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Go Figure! Entrepreneur Uses 3D Printers To Make Sculptures Of You
Feb 17th, 2015 by

By Mark Micheli
(This story ran in the Feb. 17, 2015 edition of the Boston Globe.)

You don’t have to be a psychotic villain, plotting world domination while stroking a hairless cat in your lap, to want a “Mini-Me.”

Entrepreneur Yifei Zhang is betting the market for his lifelike figurines extends beyond characters from an Austin Powers movie.

A few of Yifei Zhang’s sandstone figurines, created from 3D imaging. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

A few of Yifei Zhang’s sandstone figurines, created from 3D imaging. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

Zhang, 28, of Malden, owns 3D Bean, which makes lifelike sandstone figurines by using 3D printing technology. He spent the past year developing a technique that uses 90 cameras to create 3D images in a small office in Malden Square. He is now ready to start marketing his services from a studio in Boston’s South End, where he is hoping to get more exposure.

“This product is very similar to a photo. It saves a moment in time and that is its value,” Zhang said. “It’s not just sandstone. It’s a moment that you won’t be able to capture again.”

The statues range in price from $319 to $1,299, and range in height from about 4 inches to 11-½ inches. Zhang said they are targeted at brides and grooms, parents of young children, pet owners — or anyone else who wants to capture a special moment.

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson and his sandstone figurine. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson and his sandstone figurine. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson bought two figurines of himself and gave them to his mother and sister during the holidays. He said his mother put hers in a glass case.

“As mayor, I don’t see my family as much as I would like, so I presented the gifts as a way for them to never lose touch with me,” Christenson joked. “You go through a lot of gifts around the holiday season but that one left them laughing like I’ve never seen before. My sister was speechless and she’s never, ever at a loss for words.”

Zhang uses 90 entry-level, Canon DSLR cameras, placed strategically in a circle, to take 90 images of a subject. Those photos are stitched together with software to create a 3D image. He then uploads the image to a 3D printing website, such asShapeways or Sculpteo, which prints out the statue and ships it.

Although the business model of using a third-party 3D printing company is not unusual, using sandstone as a material is quite different, said Anthony Vicari, who studies the 3D printing industry for Lux Research, an international company with offices in Boston.

Vicari said he knows of a few companies that make personal figurines using plastic or even paper and glue, but hasn’t heard of anyone using sandstone. A company called Corbel, in Vancouver, uses sandstone to create figurines that look identical to the type 3D Bean makes, but Zhang believes he is the only company in the Boston area doing this. He uses sandstone because the color is applied as the figurine is being built, not painted on later.

Yifei Zhang and his former studio in Malden, where he used 70 cameras to capture 3D images of his subjects. His new studio includes 90 digital cameras. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

Yifei Zhang and his former studio in Malden, where he used 70 cameras to capture 3D images of his subjects. His new studio includes 90 digital cameras. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

Zhang’s subjects have to remain still only for as long as it takes to snap one photo; all 90 cameras fire at once. He said he has a patent pending for a circular cage where cameras can be mounted without fear of them being accidently moved.

Somerville resident Christian Nachtrieb, who owns Brighter Lights Media, did some promotional videos for Zhang and as part of that process had a figurine of his dog made. Harvey is a 67-pound rescue boxer/pit bull mix who is a bit skittish, but his photo session only took about seven or eight minutes, Nachtrieb said.

“The bright lights kind of scared him but any normal, non-rescue dog that wasn’t traumatized shouldn’t have a problem,” he said. He noted that Harvey was recently treated for thyroid cancer and, although recent tests showed the cancer was gone, he wanted the figurine as a keepsake.

“A pet’s lifespan is so much shorter and instead of having just a picture, a figurine is so much better,” Nachtrieb said.

Vicari said more than half of the $2.3 billion 3D market involves industrial uses. The consumer 3D printing market is still in its infancy

“We’ve only started seeing products being made with 3D printing in the past five to 10 years,” Vicari said.

