Artist Patrick Manning: Transformative Understanding

Laser Engrave on water color paper by artist Patrick Manning


Years ago, my student did an internship photographing highscool athletes.  To prove he did the work, he gave me a CD with 800 low rez images of wrestlers, basketball players, and swimmers all posing in nearly identical manner for the camera.  I was mesmerized by the weirdness of the repetition, the way you could see in many of the individuals the desire to be this thing, and the realization that they might not quite match up to the desire.  Gender, role playing, history, and oddly home were all being played out in the images.  I have been playing with those images for years, trying to tease out all of the strange threads I see in them, but nothing has ever worked.  The closest I have come is these photographic collages combining two figures by joining them at the eyes.  But even those didn’t do it.  Then one day I had the thought that these shouldn’t be photographs, but sculptures.  Life size, hyper-realistic sculptures.  I have some 3D modeling knowledge, but nothing that would allow me to do this.  Then I found the Digital Fabrication Residency.

Small scale test of figure head cut out of foam with CNC router for visiting artist Patrick Manning.


It was an amazing experience.  I went into the residency with an idea of what I wanted to produce and an OK knowledge of 3D modeling programs for the production of photographic images.  I wanted to make some tests (a small scale maquette and a full scale section of a 10+ foot hyper realistic figurative sculpture) of a long term sculptural project I am just initiating.  I come from a photographic background and have never worked in 3D along these lines.  Not only did Kari and Erik do an amazing job helping me figure out the process of making those items, they really helped me to begin conceptualizing the whole sculpture, thinking in terms of how the final physical structure and its installation would impact the machining/3D printing and the initial design.  What’s more, the residency really helped me understand how the process and the materials could be used to impact the aesthetics and broaden concept of the work itself.


What was truly transformative was the understanding of how these are not just technologies for designing/fabricating an idea, they are a way of moving out of the computer through material transformations, back through the computer and into new materials.  It made me think about the way in which the information I have fabricated in the computer can be used as a source for numerous iterations that more fully realize the idea. Out of the residency came a whole new way of making the work. So now I have not only the initial steps of the sculpture that was part of the plan, but I have laser cut and plotter made ball point pen drawings, that will serve as the base of a series of hand drawn and painted works that will eventually may have digital embroidery thrown into the mix.  These pieces feel as crucial to the overall project as the original sculptural conception.

 Artist Patrick Manning at Digital Fabrication Residency 3 Day Program with a section of a life size sculpture tested in foam cut on our CNC router.

Artist Patrick Manning at Digital Fabrication Residency 3 Day Program with a section of a life size sculpture tested in foam cut on our CNC router.


So what began as an idea for a foray into sculpture, has been informed by the processes and materials and the Digital Fabrication Residency provides, transforming the sculptural idea into something much broader.  It was really the best three days of art making I have done in years!

3D model printed at Digital Fabrication Residency on our Form 2 resin 3D printer. 3D supports supporting the figures can be removed post production. This sculpture was part of artist Patrick Manning's work created in our 3 Day Onsite Program. 

Digital Fabrication Residency works with artists to transform their ideas into digital fabrication processes that allow artists to see projects brought through a variety of processes for educational experiences with technology. Artists apply to programs with project-based proposals that relate to currently developing aspects of their studio practice and learning objectives. Each resident has the opportunity to create a samples of ideas in various forms with the DFR team.

Many thanks to the wonderful Patrick Manning for sharing some of his experiences with Digital Fabrication Residency. To learn more about Patrick Manning's work, please visit: