Grant Diffendaffer

Design. Make. Educate.

I’m in Calgary, Alberta for a week with Five Ton Crane and the Raygun Gothic Rocketship. After travel through the Black Rock System, The Crucible Belt, Maker Fair, NASA Ames, and two and a half turns round Sol on the San Francisco embarcadero, our fair lady has landed at Beakerhead.
This is the inaugural year for Calgary’s science, art, and engineering festival and we are proud to provide the flagship installation. So if you are in Calgary this week, come on down to Victoria Park and say hi! The Rocketship will be open daily for tours. Climb to the top of our streamlined beauty and recline in the captains seat, explore the navigation deck and biolab (watch your fingers!), and check out my rayguns and bronze mission pennants.
We’ll be here through September 15th, 2013.


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I’m honored to be a part of a group show that has been housed for several months in several exterior windows of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or MOMA.  The installation is created by the most amazing crew of artists I’ve personally had an opportunity to associate with, Five Ton Crane.  The piece, titled Oakland², is sponsored by the MOMA artist’s gallery and can be seen at 147 Minna and 150 Natoma Streets until June 1 2013.

The inspiration for the show is the diverse beauty of the city we call home, Oakland.  It’s a testament to the creative capacity and variety of the group and a personal twist on where we play in the bay.  The work involves six scenes of Oakland that were broken into grids of as many as 80 squares per scene, each of which was done by an individual artist in their own particular style.  It is an honor to be a participant and I’m grateful to once again see my work carried by the hard labor of this talented group, especially those who pulled long and hard to make this happen.

For the show I created two squares representing the hallowed visage of Oakland’s iconic art deco Fox Theater, recent beneficiary of a multi million dollar restoration and regular home to world class musical acts.  My recent work has been undergoing a drastic process of rebirth here in the studio and I was pleased to spearhead this transformation by tackling this project with my new CNC embroidery machine.  This was an enormous undertaking for someone new to the technology, as I quickly came to appreciate, learning the nuts and bolts of embroidery digitizing, and tackling the challenges of re-hooping and aligning the fabric multiple times to create a large embroidery.

Following are pictures of my two squares, each measuring 1 square foot, followed by a shot of the collective piece.  See the rest of the exhibit online here and in San Francisco until June 2013.

Speaking of exhibits you must catch while they last, don’t miss your chance to see the Raygun Gothic Rocketship on the San Francisco embarcadero.  The sublime retro futuristic monument also constructed by the aformentioned Five Ton Crane is scheduled to depart the solar system March 16th.

Stay tuned for more exciting new work.  I’ll give you a hint…it involves digital fabrication

12 “x 12″

12′ x12″

Minna Window #3

Minna Window #3



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It’s been 20 years since Nan Roche published “The New Clay,” and polymer clay has come a long way baby. I picked up polymer about the same time as Roche published her book, generally recognized as the first serious assessment of the material in print. There have been a few museum shows in the years since which focused on polymer art. It is largely through the work of Elise Winters that museums have begun to more recently show an interest in collecting the work as documentation of new development in an important medium. Winters, having a substantial collection herself, combined it with those of Nan Roche, Lindly Haunani, and Carol Watkins, and through great diligence has distributed the combined collection to several museums. The Racine Art Museum debuted the first placement in October 2011 with Terra Nova: Polymer Art at the Crossroads.

Necklace by Nancy Banks. Image from

Among Roche’s collection were a number of my beads that went to the Mingei International Museum.  They can be seen as part of the New Jewelry in a New Medium show until June 17, 2012.

