An Interview with Darlene Farris-Labar, East Stroudsburg University
Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to interview a successful 3D designer and sculptor, Christina Douk. As we said in that piece, while a good portion of what is going on in 3D printing is on the science or engineering side of things, there are increasing examples of how the technology is being used in the humanities and social sciences. In this new interview segment, we connected with Darlene Farris-Labar, a 3D artist who also works as an associate professor of Art at East Stroudsburg University (ESU). She is using the technology herself to create artistic pieces that replicate the beauty she finds in nature. She has also taught her own students at ESU how to use the technology for their own artistry through various projects. The interview was conducted via email and our questions with Darlene’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 mainly focused on artistic opportunities created by 3D printing. What kinds of barriers, if any, did you face when learning about the technology?
When I started, 3D printing was still a relatively new technology. This made it difficult to find technical support when I had questions about the software and the printing itself. I spent an inordinate amount of time just working through technical glitches to get my first few designs to print. I taught myself how to use the technology and processes. As an artist, I have been involving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I am excited that a new initiative in education has changed STEM to STEAM, with the additional letter "A" representing art. This awareness of the importance of art in education will help to foster a natural marriage between art and science. Artists have a natural ability to be more out of the box thinking. They can bring vision to innovation in the world.
2) When did you get your start in 3D printing? What prompted it?
I started as a fine artist with the background in sculpture and painting. I also have a degree in digital media arts. I'm always looking for ways to combine my passion for art with modern technology. As a sculptor, I have always been excited about learning new techniques, materials and technologies. My past sculptures and installations have incorporated various media such as organic material, found objects, sound, video, electronic media and even light sensors. Sculpture offers artists an endless amount of media to work with. After learning about 3D printing, I saw a new possibility for expression. After researching and teaching myself 3D digital software, 3D scanning and 3D printing techniques I saw newer opportunities to extend our imagination to unknown territories.
3) What was it from your educational background, if anything, that has helped you on your way?
My educational background in both Fine Arts and Digital Media Arts has given me experience with a diverse collection of art knowledge, skills and digital software. This allowed me to trouble shoot problems, on my own, that I would have otherwise struggled with. Had it not been for my educational, as well as professional experience in technology, I may not have been able to succeed in this field.
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 am using the following printing methods in my work: FDM, SLS (titanium dioxide Nylon and metal), SLA and polyjet. I am currently researching and making plans to work with newer materials and processes in the near future. I have tried many of the free 3D software programs that are currently available as open source. To start, I use Rhino 3D to create my basic structure of a flower but, I then jump around to different software programs to achieve different effects.
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?
Having patience, being able to multi-task, and being flexible is the most important skills to have. It will become obvious, almost immediately, to anyone trying to work with technology rather than in traditional art that there is an abundance of new learning that has to take place. The idea has to be created through the use of software that is unfamiliar to most and will take additional time to master before the piece can actually go to print. Another thing that has to be kept in mind is that the printed piece may have unforeseen problems. For instance, making a piece with many delicate structures can be a challenge in terms of durability. Something as simple as removing support material from around intricate pieces can be extremely difficult.
6) What advantages does your uses of this technology provide in your creative process and designs?
It allows for me to create nearly exact replicas of plant species and change the scale when needed. I can reproduce even the most delicate parts of plants, allowing the viewer to be immersed in a world they would not be able to see with the naked eye. It allows me to show that each plant offers so much more in its physical make-up than what is seen during a casual glance at the plant itself.
7) We read online that much of your work is inspired by the natural world around us. How difficult was it for you to find ways to take something that occurs in part of nature and is impacted by the elements and translate it into something that is, at least partially, man-made?
The inspiration is always there for me to recreate parts of the natural world. I have done this in the past with traditional art as well as using technology. The most difficult part of mastering 3D printing is the technology and getting it to do what I see in my mind. Another challenge is to replicate the plant without damaging the actual plant. I have to take photos and do extensive research in plant books, as well as online, to get a complete image of the plants that I'm replicating. I have a wonderful growing collection of books about the natural world that continue to inspire me every time I open them up.
8) 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 as is evidenced in some of the photos of your work online. 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?
The great thing about 3D printing is that it allows for intricate creations to be made by the technology itself. On occasion I have to fabricate a tool for specific purposes such as removing residual support material. I also have to hand paint and glue many pieces that are printed out as components. I would like to create my larger 3D printed sculptures as whole forms but it is more cost effective and time efficient to sometimes make a form in to components that can then be strategically placed for a more productive build.
