Timea Tihanyi – Artist Profile

Timea Tihanyi is an interdisciplinary artist working with ceramics and educator at the University of Washington in Seattle. She was an early adopter of 3D ceramic printing technology, and we discuss how and why she ventured into that area as a sculptor. Once she purchased her first 3D ceramic printer, she converted her personal studio into Slip Rabbit Studio as a space to explore, educate and collaborate with 3D ceramic printing technology. We also discuss that. And finally, I asked Timea, a hands-on sculptor, about her journey into the world of technology and creating with the use of technical

We. The. People. 2020. 3D printed and handbuilt porcelain.

JTW: Will you tell me about how you got involved with 3D ceramic printing?

TT: I have a BFA and MFA in ceramics and have been a ceramicist for over 20 years. I wasn’t involving any technology in my ceramics practice, but I was slipcasting for much of my professional life. I was very interested in the relationship between industrial processes and an artist’s or craftsperson’s studio.

Several things happened around the same time to get me interested in 3D printing. At first I was most interested not so much in 3D printing but more in 3D designing using CAD/CAM systems. About 10 years ago I took an architecture class here at the University of Washington to learn a software program called Rhinoceros (“Rhino” for short). Rhino is a surface modeling program used first by architects, and later by designers, to create the structure and form in a digital model.

I had a hunch about 10 years ago that this whole design technology was something I might incorporate into my sculpture practice, so I took the class to learn more. Honestly, I was not good at it. It wasn’t natural for me. I worked with my hands, I worked with materials and I just did not like the digital environment.

Mothering, 2018. 3D printed porcelain and blown glass, concrete, shock cord.

Shortly after taking this course I did a residency at the European Ceramics Work Centre in the Netherlands. They had already set up a “fab lab,” bringing in equipment not for ceramics specifically, but things like routers and foam cutters for people to use. Just before I got there they added 2 types of ceramic 3D printers. So I had access to one of these printers during my residency.

About the same time I connected with a Belgian design studio called Unfold. Dries Verbruggen, who at the time was in an exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum nearby, and had some very interesting ideas about how to use this 3D printing technology. Not so much as a potter would use it, but more as how a designer would use it. His ideas, which challenged crafts as exclusively hand-made, were very interesting to me.

So basically it was a combination of several things that got me started: some familiarity with CAD design systems through my architecture class, access to 3D printers during my residency, and a set of intriguing ideas with regard to the place and use of 3D technology. I decided to jump into it.

JTW: How did your initial experiences with 3D printing evolve into what you do now at Slip Rabbit Studios?

TT: I came back from my residency and bought a 3D printer that was just out on the market. It’s called the Potterbot by 3D Potter. This was very early in the era of 3D printing with ceramic materials. When my Potterbot arrived 1 month after I ordered it, it was already slightly different than what I had ordered. The technology was changing that fast. There weren’t really stable, off-the-shelf devices, it was all evolving. I got this new Potterbot and just starting figuring things out, learning by doing. There was no one to ask. There were a few resources, mainly online by a few people who were also trying to figure things out.

Vessel for Spring II, 2018. 3D printed porcelain and glaze.

Because I had this 3D printer and was figuring out how to use it, I got interested in how it would be possible to also use this opportunity as an alternative form of mentorship and education. Older models teaching manual crafts like the master-apprentice arrangement didn’t seem to fit. Newer versions of that like design research in academia also didn’t seem to fit. University classes aren’t set up in a way to work with multiple people teaching at the same time, teachers are used to conveying known information vs. searching for solutions as a group, that type of thing. So I decided to set something up on my own, as a test, as part of my art practice, outside the University walls.

JTW: And that’s how Slip Rabbit Studio became a training and collaboration space for 3D ceramic printing?

TT: Yes. I decided to turn my own ceramic studio over into this project, and that’s how Slip Rabbit Studio came into existence. It is still my studio, and I still create my own work here. But there’s a lot of stuff that happens here in a form of service to the community: mentorship, teaching, research, etc. Sometimes people propose projects that they would like to work on and if I like the idea, they can come in and I will help them or we’ll collaborate. It’s not like other residencies where I open the studio, people come in and they can do whatever they want. What I do here is more hands-on.

Colors of a Punctured Donut, 2019. 3D printed porcelain.
Collaboration with mathematician Professor Sara Billey on mathematical sandpile models.

I have students who come to my studio to learn the 3D printing process. I have collaborators who come to the studio with projects they initiate. Other times, I initiate the project and I bring in collaborators who can help me. Twice a year we have an open house, advertised to the public, and there will be 30-60 people who show up to see demonstrations of the process and projects. We connect with school districts, various universities around the world and help them set up their teaching environments. There’s so much that happens in Slip Rabbit Studio.

JTW: You have students working at the Studio from a wide range of academic backgrounds: the arts, industrial designers, mechanical engineering and even a chemistry student. Is the idea here some type of innovation lab where students can come and test out – maybe even commercialize – some idea relating to 3D ceramic printing?

TT: That’s a good comparison, but it’s not the exact model we’re following. We do have a lab like this at the University of Washington and I have interacted with them a bit. My thinking was simpler than that, and definitely non-commercial in its intention. My idea was more about broadening the dialog about this topic, the possibilities, and less about what can be made here that may have market possibilities. What we do here is in no way a commercial venture or built around commercialization.