Although some 3D printers sell for only a few hundred dollars, printers that can make something that is actually functional cost several thousand dollars, according to Vicari. Zhang said he doesn’t have his own 3D printer because it would cost him about $80,000.

Zhang tried to raise $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign last fall but he fell about $7,000 short of his goal. According to Kickstarter’s rules, he collected nothing. Instead he used his personal savings and got his parents in China and his fiancée to invest in his business. But first he had to educate them about 3D printing.

“My mother had no idea about 3D printing,” Zhang said. “But once I could make my parents understand what it is I am doing, they really believed this is something that could have a bright future.”

He said his next challenge is to educate consumers. Zhang, who earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Northeastern University in 2012, said his expertise is technical and he’ll probably need a partner — “maybe one of my friends” — who can do the marketing.

Christenson said he believes there is a market for this and he became convinced of it after a few photos of his “Mini-Me” were posted on his Facebook page. He said the comments were extremely positive.

“People were stunned just by the clarity and how lifelike it looks,” he said.

Obsessed with Jack the Ripper
Jun 22nd, 2013 by

British painter Walter Richard Sickert was fascinated with the Jack the Ripper murders and used them to promote his own work. (1911 photograph by George Charles Beresford.)

Is this the face of Jack the Ripper? Novelist Patricia Cornwell and others believe British painter Walter Richard Sickert (above) was Jack the Ripper. (1911 photograph by George Charles Beresford.)

(I wrote this article for the Boston Globe. It appeared on the cover of the G section in the June 22, 2013 edition.)

By Mark Micheli
Globe Correspondent

It’s been 125 years since the Jack the Ripper murders terrorized East London and the grisly mystery is alive and well in pop culture.

Those who believe Sickert was Jack the Ripper contend that the subject of “Putana a Casa,” (above) has a face disfigured with dark brush strokes that resembles a morgue photograph of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes (below), whose face was disfigured with a knife.

Walter Sickert's painting “Putana a Casa” is owned by the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge.

There’s a 125th Anniversary Jack the Ripper Conference in London in November; a comedic play about the brutal murders in China; a “Jack the Ripper” musical starring South Korean pop star Sungmin in Japan; a 62-stop lecture tour in England by former London murder squad detective and Ripper investigator Trevor Marriott; a BBC America show called “Ripper Street”; and authors Patricia Cornwell and Donald Rumbelow both have plans to release updated versions of their books on the Ripper case this year.

If you’re intrigued by the Victorian serial murder mystery you may be interested in a curious, little-known connection that Boston has to the unsolved case: One of Britain’s finest painters, a man who studied under James Abbott McNeill Whistler and was strongly influenced by Edgar Degas, but who was also suspected by Cornwell in a 2005 book of actually being Jack the Ripper, has 194 works at the Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard Art Museums. All of them were in storage up until this week when the MFA planned to put one of the paintings, “Les Petites Belges,” on display to complement another painting in its European art gallery.

The disfigured face of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes.

Morgue photograph of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes.

Those who believe Sickert was Jack the Ripper contend that the subject of “Putana a Casa,” (above, far right) has a face disfigured with dark brush strokes that resembles a morgue photograph of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes (right), whose face was disfigured with a knife.

Cornwell’s accusation aside, Walter Richard Sickert has been widely dismissed by Ripper investigators and art experts as a suspect. But there is no denying his intense interest in the case. And what most do agree on is that Sickert, who lived in London at the time of the murders (1888) and died in 1942 at 82, was fascinated with the murders and used them to promote his own work.

One of his paintings is called “Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom” and four nudes he painted are called “The Camden Town Murder”: Some of the drawings, etchings, and prints of the latter are owned by the MFA and Harvard.

“My instinct is to say he sometimes changed the titles of his works or selected titles for his works because he was a great publicist. He knew exactly how to capitalize on this sort of frisson,” said Emily Beeny, assistant curator of paintings in the Art of Europe department at the MFA. Although Sickert had no problem capitalizing on the Ripper mystique, the MFA has no plans to do so because the museum, as a rule, does not focus on hypothetical situations, MFA spokeswoman Karen Frascona said.

