JAW Studio - The Interview

With this post I'd like to introduce the fact that I've started an Artefacture Substack and with that a podcast. The content on Substack will feature what I present in this blog and will also feature interviews of artists, architects, makers and designers that are leveraging 3D printing in their processes and work product.

This being said, I am delighted to announce my first interview and introduce Alexis Walsh and Justin Hattendorf of JAW Studio. JAW Studio is a NY based fashion and jewelry brand with 3D printing front and center of their unique vision.

What follows is a version of the interview where only my questions have been answered by the very talented duo. A Youtube of the full interview follows.

The interview was conducted Friday - May 19, 2023. We covered a variety of topics ranging from the beauty of 3D printed translucent PLA (a studio favorite!) to the trails and tribulations of non-manifold surfaces in Rhino, and towards the end, we touched on opinions about AI and offered conjecture on what an AI future may look like.

What initially interested you in 3D printing?

Justin: I first used 3D printing around 2011 at Pratt, and I used it to create architectural models. To be honest, I started as a skeptic! I’ve always loved 3d modeling but couldn’t produce the designs that I had on my screen or in my head, and I was so accustomed to building by hand, with conventional materials.

At the time I was much more comfortable using other digi-fab techniques like laser cutting or CNC milling. Over 10 years later, what I’ve learned along the way through a ton of trial and error is that 3D printing is just another tool in the toolbox, and to always use the best tool for expressing your idea.

3D printing has been an amazing tool for small wearable product ideas and exploring design iterations quickly, and is well suited for production in a small studio, and for low production volumes. I love that we’re able to get from an idea to a complex physical object in a very short amount of time, with little to no waste, and with very little carbon footprint. It gives us full autonomy to make what we want, when we want to make it!

Alexis: My interest in 3D printing began in 2012, while I was a student at Parsons School of Design. I studied a combination of fashion design and industrial product design, and I was introduced to 3D printing as a rapid prototyping tool in my product design courses. I was very interested in applying these processes into my fashion work and creating something wearable.

I’ve always had a background in traditional fine arts, especially sculpture, and the majority of my work featured sculptural elements. When I saw the forms and shapes that were possible with 3D printing, I knew immediately that I needed to incorporate this into my practice.

Apex Coat

What was your first 3D printed piece?

Alexis: My first ever 3D printed piece was the Spire Dress, which I designed in collaboration with Ross Leonardy when we were students at Parsons in 2013. This dress went viral and was my first piece that resulted in significant attention and press.

Spires Dress was created using the programs Rhino and Grasshopper, and was fully 3D printed from 400 individual tiled pieces. I draped the pieces onto a dress form and assembled everything by hand with metal rings.

Our first project together, which served as the very beginning of our joint JAW Studio, was the creation of our collection Apex Series in 2017. The collection had traditional fashion design as its base, and was entirely hand-sewn with 3D printed hardware applied to the garments.

We developed a customized application for the 3D printed hardware in the collection, which was made through physically creating the garments’ pattern pieces first and then inputting the patterns into our app. Once the garment patterns were in the app, we generated randomized clusters of our hardware to perfectly populate within the borders of the flat garment pieces. Then we 3D printed the hardware components and manually assembled the hardware onto the garments.

Justin: One of the pieces in our first collection was Apex coat, which was a denim coat covered in studs. With Apex coat we wanted to try out 3D printing as a way to create our own custom fashion hardware instead of relying on stock hardware, in extreme amounts, in highly customizable, dynamic, and unique configurations. Apex coat is an assembly of thousands of studs applied to a denim garment and we used a physics engine to make the interactions feel natural and tactile when you’re designing it in virtual space.

My first experience with 3D printing was definitely less glamorous :) It was an architecture model for a modular concrete facade panel. It was a 1”x1” square mock-up of a curvy panel.

What value do you think 3D printing brings to your process and final outcome of your work?

Alexis: A major benefit of 3D printing is that it allows for creating products more sustainably. This can be done through using sustainable materials like PLA plant-based plastics, recycling discarded 3D material, and manufacturing processes like Selective Laser Sintering. For our JAW Studio jewelry, we print everything on demand, with made-to-order pieces. This eliminates the need for stock inventories and reduces material wastage.

With 3D printing, you can create shapes and forms that would be entirely impossible to fabricate using traditional methods. I especially love combining aspects of digital sculpting, with programs like Rhino or Maya, and coding with programs like Python and Grasshopper. The integration of digital, computational modeling and handcraft can yield such beautiful and inventive results. As a fashion designer and artist, my background is heavily based in handcraft, and my work seamlessly incorporates handcraft with digital technologies.

What 3D printing methodologies are you using in your work?

Justin: We primarily create most of our work on a Prusa Mk4. All of our work is designed for simple FDM first, with little to no support, so that we can produce a high quality form with little to no waste.

