Emre Can: Artistic Touches on 3D-Printed Ceramic Artworks

3D-printed ceramic forms, 12½ in. (32 cm) in height, porcelain, fired to 2246°F (1230°C).

Emre Can, born in 1984 in Bozuyuk, Turkey, is a young ceramic artist and academic who keeps up with the new technologies used for design, manufacturing, and making art. At the same time, he is a promising researcher who is highly interested in computers and robotic systems. After finishing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Afyon Kocatepe University, he decided to specialize in the field of computer-aided ceramic design and began his doctoral studies at Anadolu University in 2014. He selected a research topic in which computer-aided modelling methods could be integrated into ceramic arts. The development of 3D-printing technologies yielded a process that could fabricate forms too difficult or even impossible to create by hand. Focusing on 3D printers loaded with clay as their printing material, Can’s research centered around the production of ceramic objects in a digital environment.

Pioneering Research

The number of studies and amount of research in which 3D-printing technology and ceramic art merged was very limited in Turkey. Can’s selection of a unique and contemporary subject was a very fertile area for research and development. Under my supervision, Can’s dissertation, which began in 2015, was supported by Anadolu University’s Scientific Research Projects Commission and became the primary project researching fabrication methods with 3D-printed ceramics in Turkey. Can, as the head researcher within the scope of the project, began his practices following his technical examinations at Studio Unfold (Belgium, 2015) and Tethon 3D Studios (USA, 2016), which are pioneering centers in the field, exploring various materials and techniques. Contact with specialists in this area and hands-on research provided him with the environment to develop a critical understanding of the technological and material applications of 3D printing with clay to an artistic end. 

1 Emre Can sculpting his printed forms.

2 Middle East series, to 12½ in. (32 cm) in height, 3D-printed, hand-sculpted porcelain, colored clay, blue engobe, fired to 2246°F (1230°C).

During his research at Studio Unfold, Can was exposed to technology using delta-type printers using FDM (fused deposition modelling). Unfold’s founders and designers Dreis Verbruggen and Claire Warnier have been providing opportunities to ceramic artists to work with Cartesian-type 3D printers since 2009.

Responding to progress in 3D-printing technology, Can explored the options made possible with WASP Delta-type 3D printers in 2016. He found the delta-type printer more suitable for creating clay works, as the platform that supports the printed form doesn’t move. Also, the arms that carry the motor move elliptically, which coordinated with the shape of Can’s pieces.

Creativity through Printing

As a young father just starting his studies in 3D printing, Can was inspired to create a profile view of his son’s face using the technology. He examined the structures and textures seen in wire fences and lattice found in additive manufacturing, and adapted them into his own forms. Can harnessed the textures that are inherent to 3D-printed structures. He began to consider integrating traditional ceramic techniques with this now familiar digital technology.

Can was excited by the use of 3D printers to create ceramic forms because of their iterative texture and curiously haptic feeling. With the post-printing carving technique specifically developed by Can, he manipulates the printed clay structures making them more unique through a combination of handcraft and digital skill. By hand altering connections in clay that were made by a computer, Can expands the limits of this particular technology.

In his first series of 3D-printed ceramics, he showcased the clay’s own rough texture through unglazed forms. He achieved attractive effects of textures, purely and simply with light and shadow.

3 Quake, 7 in. (18 cm) in diameter, 3D-printed and hand-sculpted porcelain, colored blue clay, white engobe, fired to 2282°F (1250°C).

4 Quake (detail).

Later on, he started to try different possibilities of form, texture, color, and size. Can treated his pieces with a variety of colors by using slips or colored clay. While searching for his own style, he tried to apply glaze and even experimented with alternative firing techniques. This exploration elevated his practice, making each piece more original.

Despite using a digital process originating from computers, Can has been removing the evidence of 3D printing (its mechanical appearance) from the work through his artistic sensibility. He builds the forms using the printing process and reshapes them with sculpting tools. Spontaneous and heuristic touch reveals Can’s instinctive dialog with clay.

Looking beyond process, a 3D printer is a studio tool just as is a potter’s wheel; these tools can obviously expand an artist’s creative freedom. However, the story that lies behind the form is more significant than its process. In this case, Can links the message of his work to its formal qualities.

One of Can’s series, Middle East, reveals the sensibility of an artist who cannot stand indifferent to the incidents taking place in the Middle East today. Can depicts architectural ruins, which call to mind images of a city destroyed as a result of the political tensions and actions that restrict the most valuable asset of life, freedom. Using images we have been bombarded with for the last decade, he conveys injustice through damaged structures. Himself a witness of war, Can makes these pieces as a tribute to the suffering, innocent people. He hopes to change the condition of human life in the Middle East by raising awareness.

Combined Touch

The limitations of 3D-printing technology are constantly being challenged through discovery, development, and expansion. This technology broadens the horizons of artists, offering a new means of thinking through and producing work.

Can first creates his designs on a computer. He uses the program NX to create CAD files to be printed. These files are printed in clay by a 3D printer and then allowed to dry. After they are dry, he uses a needle tool to break through the enclosed outer walls of the form to reveal the inner printed structure (see 1). Breaking through the outer shell, he starts to reveal the profound visual effect of structure behind the closed surface (2, 3). Carving enhances and supports his conceptual concerns, inspired by the destruction of war. He improvises with carving, reshaping the printed forms reductively, elevating the infill patterns of the 3D-printed grid hiding behind the broken surfaces (4). This totally changes the appearance of the forms creating the impression of delicate bullet traces in their directional destruction or eroded landscapes crumbling underfoot.

5 3D-printed ceramics, 7 in. (18 cm) in height, raku fired to 1832°F (1000°C).

6 3D-printed ceramics (detail).

Can’s knowledge of materials paired with his expertise in ceramic production processes lends him a keen intuition on the limits for successfully printing forms. While there is some trial and error, an informed background means less waste (of time and resources) and a more easily reached conclusion. Digital technologies, in this sense, expand Can’s level of thinking and push the limits of his imagination accordingly, and thus play an important role in the development of new forms.

An artist’s thoughts and the project or concept in his or her mind is always the basis of the piece. Whether it is executed manually, by mold, or 3D printer, the important point is that the idea itself and the labor attempted reveal the spirit of a piece. Its unique character and appeal makes artists’ work their own. 

While the computer’s touch is evident in these pieces, so is Can’s. This proves to be a successful combination through demonstrated skill and sensibility.

For further information, visit www.emrecanceramic.com.

the author Ezgi Hakan Verdu Martinez works as a full-time associate professor in the ceramics department at Anadolu University in Turkey. She completed her PhD of Arts in 2007 in the same department. Currently she teaches computer-aided ceramic design courses and continues her art research with doctorate students at Anadolu University. To learn more, visit https://ezgihakanvmartinez.com.

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