I want to return to something we discussed earlier. There are pieces of software now that fit together seamlessly for making a shape on a computer and then generating code to instruct the 3D printer to make the physical object. There are 2 types of software involved in designing and producing a 3D printed object in any material. First, there’s some kind of a CAD program that helps you design the shape. Second, there’s what’s called a slicer that translates that shape into a path the 3D printer follows to deposit slip and build up that shape in clay. What the slicer produces is a simple code, something that could also be written from scratch, and this is what instructs the 3D printer. There are basically all these different pieces of software as well as various tiers in the process.

In the early days, none of them really fit together so the details of when, what, and how have always been an exciting challenge to figure out. Similarly to a craftsperson making an object, throwing a bowl or hand building a form, where they have to figure out where the hand must be placed, what tool is to be used, when is the exact moment to do something. That was exactly the kind of detail that I had to hone in on during the digital making process. I call that workflow, and that’s what is part of the craft when working with 3D printers. Not just the software part, or how the 3D printer works, but how the software and hardware and physical actions of the the clay and artist interact together in the creative process.

JTW: I see that you offer introductory workshops at Slip Rabbit Studio.

TT: Yes, we offer an introduction to 3D printing as a day-long or weekend workshop plus some other, more specialized, workshops.

There are some people who come because they have a product in mind, or because they have a 3D printer but they need help getting things set up for production – figuring out what’s feasible or how to modify the shape to efficiently produce it. But the learning curve is pretty steep. I’ve had people come and take the introductory workshop in order to better understand 3D printing technology for themselves, but all along they intended to contract out the design and production work because of the complexity.

I have had artists here who wanted to make things for themselves or see if this is a viable way to produce their artwork. I’ve also had teachers come who want to learn so they can teach about the process at their location.

JTW: Are the collaborations you do mainly with creatives or are they more with technology people or folks looking to work with 3D printers in a more industrial, production capacity?

TT: People do come to me looking to design products for commercial markets or manufacturing purposes. I originally thought that would be a big part of the “client” base. But it turns out these are the types of projects I have the least amount of time for, given my teaching schedule and my own sculptural work.

Many of the collaborations I’m taking up now have to deal with auditory data, for example the ListeningCups project where I collaborated with Audrey Desjardins. We collected sounds from a space, basically the audio “signature” of a location. I then designed a way to add that sound information to the code that drove the 3D printer. I worked out a way for the printer to do something with that audio data that it normally wasn’t designed to do, which created an artifact in the clay (a bump or blob) which represents the sound.

These are the types of collaborations that I’m really interested in doing these days. How can we use this entire workflow in ways that are different from the way it was originally designed to work – as opposed to using the technology in the way it was designed to make an object or product.

JTW: What else would you like people to know about Slip Rabbit Studio and what you’re doing?

TT: What I like emphasizing is that clay printing is another tool in the ceramicist’s toolkit. It’s somewhat different, but not completely different, from an extruder or a pottery wheel. I’m going to teach a workshop about clay 3D printing at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in the summer and we are going to practice this thinking: what it’s like when you’re using the printer as you would use your hand and what technological alternatives are there for accomplishing your objectives using clay.

I so enjoy having students here from all different areas. Everybody is new to this and I love watching the different ways people learn, and they ways different people are interested in different parts of the process. When I have engineering or industrial design students, they are much more comfortable sitting in front of the computer doing that part of the process. Other students are totally into the clay part of the process, getting their hands dirty.

Right now I’m super interested in VR (virtual reality) both for the production of a form as an experience of tactility and space.

JTW: On a personal level having come from a person who liked to work with her hands with materials, are you satisfied with your explorations with technology and 3D printing?

TT: I still do that (working with my hands and materials), very much so. A lot of my personal work is manipulated by hand. The printer is making patterning on my pieces, but the shapes are totally hand-manipulated using every aspect of the ceramist’s toolkit. I use kilns for deforming, I make molds of pieces that I printed and I will blow glass into them. I hope that 3D printers will be another piece of equipment in every ceramics studio and everyone would have access to the skills to use them.

Sunday’s Tablecloth, 2020. 3D printed and altered porcelain sculptures, pigments and glaze.

Right now, for example, I’m 3D printing forms that I originally hand-built, then scanned into a computer and 3D printed so I can make multiples; ultimately we will integrate the separate parts together and add some some electronic sensors and displays. In the project before, I designed the form in CAD, but 3D printing it did not yield to a satisfactory option, so I had the form prototyped by a CNC machine in foam and then made a slipcasting mold around that for the production of a small edition of multiples. Old technology hand in hand with new technology. In the project before, I designed the form in CAD, but 3D printing it did not yield to a satisfactory option, so I had the form prototyped by a CNC machine in foam and then made a slipcasting mold around that for the production of a small edition of multiples. Old technology hand in hand with new technology. 

I’m also working with the Pacific Bonsai Museum here in the Pacific Northwest to create some containers for their plants, integrating tradition with new technology. So there’s lots going on.

Here are links to Timea’s personal website and the Slip Rabbit Studio website.

There are more detailed explanations about 3D printing technology and more projects in Timea’s book:

Online version: https://www.sliprabbit.org/book

or Print version: https://quickrabbitdesigns.bigcartel.com/product/book

One thought on “Timea Tihanyi – Artist Profile

  1. I really enjoyed this article in part because it expanded my understanding of the 3D ceramic process and its versatility. Very exciting to be at the cutting edge of a new creative process. As a landscape architect and professor I am familiar with CAD software, and find this physical application very interesting. I am especially drawn to pieces where the technical, extruded, nature of the method enhances and reinforces the meaning of the piece. Well done.


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