Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mesh Printing in 12 Steps - with drawings!

We posted a video of how we print on things like tote bags and t-shirts using screens, it got quite some attention and nice feedback. Screen printing is super easy and fun, anyone can try at home. 

There are different types of screen printing - which is the same as saying mesh printing. Using a stencil is the easiest way, using photographic emulsion screen printing (which is how we do at Steamy Chums) needs a bit more gear.   I will show you how to do both methods.

We make our prints at Mesh Print Club in Rotterdam, which is an awesome lab, and I invite anyone in the area to try one of their courses. Find them here:

Photo-emulsion Mesh Printing in 12 Steps:

If you just want to mesh or screen print, prepare a stencil and jump from step 2 to step 10 of this article. Use stencils if you just need a few items to be printed, and if your design is simple, with big fills and wide lines.

If you want to use photo-emulsion print, stay with me here. Why use photo-emulsion prints? Because they are more precise, allow for more detail and can be used for as much as needed without breaking apart. Cardboard or paper stencils that get wet with paint break apart very fast, and fine lines are difficult to print.

Now we go to the big machines. You can of course figure this out at home, but I suggest to find a lab where you can use dedicated tools.

* Catch up here if you want to use a normal stencil instead of one made with photographic emulsion. *

Here's the whole process in one image, open in new tab to enlarge.

 Sounds fun? It is! Here are some process pics.

Placing the screen in the vacuum machine.

Washing off the emulsion that hasn't been impressed because it was covered by the artwork.
Printing at the Mesh Print Club.
And printing at home.
Our homemade Steamy Chums T-shirts! Soon on our online store.

Een video die is geplaatst door mira conci (@steamychums) op

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Urban Makers - big ideas, tiny apartments

Picture this: you live in the city center, your budget is squeezed, and you love creating things. Handcraft, DIY, bricolage, arts and crafts, tinkering, you name it. You want it all - but you live in a one bedroom apartment. Together with your partner. You're an Urban Maker.

This is our situation here at Steamy Chums Home Lab. We make resin toys and architecture models, sometimes furniture. We started in a very organized, efficient way and packed everything neatly and clean in a vintage cabinet bought on purpose. Already 2 square meters of our precious 15 square meters each were gone, devoted to the inner monster who wants to MAKE THINGS. 

Poor fools. As soon as you give space to your inner monster, he's going to want more. MORE.

Now we have tools all over the place. But our friends are cool with it.

They want to be nice and are very comprehensive.

We'll see when we get that milling machine we want.

For now it's ok. Most times.

After all, Urban Makers are just like any other people.

Urban Makers girls love shopping. Especially for things they already have.

They bitch if people touch their favorite things. Especially if they're fragile.

They fight with their mother when she comes visit, while she just wants to give a hand.

I mean, how many times have I told her...

Urban Makers are asked the same embarrassing questions as any other young couple.


They have to deal with Murphy's Law anyway. 

For example, no matter how many of the same basic item you have, the one you'll need is always missing.

You might be a master of advanced technologies, but your kitchen appliances will still let you down.

And no matter how cool you feel creating chemical reactions, you'd better tidy up afterwards.

Thanks for reading ;)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Casting, the Nightmare you didn't see coming.

Casting is exciting, you think you'll make tons of perfect copies of your artwork in no time and you'll be done in time for after work drinks. 

Nope, forget it. More like you'll be halfway there by Saturday's brunch. 

When you're through the mold making part, which is in itself a journey through pains and broken dreams, you'll be expecting things to go downhill. After all, you have your original figure and your mold and you need little else: resins, measuring cup, maybe a scale (if the resins have to be measured by weight), mixing stick (we found that chopsticks in wholesale packs are much cheaper and work perfectly), and gloves.

What should happen: first, you mix part A and B thoroughly. Second, you pour the mix in the two halves of the mold, which you have previously braced using rubber bands, and a thin piece of wood or similar rigid material to even out the pressure. Now there's only to wait, you can use this time to make coffee and stuff yourself with chocolate cookies ("winter is coming, I have to put on defenses"), do some yoga ("I am sublimating myself, I am the alfa and the omega"), or, more realistically, check your Facebook. Third, you'll open the mold and release the perfect pieces inside, feeling like the chosen One, the one who always finds a pearl inside her/his oyster. This is how it should be.

