Douglas Coupland’s 3D printed portraits take center stage on Canada Day

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Coinciding with this year’s Canada Day weekend, Canadian artist Douglas Coupland has unveiled his newest and arguably most ambitious project to date. Called The National Portrait, the large-scale artwork consists of hundreds of 3D printed portraits based on real Canadian people.

The installation, which is being exhibited at the Ottawa Art Gallery until the 19th of August, has been in the works for some time as Coupland partnered with Canadian retail chain Simons in 2015 to invite people to participate in the project by having their heads 3D scanned. After touring various Canadian cities, including Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax, Calgary and more, Coupland has presented The National Portrait, the final phase of his crowd-sourced 3DCanada project.

Speaking to Simons, Coupland explains how the idea for the 3D printed portraits was born from his belief that the accessibility of 3D printing technologies will change the landscape for portraiture and sculpture.


The expansive piece itself comprises of 1,000 heads, all brightly coloured and arranged in an intriguing way. That is, not every head is 3D printed in the same way, some have been distorted slightly, which adds dynamism to the piece. The 3D printed heads do have one thing in common: they are all facing the same direction, looking to the future.

On a more technical note, Coupland required a fleet of 15 3D printers to realize the ambitious project and used roughly 70 km of biodegradable plastic filament to make each portrait. After 1,700 heads were scanned on the 3DCanada cross-country tour, it reportedly took 11 months to 3D print the 1,000 pieces that are featured in the installation.

“The National Portrait is much more than a Simons project,” commented Peter Simons, president of the retail chain that commissioned the project. “As we traveled from city to city, it quickly became a national piece of art using technology that people were fascinated to experience as they watched their own 3D portraits being printed. Unveiling The National Portrait in the nation’s capital is quite fitting.”

As mentioned, the 3D printed installation by Coupland will be on display until August 19th at the Ottawa Art Gallery in Canada’s capital city.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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