Sand Sculpture of LeBron James for a party to celebrate his MVP and NBA Championship wins


Women in Model Making: Ami Davis

submitted by Audrey Farrell


Ami Davis always knew she wanted to do something creative in art or design, but had no idea that model making was even a real career field, other than movie props and architectural models. “I thought that model making was just those kits you buy at the hobby store,” recalls Ami.

A model maker for the past 16 years, Ami's early college days were spent at Clark College in Vancouver, WA, taking many fine arts classes while planning on going into animation or web design. Ami credits her mom, an art teacher with igniting her passion for art at an early age.

While in college, Ami replied to a job posting she saw on the bulletin board in the art department for a job making 2D and 3D graphics for web based video games. While working freelance for the company, she learned how to do 3D modeling and animation using Lightwave. But the company never really took off and she got laid off at about the same time she graduated with an Associate’s degree.

 Ami had planned on going back for her Bachelor’s degree but had to earn some more money first. She registered with a temp agency and soon after, got called in for a job painting shoes. “I wasn't sure what that meant; if I'd be painting pictures of shoes or painting actual shoes in some sort of factory but it sounded interesting, so I took the job”, says Ami. The painting job was located inside the Model Shop at Nike. “That's where I first saw that model making was a real job.”

Ami was very interested in what the model makers were doing and whenever she got a spare moment she would go over and help to clay up models and pour silicone molds. After about a year, Ami got the chance to do a clay model as a test and was eventually promoted to model maker.

When she started, all of the models were sculpted out of clay or carved out of resin or wood. The Model Shop also had one seat of a 3D modeling software called Freeform by Sensable, which uses a haptic desktop device to simulate the feeling of sculpting in virtual clay. Ami was familiar with 3D modeling so her manager encouraged her to try to make some models using Freeform. “It quickly became my preferred method of modeling because it was so much faster and precise while still keeping the sculptural quality and feel of working with clay,” Ami recalls.

Ami does a lot of 3D modeling using Freeform and some Rhino. She loves modeling characters and toys and has had the opportunity to do some special projects over the years, like figurines and trophies which she has really enjoyed.

                                                                       2012 Tampa Pro skate trophies based on a sketch by Pushead

 2010 Limited edition figurines of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul for the World Basketball Festival

5 years ago, Ami changed career paths slightly and took a job as a Concept Creator at Nike. “ I now work more closely with the Innovation Team to build working prototypes of shoes. I had to learn how to create patterns for uppers and sew them together,” Ami says. Now she has both the 3D modeling skills and pattern making skills to create all the parts of a shoe. “My job requires me to be able to work both digitally and hands on, which is the perfect combination for me. It gets me up and away from my desk for part of the day and keeps things from getting too predictable.”

About 11 years ago, Ami volunteered to be on a sand sculpting team for Sand in the City, an event that raises money for children's charities. “I loved the excitement of carving big and fast for an audience, with the danger of possible collapse at any moment and the challenge of having to think quickly and creatively to salvage your work if disaster strikes,” says Ami. “I was very much hooked. I ended up doing several sand sculptures for Nike for their Hood to Coast events and then came back to Sand in the City as a sand sculpting coach to help teach new volunteers how to sculpt in sand. I'm also part of a Masters’-Level beach sand carving team called Portsandia that competes along the West Coast.” Ami’s latest challenge was competing in a professional pumpkin-carving competition.

 Sand Sculpting has helped feed Ami’s creativity in several ways. She explains:

  • It gives me the opportunity to network with other creative artists outside of my workplace and to help the next generation of artists by mentoring others.
  • It teaches me that real creativity comes when you are willing to let go of your best laid plans; to accept that everything is temporary and not to get too attached to what you have created.
  • Loosen up and don’t get too focused on tiny details!


                                                                                          China themed sand sculpture for the Hands on Children’s museum in Olympia WA


Ami continues, “When a sand sculpture collapses and I still need to find some way to finish it, I'll scan the ruins and look at the abstract shapes to see what jumps into my mind.” When Ami was growing up, she and her mom would pass the time on family road trips by taking turns drawing random scribbles and having the other person turn it into a picture of something. Ami recalls, “Those scribbles often turned into pictures that were much more interesting than if I had simply tried to draw the subject matter without the underlying scribble because I would have never ventured outside of my comfortable way of doing things and the abstract forms helped me to see things in a way that I had never thought of before. When my well-thought-out sculpture is reduced to rubble, it reminds me of playing that scribble game but in three dimensions and instead of feeling defeated, I often feel that I am at my most creative.”


                                                                                          China themed sand sculpture for the Hands on Children’s museum in Olympia WA

Ami’s job at Nike requires her to think creatively and problem-solve to build better shoes. She never knows what she will be doing from one day to the next, but having a solid foundation of both digital 3D skills and hands-on making skills gives her a broad range of tools to use to solve whatever problems are presented.

She really loves that her job allows her to constantly be learning and trying new things. “I always have a new problem to solve and every day is different,” says Ami.

Ami considers model making to be a very fulfilling career. She says, “The field of model making is so broad; I have met model makers of all types, from extremely precise, scientifically-minded engineers to hands-on craftsmen, designers and fine artists and every combination in between. The tools and methods can be from flat-cut paper, fabric and foam core, to metal, clay, wood, 3D and even electronics but the end result is almost always a solid, real object that you brought into the world. Making things gives me such a feeling of accomplishment; to have something to point to at the end of the day and say, ‘I did that.’ If you share that need to make something, then model making is a great career to consider.”

When asked what skills have been beneficial in her career, she stated, “For me, having a combination of 3D and hands-on skills has helped me a lot and I would encourage other model makers to embrace and become skilled at both types of model making.”

Ami believes that finding a hobby outside of work that is complimentary to your career can help you immensely, in networking and finding other like-minded creative people to learn from and share ideas with. “I would encourage everyone to find a club that pertains to your work but is a little out of the scope of what you do or what you'd like to do, such as electronics, antique restoration, woodworking, leather-working, 3D, rapid prototyping, animation, photography, robotics... For me it's sand sculpting. Get out there and go to meetings; attend competitions. You'll meet amazing people and learn new things, all of which will help you to be a better model maker.”


                                                                                                                         Ami Davis

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 Association of Professional Model Makers Spring 2017 Newsletter

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