Kim Thoman – “Many artists running art departments stick with their own medium and don’t branch out. For the students to learn new technologies, outside support is needed”

Kim Thoman has been painting and exhibiting in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally for more than 35 years. She was a recipient of a grant at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of Taos, New Mexico, and other awards include the Vermont Studio Center Residency Grant and Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Change Grant.

Selected solo exhibitions include: The Hardin Cultural Center for the Arts, Gadsden, AL, Godard Center for the Arts, Ardmore, OK, The Peninsula Museum of Art, Burlingame, CA, The Mendocino Art Center, CA, The Anderson Center for the Arts, IN, Saint Mary’s University Gallery of Minnesota, MN, Monterey Peninsula College Art Gallery, CA, Stanford Art Spaces, CA, Bank of America World Headquarters Plaza Gallery, SF, CA, San Francisco MOMA Artists Gallery, CA, Virginia Tech University Perspective Gallery, VA, JFK University Art Gallery, CA,  Oakopolis Gallery in Oakland, CA.

Kim, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?

I’ve been a Bay Area artist and college art instructor for over 30 years. I began working with clay as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis before I transferred to UC Berkeley and graduated with a BA in Art. Later I received an MA in Ceramic Sculpture at San Francisco State University. So, I had a firm background and interest in sculpture before I started painting for the next 30 years. About 7 years ago, I started making diptychs (and triptychs) that had one panel that was a digital print.

Diptych – Venus of Taos 1
Digital Print & Oil on Canvases
45” x 58”

To create these diptychs I juxtaposed a digital print next to my traditional oil painted panels. The digital prints show a computer designed shape that I call Venuses. Then, to relate the Venus shape with the traditionally painted panels, I photographed and scanned a painting and digitally wrapped these Venus shapes. At some point, I began to hear about 3D printing. It seemed that I already had the data for printing these Venus shapes in 2D and it wouldn’t be too difficult to print them in 3D. The complication, of course, was that I had to make the shape look good from all sides instead of just the front. This was exciting to me.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

When I realized that I basically had the digital data to print my Venus shapes in 3D, I started to educate myself about 3D printers and became initially dismayed by the restriction of the colors of the final print. As a painter and with my Venus shapes digitally wrapped with my paintings, the color was/is important. I finally discovered a 3D printer made by Zcorp that would allow for the printing of millions of colors. Then, my problem was to find a company that had this printer and was willing to work with an artist’s input and print no more than 5 final prints, as opposed to printing quantities of 10,000. I live in California but heard about a small company in Canada who liked working with artists. This was a huge benefit to me and I learned a lot. Unfortunately, he was unable to sustain his business and after doing multipe color test pieces with me, he regretfully closed his business and went back to teaching. At this point, I understood that I needed to work with a company that had these Zcorp printers but also had a sustainable business model that didn’t rely on fine artists. That took more research, but finally, I found LGM in Colorado, who is an architectural model making company. They have the knowledge of color and were excited to work with an artist. I continue to print with them, today.   

Do you integrate other technologies as well?

I hang 3D printed shapes (Venus) from structures made of welded steel.

Emerging Venus 6
3D Print, Acrylic, Welded Steel
32” x 31” x 17”

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?

When I began to make sculptures that used 3D printed objects, I became interested in finding others who were using the technology to make fine art. I was invited to curate an exhibition of fine art made using 3D printing for the college art gallery. Of course, I found artists worldwide using the technology, but I focused on artists in the Bay Area. This show was hugely exciting for the students and I even found an artist who could talk about his dreams of making sculpture from 3D printed human cells.

After this exhibition came down, I created a slideshow proposal of artists, nationwide, using the technology in the hopes of finding a venue with a budget or an angel to support this much wider exhibition. So far I’ve not found the support needed, but I’ve not given up on the project.   

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman artist in 3D Printing?

Without a doubt, I’ve felt the challenge of being a woman artist  – and more recently challenges of being an older women artist – And, finding support for art that uses 3D printing is a further challenge. Most all art venue directors know only what they see online about 3D printing. It takes a director who will learn about the technology and, most importantly, research the various printers.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

I have an exhibition that includes both my 3D printed sculptures and the diptychs and triptychs that preceded these sculptures (along with other works) traveling to The Goddard in Ardmore, Oklahoma in September 2018 and to another art center in Gadsden, Alabama, in 2019. I hope to continue traveling this exhibition and am actively looking for venues. I have a pdf of the images in the show that I email to interested directors/curators.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

It’s natural for artists to use computers to create models, alter designs including scale, color, texture, pattern, value, etc. to make decisions for a final piece. 3D print computers offer the same for sculptures. But, more exciting to me are the possibilities of using 3d printing for the final project. There remain issues with size and color.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

I continue waiting for 3D printers that print with millions of colors at an extremely high resolution with a large print box.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

There are often more women in art departments than men. Offering scholarships or opportunities for women artists to work with companies that are 3D printing might be useful. Many artists running art departments stick with their own medium and don’t branch out. For the students to learn new technologies, outside support is needed.


Thank you for reading and for sharing! 

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