Case study

Protolabs answers the call for ‘Dog & Bone’ art project


A chain reaction may be a term associated with a chemical incident, but for many it can also be used to describe a creative journey. When music industry executive Eli Castelli took his niece to the Tate Modern in 2018, it sparked a series of events that would lead to a book, a film, the ‘Dog & Bone’ art project, selling in a prestigious London art gallery and being selected for the ING Discerning Eye exhibition… And a collaboration with Protolabs!

On that visit to the Tate, Eli asked a room guide who it was that wrote the wall descriptions that accompanied the artist exhibits. Eli was taken aback to hear that it was not the artists themselves, but the Curators. He felt that it could be argued that it was the text on the wall – the Curator’s insightful analysis of the piece that brought understanding and therefore the art to life – that was more inspiring than the art itself.

Triggered by this, Eli decided to put his long-fermenting thoughts on the realities of the art world down on paper, and so ‘There is no F in Art’, the world’s bestselling ‘Art’ book was born. The work was highly recommended by Sky Arts TV critic Katherine Tyrrell and London art critic Tabish Khan put it in his Top 5 lockdown reads. During the publicity launch of the book, Eli was approached by animator Steve Gubbins, who invited Eli to collaborate on an art project. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s portable museum, Eli created the 3D ‘Imitate Museum’ from which Steve cleverly produced a film animation.

So it was from this collaboration that the Dog & Bone was born. “I really wanted to create a gift shop for my 3D museum, as we always exit through the gift shop these days. But then I had to think about what items to put inside my gift shop,” explains Eli.

“My original idea was to make a model of Jeff Koons’ inflatable lobster and put it on a telephone in a modern day twist on Salvador Dali’s lobster telephone. But circumstance led me to using a model of Koons’ balloon dog instead, which had featured in my book. It looked great visually, especially when thinking of the cockney rhyming slang for telephone: ‘dog and bone’!”

Eli then spoke to a number of manufacturers to find out how best to produce the design. New to SLS manufacture and not wanting to waste lots of money getting it right, Eli quickly felt confused by the jargon and unfamiliar terms – until he spoke to Protolabs.

“Protolabs totally stood out after a conversation I had with account manager, Sian. I didn’t want to get this wrong so it was very refreshing to speak to her. Sian was absolutely brilliant, so calming and knowledgeable about what I needed. She took the time to clearly explain the various options in terms I understood. Fantastic! Suddenly, I had clarity and was confident of the steps forward. The Protolabs’ customer service was excellent.”

“From there it was really simple. Just a matter of uploading the CAD file to the Protolabs website to get a price. It was brilliant and so easy to use. The piece was turned around really quickly and I got notified when it was being shipped. I could track the package so I knew exactly when it was coming.”

Dog & Bone art project

When it arrived, Eli was fascinated. He was amazed with the quality of the detail, the shape and the geometry of it. “I was just blown away. The Dog & Bone looked so good. At this point it was just a white resin model and was really dinky, fitting perfectly into the gift shop of my 3D museum.”

However Eli had the vision to realise that the Dog & Bone was too good to keep inside a gift shop. He made adjustments, scaled it up so it was three times larger and went back to Protolabs to get a larger model printed using their selective laser sintering process (SLS) – a powder bed printing technology that uses a laser to fuse together nylon particles. SLS is ideal for creating functional parts that require toughness and impact strength.

“Again, Protolabs’ service was superb, I cannot fault them. They are so much easier to deal with than any of the other companies I initially approached. The creative process is frustrating at the best of times but they really made their side of things smooth and simple; it felt like plain sailing” says Eli.

“The larger version looked even better, but I really wanted to use colour. I turned to Gretchen at Protolabs and she gave me really good advice about how to paint the piece they had produced. Painting is a service that they offer but I wanted to try doing it myself.

“Jeff Koons uses bright, glossy colours on his balloon dog so this was the look I wanted to emulate using acrylic paint and spray gloss. I was really delighted with the results.”

Eli posted a picture of the Dog & Bone on Instagram and it received a lot of attention. The photograph was spotted by London art critic, Mervyn Metcalf, who suggested Eli submit it to the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2020.  With over 6,000 entries, Eli was amazed when he received a congratulatory email announcing that he had been selected.

Now Eli has an exclusive and limited edition of 30 of his Dog & Bone models for sale in The Select Gallery in Notting Hill in three bright colourways of red, pink and yellow. With the gallery open again after lockdown and the festive season approaching, those adorable doggies in the window are no doubt going to be finding new owners soon, in homes that are for life, not just for Christmas.

“Protolabs created the Dog & Bone and for me it feels like a collaboration.  Although I came up with the concept, Protolabs provided the magic by making my idea come alive via their SLS service. Layer by layer, they brought the Dog & Bone to life.”

Eli Castelli’s ‘Dog & Bone’ is being exhibited amongst Mervyn Metcalf’s judging selection at the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2020.