Exploring Media: Mezzotint

 

spring_evening
Spring Evening by Robert Kipniss, 2017

Today will be a fun art-making day. This morning I’m meeting my students at the new makerspace in our public library to fabricate their designs on a laser cutter.

And this evening I’ll start a mezzotint short course hosted by Cayuga Arts Collective. Mezzotint is a 17th-century printmaking technique in which you manipulate the roughened surface of a copper plate. The media affords soft gradients and a painterly effect unlike printmaking methods before it which are more line based. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.

 

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Invention Everywhere

invention

Saturday was a gorgeous fall day here in the finger lakes so we hopped in the car and drove up to Lake Ontario. We had a wonderful day walking at the lake and driving through acre after acre of apple orchards in full swing.

On our way home we saw a sign for the “Savannah Arts Festival” on the side of the road and we decided to pop in. It turned out to be a little community arts festival with craft vendors, DIY activities, a food truck, and a “Trashin’ Fashion Show” that was to start about 5 minutes after we arrived. We got in line.

The love and work that was put into this event moved me. It was clear that volunteers had put a lot of energy into creating the runway and the right atmosphere for the show including a fabulous MC and custom music for each model as they walked the runway.

There were about 10 entries from contestants ranging in age from kids to teens and adults. But my favorite entry is pictured above. This was created by a 9 years old. I didn’t catch her name. And I don’t know if she won a prize. But I thought her use of materials was so clever and graphic. While most entries were bubble wrap and draped table clothes adorned with hot glue and bottle caps, this nine-year-old created a look that embraced industrial materials and a futuristic aesthetic. The foil ducts as leg warmers warmed my heart!

 

Artist Spotlight: Joan Jett

After yesterday’s hearings, I need a good dose of Joan Jett.

Joan Jett was a pioneer in Rock & Roll. In 1970s Hollywood, she set out to form an all-girl rock band. As you can imagine, that idea was met with a lot of resistance.

But Jett survived and thrived and this month she’s got a documentary coming out that captures her story. I can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, there’s a lot of great coverage out there to read and listen to. This interview with Marc Maron is fantastic (it starts about 15 min, 50 seconds in) and this interview with the NYTs is sweet.

In these interviews, you’ll hear that Jett has this great combination of character traits.  She’s strong, yet humble. She has had crystal clear vision and integrity throughout her career. She’s authentic and she f*ckin rocks. Thanks, Joan. Much love and respect.

Affordances – just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Affordances is a term made popular by Human-Computer Interaction theorist Donald Norman. The term refers to the actions that an object or system enable the user to take. A knife enables the user to cut. Thus, one affordance of a knife is “cuttability.”

I like to make a distinction between the actions that certain tools and objects enable vs the actions that tools and objects want to enable. Sure, a wrench can be used to hammer a nail, but it’s not what it was designed for. Hammering is not what a wrench wants to do. Not that you shouldn’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if that’s what you need to do and a wrench is all that you’ve got. Just remember that it’s important to understand that hammering is not what a wrench is designed for.

I have a controversial stance on the affordances of some digital fabrication tools. For example, in many cases, people use 3D printers for low batch production of identical parts. Yes, low batch production of identical parts is an affordance of a 3D printer – a 3D printer can do this. But it’s not what the tool wants to do. It’s quicker and easier on the machine (which is often a shared machine) to use a 3D printer to make a mold and do your low batch production using a mold rather than running the printer for 500 hours (and dealing with all of the hiccups) to make your ten identical parts.

I also believe that laser cutters afford cutting. Yes, they do etching really well and many a laser cutter owner uses their machine to run an etching business (think trophies). But etching, compared to cutting, is really slow. And if you are using a laser in a shared space, it’s advantageous to lean into what the tool really wants to do: lighting quick cutting. Don’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if you don’t have to.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Affordances and Design on jnd.org

Affordances on IxD Foundation

 

Leaning into Criticism

I’m teaching a new and improved version of MakerLab to undergrads this fall. The biggest change I’ve brought to the course is weekly writing assignments. The assignments have multiple parts and have at least two components:

  1. Explore a big picture question about the maker movement
  2. Identify a maker from a particular genre and write about their work

The latter component is called “Maker Appreciation” and I’ll dedicate a post to that in future. Quick insight: it’s a great and rewarding exercise.

The former component really interests me…and scares me a little. So far, the big picture questions have been questions like, “Why the maker movement, why now?” or “What are makerspaces and why do they matter?” But for this week, we’re going to move way out of the comfort zone and read some critiques of the maker movement. Why? It’s important to explore the criticism. I mean, if you are in the middle of a theatrical run, you might want to hold off on reading reviews lest they negatively affect your performance. But in other areas of life, you want to understand and acknowledge criticism in real time.

So for an upcoming assignment (not this week, but the next), we are reading Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker piece called Making It: pick up a spot welder and join the revolution and Leah Buechley’s 2014 talk called Thinking About Making.  I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

As art goes digital, it becomes easy to copy and remix. This is great in many ways. But it’s also important for artists to know that there are tools out there to help them communicate how they would like their work to be used.

Creative Commons (CC) licensing was founded in 2001 by lawyer and academic Laurence Lessig as he and the folks around him saw a need for a new kind of licensing in the digital age.

There are a few flavors of CC. Some give you permission to use and remix work with no boundaries at all while others have some requirements. From the CC web page:

  • Attribution CC BY. This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
  • Attribution ShareAlike CC BY-SA. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND. This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND. This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

  • To see examples for each kind of CC and to download license tags for your own use, go here
  • LL’s 2007 TedTalk on CC here

 

 

 

 

Fall Into Art

Last November I attended The Fingerlakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute hosted by The Center for Transformative Action at Cornell University. I had a great time chatting with the social entrepreneurs there and left feeling engaged and inspired. That inspiration manifested in a small change at the time: I changed the name of this blog from Make Better Stuff to Art & Invention. For me, the name-change marked a shift in thinking and writing about stuff to thinking and writing about what it takes to make stuff: the emotional and practical world that artists create, define, and live in.

Then in January of this year, I applied to Seth Godin’s altMBA program with the goal of making more art. But once the course actually started I changed my goal from “making more art” to “helping other people make art.” And that’s a trap we fall into, right? We avoid working on our own sh*t by helping other people do theirs. And that’s not all bad. It’s good and it’s generous, but for me, it’s also a form of hiding from my own work. So I’m just trying to hold a light on that in my life and examine it.

Another push toward making art came in late August when I visited the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, Maine. The campus is what I hope heaven to be:  simple modernist cabins built into a tree-lined mountainside overlooking the sea. In each cabin, a different set of tools and materials: hot studios for glass and metal, a graphics studio with ink and roller, a ceramics studio with slip and wheels, a woodshop with saws and clamps, a textiles studio with sewing machines and dyes, and a fab lab with CNC routers and 3D printers . I left there feeling that I needed to go home and create my own space. You can’t make art just anywhere. You really do need a workshop. A place to have your tools out and keep them out. So I’ve done that this fall. I’ve created that.

This fall I’m falling into art. I’m emotionally ready and I’ve carved out the practical space to work.

Strip it down to change it up

This one’s just for fun. An oldie but a goodie.

Jimmy Fallon has this segment where he invites a pop star to perform a song of theirs with The Roots playing accompaniment using office supplies as instruments. It’s goofy but also an interesting constraint to hand off to such talented musicians. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, it does. Enjoy.