Betty Chang is the designer behind Tiny Right Brain jewelry. Chang’s passion for earrings inspired her to find a way to create her very own. This software developer turned 3D designer found additive manufacturing to be the perfect release for her creative ideas.
Chang’s attempt to push the limits of this technology with her fluid, hollow forms sparked our curiosity to find out just how she does it.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m mostly retired from a career in software development and I have degrees in mathematics and computer science. I’m a native San Franciscan and have lived all of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with the 3D modeling and design, I’m an avid knitter and I also love to putter in the garden.
What inspires you to create your pieces?
I’m inspired by the shapes of everyday things around me. Ideas often come to me when I’m out walking, jogging, shopping, or on the treadmill at the gym. For example, I might get ideas from an interesting building wall, or the shape of some plant, or even food. Some other ideas come from just fiddling around with the 3D modeling software and seeing what it can and cannot do.
How did you get started creating your own earrings?
I’ve always loved collecting and wearing earrings. About five years ago, I purchased a pair of 3D printed plastic earrings from a designer at a show at SFMOMA and was fascinated with them. I started wondering if I could create something like that myself. It wasn’t until late 2015 that I began learning 3D modeling software.
What is your design process?
I keep a notebook to sketch ideas. I also take photos with my cell phone when I see something interesting in a store window or whatever, so that I don’t forget about it. I have some thick bendable wire that I sometimes play with to see how a shape will look, especially if the design has knotlike aspects.
Once I have a design in mind, I start playing with the software to get the initial design idea down. The interesting thing is that half the time, the final product is not what I originally had in mind. This is especially true with cast metal earrings, because they have to be light enough to be wearable, so I’m often scaling down or changing the design.
Which software applications do you use to create your designs and how did you learn?
I started with Fusion 360, and the designs tend to be formed by assembling various elements. Later, I started learning Blender in order to achieve more freeform designs. I’m now also using the sculpting mode of Fusion 360 to achieve more fluid designs. I’ve also combined the two by taking the output of Blender and finishing the final product design in Fusion 360.
I taught myself to use 3D modeling software, and learning it can be frustrating sometimes.
Why do you use 3D printing over traditional methods of making jewelry?
The thing I love most about 3D printing is that one can achieve designs that are so different from anything else out there. I try to design cast metal pieces that I think might be impossible or very labor intensive to achieve with lost wax models. I have no metalwork training, but it’s on my to-do list to learn a little bit. I don’t think I would like to do lost wax casting at home, though, for fear of setting the house on fire.
I also love using the colorful nylon plastic for earrings and steel for pendants. The plastic allows me to make dramatic earrings that are lightweight and affordable. The steel has a really interesting texture for pendants and is also affordable.
What is the future of Tiny Right Brain?
I’m working to increase the visibility of the brand and increase sales. This year, I’m starting to participate in small craft fairs and pop-up shopping events. I sell in one boutique in San Francisco and I’d love to sell in a few more. Increasing online sales seems to be the toughest task because it’s hard to be discovered and jewelry often needs to be viewed up close and personal before a buyer commits to a purchase. I’m working on improving my photography and social marketing skills.
On the design front, I still have much to learn in 3D modeling and my designs will evolve as my skills improve. I want to design a wider variety of jewelry items and other small decorative items as well.
If you are in San Francisco, you can find Tiny Right Brain jewelry at F. Dorian, on Hayes Street. Otherwise, you can find Chang’s work through her website, Instagram, Facebook, Shapeways shop, or Etsy shop.