Melissa Ng’s work with Lumecluster is nothing short of inspiring.
Those familiar with 3D printed art are likely familiar with some of her aesthetic – whether seen in beautifully crafted armor worn by Felicia Day or the recent Marvel-inspired Hela headdress, Ng’s work is becoming highly recognizable. We heard from her recently in a Women in 3D Printing interview focusing on her personal experiences, and it’s a pleasure to include more of her perspective in our ongoing interview series.
While art always tells a story, intended to evoke emotional response through the finished lines and emergent patterns, the artist behind each work carries an ocean within. The backstory of the artist speaks in ways that the art cannot, and looking at the two separately, as well as together, pieces a fuller tale. Ng’s art speaks of strength; her Lumecluster speaks of bravery; Ng herself speaks of making her own path.
How did Lumecluster come to be?
“Believe it or not, Lumecluster started out as a doodle blog about entrepreneurship (I was managing two other small businesses at the time with my sisters) and had nothing to do with 3D printing. I used to write about my experiences in entrepreneurship more as a way to document my growth and share the lessons I was learning along the way.
As time went on and the small businesses got steadier, I could no longer ignore my dream of pursuing art in some way. But how would I go about it? And in what medium? I lost interest in so many mediums over the years…it made me worry about whether or not I could really do this seriously.
But then one day, I stumbled onto 3D printing at a New York Maker Faire back in October 2013 and I was instantly captivated. I knew nothing about 3D printing or 3D modeling and everything in me was saying, ‘DON’T DO IT!’ So, why not give myself three months to try to make my first 3D model/print and to see if I could make a name for myself? Hahaha. Time is money and if I didn’t see any kind of results within that time frame, I’d put away my dreams about art and return to my usual work. That first 3D print happened to win in a competition in the beginning of 2014, which I thought was a pretty good sign. So, I stuck with it and that’s how Lumecluster came to be.
Mind you, it wasn’t a blind and crazy move and I wasn’t leaving it all to chance. Sure, there was some good luck in there along with some chance opportunities, but people forget (or don’t know) that I have a background in media and public relations and I definitely used that to help me decide what to design (that sweet spot between what other people love and what I would love), how to market myself, and some basic plan on how I’d want to grow.”
You gave yourself a time limit of three months to learn and work with 3D printing initially; what do you think now, looking back on that test period?
“Looking back, I still think it was a risky move to try to learn how to 3D model and 3D print something within three months AND see if I could make a dent in some way with that very first piece. It was not a healthy time in my life and I lost a lot of sleep over something that was obviously very uncertain…but I don’t regret that choice and how I went about it. After all, attempting to make big changes in your life is rarely ever comfortable.
It was also an extreme way to force myself to make a move because I knew I would chicken out and stop before I even started. But even if it amounted to nothing, I tried to tell myself that at least I’d gain a new skill set.”
Your work often features intricately designed fantasy masks and armor, which seem to complement some of the views you presented in your Dreamer Creed; can you touch on the relationship between feminine, beautiful designs for pieces typically meant to protect/hide the wearer?
“Ah, yeah, the Dreamer Creed. I wrote that to try to make myself feel brave because I was terrified. There were a lot of people who kept telling me Lumecluster was a silly and strange idea. They were also the ones that said the other two small businesses were a terrible idea. It’s funny how much people have to say about what you do when they’re not in the arena with you. I also hated how people used the word ‘dreamer’ in a condescending way. As if they’re simply a sad human being waiting around for some miracle.
I’m talking about dreamers who know that they’ve got their work cut out for them. There’s nothing shameful in having dreams and passions that we’re willing to fight for. What is shameful is someone who mocks someone else’s dream just because they can’t imagine it themselves.
Over time, the Dreamer Creed became my first ‘armor.’ I’d look to it when I felt stuck and lost and I hoped it would help others who felt the same way. It’s not easy to pursue something you believe in and it’s easy to play the critic and tell others what’s impossible, ridiculous or stupid. Those people’s egos are usually fragile and their worldview narrow, but our dreams don’t have to be that way.
I believe our dreams are beautifully intricate but surprisingly resilient if we know how to put the work into it to adapt and pivot when necessary. I want my armor and mask patterns to try to express that intricacy and chaos. But I don’t see masks and armor as just something meant to protect and conceal. There’s this quote I liked when I first started exploring masks:
‘Masks were an expression of humanity and nature as well as a statement of time and belief. They were a commitment to the future in that they spoke of the past in terms of the present…[Masks] were instrumental in maintaining the memory of society.’ –Gary Edson
I see my masks and armor as an extra level of defense for our dreams, but also as a focus for our resilience, perseverance, identity or transformation (or whatever it is that we may need it to represent to give us strength and courage to keep moving forward). In a sense, I believe our dreams are our babies. We put our all into them not knowing if they’ll succeed and it’s terrifying to just ‘put them out there’ knowing that people are all too eager to bare their claws and fangs. If my work helps inspire and motivate people even just a little bit, I’m happy. If they just like looking at it, that’s fine too, haha.”
In part two of this interview, we discuss Adam Savage, inspiration, and technology.
Elizabeth C. Engele (Lizzy) is a designer for social good, and a founder of MakerGirl.