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3D Printed Tactile Art at the Portland Art Museum

Beautiful tactile art, offering a novel yet familiar experience for readers who are visually impaired.

Tactile art piece of a whale

In the summer of 2023, the Portland Art Museum received a grant from the French American Museum Exchange to create a small tactile art exhibit, in the spirit of the Please Touch exhibit at the Musée Fabre. I was tasked with creating tactile adaptations of a small set of pieces in the Portland Art Museum’s permanent collection. We eventually settled on four pieces.

A tactile wave art piece with various shapes and cutouts in it on a wooden background
Aks (Water) by Kari Morgan
A tactile art piece of a watermelon slice with two big seeds and the words "liberation" underneath it in both print and braille
Watermelon Portraits by Christine Miller
A tactile art piece of a whale in water
Monstro the Whale by Thelma Johnson Streat

After years of creating tactile graphics for embossers and swell form machines, I began exploring the use of 3D printers to create tactile graphics with greater depth and detail. By varying the height of key features and fine details, I 3D print highly-detailed and complex tactile graphics that are both easy to interpret and rich with information. What’s more, I’ve found that I don’t even need a whole half of a dimension! My style has often been described as “2.5D,” less like a true 3D rendering, and more like an embossed tactile graphic leaping from the page.

A tactile watermelon art piece and the word "liberation" in both braille and print

I am, after all, a braille transcriber at heart, and I think that shows in this collection. While selecting pieces for this project, I chose works that would make good raised-line drawings; in part because that’s my background, but also because I wanted this new approach to feel familiar for blind readers. I didn’t just want to create 3D versions of these pieces. I wanted to recreate these pieces in an art style that is unique to the blind community.

The pieces in this collection are meant to guide users through this new style of raised-line art. From simple shapes with subtle textures to pieces constructed of numerous tactile-layers, each piece varies in depth and complexity and offers a new spin on a familiar tactile technique. I hope visitors find these pieces exciting, challenging, familiar, and beautiful, and I’m so happy to share this work with you all.

Michael’s pieces will be on display at the Portland Art Museum starting mid-June 2024. You can find more of Michael’s work at www.mcantino.com.

All photos by Madelyn Hampton

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