Artist Asher Ford's 3D-Printing Shop Is About More Than Just Whimsical Design

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Asher Ford is typically strolling or driving around her neighborhood in Austin, Texas when an idea strikes. She will quickly jot down her idea at a stoplight or leave herself a voice note, before heading to her workshop to sketch the concept out and input the design into a 3D-modeling program. This is typical for Ford. Amidst maintaining a 3D-printing factory (or as Ford calls it, a "farm"), shipping out pieces to eagerly awaiting customers, and handling the finances that come with running her own business, Object Lover, finding a few minutes to be creative is few and far between.

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Ford never expected to be a designer, let alone a designer who 3D prints furniture. She went to the University of Central Florida film school and then dropped out of graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied silent film and silent film history. In 2019, after working a few odd jobs in the film industry and at a sexual assualt center, a friend of a friend and founder of 3D-printing company PRINTERROR, Greg Cerna, came over to her house to chat about his work. He even brought over a bunch of prints to give away. Cerna's generosity solidified Ford's interest in building something special with a person so kind.

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3D printers had always been fascinating to Ford, as she kept up with the technological advancements surrounding them and even went as far as checking the printers out at trade shows. After connecting with Cerna, Ford did everything she could to learn all there was to know about 3D printing.

"I started picking up a lot of the tools and teaching myself about how to use the machines," Ford explained to Hunker. "I learned how to design for the machines and then I launched the first collection of my stuff last July."

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Ford's designs are quirky, colorful, and fun, including bright pink side tables, wiggle planters, and fruity coasters. She finds inspiration through her love of ceramics. Once she started working with Cerna, Ford spent about a year getting into the history of ceramics and took up wheel throwing — something she would spend a lot more time doing if she had a few extra minutes in the day.

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"There is a lot of diversity when it comes to making clay pots and planters," said Ford. "In that limited little view, how many different creative pots can there be? The answer is thousands and thousands. I found that world really inspiring, but it has also led me down a lot of other threads of understanding the history of post-modern furniture design. I think one thing about our farm that's interesting is that it's a practice that really intersects with the history of craft and detailed craft work, but is also pretty clearly a miniature factory."

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From the initial sketches through to the 3D printings and even the packaging, Ford and Cerna have worked together as a team, along with a few other part-time employees over the past couple of years. The two business partners now have their own commercial space, an exciting feat after formerly working out of garages and spare bedrooms.

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The most important aspects of the business to Ford are collaboration, inclusivity, and fair labor practices. As a trans woman, Ford aims to set an example within a capitalist society of what it truly means to value labor, no matter the identity of any given person. Everyone deserves to be compensated equally.

"I think the hardest task that we set up for ourselves as a partnership and as a business (Greg and I) is that we want to be able to do all of this work together, and with others, without ever saying that a person who comes in to work with us is an opportunity for us to profit off of that person," explained Ford. "Most of our interaction with thinking about the politics of identity is around how everybody deserves the same pay and to make a living wage."

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Ford also feels that she has an environmental responsibility when it comes to running her own shop, and she believes that for many businesses, eco-friendliness is more of a pursuit rather than a reality. She currently uses a corn-based bioplastic called PLA to create her pieces. While the material has been called compostable, recyclable, and biodegradable, PLA comes with its own issues as its biodegradability is still up for debate.

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One of Ford's missions is to maintain an open and honest conversation, especially via social media, about her own environmental footprint, as not to take part in the greenwashing that is currently happening among many businesses.

"I don't know if I personally think you can make things, sell things, and produce things in the world that cause absolutely no harm to the earth," explained Ford. "That's what I think my social media will hopefully be for in the future, is connection and conversation with people who can also educate me and show me where I'm wrong and how my business can get better."

The answer for Ford is durability. The focus is not on just creating disposable pieces that need to be replaced all the time, but on figuring out how to work with the tools she already has to create pieces that last.

As for the future of the business? Ford wants to pay it forward by offering up space for other artists and creators to use the resources she has to produce their own work. With around 36 printers and a commercial space with nine offices, Ford wants the machinery to be used by others.

"I think the thing I'm most excited about is when we can find and connect with people who have their own ideas about what they want to make," said Ford. "We can share the space, our machinery sources that we've built up, and our knowledge about how to use those machines to be like, 'Let's do it! You've got a vision? Let's give you the tools.' I think that's where I get really excited."

You can shop Ford's pieces on the Object Lover website, explore her Etsy page, and connect with her on Instagram.

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