive the popularization of 3D printing.  But having been here before all that, I want to say that it’s also been a mighty force for improving the selection, quality and accessibility of materials.  The medium that I create in is now much better in every way, and that’s the best present an artist could ask for.  Thanks everyone! (Aww, thank you! – Ed)
See Bathsheba’s inspiring designs on her Shapeways Shop, her website or play with zoatron, a playful app which she has just launched.
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