13 October 2014

Neither Road Travelled

Jeremy Mallin
I didn't set out to design jewelry or to make sculpture, much less to get involved with 3D printing; far from it. The original plan was to be a product designer. I went to school for it. I earned a degree in it. I even earned two. But plans don't lead us where we come to be; they're just preparation for what will be.

My life always had two paths, product design and graphic design. To be sure, those roads diverge, product design, with its analytical thinking and engineering nature, and graphic design, with its roots in advertising and creative arts. So, how did I end up on neither path at this juncture? What happened that changed my course? Cancer happened.

Not mine, my wife's (then fiancée's), but it changed my life just the same. Being a full-time caregiver takes a lot out of you, especially when it's just the two of you, patient and loved one. At the time I was an independent website designer with a growing business, but when faced with her rare, undiagnosable cancer, I shut down my business to spend all my energy making sure she survived. Looking back shortly after her five year survivor anniversary, I'm glad I did. She's been 100% cancer-free the full five years.

The first part of her recovery was major surgery to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor in her abdomen. That kept her in the hospital for almost a week. During her stay, when I wasn't running around picking up medical records, chasing down second opinions, or applying for medical financial aid, I was in her room all day, everyday until visiting hours ended sometime around 10:30 pm.

That was when the really hard part would start. It's not easy falling asleep when your fiancée is in the hospital being treated for an unknown illness and you're at home alone. I'm not recommending insomnia, but I found you can really get a lot done when you're up all night for an extended period of time. As much as there is to do, boredom does eventually set in though.

To pass the time, I drew lots of pictures. I also opened my old copy of Lightwave 3D® that was gathering dust, and taught myself 3D modeling and 3D rendering. That's what we nerdy autodidacts do when we're bored. We learn things. Ever the comic book geek, the first thing I modeled, while still learning how, was a Green Lantern ring.

During the year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that followed, I began posting my drawings and renderings to DeviantArt. For reasons I still don't fully understand, my original Green Lantern rings garnered a lot of attention. (You'd think they would make some more movies or something.) One recurring request I kept getting from fellow fans was to make a real ring. I kept insisting this was neither possible nor practical with my current resources and technology, until eventually, they convinced me I was wrong.

Someone suggested I 3D print my designs. Being the dinosaur that I am, I was familiar with 3D printing by the name "rapid prototyping" from the 1990s. My earliest introduction to stereolithography, an early form of 3D printing, led me to believe that simple, small prototypes cost tens of thousands of dollars. I was wrong. Times had changed. I did a little research, found a good domestic provider and went to work. I've been working ever since.

Ever since I took one semester of jewelry design in school as part of my product design curriculum, I've had a passion for making jewelry. I even went so far as to hand cut sheet metal jewelry in my kitchen many years ago. So, I naturally progressed rather quickly from Green Lantern fan art to all forms of jewelry. As I fell in love with 3D printing I used it to make all sorts of sculptural art and even did some freelance 3D printed product design. (Ok. The blog post title might be a bit inaccurate.)

Now I'm starting this blog. My goal is to better interact with my current fans and customers, while perhaps garnering more of both. I already tweet many of the things I've learned and continue to learn along this journey. I'll do that here now too, as well as showing off some of my many jewelry and sculptural designs. I've lost count just how many designs there are, but I know the number is well into the hundreds. We have a lot of catching up to do. I'm sure we'll do that soon.