None of the museum’s four Sickert oil paintings have been connected to the Ripper mystery and there are no plans to put any of the 102 prints and drawings it owns on display, although they can be viewed by making an appointment, Frascona said.

Beeny said she is not a Sickert expert and relies on the research of renowned Sickert scholar Wendy Baron. Baron, in a 2007 interview with the British newspaper The Independent, dismissed Cornwell’s 2002 nonfiction book, “Portrait of a Killer, Jack the Ripper Case Closed,” as “an interesting novel.”

The MFA came by its vast collection of 106 works by Sickert through acquisitions and donations made over the last 81 years, according to Beeny. Cornwell, who lives in Boston’s North End, donated 82 Sickert works to Harvard five years ago after she studied them as part of her investigation. Harvard now has 88 works by Sickert.

Harvard owns a drawing of one of “The Camden Town Murder” works (above). Its original title was “What Shall We Do About the Rent?” Sickert changed the title after the murder.

Harvard owns a drawing of one of “The Camden Town Murder” works (above). Its original title was “What Shall We Do About the Rent?” Sickert changed the title after the murder.

The works at Harvard can’t be seen at this time because of a massive renovation and expansion project of the Fogg Museum of Art, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum that won’t be complete until at least 2014.

In her book, Cornwell says Sickert was allowed to view the crime scene shortly after it was discovered, and that’s where he made several sketches of the murdered woman.

Cornwell is said to have spent as much as $6 million on an investigation for her book, and she insists Sickert was doing more than just promoting his art when he named or created works based on the murders. With no conclusive forensic evidence, Cornwell in her book relies on psychological profiles of psychopaths to help connect Sickert with the crimes. She claims that Sickert, like most psychopaths, believed he was smarter than everyone else and was proving this by leaving clues in the names of his works, by posing some of his subjects in the same way some of the Ripper’s victims’ bodies were found, and by painting people who looked like some of the victims.

Those who believe Sickert was the Ripper contend that the subject of one of his works, “Putana a Casa,” has a face disfigured with dark brush strokes that resembles a morgue photograph of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes, whose face was disfigured with a knife. They also contend that Eddowes is in another of his paintings, “Le Journal,” which is privately owned and shows a woman with her head thrown back as she reads a newspaper held over her head. The awkward framing of the woman is similar to the framing of Eddowes with her throat slashed in another morgue photo.

Sickert painted "Jack the Ripper's Bedroom" (above). The pink streaks on the floor could be light from the window or something worse. (Courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery)

Sickert painted "Jack the Ripper's Bedroom" (above). The pink streaks on the floor could be light from the window or something worse. (Courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery)

But skeptics say that even if some of his paintings resemble photographs of the victims, that hardly means Sickert was the killer. They explain that he could have seen some of these police photos and then consciously or unconsciously used them in his work.

Although five murders, from Aug. 31 to Nov. 9, 1888, are officially blamed on the Ripper, Cornwell and others believe the Ripper may have been responsible for more, including the murder of a prostitute near Sickert’s studio in the Camden Town section of London in 1907.

Harvard owns a drawing of one of “The Camden Town Murder” works. Its original title was “What Shall We Do About the Rent?” Sickert changed the title after the murder. It features a naked woman lying on a bed with a clothed man sitting on the edge of the bed looking down on his clasped hands.

In her book, Cornwell says Sickert was allowed to view the crime scene shortly after it was discovered, and that’s where he made several sketches of the murdered woman. She questions whether it was a coincidence that he happened to walk by at just the right time to ask police on the scene if he could enter the home, or if he carefully planned it, knowing when the woman would be murdered and when her body would be found.

Cornwell was not the first person to accuse Sickert of being Jack the Ripper. In 1990, Jean Overton Fuller accused Sickert in her book “Sickert and the Ripper Crimes.” And in 1976 Stephen Knight wrote a book called “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution” that claimed Sickert was part of an elaborate royal conspiracy involving Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor.

