My Adventures in 3D Printing

Coming of age in a new millennium, I’ve always been in pursuit of instant gratification.  I can remember the first time I saw a 3D printer, or at least a video of one, was in a drafting class I took in high school (about 2005).  I was instantly in love with the idea.  It was like a tiny instant gratification machine.  It seemed perfect.  You wanted something, you made it.

Sometime in the last few years, Jason began researching 3D printers and decided our house needed one. I loved the idea but knew nothing about 3D modelling or machinery.  I asked him to teach me, but with a full course load and a job, he had no time.  He showed me where to download Sketchup and showed me a few basic functions.  After that everything I asked was met with the answer “figure it out yourself”.  I thought this seemed harsh at the time, but realized, months later, when I was designing and printing on my own, that he simply knew I would take those words as a challenge.  As it turns out with the free software Sketchup, there are a wealth of tutorials online.  I spent many hours reading tutorials and asking advice in online forums.

Our Solidoodle 3 came for Christmas, assembled, and in a big cardboard box marked “Solidoodle”.  We were a little put out that the mail man just put it on the porch and walked away without ringing.  Luckily none of the neighborhood kids thought it would be useful enough to steal off of our porch.  It took a little bit of setting up, but we were printing the first night we unboxed it.  I started learning to work the machine and cut my teeth designing and printing smart phone dummies (again, thinking about how often I let my cell phone act as an instant gratification machine).  They were relatively simple to design and wouldn’t take much time to print.  Still, my results were quite rocky at first.


Progression of failed prints

As it turns out, our several hundred dollar instant gratification machine worked better as an unending frustration machine.  As simple as the design really is (heating up plastic and layering it on a heated bed) there were a million things to go wrong.  As many times as I was able to print successfully, there were whole days where we could barely get the machine to do more than shoot spaghetti-like strands of plastic from the seams in the extruder.  So we ended up breaking a few parts, replacing them with better pieces, modding the printer to work better and crying with joy every time we could get it to run for a few days without problems.  Over the course of the winter we took the entire printer apart and reassembled it, reconnecting wires with ease.  This was my introductory course to machinery.

phone city in progress (2)

3D model made using Sketchup

While it still had problems frequently, we were then better able to address them.  My experiment printing dummy phones turned into a few planned art pieces that would combine the plastic dummy phones with glass cast inserts in the shape of crowded city tenements.  I found that printing models to cast was a great use of the new machine.  Before, if I wanted to cast something, I’d have to carve the item out of wax first.  This process is effective, but would be ridiculously time consuming to make something as detailed as a tiny model city.


ABS 3D printed models, wax model and cast glass pieces

At the time, I’d been reading a lot of dystopian novels and was thinking about the cultural extremes that exist today.  My model cities, made up of clustered tenements would be juxtaposed against the height of new technology: the smart phone.  I was finishing up a residency after graduating college and had access to kilns and supplies, so while I was more exciting about 3D printing than anything, I knew it’d be a good idea to combine the two materials.  I printed the phones and the models for the glass pieces. Those models I would make molds of, pour waxes and then use a lost wax casting technique to cast the glass pieces I needed.  In contrast to the rocky time I’d had 3D printing them, I was able to cast 4 glass pieces successfully on the first try.


“Dystopia” finished project

After almost a year of 3D printing, I’ve learned a lot of things:

  • There is no such thing as instant gratification, when it comes to making
  • Even someone with no experience can learn to 3D model, print and tinker
  • There are individuals all over the world using new technology to develop new ideas
  • The amount of new advances in 3D printing technology is utterly overwhelming
  • A 3D printer is just as likely to jam, sputter and malfunction as any temperamental inkjet printer
  • If you know where to look, you can find an answer to just about anything online
  • Hairspray is a wonderfully versatile art supply

At the moment I have a few more glass castings I’m working to finish up and incorporate into an installation.  I’ve got another project involving the 3D printer that I’m very excited to start work on.  In the next few days I plan to start fixing the 3D printer again (after the thermister has wriggled loose yet another time).   I’ll be posting updates as I fix, modify and likely cry over our little art-making machine.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on 3D printing and any of its possible art-related uses.

