3D-printed ceramics combine tradition with technology

To a traditional ceramic artist, today’s technology is sometimes at odds with their craft. But contemporary artists see the technology as a part of the craft tradition—just another tool to use and adapt to make their vision a reality.

“I make modular, geometric designs which are very complex,” ceramic artist and graphic designer Taekyeom Lee says, “and I can repeat the same shape over and over again. With those kinds of patterns, a piece is going to have a good self-reinforcing structure. That helps it hold its shape when you print it and fire it.”

“The 3D printer is just a new tool. You can make these kinds of designs with your own hands, but it’s very hard to make those shapes by hand. We could do it but technically it takes too much time.”

Lee uses custom 3D printers and design software in his creative process. The Appalachian State professor visits the Libraries on Thursday, March 30, from 6-7 p.m. in D. H. Hill Library’s Auditorium for a public talk about how he has adapted 3D printers to produce his startlingly elegant and geometric ceramic work and how a broader view of technology can open new possibilities for artists and designers.

The following day, Lee will also lead a hands-on workshop on 3D printing ceramics in D. H. Hill’s Makerspace for NC State students, faculty and staff. From 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday, March 31, Lee will use one of his own custom-built 3D printers to show how he sets up a ceramic print, walk attendees through the software design process and print student designs.

Presented with generous support from Glen Raven, Inc., and organized by NCSU Libraries Presents, both the workshop and the talk are free.

Lee works with unconventional materials ranging from plastic to precious metal clay by building his own tools, including a desktop 3D printer and paste extruders. He came to 3D printing as a way of producing work without needing to use traditional molds to build a shape with clay. Quickly, the tools became second-nature to him.

“With 3D printers, I had to learn to set their configurations. I had to ask new questions like whether I was going to use infill or not,” Lee says. “Clay is really sensitive, and I use an air compressor to feed it into the printer. So there was a lot of trial and error.”

“I had to play with the castings and know the viscosity of the castings. To print wet clay, it can’t be super solid or super soft. If it’s too soft, it won’t hold its shape, but if it’s too solid it won’t extrude well. So I have to add water or clay to get it right. And I have to find the right air pressure too—certain types of clay with certain types of viscosity work with certain PSI. It kind of relies on my sensitivity. Gradually you just kind of know what to do.”