Marriott, the Ripper investigator, said Sickert’s “status as a suspect is poorly deserved.” He added that over the years there have been more than 200 Ripper suspects with many of the more popular ones having strong advocates in the small circle of hard-core Ripper enthusiasts.

Many of these hard-core enthusiasts frequent a 17-year-old website called Casebook, where they have been arguing and voting on who they believe is the top suspect for years. Currently Sickert is listed as the number three suspect among 22, behind James Maybrick and Francis Tumblety. “Casebook is mainly a forum that is frequented by what I would call hard-line Ripper researchers who over the years have become fixated with their own individual suspects with their own particular take on the case and those people are not prepared to accept new facts,” Marriott said.

After his investigations, Marriott said he doesn’t believe there is a single Jack the Ripper. He believes several people acting alone most likely committed the murders and that some may have been copycat killings. He added that he believes Jack the Ripper was the creation of a sensational press.

In fact, it’s widely accepted that the name of Jack the Ripper came from a newspaper editor who sent one of the phony letters to police claiming to be the murderer. During the murder spree the police received hundreds of letters from people claiming to be the murderer. Cornwell claims that her research shows that at least one of those letters may have come from Sickert, but the DNA tests and paper-matching analysis she conducted weren’t conclusive.

Marriott, in his 2005 book, “Jack the Ripper, The 21st Century Investigation,” brought to light a relatively new suspect, Carl Feigenbaum, a sailor who was electrocuted at Sing Sing prison in New York in 1896 for the Ripper-like murder of his landlady. In an interview he gave to the New York Advertiser shortly after the execution, Feigenbaum’s lawyer said he believed his client was the Ripper, according to Marriott.

Like all the other theories floating out there, however, it’s never been proven. As long as it remains unsolved, the legend will grow.

“This Jack the Ripper mystery for some,” Marriott said, “has become a cottage industry.”

Shooting Baby Ducks
Jun 20th, 2012 by

I shot these baby ducks with a camera yesterday at Fellsmere Pond in Malden. The mother was very attentive. Click on them to see them larger; click on them twice to see them really big:

Ten baby ducks were swimming in Fellsmere Pond in Malden.

Ten baby ducks were swimming in Fellsmere Pond in Malden.

Here are some more shots. Click on them to see them larger; click on them twice to see them really big:

click

Art, Wine Update
Jun 19th, 2012 by

"Lost In My Life (disposable jobs)," based on the work of Rachel Perry Welty.

"Lost In My Life (disposable jobs)," based on the work of Rachel Perry Welty.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I went back to school this year. Well, the semester is almost over and I turned in this photograph (see above) as my final project for my Visual Communications (art) class at Northeastern University.

The assignment was to choose a contemporary artist; to look at their work; and to then create something that would fit in with their portfolio. I chose Rachel Perry Welty and her “Lost In My Life” series.  I call the above photograph, “Lost In My Life (disposable jobs).” I came up with the idea after being laid off last month.

Welty uses disposable and/or deleted items in her work. Her most notable work is “Karaoke, Wrong Number,” where she uses wrong-number messages left on her answering machine over a three-year period.

I used newspaper “Help Wanted,” sections and headlines about the downfall in our economy to illustrate disposable jobs in our throw-away society.

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Shhh! Wine Is Resting

The wine is resting comfortably in my basement. On June 3, it stomped fermenting (you can tell when it stops boiling) and so I took it out of the oak barrel and siphoned it into two 5-gallon glass carboys and three liter quart barrels: 10+gallons, more than I expected.

It will now sit in those carboys for about a month before I siphon it out into two fresh and clean carboys. The idea is to not let the wine sit ontop of the dregs for two long. From here on out, it’s a matter of bottle exchange and bottle washing. It should be ready to drink by late August or early September.

Another Interest: Back at School
Apr 28th, 2012 by

My recreation of a Susan Rothenberg painting. The original, below, was created using acrylic and tempera on canvas. The one above was created in Processing, using a screenshot.

