Vicky Somma is the author of Blender 3D Printing by Example and teaches classes on TinkerCAD, OpenSCAD, Blender, Cura, and 3D Printing at libraries and local colleges. She sells her 3D Printed designs at craft shows and on Etsy. Vicky’s 3D Printed ornaments have hung on holiday trees in the White House and the Virginia Executive Mansion. Her work has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, CBSNews, 3DPrint.com, 3DPrintingIndustry.com, 3Ders.org, the Washington Post, and Michelle Obama’s Instagram. We are thrilled to feature her in this week’s Women in 3D Printing article.
Vicky, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
I have a pretty fulfilling, but unrelated, day job. I’m the lead software developer on a web application used by Food Safety Labs who are testing your food for pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella. I’ve always had some kind of crafting hobby through the years. I used to design and make gifts with plastic canvas. I’ve dabbled in FIMO clay, went through a crocheting phase, struggled my way through sewing a Quilt Pillow. 3D Printing has become the culmination of that crafting mindset. I used to sketch on graph paper of designs I was going to stitch. Now I sketch designs I’m going to 3D Model in Blender.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
My very first 3D Printing experience was making a Breastfeeding Charm for myself. A friend of mine was selling Origami Owl. You buy a clear glass locket and then you fill it with charms that “tell your story.” I had an infant at the time and a large part of my story, day and night, was breastfeeding. They didn’t sell a breastfeeding charm so I learned Blender. I uploaded my design to a service bureau and about a week later, I was holding the charm I designed myself.
What were some of the challenges of teaching yourself to a technology like additive manufacturing?
The very first upload to a service bureau took me much, much longer than it should have. I knew when the model was uploaded, it would be checked for issues. I kept checking and double-checking wall thicknesses and nitpicking every aspect of the design. Ultimately, I was worried about being embarrassed which makes very little sense. It is an algorithm checking the models. No one would have known about any issues except for me. Instead of fearing those error messages and striving for perfection the very first time, I wish I had just uploaded it and used the feedback as actual feedback and not a sign of defeat.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start learning about 3D printing on their own?
You can learn in small increments. I have a full-time job. I have two young sons. A lot of my learning is squeezed into early morning or late-night hours. A lot of my initial Blender learning was done while attached to a breast pump. It will seem slow going, but the little learning sessions add up.
Also, know there are large communities of designers and 3D printing enthusiasts out there that are very generous with sharing their knowledge. Manufacturer-specific Facebook groups and forums are helpful for troubleshooting specific printer issues. YouTube is excellent for learning modeling and slicing tricks.
What was the project you’re the proudest of?
Project-wise, I think I am most proud of a collection of “Upcycling with 3D Printing” projects I did for 2018’s Maker Faire Nova. When I sent them my proposal, I just had ideas and no finished pieces. The only photo I could attach was a picture of all the source material. It was a photo of a pile of trash.
And yet, they had confidence in me and accepted my proposal! In nine weeks, I delivered all but one of my proposed designs. I had planters made out of old filament spools. 3D printed bracelets with embedded aluminum from soda cans. Old Tic Tac containers became hanging mini planters and craft storage. Old wine corks became a combination bulletin board/chalkboard. 156 old K-Cups were cut and combined with 3D printed centers to become a giant daisy pendant lamp shade. I am still really proud how everything turned out and am still loving trying to incorporate an upcycling component to my designs.
On a non-project note, I was recently going through my oldest son’s papers from school. He had an assignment where he had to write positive things about himself. He wrote, “I am good at making stuff.” That just melted my heart. My sons and my niece all regularly help with my projects. I love that is helping fuel their own creativity and confidence.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D Printing?
I don’t believe so.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
The work of e-NABLE is always a standout. I also was quite struck and inspired by the 2,625 pieces We The Rosies sculpture We The Builders and Tested coordinated last summer to celebrate diversity for the Nations of Makers conference.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?
On the FFF/FDM side, I am pleased to see attention going towards multi-color printing. The Mosaic Palette 2 is delivering some stunning results and I’m keeping an eye on the blending M3D is working on with their Crane Quad.
For years I have coveted a SLS printer. I am excited for desktop versions to become more affordable.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
What intrigues me the most is how each person is empowered to make what they want to make. No one is bound to buy what someone else has chosen to mass produce. We can all make our own ideas come to life.
On social media, you do see a lot of the same models over again, the Baby Groots, the Benchies, the Hairy Lions, but then you also see so many unique and fresh ideas. Looking at the 3D Printed Derby from last year’s East Coast Rep Rap Festival is a nice glimpse into the diversity the 3D Printing Community has to offer. Like the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, the competition had some very specific design guidelines and rules. Still, each entrant brought in their own perspective and taste. You could see a wide range of personalities represented in the vehicles.
As the diversity in the 3D Printing Community increases, I very much look forward to seeing what all those designers and makers with their different backgrounds and perspectives choose to create.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
I would love to see 3D Printers be perceived as a crafting tool, as unintimidating and inviting as a sewing machine or hot glue gun. I personally find sewing machines to be intimidating. It took me more time than I would like to admit to figure out how to load a bobbin. I feel like if you can learn to use a sewing machine, you can definitely learn to use a 3D Printer. If you know how a hot glue gun works, you already understand the mechanics of an FFF/FDM printer.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I’m banking on visibility. Sometimes the notion of signing up for another craft show or maker faire sounds pretty exhausting. I find the notion of “being visible” to give me the extra motivation I need. I’m hoping one day, a young lady will see me out there and think, “I can do that too!” Or hopefully, “I can do that better.”
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? Simplify3D
Favorite moment in your day job? Solving a mystery
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? SLS Printer
Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview?
Heather Womack (co-host of Community Ketchup, a regular 3D Printing Livestream event on YouTube)
Lauren Angers (from Abuzz Designs) https://twitter.com/abuzzdesigns
Claire Mason (from Make It and Fake It) https://twitter.com/makeandfake
Tessa Nesci (one of the moderators of the 79,627 member “3D printing” Facebook group) – https://twitter.com/SparkyFace5