How to Copy a Monumental Sculpture Using 3D Technology- Part 1

FROM THE ARTIST’S STUDIOFoundry of the future

It occurred to sculptor Bridgette Mongeon that one way of copying the sculpture at Tuskegee and making a replica is to 3D Scan it and 3D print it to size for bronze casting.

Is it possible to 3D print something at a large size? Yes, and the artist mentions this in a previous post. First, a sculpture is 3D scanned. Then it has to be made into a physical form again. Many times Bridgette enlarges small sculptures and later has them milled out using a CNC milling machine. CNC stands for Computer Numerically Controlled Milling. The scanner has what we call G-code. G-code is the height, depth, width of every area. The G-code tells a 3D printer or a CNC machine what to do. 3D printing is an additive process as the printer adds material. CNC is a subtractive process as the machine takes away material.

Mongeon has written about these processes in her book 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft: Exploring 3D Printing, Scanning, Sculpting, and Milling. Going to bronze from 3d printing is something she focused on in her 2015 version of the book. She was updating the book, upon request from her publisher when this sculpture of Booker T. Washington came into her studio.

Some of the problems with 3D printing direct to bronze casting are as follows. 

  1. Ability to print at a large scale.  

There are many 3D printers on the market, and there are many different types of 3D printing. When referring to 3D printing and the size that a 3D printer prints, we call it the “Build Envelope.” Many 3D printers do not have a large enough build envelope to accommodate printing for bronze casting.  

  1. Cost for 3D printing for bronze casting. 

The cost of 3D printing is prohibitive, especially with life-size or more substantial pieces. Many times an artist will make a sculpture as a limited edition. For example, the monumental sculpture that Bridgette Mongeon is creating for Booker T. Washington High School in Houston, Texas, is a limited edition of 10. Even though you will see that bronze casting from 3D printing can save time and materials, the costs do not weigh out for limited editions. If an artist were to create a “one-up” sculpture- A one-up means that it is the only copy available then 3D printing direct to bronze casting may be an option. 

  1. Foundries capabilities for casting from 3D printing. 

Sometimes a 3D print has to be created differently for bronze casting. Also, there are certain modifications and things that must take place during the casting of the 3D print. As we learn about the bronze casting process, you will soon see what we mean. 

4. Resolution

Another thing to think about is resolution. Resolution is how detailed the print will be when it is off of the 3D printer. 3D printers, no matter what kind, print in layers. In many cases, you can see those lines on the 3D printed art. That would not work for recreating, “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance.” So a machine that creates in a very fine resolution is essential.

5. Material
We will look at this more in our next post.  But material and 3D printing for bronze casting is important.

As Bridgette was meeting with Booker T. Washington High school, a new vendor called her. They had read her book and wanted to share their system of 3D printing for bronze casting. She was able to introduce this new vendor to her foundry, who is also into technology and was already 3D printing some things for investment casting. The three of them agreed, they could do it. It was a great learning experience and opened up many possibilities for the artist, but first, they would need permission from Tuskegee. 

Author Sculptor Bridgette Mongeon

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