Capsule Wardrobe

A few weeks ago I decided to finally take on the mother of all first world problems: I have so many clothes, but nothing to wear.  I know I’m not alone in this.  According to an article on Huffington Post, the average woman owns around $500 worth of clothing that’s never been worn.  Many people, seduced by the thrill of acquiring, find out just how easy it is to end up with a closet full of things that are rarely if ever worn.  A lot of people, seeking to get more out of fewer things are downsizing and cutting their wardrobe to only best pieces, that can be easily matched.  I ran across an article about Project 333 and began contemplating a capsule wardrobe.  The idea behind the project is to limit your wardrobe to 33 items that are worn over the course of 3 months and then donated or put away, making room for another series of 33 items to be worn in the next 3 months.  Thirty three sounds like a reasonable number to limit your wardrobe to, until you start taking inventory and realizing just how many T-shirts, undershirts and dresses you actually own.  Luckily, the plan is flexible as it only has to benefit you.  I decided not to include underwear, tights, socks, undershirts, coats or work-out clothes in my count.  Still, my total came to 105 when all was counted.  This initial count was 105, even after cutting my wardrobe by half over the summer.

Benefits of owning less clothing:

  • I can invest in few but better pieces
  • I have incentive to make more clothes for myself, knowing they’ll actually get worn
  • I have more room in my closet
  • I now have a surplus of clothes hangers
  • I no longer have to stuff drawers full of clean laundry only to find the drawers won’t close when full
  • I don’t have to worry about what to wear in the mornings
  • I do laundry more frequently and should never again need try and fit 2 or 3 loads on my clothesline
  • I’ll spend less money on clothing
  • Next time I have to pack for a long trip, I won’t have trouble deciding what to bring

I ended up making it down to 40 items by donating almost everything that didn’t fit in my new capsule wardrobe.   I put a box of about 10 things I couldn’t part with under the bed for now.  In the last two weeks I’ve had a great time getting up and not having to even think about what to wear. Even before downsizing my wardrobe was all the same monochromatic grey, more grey, heather grey and black (with occasional breaks of yellow).  After getting rid of a lot of my clothes, I haven’t missed a single thing.  I never needed 4 black dresses in similar cuts, when one would suffice.  I never needed 20 pairs of shoes when I wear the same boots every day.  Now I plan to make more clothes for myself that are better quality and more versatile.

My New Wardrobe:

  • 15 shirts
  • 8 dresses
  • 6 skirts
  • 3 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 7 sweaters and sweatshirts

My Plans for Downsizing

When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my own, it took a day’s worth of back-and-forth, bringing boxes over in the back of a pickup truck.  The house I rented is only 600 sq ft but with only a bedroom’s worth of stuff in it, it seemed so empty.  Of course I set out to collect all the furniture and household items I needed to fill it.  After two years of stalking estate auctions and yard sales, I’ve managed to fill it up pretty well. I have just as much furniture as I need, and more nick-knacks than I can honestly justify.  The basement of my house, which I use as a print studio, doubles as storage for my online businesses.  The wall not pictured has floor to ceiling shelving that holds all of my Ebay inventory.  Still, it ends up acting as overflow for all the things I don’t want in my house and haven’t quite managed to part with.  When I was looking through old photos the other day and found one of my basement when I first moved in, I realized just how much I need to get rid of.

For the last few months I’ve been trying to downsize.  The more Jason and I talk about the possibility of moving into a tiny house, the more I realize I have a lot of work to do to get ready for that.  I already live in a small house, but have still managed to fill it with things I don’t need.  So over the course of the next few months, I’ve set out a plan to curb the crap problem.  I’ll be posting updates as I get farther on this list.  A few of these goals I’ve already passed, and have crossed out.  Still, I”m offering up this list to any of you that are also trying to downsize, or just declutter.  Please share some of your own personal decluttering goals to add to the list.

