When Design, Engineering and Art Come Together Magic Happens

My first meeting with a Dassault Systèmes representative was in my office in Irving, Texas. The previous year, I had taken on the leadership of the global Engineering Systems team for an industrial company, responsible for over 200 applications used by 2,500 engineers. SOLIDWORKS was an essential tool for one of the four engineering teams. I had several challenges facing me – no central management for training or maintenance, and scattered licenses, some of which had expired.

I was pleasantly surprised that the focus of this first meeting with our SOLIDWORKS global sales representative was on getting to know me and understanding my hottest issues rather than on sales. Focusing on their customers’ user communities turned out not to be an exception but in Dassault Systèmes’ DNA. A year later, when the hot issues were solved, and it was time for me to retire, I made sure that I kept the strong friendships alive. I focused on becoming a professional oil painter, one of my dreams for post-retirement bliss.

A thought occurred to me that Dassault Systèmes could benefit from balancing its engineering strength with creative art. I was now on an artistic journey, but there were strong parallels and lessons to learn from my time supporting engineers. The importance of discipline, the focus on life-long learning, and collaborating with experts to address challenges were reusable approaches. Unbeknownst to me, Dassault Systèmes’ leadership was well along in pushing their connection to artistic dimensions, with multiple examples of stunning, original designs already in hand. Thus, my unsolicited proposal to create a painting to celebrate this artistic creativity and innovation arrived at a perfect time.

The early discussions between Dassault Systèmes and myself swirled around potential projects with two themes – helping humanity and creative, stimulating designs. When I learned about the Magic Wheelchair project, I was thrilled with the possibilities. Innovative engineering, putting a smile on the face of children requiring wheelchairs for mobility, and a volunteer team behind each build. Photographers had captured over 1000 pictures of each stage of the most current project: concept, design, build, validate, and finally presenting to the child. As a painter, I had almost unlimited resources to pull a composition together.

Ah, but there’s the challenge. How could I depict all the stages of development and the penultimate reveal and presentation all on a 2D piece of linen? And, capture even a slice of the energy I found with each person I talked to about the project? I started work in my studio on my composition using a structured approach very similar to design engineering, with rapid iterations and a willingness to quickly toss ideas that didn’t work. I benefited by enjoying ten days of vacation in the company of artist Georgia Amar. Her dark basement proved perfect for trying out different options quickly using my computer and a projector on a used canvas she contributed to the project. I solved which perspective to use for this indoor scene by modeling three different possibilities, and I blew the front wall off the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab to show the dynamic magic wheelchair escaping.

With the composition, perspective, and recognizable people firmed up, I put away the drawing pencils, paper, used canvas and erasers, and brought out the oil paints. After preparing the canvas with a smooth coat of gesso, I started roughing in the scene, beginning with the darker areas and background, then focusing on the magic wheelchair.  From time to time, I was challenged by what level of detail would work best, asking for additional input when needed. In the end, I included some essential tools, engineers at work, and the Magic Wheelchair team. One of the challenges was getting the LED lights along the side of the magic wheelchair to pop using only oil paint.

I collaborated with my art coach Susan Diehl, a master of painting light, to address the challenge. I dimmed the blue on the car, brought sunlight into the picture, and repainted the string once again. After some experimenting, the image took shape. I added shadows, adjusted colors on shirts and pants, and carefully gave the most significant figures’ faces that they would recognize. My final steps were less rushed, watching the paint dry while finalizing the frame and building a crate for shipping.

I enjoyed this time with the painting, especially in the morning when the bright Arizona sunshine brought out the full range of colors.  Then the time came to ship the artwork, wishing it a safe journey to Nashville.

I had taken the design of the composition through preparation and execution, using the new skills and techniques I had learned since I retired. At the 3DEXPERIENCE World in Nashville, I saw firsthand the passion for an artistic dimension in designs, engineering, and technology. To make products that bring joy visually as well as functionally. The Magic Wheelchair, built by volunteers at the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, is a perfect example.

Read this blog, Build Memories with the Magic Wheelchair Reveal at 3DEXPERIENCE World to learn more about the reveal of the Magic Wheelchair at 3DEXPERIENCE World in Nashville earlier this year.




Mark Algar led business transformations globally during his career, most recently leading the Engineering Systems group at an industrial company and customer of Dassault Systemes. Upon retirement in 2017, he became a professional oil painter, following his life-long passion.

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