The show represents the work of 64 artists whose work influenced and was influenced by the birth of this new medium.  I’m proud to be included.  Here is the full list:

“Dan Adams and Cynthia Toops, Jamey Allen, Kathleen Amt, Deborah M. Anderson, Nancy Banks, Meisha Barbee, Louise Belcher, Shellie Brooks, Donna Carty, Jean Comport, Dan Cormier, Katherine Dewey, Grant Diffendaffer, Marcea Donovan, Dayle Doroshow, Kathleen Dustin, Celie Fago, Janet Farris, Lori Feiss, Steven Ford and David Forlano, Galdieri, Gwen Gibson, Kathy Gregson, Dorothy Greynold, Ruth Ann Grove, Michael Grove, Lindly Haunani, Amelia Helm, Jean Hornberger, Tory Hughes, Joanne Hunot, Marie Johannes, Donna Kato, Kaz Kono, Klew (Karen Lewis), Z. Kripke, Jacqueline Lee Cherie, Sandra Lentz, Christine Leu, Laura (Oakes) Liska, Margaret Maggio, Barbara McGuire, Cheryl Michell, Linda Pederson, Carolyn Potter, Marion Quinn, Lorraine Randecker, Margaret Regan, Nan Roche, the Rouse House (Mary Rouse), Marie Segal, Rudi Sennett, Ileen Shefferman, Sarah Shriver, The Sisters of San Francisco, Liz Tamayo, Jan Twink, Pier Voulkos, Liv and Joy Waters, Andree Weinman, Elise Winters.”


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Two weeks ago sculptor Katherine Dewey pulled me deeper into my latest obsession with this photo of her latest sculpture.

Digital Sculpture by Katherine Dewey

Digital Sculpture by Katherine Dewey

The catch?  It’s not clay but a digital rendering–an image of a computerized 3D model that Dewey created in a program called ZBrush.  The program excels at both hard surface modeling and organic sculpting.  It’s a great program for animators, but what really enticed me is it’s ability to export a file to a 3D printer.

I’ve been interested in rapid prototyping for some time, using photopolymer flexography since the early 2000’s to create relief plates that I could use to reproduce reliefs in polymer clay.  If you are not familiar with the process, it’s a relative of the first rapid prototyping technique, stereolithography, with which UV light is used to selectively harden resin.  At about the same time, I began using metal clay, and also discovered the work of Bathsheba Grossman, who uses RPT (rapid prototyping) processes to create incredibly complex geometric forms in metal.

Borromean Rings by Bathsheba Grossman

Check out this video, where Grossman gives an in depth tutorial on her use of  T-Splines for Rhino, another industry leader in the field of 3D CAD design. She describes T-Splines as the application that is most like modeling with clay:

Not able to wait another moment, I dove headlong into an investigation of CAD programs.  I downloaded a trial version of ZBrush (full version costs $699), which allows 45 days of functionality.  Rhino also offers a trial version (full version $999), which allows only 25 saves, but will continue to function without the save feature indefinitely if you are just interested in learning the program.  Be sure to check out the jewelry specific plugin, Matrix, which allows detailed surface rendering with various jewels already pre-programmed.  Not to be ignored in this software roundup is the free, open-source and popular Blender.  Targeting the hobbyist crowd, AutoDesk aims to make desktop manufacturing simple with it’s free 123D software, which cuts out complicated engineering tools to leave a user friendly program for modelers and builders.  Appealing to the open source nature of the DIY crowd, 123D also links to free solid and mesh models and facilitates direct output to partner printers, where you can have your designs translated into physical form.

Popular printing businesses include Shapeways and Ponoko (whose App Gateway features 123D and other software), as well as the 3D model store, Thingiverse.  They can reproduce your designs in high resolution prints in a variety of materials, including plastic, glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and sterling silver, and gold plated (printed stainless steel infused with bronze then gold plated).  If you are a real do-it-yourselfer, you may want to look into the ever popular MakerBot.  With it’s Frostruder attachment, the MakerBot has the potential to print with any form of metal clay paste.

