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An Interview with Christina Douk, 3D Artist

Many of the great people we have had the opportunity to interview in 3D printing have been on the scientific or engineering side of the technology. While there is a lot going on with that side, it is only one part of the possibilities of the still emerging technology. We have seen an increasing amount of stories that deal with the other side of the spectrum with new possibilities in arts and humanities unlocked by the advances in 3D printing. One such example is the case of Christina Douk who uses her immense artistic talent combined with 3D printing to create unique toy figures and prototypes for a startup company. The interview was conducted via email and our questions with Christina’s answers appear below:

1) Typically when people think of 3D printing now, it seems it is most often tied to STEM education. Your work, on the other hand, seems to be almost entirely focused on the artistic side of 3D printing. What kinds of barriers, if any, did you face when learning about the technology?
I didn't really have a technical education in the traditional sense. I jumped around from different industries of 3D modeling, which led me to 3D printing today. I had found information about the subject through friends, events, meetups and sources online. I then started hearing through word of mouth of artist based 3d printing workshops, with Mold3D, and classes at UArtsy, where I learned tremendous amounts of information on the subject and then bought my own printers to test out models and learn through trial and error. There is also a large community of artists using 3D printing as a medium, and talking and collaborating with them has also been helpful through my learning process.

2) What was it from your educational background, if anything, that has helped you on your way?
I studied 3D modeling for games and films when I was in school. I used Maya, Zbrush, Modo, and Photoshop for most of my work, within games for about 3 years, and product/commercial/film modeling for about 2 years. Currently, I work as a 3D sculptor for toy fabrication and prototyping at a startup. I have found that all of the knowledge that I have gathered from school and work has been connected from one skill to another. Skills of drawing, sculpting, lighting, and rendering are all important aspects of what allows me to create all my pieces today, because it allows me to analyze and envision the piece from a different perspective.

3) When did you get your start in 3D printing? What prompted it?
I have always been fond of 3D printing in school. It wasn't available for me at the time though, since printing prices were very out of range, but I kept looking into it. I always dreamt that one day I could take the models of characters, vehicles and props that I have made, and turn them into physical objects and toys, and it is just so amazing that today, it is actually possible. Printers have become a lot more affordable and are a lot more stable these days, which has made it easier to build prototypes without worrying too much over the high risk of costs.

4) What type(s) of printers, materials and software do you currently use for your design work? Do you have plans to switch or add in the near future?
I currently have been using the Form 1+ through a friend, and services like Sculpteo/Shapeways for my prints. As of right now, I own one ABS printer, the UP! Mini, and one resin, the Titan 1, but I plan to in the future use a Form 2 when I can get the funding. For me, I have always been amazed with the quality of Formlab printers and because of their production level quality and their ease of use, I plan to purchase that one next year to further my workflow.

5) From an artistic perspective, what do you think someone has to keep in mind when they decide to make the switch to this technology from another more "traditional" one?
Technology can be intimidating at first glance, but I believe that it is there to help you, not to block you. The skills that you learn traditionally do not go to waste and they can easily be transitioned using this medium. That is because traditional arts teaches us "why" and "how" we create the way we do. Technology will always continue to grow and change, and there will always be another tool to learn as time goes on, but I like to keep in mind that the theory of why and how will never change. So whatever medium I am given, I will keep creating pieces the way I do and just spend time and effort to learn new tech that comes along which will eventually benefit my process.

6) What advantages does your uses of this technology provide in your creative process and designs? How does this impact the design process for you when compared to other methods of design? Does this allow you to work on several smaller projects at once, or do you prefer to take them on one at a time?
Being able to 3D print my work has allowed me to envision what the piece will look like before making the final product. I get to try out pieces, to check and see if it will print, if it will function, and whether or not viewers would be interested in the product. I have also learned a lot from trial and error, because now I do a lot of preplanning before even beginning to start the model. I need to scope out size dimensions of the print that I want, how it will be displayed, and how much detail will be on it. From there, I will gauge how I will model the piece, and where my optimal cuts and setup points are. Although it has made the art side of it a bit more technical, I like to think of it as a puzzle and a challenge to get the design to work and print correctly. Of course it is not always perfect, so I will have to do some of the clean up and polish post print. It does allow me to work on multiple pieces though, since I have down time when prints are sent off, are being casted, or when paint is drying.

7) Also, as someone who is an artist, we would imagine that there is at least a fair amount of detail that goes into the pieces you create. How are you able to create more sophisticated items with the tools you have available? Does it require the use of other equipment like a finishing tool?
It is actually amazing what today's printers can capture. Especially with SLA and SLS I have had very successful prints with the details that I put in. I mainly use Maya and Zbrush, and the details have been so close 1 to 1. When sculpting a piece, I have to make sure I plan the scale that it will be printed at, and refer to the size constantly by zooming in and out of the piece a lot. We lose a lot of surface detail, which is why you have to exaggerate it just a bit when prepping it for print. If some areas are too thin or too blurred after print, I go back in with exacto knives and fine point tools to pull some of the details back out by hand..

8) What would your advice be for any new artists seeking to get started in the field? Also, what would you tell younger students who want to shape their education and learning to prepare themselves for what would be expected in your field?
Reach out to the community of artists that is out there using 3d printing. You would be surprised how many amazing artists I have met in this process, and how welcoming and helpful they have been. It is a growing network of people, and we have all gone through struggles with one or more printers, that the experience we have to share can be quite beneficial to the journey. There are a lot of sources to learn from, but getting hands on experience and advice has probably been the most helpful thing for me.

9) Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years? What would you like to accomplish in 3D printing that you haven't already?
I have a lot of fun things planned to make with 3D printing. By next year I plan to launch my first toy line, more details to come in the spring, but here is a sneak peak. The robots will be 3D printed and casted as designer toys that will be available for purchase in the fall of 2016. On top of that I have been working on some set pieces and displays for future events and expos to showcase them at. I have dabbled a little bit into custom jewelry printing, but will probably make a bigger focus on that next year as well.

10) How do you as a 3D artist find clients and convince them the that this technology is right for them? Have they already made up their minds to allow you to use 3D printing before they come to you?
Most of my clients have found me through expos and friend/colleague referrals. The clients that I have worked with, already have some knowledge about 3D printing and most have used it to prototype toys. I have also worked on footwear and accessory prototypes as well with clients who own or are affiliated with large industrial printing companies. A lot of the pieces I have showing online though, are mainly personal portfolio pieces that are toy or sculpture related.

Here are a few more details about Christina:
Check out her website at http://www.douk3d.com
She can also be reached via email, Doukie829@gmail.com, or on Instagram, @douk3d