But it isn't. There are multiple ways in which casting goes wrong. It usually does. I grouped the five most common casting disasters you'll encounter, ordered by level of tragedy. The first isn't too bad, the last is a catastrophe. 

Level of Tragedy 1: Annoying. The canister pours on itself. 

Liquid plastic pours all over the place and makes a mess.
Solution: pour more decidedly, clean the neck of the canister with a paper towel.

Level of Tragedy 2: Upsetting. The mold is drunk.

The mold wants much more resin mix than you calculated. That drunken old bastard.
Solution: it's probably your fault, you don't give her enough attention. If you check your estimate again and can't find mistakes, trial and error to find the right quantity.

Level of Tragedy 3: Exasperating. The rubber bands snap.

Liquid plastic leaks and makes a mess.
Solution: get better rubber bands, then get even better rubber bands, then write the local rubber bands producer that someone is still using rubber bands for something (who uses rubber bands nowadays anyway?). In alternative, my boyfriend says that in Mexico broccoli are sold tied with industrial-strong rubber bands. Import broccoli from Mexico.

Level of Tragedy 4: Maddening. The air duct clogs.

Most of the times when you open the mold you'll find it perfectly free. I believe the clogging is caused by sprites, nice monsters that infiltrates in your molds while you pour because they like to get high on resins vapours. 
Solution: Clean and re-clean the ducts, unlike elves, sprites don't like clean places.

Level of Tragedy 5: CURSED. The resin doesn't cure.

You'll want to think that someone is playing voodoo on you, but you'd fool yourself. This is too complex and black a magic for anyone. Only Monkey Island's Voodoo Lady would be capable of this kind of trick. You're probably just too tired and made a mess with the proportions of resin A and B.
Solution: there's nothing to do, you'll have to throw away your mold (preferably out of the window, for the drama), and make a new one. Go for a walk before, chill, breath in-breath out.

The ratio of good pieces to failures may be influenced by, among others: your mood, background music, the Moon, the last movie you saw, trending hashtags on Twitter, eating habits of mammals in your general area and endocrine glands.

Creating artworks requires Zen-monk discipline and a good deal of passion. 
I might get really frustrated at times, but every time I see the results of my dedication, passion and discipline don't sound like a problem anymore.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Designer toys explained to my friends - most people don't know what I do.

It's not like saying, I'm a photographer. Or, I teach. Or, I am a penguin doctor.

What it means to be a toy designer is something that many people don't grasp, yet.

"So cool! You have your own brand! What is it that you do?" 
"Designer toys!"

(Interlocutor keeps smiling big for a few seconds, processing the information. Contrasting images of a MacBook Pro, a Barbie, Legos, cross each other in her/his brain at lighting speed. Sudden realization she/he still hasn't said anything, but this is something supposedly cool. Smile deflates, shifts posture to gain time) "..... Oh. I see."

At this point, the interlocutor can A. abruptly change topic because she/he won't venture in unknown territory. "But hey, so, you live in Holland ...". Or B. politely ask a more specific question, "nice, what kind of toys?", while secretly hoping it will be over soon and she/he can go back talking about something we both know about.

What is the difficulty with explaining what are designer toys?

It isn't just smalltalk. It is something more serious than it sounds, and might bore people to death. You have to be smart to keep their attention. Try balancing a pub stool on your nose while talking.

Vocabulary. I've been making toys for a couple of years, so my friends and family more or less all know that designer toys are art pieces, collectable limited edition figures made by an artist. But the term "designer toys", or, even more proper "urban vinyl", throws most people into confusion. Once I tried a different approach and told a good friend that I make "toys, but not for kids, for an adult public". Since then he keeps asking "how's it going with your sex toy company?".