  • Limit wardrobe to only what would actually be worn in 2 weeks time, and a few pairs of comfortable shoes
  • Get rid of the whole shelf of coffee cups
  • Donate enough books that my whole library fits in one (organized) bookshelf
  • Toss the 5 or so broken turntables and instead buy one small nice one that works
  • Stop storing boxes of things in the bedroom when running out of space elsewhere
  • Get rid of the random pallets, kayak, buckets etc. that have to be stored in the almost non-existent yard
  • Limit dishes to a 4 of each piece (no more having 15 glasses, 20 coffee cups, 10 plates etc.)
  • Get rid of the nick-nacks there’s no room for
  • Do something with the things that are still stored at my parents’ house
  • Find a home for the several broken computers I could never part with

If you too are looking to downsize, here are some places that could use your junk:

  • Goodwill – Goodwill is a large non-profit network that operates thrift stores across the US.  I’ve always loved shopping there and feel good about donating because I believe in the work they do.  My local Goodwill has a drive-up donation door, and no matter how much crap I bring them I’m always met by someone friendly who thanks me while carrying my donations off to new uses.  Much of what they don’t sell is shipped overseas in bulk or recycled
  • Local charity shops – A great way to get rid of things and help the community at the same time.
  • Local food pantry – If you’re cleaning out your pantry and have things that are still good but you know you’ll never eat, you can feel good about donating them.
  • Recycling center – You really don’t need to throw away a lot of things you might be tempted to.  Our recycling center takes electronics, cassette tapes, books, fabric scraps, broken window glass and so many other things you might want to get rid of but don’t want to send to the landfill.
  • Your curb or alley– This might not be the best idea if you have neighbors who care, but thankfully I don’t.  This has proven to be the easiest way to get rid of things for me.  Plus I like to pretend that the people who drive by and pick up my worn out chair, lamp, table etc. are going to enjoy them as much as some of the curb-side treasures I’ve found over the years.  I try to limit my curb-side donating to only things that I know neighbors might find useful.  Things that are broken, damaged or dirty, I make sure to recycle instead.
  • Freecycle – A great alternative to putting things on the curb.  If you want something gone, you can offer it up for free here.

Tiny House Update: Week 23

Today we got started working on what will be the tiny kitchen.  With the floors, interior paneling and window trim installed it was time to start planning the cabinets.  Our plan calls for a kitchen that’s situated right under the larger of the two lofts.  It will have cabinets on both walls with a sink on one side with a two burner propane stove and mini refrigerator on the other.  For the cabinets we decided to build a simple frame that we would fit the appliances and drawers, shelves and cabinets into.  The outside will be finished with a 1/4 inch cedar and the top is a slab of spruce stained a dark color to match the flooring.

We started building the frame today, which gave my dad an excuse to buy a new tool (always fun).  After starting the cabinet frame we had just enough time to cut the counter top and mount it before positioning the sink.  We plan on connecting the plumbing (PEX tubing) later.  The sink we bought was a small stainless steel bar sink that was just the right size for the narrow counters.

Working in the fall has been a nice relief from the heat of the summer.  During the early months we started early when we were heaving plywood up to the roof and installing paneling on a scaffold.  We’d work until it was too dark to work anymore.  Now that its cooler and the projects needed to finish the build are getting less taxing, we’ve been starting earlier and quitting sooner.  With lights inside and a fan/space heater as required the work is less draining and more fun than the initial steps.  Since we’ve delayed the launch date until spring there’s also less pressure to finish it soon.  We’re finding that like any project, it’s going to take about twice as long as initial guesses.

