Stroke of Genius: Artist Dazzles with 3D-Printed Paintings

Ioan Flores 3D printing artwork
Artist Ioan Florea stands in front of one of his giant paintings created using 3D-printing techniques that give the finished product both tactile and visual elements. (Image credit: Ioan Florea)

3D printing is turning up in all sorts of places these days, and recently, it's been gaining traction in the art world, with one artist using the printers to create giant paintings with loads of texture.

"My paintings address both the visual perception and the tactile," said Ioan Florea, whose artwork is currently on display in Indiana. When people see Florea's paintings, their first reaction is to get close and touch them, he added.

Florea first uses 3D printing to build prototypes for the larger shapes in his paintings. To create the scaled-up versions of these 3D shapes, which are enlarged 20 to 30 times, he cures the resins using heat (by contrast, 3D printing often involves curing resins using ultraviolet light). The resin and pigment are like the paint, and all the shapes are embedded in it, Florea said. Then, he uses transfer techniques to attach the shapes to a canvas. [Image Gallery: The Giant 3D Paintings of Ioan Florea]

Because his paintings are big, Florea uses ultralight materials. "With regular materials, one of my paintings would be 600 pounds, but I try to keep them to 100 pounds," Florea told LiveScience.

In his paintings, Florea likes to explore contrasts. He takes inspiration from nanotechnology — the world of things hundreds of thousands of times smaller than a human hair, but creates his work on 10-by-8 foot canvases. Geometric and organic shapes form another contrast.

Artist Ioan Florea creates giant 3D paintings of abstract shapes and patterns. He uses 3D printing to build prototypes of these shapes, then scales them up using specially developed materials and techniques. (Image credit: Ioan Florea)

Florea originally hails from Transylvania, not far from Dracula's castle. As a child, he would collect animal bones in the woods and draw them. He was fascinated with their 3D shapes, he said. Later, he arranged animal vertebrae into an abstract alphabet. He tried making them with paint, experimenting with many techniques to get the texture he wanted on a canvas. He was waiting for the right technique, and then along came 3D printers, he said.

Florea's paintings are being featured in an exhibition at the South Bend Museum of Art in Indiana from now until May 2015, and at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in September.

Florea has also developed a fast-drying oil paint, which he said is considered one of the best worldwide. Artists developed their own paints during the Renaissance, Florea said, but later during the Industrial Revolution paint was developed for buildings, cars and other purposes.

"Today there are thousands of pigments and materials," Florea said, adding that he thinks everything can be used in art. In that way, art truly does reflect society, he said.

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Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.