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Posted 07.04.16

Introducing Alfie Smith — Made@EU residency artist

By Sarah Packer

Alfie Smith, Made@EU residency participant

Made@EU is an exciting European Fab Lab project, bringing together prestigious organisations in the UK, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Budapest.

The Made@EU project invited emerging designers and creative talent to put forward proposals for enhancing their practice utilising facilities in Digital Fabrication Laboratories, otherwise known as Fab Labs.

We offered a number of subsidized residencies to give selected applicants access to our specialist traditional and digital workshops, to enable them to develop a project that creatively investigates the merging of traditional crafts with 3D technology offered by 3D digital ‘maker’ technologies.

We sat down with our first Made@EU residency participant Alfie Smith to talk about his project, affordable 3D printing and his time at the college...

Alfie is our first resident artist on the Made@EU programme using our facilities to explore modular forms.

Hi Alfie, congratulations on securing the residency, what made you want to apply?

Thanks, at the moment I’m also studying BA (Hons) in Applied Arts at Wolverhampton University. I applied for the residency because my entire degree has involved the use of new technologies in art and their relationship with traditional crafts.

The residency was specifically focused on digital applications in art so it was the perfect opportunity to explore some avenues that I would struggle to do on my own.

"Everyone is passionate and open to new ways of thinking which is exactly what you want in a creative environment." — Alfie Smith

Tell us about your project.

My project is to experiment with the idea of using Pâte De Verre paste as a 3D printing medium. This can be done using extremely expensive machinery, but I feel it is something that could be done in more affordable ways.

Alfie's experiments enabled him to explore different forms, patterns and textures.

The process of Pâte De Verre usually involves painting the glass on to the inside of a plaster mould and then firing, this produces beautiful pieces of glass that can be extremely complex and fragile. I wanted to see if I could change the traditional recipe to do something similar involving a delta printer.

What is a delta printer?

The 3D Delta printer is made from compiled, open source files. It was initially designed by the ceramicist Jonathan Keep who then put his design online for other enthusiasts to use and improve.

"I tried to keep the designs relatively simple at the start to not throw too many problems into the mix, but they are becoming increasingly complex as I progress." — Alfie Smith

My Applied Arts lecturer Paul McAllister at Wolverhampton University had previously built a version of it and I was encouraged to do the same by my lecturers, which was tough but rewarding.

The idea that anyone could potentially build one was appealing to me because it showed the accessibility of new technologies in the modern world, which is something I am keen to promote.

Alfie is looking to collaborate with Jewellery student Luke Axworthy and our textiles programmes.

The printer works using an air pressured cartridge that is filled with a paste, similar to an icing bag. This means it has the potential to print a variety of materials including clay, chocolate, cement etc. Because of this it has allowed me to experiment with the idea of using Pâte De Verre in a new and reasonably affordable way.

"I will also be making some complex lace designs which I will slump to look like drapery, which will show an alternative two dimensional use of the process." — Alfie Smith

So what challenges did you face in this project?

I have faced a lot of challenges throughout the project because there are so many variables involved with the process. The software of the printer, the recipe of the paste, the environment that it is printed in and the firing process are all separate factors that need to be addressed.

Alfie built his own 3D printer using open-source files.

This has meant that it is still an ongoing process, but it has made great progression. The main issues were getting the consistency of the material correct so that it worked as effectively as possible with the printer and then getting the firing schedule right to ensure the unsupported print didn't collapse in the kiln.

I managed to solve both of those issues for the most part which allowed me to focus more on the designs themselves and see what I could push the printer to do.  

So a lot of experimentation! What was your working process for this?

Yes, my experiments progressed, starting from puddles of molten glass up to more complex three dimensional pieces.

"It has allowed me to experiment with the idea of using Pâte De Verre in a new and reasonably affordable way." — Alfie Smith

I tried to keep the designs relatively simple at the start to not throw too many problems into the mix, but they are becoming increasingly complex as I progress.

Of course they are still a way from being finished but I hope to keep working on them now that I have resolved some of the issues with material consistency and firing schedules.

However, I discovered that even the fallen vessels gained attention from onlookers because of their ‘fabric-like’ qualities which is difficult to reproduce in glass.

Did you collaborate with any of the students or staff whilst here?

Yes, I am currently in talks with one of the metalwork students Luke Axworthy about a joint project which I will hopefully be doing some work on when I return to Wolverhampton University.

"When I found some free time it was nice to be able to stroll down to the Barbican within the space of five minutes and feel like I wasn’t in a city anymore." — Alfie Smith

He creates beautiful silver vessels that look as if they have eroded in places and we talked about the potential for a 3D printed insert that could compliment them. Also there are ideas to use the Pâte De Verre printing in conjunction with a textile course to create some unique fabric-like glass pieces.

It sounds like you’re going to be busy! What will you be displaying in the exhibition later this year?

I will be displaying my full range of tests and pieces from this project, hopefully including some small vessels that I am working towards for the end of my degree.

These pieces will collectively demonstrate the process and the potential for future use. I may display some pieces of glass blowing that have 3D printed designs incorporated within them.

I will also be making some complex lace designs which I will slump to look like drapery, which will show an alternative two dimensional use of the process.

"I’m going to be coming back to the college in May to do a talk to the Masters students here which is really exciting." — Alfie Smith

Sounds exciting, so what was it like staying in Plymouth for your residency?

Plymouth was a really nice change of scenery for me, I grew up in a small village in Staffordshire so I’m not used to being so close to everything – especially the sea!

When I found some free time it was nice to be able to stroll down to the Barbican within the space of five minutes and feel like I wasn’t in a city anymore.

The city itself seems to be very welcoming of art and design and I love that, it's great to see that artists are getting a good amount of exposure to the public.

What is your impression of Plymouth College of Art?

Plymouth College of Art was great, I couldn't fault the facilities and the staffing. Everyone is passionate and open to new ways of thinking which is exactly what you want in a creative environment.

"I may display some pieces of glass blowing that have 3D printed designs incorporated within them." — Alfie Smith

I couldn't have asked for any more support and encouragement from both the staff and students, both of which helped me improve my work. All of the students that I spoke to seem very passionate about their work and it was great to see the facilities getting used to their potential.

The FabLab is an amazing addition to the college, the staff are outstanding and they do everything they can to help both students and myself create pieces of work that wouldn't be possible without their support, I really can’t thank them enough.

Students from across the college use our Fab Lab bringing their innovative designs to life.

And after having an in-depth conversation with Principal Professor Andrew Brewerton, it seems that the future for the college is looking bright and that everything is being done to ensure staff and students have the ability to create amazing pieces of work!

I’d just like to thank everyone that was involved with the project and everyone at Plymouth College of Art for making me feel so welcome, I enjoyed my time here immensely.

So when will we be seeing you next?

I’m going to be coming back to the college in May to do a talk to the Masters students here which is really exciting. I’m also planning on working with Ian Hankey in your FabLab to build a 3D printer and I might be coming back later in the year to deliver a Masterclass, so you will definitely see me around!
 

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