Reading List

World’s End by T.C. Boyle

Ever so often I come across a book that’s big enough and good enough that I never seem to finish it.  I carried this book around for the better part of a month and was sad when I finally finished it.  I picked it up at a yard sale because the back cover told of a protagonist haunted by ghosts of family members and forebearers.  As someone obsessed with genealogy, I’ve often felt the same way pouring through old records and stories looking for parallels between my life and those of my ancestors.  The book centers around a troubled man named Walter, fresh out of college in 1960’s New York state.  The book tells two narratives that slowly come together, and finally merge at the end of the world, in Barrow Alaska.  Walter finds himself haunted by waking visions of ancestors that appear around a life-altering accident.  He sets off in search of answers but meets every roadblock imaginable.  The search for answers reveals links to many of the novel’s characters whose families populated the region for centuries.  He seems constantly stuck between forces, those of his free-wheeling radical friends and his stuffy suit-and-tie job, between his life that’s on hold and the visions from the past he can’t seem to shake.   Parallel to the story of Walter is the story of his ancestors, who once lived in the same place as him, when New York was still a Dutch settlement.  Their troubled lives, plagued by strange happenings and betrayals give insight into the lives of their descendants, far into the future. Watching the dueling narratives finally come together was thrilling.  The book is wonderfully well written, well paced and completely worth the month’s worth of reading it took to finish it.

The Art of Non-Conformity – Set Your Own Rules – Live the Life You Want and Change the World by Chris Guillebeua

I was drawn to this book mostly because of the title. but felt an immediate spark upon realizing the author had some of the same values and experiences as I do.  He writes about quitting the “traditional” workforce at 20 and seeking self employment, valuing entrepreneurship over monotony and busy work.  He questions the established paths towards education (high school, college and graduate school) and sets forth a focused and economical plan for self-education.  Honestly the chapter “Graduate School vs. The Blogosphere” is one the things that finally encouraged me to start this blog.  The book focuses on the importance on building a life that is worthwhile and focused on work that is fulfilling and leaves a legacy.  It challenges the reader to fight authority, question convention, travel as a means to grow and make the world a better place.

The Big Tiny – A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams

To anyone who reads about tiny houses regularly, Dee Williams is a name that comes up often as an influence or source of inspiration.  I ordered this book a few weeks ago while busy thinking about tiny houses.  I was hoping it would provide some insight.  I was surprised by just how easily I related to the author and her experiences falling in love with the tiny house community.  The book follows her battle with an unforeseen illness, search for “Tiny House Man” (spoiler, it’s Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed fame), tiny house build and adjustment to a pared down life.  She writes often of the simple joys she found in the tiny life and the process leading up to it, such as quality time with friends, meeting neighbors and appreciating and feeling connected to the changing seasons.  In the book Dee approaches the tiny house idea with enthusiasm but a normal sense of trepidation, only to find many unexpected benefits of a simpler and happier life.  For anyone considering downsizing or seeking happiness through simplicity, this book would be a good read.

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

Last year Jason and I had a chance to stay at Caravan, a tiny house hotel in Portland, OR.  For about the cost of a conventional hotel we were able to rent a 120 sq ft. house built on a trailer bed.  The little house had all the amenities you’d expect and all the charm you could ask for.  Shortly after our stay there we became obsessed with tiny houses.  As soon as we got back we told my parents about our stay and they too became tiny house fanatics.  My dad has always loved building with wood, having built the deck, the fence and many other things around my parents’ house.  My mom had always dreamed of having a cabin in the woods.  They both loved the idea of building something small and cost effective.  So they ordered plans and bought a trailer and in the dead of winter started planning.

Jason and I volunteered to help on the weekends and I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of building a house.  Throughout the process we’ve met many challenges and gotten a chance to use our problem solving skills.  Still, none of the challenges we met were too big to solve with a little time and research.  I dubbed myself the “project worrier” as I scrutinized everything and watched it fall into place despite my ability to worry and over analyze.  Now it’s October and we’d hoped to have it finished but have still made remarkable progress.  We hope to bring it to the place where we’ll park it in the spring. We still have floor to lay down, cabinets to build and appliances to install.  Until then I’ll be counting down the days and crossing my fingers for the arduous trek through mountains to rest this sweet little cabin its spot in the woods.