Clayton On Art: FabLab Tacoma is a fabulous resource for artists

By Alec Clayton on April 2, 2013


Here's how art gets created: the artist gets an idea then makes a sketch of what he envisions and then makes it. Pretty simple, huh? But what if the vision is something he has no idea how to make or he simply doesn't have access to the tools needed to make it? That's where Tacoma's FabLab comes in.

Michael Johnson's sculptural installation at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound (see my review in this week's Weekly Volcano) is a prime example. His sculptural forms comprise intertwined curvilinear shapes that hover above the floor. How he could possibly make those shapes is as incomprehensible to me as the building of the Golden Gate Bridge or the International Space Station.

Johnson's sculptural pieces were cut using the ShopBot CNC milling machine at FabLab. The tool path for each work was programmed from an AutoCad drawing.

FabLab Tacoma is a high-tech prototyping center enabling public access to 3-D printing and scanning, laser cutting, shop supplies for metals and plastics and more. It's located at 1938 Market St. Billy Davis, marketing director and one of the owners, explains:

"FabLab Tacoma is a workshop and community where artists, engineers and inventors can come together to inspire each other. It's really a place where these different disciplines can work together to learn new techniques and work with new materials and technologies. Technology like 3-D printing or the laser cutter can create objects and pieces that were previously impossible to make - intricate curves, organic shapes, or physical objects that once only existed on a computer screen or sketch."

There are 3-D printers that melt plastic filament into three-dimensional shapes, a plasma cutter for metal, plus all the traditional shop equipment. For a monthly membership fee artists get unlimited access to the equipment and can take classes on how to use it. Among classes offered this month are: Inkscape 101 (laser-cutting tokens and coasters), Intro to leatherworking (leather wallets), intro to microprogramming and E-textiles (modifying electronic components and sewing them together).

Davis says, "It's amazing to see the little community we have where people see a project someone has made and the light bulb goes off and they say, ‘Wow, I had no idea you could do that with Wood! Can you show me how you figured that out? I have an idea.'"

Johnson says, "I have been a member of Tacoma's FabLab since December of 2012. In the last couple of years my work has shifted, relying more and more on new industrial processing technologies. The team at FabLab has put together a great facility where artists, designers, and craftspeople can come in, attend tutorial sessions on a new process, then turn around and apply this knowledge to their work for a fraction of what it would cost to job it out to local industry. For me, the hands-on training I received on CNC milling helped me to realize a new body of work that otherwise would have only been possible if I were to secure substantial funding from a third party. FabLab is a user-friendly operation that helps makers from all walks realize their work. It is an invaluable resource to our growing creative community."

FABLAB, 10 A.M. TO 10 P.M. TUESDAY-SATURDAY, 1-8 P.M. SUNDAY, 1938 MARKET ST., TACOMA, 253.426.1267

LINK: More FabLab photos