Techniques & Traditions: Alterfact

This year at Modern Times we have been busy sourcing beautiful design objects and it has all come together with our ‘Objects of Desire’ Christmas campaign.  What makes an object of desire? We think it’s a combination of beautiful form, mastery of technique, original concepts, tactile textures and sensitive use of colour.

This interview is the first in our Techniques & Traditions series where we interview makers in an effort to learn what is behind their beautiful work. Often simplicity and beauty belie the complexity, skill and expertise involved.

First up, we chat with Ben Landau of Alterfact, an experimental design studio created by Ben and Lucile Sciallano. These guys create 3D printed porcelain on a printer they made themselves, pushing the boundaries of this traditionally plastic-based medium.

You use new technology to produce your exquisite and whimsical forms. Can you please tell us about the 3D porcelain printing process you use and what goes into making one of your special pieces?

Our pieces are made on a 3d printer that we built ourselves, so everything really starts from first principles. We decided to make our own printer so that we could have greater control over the process. In simple terms, it’s an air powered clay extruder attached to a 3d printer. We can adjust or tweak the machine to give us a desired result. Usually, we print small ideas that we have as tests, which reveals a form, colour, style or effect which we like.

'Bantam Teapot
Menagerie' in 3D
Printed Porcelain
by Alterfact
Sometimes little bits are born from mistakes or errors in the printing, and our process is more about isolating these errors and taking advantage of them. This helps us build a library of effects.”
— Ben Landau

When making a new series, we start from an idea formed from conversation between the two of us. We sketch out our ideas on paper. Then we translate this sketch into digital 3d model form. As we’re usually printing hollow pieces, we need to trick the machine to do what we want. We don’t print solid objects with plastic so the parameters and design constraints are different. After the piece is designed we prepare it for the 3d printer by running it through a slicing program and exporting a file which is readable by the 3d printer.

Then we prepare the clay for the printer by mixing colours and water into the clay body. We then print a first prototype. Then, it’s an iterative process of going back to the 3d drawing and improving the file, for aesthetics, efficiency, form, speed or stability. It really depends on whether the final object is a one-off piece, or a batch production object which determines how reliable the print process needs to be. We may also print several pieces and join them together.

The firing process is identical to any other ceramic production process. The piece needs to dry, is then bisque, glazed and fired to 1280 degrees.

Lucile Sciallano
and Ben Landau
of Alterfact

I have observed a level of controversy around your 3D printing process. Why do you think this is and what would you like to say to the critics?

3D printing in clay is controversial (in ceramic circles) because it is such a departure from the current methods of forming clay which are specifically non-technical and very tactile. People see our work as lazy or unskilled. The truth is that it is just a different process which involves different skills. We are able to achieve effects and designs which are impossible with other methods and vice versa. We don’t think 3d printing with clay is a replacement for other skilled methods, rather it is an alternative which should work alongside and even in collaboration with other processes, not in opposition.

Alterfact create
new forms with
3d printed clay

What do you love about your making process?

Our process is a combination of technology and an age-old craft which creates an interesting juxtaposition within our working procedure. I am mostly technically minded and Lucile is more aesthetic and form focused. Some of our decisions are necessary from a mechanical or practical point of view, and others are intuitive adjustments.

This combination keeps our process fresh - the ‘flip flop’ between technical and intuitive injects a dynamic compromise between each side.”
— Ben Landau

Who or what inspires you?

We’re inspired by a lot of the experimental makers around us in Melbourne, and our contemporaries in the 3d printing world. For instance, Melbourne ceramicist Dawn Vachon, makes exquisite compositions which are formally and technically stunning. When we see her work, its almost like you could eat it, its so visually delicious.

On the 3d printing side, we’re always following Unfold Studio and Jonathan Keep’s work. They continually push the boundaries of printing with clay, and are a great sounding board for new crazy ideas.

Shop Alterfact in-store and online

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