Technical knowledge. Many of my friends don't know how plastic things are made at all. It is difficult to grasp the idea that we can create figures that look like cartoons and are made of resin, completely by ourselves, in our living room. There are simply too many steps in the process, and most people have fragmentary knowledge about at least one of them. Once someone -with the best intentions- asks, "how do you do this?" she/he needs to hear about, among others, 3D modeling softwares, renderings, 3D printing, resins and silicons, plasticine, molding and casting, sanding, laser cutting, silkscreen printing, website programming, and so forth. Conversation inevitably starts loosing friction, at which point, see options A. and B. above.

Priorities. A toy designer is an artist, and as such, a professional figure. She/he is also investing every single cent she/he makes and is working every waking hour (usually more than 12 a day) while people point at her/him saying, "look! The job of everyone's dreams! Doing stuff you love and becoming rich without effort!" Usually, who says things like this doesn't think much. And people who don't think don't listen. Hopeless situation.
The point is, until you are KAWS, you probably need another job to keep paying your rent. And people tend to loose interest in what you do if you can't even tell them the secrets of becoming rich.

I love designer toys because they are the cutest three-dimensional expression of creativity. Dreams, ideas and feelings that take shape in awesome little creatures.

My Raccoon

Have you ever tried to introduce your sidejob/passion to friends? How did it go?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Steampunk: bikinis and goggles?

"Steampunk lives in the reincarnated past of shadows and the forgotten. We behold the mystery of possibility; we seek reminiscence about a more elegant Age of Adventure that never really was; we liberate the machine from technocracy and recreate her from Desire and Dreams." 

This is my favorite quote about Steampunk. It's from The Gatehouse blog, http://www.ottens.co.uk/gatehouse/category/steampunk/. 

"Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. [...] Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art."

This is a very clear definition of steampunk from the all-powerful and glorious Wikipedia (and since we're in topic, did you donate?)

I have witnessed very inflamed discussions on a Facebook group, dealing with a gorgeous girl in a golden nylon bikini outfit and a few steampunk-inspired accessories. The main question was, of course, is this Steampunk? On one side, the verdict was NO. Although this has steampunk elements, it is not properly Steampunk. On the other side,YES. Nothing else matters, as long as she wears a pair of goggles.

Steampunk does have definite attributes and symbols. "Anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them", surely refers to elaborated goggles and other visionary, hyper detailed accessories like boots, corsets, top hats. Airships, big guns and any of the goodies that characterized the turbulent Victorian times, are all welcome. 

But another point is essential to Steampunk. Because the Industrial Revolution just took off, the sensibility and skilled experience of workers and designers -most of whom had been artisans until shortly before- is reflected in the beauty of detail and abundance of decorative elements -even in tough materials such as cast iron. 
Characteristic Steampunk materials are easy to work by hand, supple and raw, like leather, wood, brass, copper, but also lace, silk and canvas. Especially in items of fashion, the manual care devoted to craft them is clearly visible.

A girl in a nylon bikini and steampunk-inspired accessories is missing this second, essential point: it can't be called Steampunk.


if Steampunk is Art, then it can and has to be reinterpreted and reinvented. Art is constantly evolving, it is the highest expression of culture, the collective vision on and understanding of the world around us. Therefore, this girl can be seen as something that Steampunk is becoming. Pop, in my opinion.
The Steampunk movement might have to draw some boundaries and give itself some (even more) definition. There is Steampunk, and that has to stay focused on symbols and ways, never loosing the handmade, artisan look and feel. Have you noticed how utterly hipster Steampunk fans are? 
And then there's a pop version of Steampunk, which borrows steampunk attributes to popular culture, and creates hybrid figures, such as this girl's picure. Meant to be assimilated and processed fast while getting the most pleasure out of it. As Andy Warhol said,

"In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."

A perfect steampunk scenario.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Is 3D printing Art?

There has been a lot of talk about the use of prototyping machines, like laser cutters and 3D printers, as essential tools for creative processes. But what can CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines actually design? Nothing, really. Laser cutters and 3D printers are just tools, they can't create anything on their own. The creative process is the same as with sculpting or manually creating prototypes. The designer imagines and translates an idea in three dimensions. When loaded with meaning, the interpretation of a concept, it might become Art. The decision of using one's own craftsmanship, like sculpting or painting, or digital tools like softwares, is and must be driven by a different reason than "this is what I can do". 

