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.
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.
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on remote Deer Isle, Maine was founded in 1950. I had the pleasure of visiting it recently and was delighted to see that they are exploring the intersection of digital technologies with craft.
Glass Instructor Helen Lee is using a microcontroller with an accelerometer that gives audio feedback to glassblowers as they learn to level their rods (upper left).
MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms has implemented a Fab Lab – the only fab lab in a school of craft. They are building a 3D printer for ceramics (lower left), exploring digital mold making, as well as other opportunities for infusing traditional craft with digital tools.
Metalsmithing Instructors Arthur Hash and Elliot Clapp are integrating circuitry and electronics with jewelry and other wearables.
All of this magical exploration is set on a coastal mountainside overlooking the sea. A place of dreams.
Artists and inventors transform dimension. They make a 2D sketch, then build a model of that sketch in 3D. They build a 3D environment, take pictures of it to use in 2D images. Autodesk 123D had a feature that took your 3D model, sliced it up into 2D pieces that you would then cut from a flat sheet of material and reassemble in 3D.
This toggling between 2D and 3D gets even more interesting when you introduce soft materials. In the example above from Prosthetic Knowledge, they are making 3D models in CAD, processing them to generate a one-piece cut pattern for fabric, then using a jig (of that same cut pattern) to attach zippers to the patterns’ curvy edges so that it can be reassembled in 3D. The result has a topographic quality that is really beautiful.
Another take on this process was explored by Josh Jakus, a textile designer and fabricator, who used a similar approach to create some gorgeous felt bags a few years back. His bags employ “simpler” cut patterns and the results are less topographical and more sculptural.
Pebble [smart watch] is dead and hardware buttons are going with it: The future is all touchscreen, for better or for worse
Eh not so fast. Sure, it’s true that touchscreens are the status quo for interface design. But as with anything status quo, the players that are invested in it are well positioned to defend it. It’s easy to confuse their power with permanence.
But the status quo changes. There are plenty of artists and inventors working on tangible, gestural, and conversational interfaces that don’t involve touch screens at all. While these inventors acknowledge the economics and reality of the status quo, they don’t let it limit their imagination or their drive to change it.
Dr. Sabine Seymour is the Founder & CEO of SUPA. SUPA designs a modular system of trims (like zippers) that performance apparel companies can integrate into their product line to give it sensing and data tracking capability. Wanna make an impact? Design modular systems with emerging technologies for companies that already have distribution.
This past weekend I was invited to share stories about my city, Ithaca, NY, on a panel at World Makerfaire in Queens. The panel was moderated by Peter Hirschberg, a well known urban innovator and co-author of the new book Maker City: Urban Manufacturing and Economic Renewal in American Cities. Hirschberg co-wrote the book with founder of Makerfaire and Make Magazine, Dale Dougherty. They wrote it to capture the momentum from the Maker Cities initiative that was issued by The White House in which mayors all over the country, including our very own Svante Myrick, signed an agreement to support maker culture.
But what is a maker culture? And what does it mean for our city? I have my hand in a few parts of Ithaca’s maker culture and admire it’s many other parts. My sense is that Ithaca has a lot of the pieces in place to elevate the spirit of creativity and invention that is already so deeply embedded here. Let me list some of these pieces that are already here to help us connect the dots, starting with organizations that serve youth to ones that support artists, tinkerers, and inventors–and those that support hardware startups and manufacturing.
We have organizations like The Science Center, Ithaca Physics Bus, and Xraise, who are working hard every day to make sure our young people grow up seeing themselves as STEAM innovators. We have a rich tradition of art and hand craft and music (fun fact: the Moog Synthesizer was invented here). We have Ithaca Generator, a high tech community makerspace right in the heart of downtown and Hammerstone School Carpentry for Women. We have higher education, like Cornell, Ithaca College, and TC3, who foster the integration of creative thinking, technology, and problem solving.
We have programs like Challenge Workforce and Fingerlakes Reuse that train people with disabilities or other job challenges to do product packaging and electronics repair. And we have co-working spaces and business incubators like Rev Ithaca that houses a prototyping lab and hardware accelerator. As far as manufacturing goes, we have contract manufacturers like Wicked Device and Incodema 3D that have manufacturing expertise and specialized tooling.
In addition to our rich maker culture, Ithaca is a walkable city with trails along three waterfalls that run through downtown. We have a flourishing local food scene and arts and culture festivals year round.
So yeah, we’re on the Maker Cities map. Creators and inventors, come check us out. And if you already live here and are interested in invention, be sure to appreciate all that we have because the startups or inventors that have succeeded here didn’t do it alone. They were lifted up by the creative community that we have here in Ithaca. It’s a great place to live and create.
This post was originally posted at IthacaGenerator.org
Earlier this month we traveled to The White House Office of Science and Technology to take part in a special kick-off event to National Maker Faire. We were thrilled by a panel focused on connecting makers with US Manufacturers. The panel was facilitated by JJ Raynor, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and filled with ‘Made in USA’ trailblazers: Mo Mullen from West Elm Local, Bernie Lynch from Made Right Here, Matthew Burnett from Maker’s Row, and Althea Erickson from Etsy. All of these folks recognize the talent and creativity of our makers and inventors and are hard at work building bridges between makers and US suppliers and manufacturers. The discussion was inspiring!
As you may know, this summer Make Better Stuff is developing a product in the Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator in Ithaca, NY. We’re working on a light that aims to tune our bodies and minds to a slower, more natural sense of time. Above is an early prototype of a kit version. We are developing both a kit version for makers and hanging lamp version for public spaces. As far as the electronics go, we’ve milled and populated some custom boards on the Othermill we have in the shop. We’ve tested them (they work!) and are ordering a few variations from OSH Park.
While we wait for the boards, we’re getting feedback from potential customers and we’re exploring a range of laser cut designs for the kit version of the light–which sits on a table–and the hanging version. We’re at the point where we need to start putting together a BOM (bill of materials) and that’s where organizations like Maker’s Row, West Elm, and Made Right Here can help us find US suppliers and manufacturers. It’s super exciting. Like a geeky dream come true!