We love using the constraints of the printer as an input to our design process! By working around the constraints and challenging them, we’ve uncovered some interesting lighting effects from the layering and have experimented with intentionally layered textures, both of which have found their way into our final designs and have inspired quite a lot of our work.

We also have experimented with Shapeways and have versions of our products in nylon and resin, which can be easily produced from the same models that we’ve designed for our studio printer.

EXO Leather Bra Top and Skirt

What 3D printing materials are your favorite, what are some unique applications of this material in your work ?

Justin: I love transparent and translucent materials. Oddly enough, the natural PLA has been my go-to. Translucent materials produce the widest range of effects based on the product thickness, infill, layer height, and the surface texture of the design. With the same design, you can range from fully solid and opaque, to cloudy, to nearly fully transparent, to warped and refractive. It’s definitely the hardest material to work with but it is by far the most expressive.

Alexis: I also love the pearlescent, translucent quality of 3D printed PLA! It’s so beautiful. This effect lends itself perfectly with our rounded, bubble shapes and creates a soft transparency. Justin recently made me a 3D printed purse in this material, and I wore it during our wedding in February (congrats!)

What tools do you currently use - 2D/3D CAD apps, 3D printers, 3D scanners etc?

Justin: Mainly Rhino and Grasshopper, and we often experiment with nTop. In the past we’ve come up with some of our ideas in Houdini, Processing, Python, Maya, Cinema4D. We love to mix and match softwares to come up with unexpected ideas!

Apex Top

What new 3D printing technologies and materials are you excited about and why?

Alexis: I'm interested in exploring more flexible materials. I haven't had the chance to work into prints that have the ability to stretch, and I think it could lead to some interesting new uses, especially for more wearable fashion pieces.

These materials are constantly improving and there are new advancements in the handfeel and drape of the materials, leading the overall look to be much closer to that of a traditional fabric weave. I also have a few handheld 3D printers, and I would like to get into more manual 3D printing!

Justin: I’m most interested in the cultural implications from advances in industrial printing, especially with metals and flexible materials. As the technology becomes faster and more accessible to manufacturers, the gap between hobbyist 3D printing enthusiasts and large scale production will become much more blurred than it is today, opening up the opportunity for new ideas, new products, extreme personalization, and at a much more accessible entry point than traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding or machining.

Rings and Cuff Bracelet
3D printed stainless steel, bronze antique color, textured matte finish

Are there any artists or other designers that are using 3D printing in their work that you admire, if so why?

Alexis: Iris van Herpen is the absolute greatest example of 3D printed fashion. Her couture work is the pinnacle of fashion technology, and she will forever be one of my favorite designers - I consider her work on par with geniuses like Alexander McQueen.

Justin: I love artists like Wang and Soderstrom, and Audrey Large. They’re both making such interesting, surreal objects that blend physical and digital environments.

Bubble Earrings
3D printed transparent resin, refractive glass-effect, glossy finish

Bubble Earrings
3D printed white, biodegradable plant-based polymer

What are your thoughts about AI, do you see AI as a positive thing for artists and creative people?

Justin: I’m personally torn. I want to like AI, because it makes the act of designing more accessible, but I’m afraid that what we’ve seen in the past few years with Midjourney, DALL-E, and ChatGPT, is an extreme acceleration of watered down ideas. It’s made image and text generation extremely easy, perhaps too easy, to the point where it’s become difficult to pick up a signal within the noise, or to separate great ideas from mediocre ones.

Because AI is trained on real data, it can feel very real and even visceral, even when producing false results. On top of that, much of the data is obtained illegally from real artists with real original ideas. For AI users, every prompt entered into cloud tools willingly forfeits consent to another companies’ server, your original prompts are no longer your intellectual property, and it is used to continue to feed the machine.

Dystopia aside, the future of AI in design should be for experimenting with ideas, in a collaborative process with the machine, just like a collaboration with another person. I’m not interested in AI for the execution of finished content - We should use AI to challenge our ideas and push us into new territories.

At the end of the day, good ideas are rare, and a good idea is essential to making a good product great - human emotion and intuition is essential in that process, no matter what tools we decide to use.

Alexis: I think AI has potential when it’s being used by creatives with tangible design experience. It could be a useful tool for design iterations. Where the usage becomes concerning is when companies are using AI to replace thoughtful human design, and the implication that a trained machine can replicate the results of intelligent design.

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?

Alexis: In 10 years, I think Justin and I will have children, and we'll be continuing to expand our practice together. We will continue to collaborate on our shared design studio, and I would love to focus more on selling our work.

We've had the chance to have our products featured in a few pop-up shops and online stores, and I would love to continue this going forward.

- - -

I want to thank Alexis and Justin for their insightful answers and a thoroughly enjoyable conversation I can only hope that all of my interviews go as well as this one. I am glad we connected and count you as fellow designers and friends as we journey together on this new path of creativity, design and making!

Thank you, until next time! - Andreu O.

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