Of course, the warmth and uniqueness of a high-quality hand-sculpted piece is unparalleled. But in the same way photography can't be directly compared to painting, the quality of a CNC fabricated piece can't be compared to fine arts along the same meters of judgement. A piece of sculpted clay and a 3D printed object are expressions of a different language.

So, why choose digital fabrication tools over manual fabrication? Because digital prototyping is so damn efficient.

- Use the right tool for the right job. For example, our toys have mechanical parts and details which make a lot of sense to sculpt using 3D modeling softwares rather than manually. They appear cleaner and more realistic. Creating engines with clay, for example, may be wonderfully artistic but rather impractical and messy. This doesn't mean it's impossible, it just means it would need much more time and effort, and my time is precious.

- The Holy Trinity. Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, and Ctrl+Z. No one who has ever experienced the blessing of those three simple commands will deny that they deserve a place in the World's Wonders. They save us a ton of time and anger. They prevent us from swearing and because of this, reaching out to them might as well have saved more souls than reaching out to the good old Trinity, lately. Try Ctrl+Z the model your cat has pushed down the shelf.

- Nothing to clean, no need of tons of material. It's cheaper and you can work whenever, wherever you want. No need to replace countless specific types of tools. Bring all your models with you. Flexibility.

- You can try out variations without having to redo all your work. Quick editing and comparing of possibilities. 

- Sharing is caring. You can send out your models and let other professionals have their take, use them to create videos, animations, images, or physical objects. 

- Archive. Easier to keep track of your creative and technical evolution.

The cowl doesn't make the Monk. Holding a brush doesn't make you an artist and owning an expensive camera doesn't make you a photographer, no matter how many hipsters on Instagram think their HDSLRs will transform their croissant into a shot worthy of an art gallery. On the opposite side, many artists make awesome drawings using ballpoint pens. Talent comes from one's creativity and sensibility, tools are just a mean.

I love handmade stuff, I love drawing and sewing, and hand painting my toys one by one. 

I've chosen to model my creatures with a software and 3D print the prototype with which to make resin copies. Can they still be labeled as entirely handmade? Probably not. Is Digital Art as "artistic" as handmade things? Absolutely yes.

We 3D print prototypes, and if we are satisfied, we print a negative version of the mold we'll use to make resin pieces.
The negative for the mold is a "mold for molds".
Wood Chums are an exception, all pieces are entirely 3D printed.
Actually sculpting them in wood would mean that I couldn't afford a single one myself.
How about a Raccoon in Wonderland?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

How it all started

In February 2013, I was on a study trip to Hong Kong with my boyfriend. We wanted to study urbanism there, but soon got caught into the vibrant and exciting life of that city and started exploring it on our own, without trying to understand it but rather trying to merge with it. We had some amazing experiences, and in three busy weeks we really went absolutely everywhere in and around town. 

We had tons of delicious dim sum, from street kiosks to upper class restaurants, and took ferries to the Outlying Islands. But what stroked me the most was the designer scene. I was already in love with kawaii style and urban vinyl, but Hong Kong was a deeper experience, an experience where I could observe lots of creations, and become inspired to create my own style.

Once back to The Netherlands, where I live, I started studying the steampunk current and dived into its aesthetics. Creating Steamy Chums came very naturally to me, from the start I knew I wanted to make cute puppies, cubs, all kinds of baby animals. I love anatomy too, so it was important for me to keep a realistic eye on their features. Then, I combined this idea with the steampunk imaginarium, transforming those pets into machines. 

The story behind them is simple but powerful: what would we do if animals went extinct? It is a provocative take on the post-apocalyptic scenario of a (mankind-driven?) catastrophe that wipes away all Life but a handful of survivors. In my story, these survivors group in Camps and use findings like books and drawings to rebuild Life as it was, the whole spectrum of the animal world.

I created the brand Steamy Chums together with my boyfriend, who is a genius of production, prototyping and logistics. After creating two figures, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, and we were successful. Now, our Story really begins.

Here is the link to our Kickstarter. Watch the video, it narrates the Story behind our toys.

A Story of Resilience, Inventiveness, Friendship, and Hope.

Click here to go to Steamy Chums' Kickstarter page :)