From the Studio to Mars: One Artist's Journey Into Science

As a toddler I would crawl out of my crib every night and pull a blank sheet of newsprint and bucket of crayons over to my cracked door. My parents would find me there an hour or so later, sound asleep with my face smooshed on scribbled paper, crayons still clutched in my hands. They would gently scoop me up and bring me back to bed. Double bedtime was a recurring process in my house and, when it came time for college, going to art school wasn’t even a question. Imagine my surprise when my career took a twist from art into science.

In college, I fell in love with ceramics and found myself more and more drawn to clay and glaze formulation. I’m fascinated by the endless ways there are to manipulate the material, using a combination of different ingredients, paired with firing atmospheres. I made hundreds of test tiles and fired each recipe in different environments. I always dreamed of being able to mix glazes “Betty Crocker style.” A pinch of this, a dash of that, and voila, the glaze of my dreams is realized! I was always too methodical for that; I liked to catalog my results, so I could learn from and reproduce them. My thesis in college was all about the hand and tactile sensation. I would create forms and layer glazes that could be an expression of the material and the hand that made them. Being physical and process-oriented with the work was important to me. After college, I found a job as a technician at a small ceramics engineering company, Technology Assessment and Transfer, Inc. (TA&T), to subsidize my teaching income. 

The company’s niche was doing ceramic 3D printing research and development for cutting-edge engineering applications. My job was to help mix the resin. Weigh out raw ingredients? I can do that all day! I was surprised by the intersect of my favorite ceramic art processes and how they were applicable in science. Engineers apply age-old techniques, informed by the evolution of ceramics, to solve new problems. Over time, I learned the essential skills for this new process: resin mixing and formulation, hand-detailing 3D printed parts, operating and fixing the 3D printers, troubleshooting build failures, running and maintaining the furnaces,1 tuning the controllers, maintaining inventory, analyzing and reporting data, managing the workload, writing reports, etc. My ceramic art studio management skills shone in this environment. My time spent in the lab was hands-on and rewarding. The job was challenging, creative, and technical. Every day was different. The work fed my technical hunger. Now, my hand was in the details, the preparations, the cleaning, and the processing. The machine did the building, but I brought the object into reality. As a process-oriented artist, I fell in love with every aspect of ceramic 3D printing.