Michaella Janse van Vuuren is an electrical engineer who designs intricate 3D printed sculptures and jewellery under the name, Nomili. Her work is both aesthetically beautiful and structurally complex – an embodiment of her unique hybrid approach to creating. With a background in the sciences and a firm footing in the creative realm, Michaella truly straddles the fascinating divide between art-meets-design.
In 2005 whilst researching and developing technologies to make more ergonomically designed workspaces for people with disabilities, Michaella became aware of a gnawing gap in her own life – creativity. “I wanted to reintroduce art into my world,” she explains, and so set about looking for the perfect outlet that could satisfy her seemingly disparate interests. She came across 3D printing, and the rest as they say is history (which also includes completing a post doctorate in custom implant design using rapid prototyping (3D printing) to become Dr. Michaella Janse van Vuuren).
In 2007 Michaella printed her first personal designs. One of these was created to aid custom implants for cancer patients, made using CAT scan images and showing areas of healthy bone. The other was the Colour Changing lights for the 2007 VISI Haute Lumier competition. These first two projects reflect Michaella’s ongoing approach, as she explains: “my journey has always been about the combination of art and engineering. In South Africa, as in most places in the world, these disciplines are treated as opposite. 3D printing bridges this divide”.
Michaella is particularly fascinated by deep-sea creatures, coral reeves and insects, and their forms re-appear in her designs. She also draws practical inspiration from the natural world, and says that “looking at nature and how evolution solves design problems often becomes a solution to untangle my own design problems”.
Michaella says that it’s essential to believe wholeheartedly in what she’s doing, and have “a strong positive ‘gut feeling’ response” towards each new project she takes on. This was re-affirmed when working on a Horse Marionette for an exhibition with French artist, Paul Boulitreau. Mid-way through design she was ready to give up, frustrated at not being able to figure out how to fit the mechanism of the sculpture within the shape constraints. But defeat was not meant to be. A colourful painting of a horse by the artist sparked just the right neurons needed to complete the design perfectly. This has since become her favourite project.
The 3D printing process that Michaella follows begins with an idea of an object and ends with it magically emerging from a heap of nylon powder. But in between this are innumerable design drawings to produce a final technical drawing that meticulously plots out the precise measurements and dimensions, scale, gap between parts and mechanical functionality of the object. This is inputted into a computer using specialized software, and then the object ‘goes to print’. “All the planning and designing centres on this one moment of pure joy when I hold an object that looks and functions exactly as I envisioned it”, she explains.
At the moment Michaella is busy finalizing plans for the Agents of the 3D Revolution in Cape Town for World Design Capital 2014, which will once again showcase the best international 3D printed designs and designers, as well as working on a 3D printed fashion piece for the New York 3D Printshow catwalk.