Student and Teacher Create Business Around 3D Printing

Mark Holstrom was driving trucks for a living and contemplating a change of career path more than six years ago. During an off hour, Holstrom said he caught an episode of Conan O’Brien in which the host was showing a digital face made from a three-dimensional printer.The Bossier City man’s interest was piqued, but at the time he didn’t know just how much digital art would impact his future. A few years later, Holstrom was enrolled at Bossier Parish Community College studying graphics engineering when he met his future business partner, Mark Hopper. Hopper was a teacher at BPCC and both shared an interest in the school’s 3D printer. “I did a couple of projects at BPCC, and from there Matt and I decided we needed to start this company because it’s growing and it’s not going to go away,” Holstrom said.

In less than two years they’ve become owners of Ark-La-Tex 3D Technology, a leading 3D printing company in Shreveport-Bossier City, and are helping advance the skill in local schools, businesses, health facilities and the art community.
It’s new. It’s got potential. It’s art made practical. “The new artists are designing models for 3D printing, they are designing the graphics that go on billboards around town, they’re making TV shows and movies, designing video games and apps,” said Clinton McCommon, Bossier Arts Council president. "Hopefully Shreveport and Bossier City will embrace the fact that they are in a very good position to grow here in that respect.”
Advancing the arts
Ark-La-Tex 3D began their business making objects, such as vases, sculptures and 3D scans of portraits. But by working with local artists and craft makers they have found new avenues.
“One of the biggest things we gone into is 3D printing charms and jewelry,” Holstrom said. “We’re printing out those things that would take several hours to produce and they’re just being able to print them out into silicone molds and other materials.”
Holstom said they’ve had many printing requests from artists, and one of their most recent collaborations is with Wired and Sassy Artisan Jewelry owner Tracy McComic, who makes handcrafted jewelry.
“For some designs, I request a 3D print of an image,” McComic said. “One example is my Louisiana design. I had Mark create a Louisiana image. I took his creation and made a flexible push mold from it. I then press metal clay into the mold to form my metal designs. Once the clay dries, the clay is fired in a kiln, melting the metal back into its original solid state.”
The new technology cuts the production time for the artists and widens their ability to do new things.
“It is much simpler for me to create a mold from a custom 3D print than to hand carve each and every design I make,” she said. “In the time that it would take me to roll out and individually carve one piece, I can use the mold and create 10 or more pieces. Even using the mold, I'm able to make every Louisiana piece a little different.”
Holstrom and his partner have begun working with local artists to add wiring to make lamp fixtures to the printed models. They also are experimenting using a pen-like 3D printer to create fine details into art pieces.
At the beginning their printer was only capable of printing small sculptures and figurines, but now the company has ventured into multi-colored, larger and more detailed items. Holstrom said the company’s goal is to begin to create life-sized, large-scale objects on their new custom 3D printer.
3D printing in other industries
Ark-La-Tex 3D Technology has caught the attention of many in the community.
Their initial work at BPCC ignited an interest on campus, and now Holstrom and Hopper are teaching the technique to others in the community. They’ve held printing demonstrations at the Downtown Development Authority’s Pop Up: Downtown Shreveport, Bossier Art’s Council’s DigiFest South and are involved with the Louisiana Start Up Prize.
The Bossier Arts Council has expanded their reach to recognize digital art. The 3D company’s mission aligned with BAC to use the teaching method S.T.E.A.M. to incorporate art with science, technology, engineering and math. For two years, Holstrom and company have been a vendor at DigiFest South digital art conference to introduce students to the possibilities in 3D art.
“Three-dimensional printing is another addition to a whole line of technological advancements that have allowed creative people to do more,” McCommon said.
“It was something that when it was created with just a singular purpose and now has a thousand variations of how to use it to help and make money. They’re using it to make prosthetics for kids and for artificial heart transplants and modeling and animation.”
While vending at DigiFest last fall, the printers met staff members from Shriners Hospital who were looking for ways to help a patient — a professional child calf roper — who needed a prosthetic hand and forearm. Neither parties had used the 3D printing to create a prosthetic, but heard about it being used in other hospitals
“It was one of those things where you look around the world to see what can I use?” said Shriners Hospital orthotist Craig Ginther.
With Holstrom and Hopper’s 3D printing skills and Shriners’ medical knowledge, they were able to produce a specialized adaptive device. The prosthesis allows the patient to hold the rope and throw it using body power.
The device was a success, and Ginther said they would consider using the 3D printer for future patient needs.
“The only thing limiting us is imagination.” he said.
Holstrom and Hopper market themselves as technicians for local industrial businesses that have purchased 3D printers for mass production. They also design models for architects and interior designers to use as an alternative to drawn blueprints. The printed models would allow clients a more realistic way to view the layout plans.
The company even succeeded in incorporating their artistry to computer sciences.
“The most complicated we’ve had to make was a jump drive for a media company. We were still developing it but they wanted something more high end for their product and it had their custom logo in it. It was quite a design feat to be able to incorporate a USB into a customize product.”
They hope to one day work with law enforcement to recreate crime and accident scenes through printed models.
“It’s part of our next wave of technological improvements,” McCommon said. “It’s a game enhancer moving us forward.”
Digital art in education
What began as a creative form of art, Holstrom and Hopper have molded into a business. Now it is a career path they want the next generations to consider.
Ark-La-Tex 3D Technology has worked with educational institutions.
“If we can get them excited about it, we can get them to do the high school technology groups to get the 3D technology spread out even more to the medical, technology, education, manufacturing and just about any industry you can imagine,” Holstrom said.
After working with Sci-Port, he said the facility was able to receive a grant for three 3D printers now used at the downtown science center.
“One of the main goals of DigiFest South is to show students there are opportunities out there and show them educational pathways,” McCommon said. “There’s a lot of great creative career fields that are very successful, like architecture, engineering, motion picture and video game design, app development for cell phones and graphic design marketing. All of those elements require creative thought to be successful and inventive.”
Amelia Gandy of Shreveport had a passion for fine arts — drawing and painting — since childhood. In high school she attended the first animation summer camp at LSUS.
“It was my first exposure to digital arts,” Gandy said. “It’s how I knew I’d go to LSUS.”
This month, Gandy, 22, graduated from the university’s graphic design program and will intern at Swaybox Studios, a new puppet technology and animation studio in Shreveport. Through digital arts she said she was able to apply her love for fine arts in a field with more career options.
“The world is so technology based that digital arts is needed to make it look good,” she said.
Her former teacher in the graphic arts program, Allen Garcie, said the growth of the department is a result of the newer generation’s early exposure with digital arts through video games and computer advancements. Now, the skills have developed into career opportunities.
He said he’s had many students skilled in drawing and painting choose the digital arts path.
“They find that they can do something with this thing called art,” Garcie said. “The key is having a strong portfolio.”
Holstrom said some local schools from middle to collegiate levels have introduced digital arts to their students — some even have purchased 3D printers in recent years. But he said there are still untapped opportunities to better educate students.
McCommon hopes more people will see arts education as a priority and not discount it. The future of continuing digital art advancement in Shreveport-Bossier City relies on how schools and government agencies handle it, he said.
“There are schools who are embracing it but they can’t do it fully because they don’t have the support of general public, school board or the state legislative process or the budgets,” McCommon said.
“Between the debate on the Common Core and subsidized state systems, they have to do what keeps them alive and the teachers are restrained by that. It’ll take a cultural shift for the schools.”