Primary Tools & Materials:
sealing wax, 3d printing

Additional Tools & Materials: 3D printing software, hot glue gun, glass plate, craft spatula, camera, scanner

Today was a weird combination of materials, and I've been looking forward to it for a long, long, time. The two categories I chose from were fabrication (3D printer) and shaping/carving (wax). This letter was 100% inspired by the work of Keetra Dean Dixon, whose phenomenal wax geode typography is absolutely stunning. I loved the idea of encasing type in wax, but I wasn't sure how to scale it down for a one-day experiment. At first, I looked for bulk wax, like you'd use to make candles. However, that was expensive, came in giant quantities, and for the most part had to be dyed to take on any color. Boring. So then I turned to trusty Amazon and found sealing wax - like the kind you'd seal a letter with in Game of Thrones - only it was made into sticks for your glue gun! Genius! I ordered a pack of ten assorted colors, then wondered what my inner letterform would be made of. I had never used a 3D printer before, but I've been curious about them since they started becoming affordable. Turns out NC State has a bunch of them - so I met with Lauren Di Monte at the DH Hill Library MakerSpace, and she showed me the ropes. With her help, I "printed" the central letterform in this study, a capital S in the typeface Villa Didot Outline. 

After the letter had printed, I took it home and warmed up my glue gun. Ideally, I would have loved to cut into my "geode" the same way Dixon did, to reveal the inner letterform only after days and days of layering wax, but I had neither the time nor tools to make that happen. Instead, I placed my letter face-down on an 8x10 pane of glass, then dripped wax over it with my glue gun, one color at a time. 

Does this look the way I had imagined it? Not at all. For one, I had hoped to completely encase the letter in wax under a mound-like pile of molten color, but gravity had other plans. Second, as I was dripping hot wax onto hot wax, I saw some beautiful mixing of color on the back side of the letter form. I was disappointed when I flipped the glass over to see that instead of the smooth mixing you see on the back, instead the separate colors had cooled individually, creating little bubbly shapes with borders. There are some interesting color gradients inside these individual bubbles, but not throughout. Were I to try this again, I would try different methods of layering the wax, by either "outlining" the whole shape with each individual color (which might give me more of the "geode" look), or drip the wax outward from the center to create a sunburst effect. I also probably should let individual colors cool before adding the next for better defined layers. To me, this didn't end up looking like a geode at all - more like pebbles, or stained glass. 

Despite my efforts with the hot wax this evening, to me - the most interesting part of the construction of this letterform was in the 3D printing. In printing this letter, I learned that the topmost part of your design - the last part that prints - will often be textured, or wiggly, compared to the bottom of the design that sits flat on the plate - and therefore stays relatively smooth and uniform. If I print a letterform like this again, I'd print it in reverse so my clean, smooth side would be face down during printing. I also noticed the texture that comes from stacking layers and layers of printed plastic looks a lot like the ridges on an old wax record. The most interesting visual element to come out of the wax texture is actually the final image (number 9, which has been mirrored); the result of placing the wax letter upside down on my scanner bed. Only the raised letterform was in focus, with the rest of the wax about half an inch away from the scanner surface - putting it into soft, blurry focus in the background. To me, this is the only image that fully merged 3D printing with melted wax, reminding me that the way in which the 3D printer works - melting plastic that's fed through a nozzle and used to create an object - is the same as the melted wax I used in my glue gun, only of course the glue gun's results were much more unpredictable and messy.