My recreation of a Susan Rothenberg painting. The original, below, was created using acrylic and tempera on canvas. The one above was created in Processing, using a screenshot.

Since this website is all about the things I love (cooking, eating, making wine, drinking wine, old houses, and listening to good music) I decided to share another part of my life: a new endeavor, school. I went back to grad school this month, studying digital media at Northeastern University.

One of the things I loved about college 30 years ago, I discovered is still true today: the classes interrelate. I’m taking two courses, an art class called Visual Communications and a computer programming class that allows you to draw and create animation.

When using the programming language, called Processing, it’s suggested that you lay out your design on graph paper so you can calculate the coordinates for the computer to draw what you want. For one of my first assignments I decided to recreate one of Susan Rothenberg’s horse paintings. I first saw her paintings in the text book, “Art Fundamentals,” a book we use in Visual Communications.

A photo of the Susan Rothenberg painting.

A photo of the Susan Rothenberg painting (US, 1975).

And now, one of the assignments for Visual Communications, has us creating our own graph paper to help us paint a self-portrait.

So does art imitate life more than life imitates art or is it vise versa?

I’m not sure. But I’m happy that these two classes imitate each other.

Stripping Doors of Paint And Redesigning the Dining Room
May 7th, 2011 by

The hand-painted antique cabinet matches the color of the new rug.

The hand-painted antique cabinet matches the color of the new rug.

I haven’t posted anything in more than two months. My wife says, “That’s because you’ve been sitting around doing nothing.”

Oh, the sarcasm.

I’ve been doing quite a lot (which I’ll be posting updates on in the coming weeks), including this. The dining room in our 1848 house in Malden, Mass. was in bad repair: the horsehair plaster walls were crumbling in a few places, and so it was time for a redesign.

At first we considered unearthing the fireplace that must exist inside the wall between the dining room and living room. But after consulting Mario, the fireplace expert, we decided not to do it: besides the expense (upwards of $20,000) it would have required us to cut into some major beams and reduce the size of two already small closets.

Plan B: Call in an old-school plasterer who could repair the damaged walls, rather than putting up blue board over them;  Strip the four doors that open up into the dining room of their layers of paint; Paint and glaze the walls and woodwork to give the room an old-world Scandinavian effect; Buy a new rug and curtains; And one thing I wasn’t counting on was replacing an old hope chest with a painted piece of furniture to continue the Scandinavian theme.

That purchase was made last Sunday when I attended opening day at the SoWa Market in Boston’s South End (Be sure to click on the video I created to see interviews with the vendors).

AFTER: The new dining room with the antique cabinet, painted walls, and bare wooden doors.

AFTER: The new dining room with the antique cabinet, painted walls, and bare wooden doors.

BEFORE: The old dining room after the walls were re-plastered but before the doors were stripped of paint.

BEFORE: The old dining room after the walls were re-plastered but before the doors were stripped of paint.

Resources:

  • Doors were dipped at Minuteman Furniture Stripping in Somerville, Mass. They picked up the four doors and then dropped them off. We kept the natural color and had a light coat of polyurethane put on them for protection.
  • Walls were re-plastered by Fay Brothers Plastering in Dorchester, Mass. John Fay is an artist and a perfectionist. He and his son, Sean, spent nearly a week working on the walls, paying special attention to a curve in one section. He also uncovering a wooden corner bead, which was the old-fashioned way of protecting corners back in the day. They dug this little gem out and now that it’s painted, it’s a highlight of the room.
  • Walls and woodwork were painted by Sitting Pretty in Haverhill, Mass. (978-521-0915). Kathy McCormick specializes in old world painting techniques. We hired her several years ago to match our new kitchen cabinets to the same color and grade of wood as the original douglas fir cabinets in our butler pantry. She’s great to work with and made several sample boards before we agreed on the color and glazing technique.
  • The hand-painted antique cabinet was bought at Tula Antiques at the SoWa Vintage Market in Boston.
Find more design ideas in the Home Projects section.
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