9) What would your advice be for any new artists seeking to get started in the field? Also, what would you tell younger students, especially girls, who want to shape their education and learning to prepare themselves for what would be expected in your field?
Always keep an open mind and be prepared to be versatile. To stand out you must be willing to take chances and try new things. You also have to be able to ignore negativity and move forward with ideas if you truly believe in them. As a female you need to understand that women have gained much in terms of equality but there will still be times when the playing field is not equal. Forge ahead and don't let any prejudice based on age, gender, or anything else, hinder your ability to achieve your goals. The most successful people in the field are those who continually try new things and persevere when met with any and all obstacles.
10) How have you and your colleagues at East Stroudsburg managed thus far to incorporate 3D printing into the curriculum of your students? What are some examples of the creative things they have been able to design and make?
All of our 3D printing equipment has been purchased through grants. We have worked very hard to make this happen through tons of research. For the last few past years, I was the sole instructor incorporating 3D printing into my classes (such as 3D Design, Object Design, Graphic Design, Sculpture). We just hired another faculty however who can help share the roles and expansion of our program. Our students have made unique jewelry, game pieces, innovative products and sculptures. I recently presented a project to my sculpture students that involves expression in self identity through the 3D scanning of the students' head. The theme was based on the book, "Your Face is Mine". Through the software called Autodesk Meshmixer, students took their scans and expressed either their inner feelings or outer perceived physical features. The final result was small 3D printed busts of the expressive and artistic versions of the students' heads.
11) 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 see myself acting upon more environmental concerns through the development of newer technology and sustainable materials. I hope to be a part of the innovation and creativity movement towards a healthier, balanced and beautiful planet. I look forward to pushing the boundaries with the latest research, discoveries and technology. 3D printing today is only the beginning to a better world.
Here are a few more details about Darlene:
Darlene Farris-LaBar is an internationally known artist and professor with a background in both Contemporary Sculpture and Digital Media Arts. Her recent work focuses on preserving various plant and animal species of the natural world through the use of 3D printing. Her art serves a diverse community that provides education and awareness about a changing culture and vulnerable environment.
During a critical point in time, with our planet currently existing in a fragile ecological state, these topics are incredibly valuable to the world we all depend upon. Farris-LaBar is one of the founders of the fully equipped G3D Lab for 3D fabrication and additive manufacturing, in the Art + Design Department at East Stroudsburg University, where she incorporates 3D Printing in the Curriculum.
In 2015, Farris-LaBar was represented by 3D Printshow in New York, London, California, Paris and Dubai. She also exhibited her 3D printed flowers at COCE, Boulder University in Colorado and presented in Athens, Greece. During the Fall 2014, Farris-LaBar had a solo exhibition at the Madelon.? The show offered 3D printed sculptures, 3D video and photography of native plants significant to the Pocono Region.
She also exhibited in a group show called "Uncommon Denominator II" at the E.O. Bull Center, at West Chester University. During spring 2014, she exhibited a large-scale sculpture and video art installation about bees in San Paulo, Brazil at the Biblioteca Brasiliana in a show called Naturates. She also gave a presentation at the International Conference of Art and Nature. Additional presentations about her work was given in 2013 in both Sweden and Shanghai.
In January 2012 she had a retrospective of her work at the Wu Xing Gallery in Shanghai, China. She was also recently honored to exhibit her work called "Water Has No Boundaries" at both the Fine Arts Gallery at Westchester Community College in New York and the Phillips Museum at Franklin & Marshall College. This sculpture was composed with over 900 bottles of water samples from 60 various locations. In November 2011, she lectured and presented her art at the Visualizing Science and the Environment symposium at the University of Brighton, UK. In 2010 she had a solo show in the Sykes Gallery at Millersville University called Rhythms of a Whole. It was a multimedia environmental art installation with sculpture, illustrations, video, and sound (combining harmonic melodies of monks and honey bees) about the importance of bees.
In 2008, she had a solo show in the Madelon Powers Gallery at East Stroudsburg called "A Symphony on Shallow Waters". This was also a multimedia environmental art installation about the fragile waters of both vernal pools and saltwater marshes. In the past, she has been commissioned to create and weld two large-scale permanent sculptures. One sculpture located near Pittsburgh, PA is made of recycled steel and weighs over two hundred tons.Farris-Labar says, "Working in the 3-dimension offers unlimited possibilities to communicate. Artists' newest tools and materials are endless and regularly reinvented. From the natural world to creations from the most advanced technologies, three-dimensional art can forever indulge our senses."