If you have an iPhone, don’t miss Trimensional.  The first iPhone 3D scanner app goes for just 99 cents.  Not merely a novelty, this structured light scanner functions by using the front camera of the phone along with “flashes” from sequential corners of the screen.  It’s not perfect but creates models featuring points, polygons, and  wire meshes.  Trimensional saves to 3 file formats and can be exported to a 3D printer or CAD software.  Here’s what happened when I pointed it at my face:

Here is the wireframe version of the same scan:

There are of course a few iphone CAD options as well, notably iDough, which is easy to use, features an intuitive clay-like modeling interface, and saves to a 3D printable obj. file.  Here are a couple images of models that I whipped together:

Other DIY 3D scanners and printers, etc. of note:

  • The MakerBot 3D Scanner is a structured light scanner that works with an iPhone or a webcam.
  • The MakerScanner is a 3D laser scanner built with parts printed on the MakerBot.
  • This 3D laser scanner is built with Legos.
  • This desktop factory built from Legos allows you to injection mold your own Legos.
  • The eMAKER Huxley 3D printer is a Replicating Rapid prototyping machine, or RepRap for short.  Kit’s sell for about $500 and can be used to print the parts necessary to build more printers.

If you are not convinced that desktop manufacturing is here for real, check out MakerBot founder Bre Pettis on the Colbert Report and this White House report on 3D printers that recommends among other things:

1. Put a personal manufacturing lab in every school
2. Offer teacher education in basic design and manufacturing technologies in relation to STEM education
3. Create high quality, modular curriculum with optional manufacturing components
4. Enhance after school learning to involve design and manufacturing.

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People are usually surprised when they hear that metal clay exists.  When explained, it makes sense though.  It’s powdered metal, mixed with an organic binder and water.  It feels and looks similar to ceramic clay.  It air dries and can be worked in dry form, and is then fired in a kiln or a torch.  After the binder burns away, the metal sinters.  This means that the particles adhere to each other below the melting point.  It allows the metal to keep it’s form and surface detail, while gaining most of the strength of solid metal.

If that seems high tech, then have a look at this video on Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).

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Back in 2003 I was fortunate to take a class from metal clay pioneer Hadar Jacobson. At the time, the only clays available were fine silver and gold. Faster firing and stronger versions of silver clay soon followed. In recent years bronze and copper metal clays have appeared, and Hadar has developed a full line of metal clays herself. Of particular note are the pearl gray steel and white bronze clays she features.

The challenge to creating functioning base metal clays is preventing the metal from oxidizing during firing. The solution is to fire in an oxygen reduced atmosphere, which can be created by embedding clay items in a firing container filled with activated carbon.

The latest success in that direction has been the successful mixing and firing of sterling silver metal clay. Sterling silver, prized for its beauty and strength was one of the last holdouts, not the least because of the precision with which it must be mixed. To be stamped and assayed as sterling silver, the metal must be exactly 92.5% silver, with the remaining 7.5% usually consisting of copper, but often improved upon with the partial substitution of other metals.

Lisa Cain, Director of the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery in England has announced that she and her staff have successfully formulated and fired sterling clays composed of commercially available fine silver and copper clays.   An account of their experiences is published in the April issue of Metal Clay Artist Magazine.

Hadar Jacobsen for her part has also published her experiences successfully mixing sterling silver clay.  Congratulations to both and many thanks for their efforts moving this exciting field forward.

Bronze and copper metal clay pendant by Hadar Jacobson
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In 2009 I created two sets of retro styled rayguns.  One went to the Fuller Craft Museum and the other was installed in the Raygun Gothic Rocketship.  I’ve posted a gallery of images from the construction process to my new Polymer Clay Beads facebook page at

Here’s a look at the work in progress:

The parts were individually sculpted, then assembled around a wood and steel armature.

Here’s what the finished product looked like.

This set went to the Fuller Craft Museum for exhibition.

Here is a look at the first ever toy raygun:

The Buck Rogers XZ 31 Rocket Pistol

Here is the current home of two of the rayguns on the San Francisco Waterfront.  The rocketship is all locked up, along with her precious cargo, (rayguns and all), so you will have to appreciate the rayguns here for the time being.  Visit the Raygun Gothic Rocketship in San Francisco till October 2011.
The Raygun Gothic Rocketship

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