Making

This summer I changed my blog subtitle from “Artist | Technologist | Educator” to “Artist | Maker | Educator.” For a while I was reticent about the Maker moniker, but there now seems to be some legitimacy to the name. A maker is one who makes or produces something. In pop culture a maker is one who makes something using DIY electronics, but it’s obvious that makers go way beyond that. For instance, there’s been an indie-DIY maker movement in film for some time where filmmakers build production gear at a significantly lower cost than commercial products. This Newsweek article describes the maker movement as:

…a global community of inventors, designers, engineers, artists, programmers, hackers, tinkerers, craftsmen and DIY’ers—the kind of people who share a quality that Rosenstock says “leads to learning [and]…to innovation,” a perennial curiosity “about how they could do it better the next time.”

June 18, 2014 was an official National Day of Making in the U.S. The maker movement is seen not only as a form of personal expression and flexing curiosity muscles, but also as a potential economic engine. Makers could bring invention and manufacturing back to the U.S. The only issue I have with the proclamation is the emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). While the STEM movement in education is important, I prefer the STEAM movement, which adds Art to the mix.

Being a maker requires a balance of creativity and logic. The creative side poses a problem or challenge and guides it with an aesthetic. The logic side provides the steps needed to implement a solution to the problem and then both sides evaluate the solution to see if it succeeds. Making a film, a piece of interactive art, a painting, designing a kitchen gadget, or a prosthetic hand is as much creative as it is technical, thus requires active thinking and experience from both creativity and logic. I think it is very interesting that the western world has put people like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Benjamin Franklin on pedestals as “Renaissance Men” or polymaths, yet we compartmentalize our education system in a way that allows us to choose between the sciences or the humanities/arts with a total lack of balance between them. General education (GE) requirements in college attempt a balance, but students are trained early (even in high school) to see the GE as a chore to get through rather than something that can actually help them understand the world from multiple points of view and gain thinking and manual skills that will help them throughout their lives.

Who’s not a maker? Most white collar workers and low-skill laborers.

I’m one of those cliche makers. As a kid I disassembled my toys, figured out how they worked, and mixed them to make something new. I had an erector set. I had Lincoln Logs and some Legos. My father was an engineer and he grew up having to fix his cars, home, appliances and be self-sufficient. My mother learned to paint and make crafts completely on her own. I learned early on to fix cars, I learned to drive a manual transmission car at the age of 10. I was taught to build and repair things, use a myriad of tools, and to not be afraid to experiment (or of change). I also learned to draw and paint at home before finally taking art classes in school.

In Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft, he discusses the demise of shop class from American high school and college curricula during the 1990s. Luckily, I grew up on military bases in the 70s and 80s with amazing shop facilities both in the schools and for the base residents (the original maker spaces). I helped my father work on cars and made ceramics with my mother in the shops and then took industrial arts courses from the 6th through 9th grades and then got into making theatre sets and props starting in the 10th grade though graduate school.

Since the late 1990s, I’ve been building my own maker space (aka “shop”) that’s moved a few times and unfortunately resides in my garage and home office. Someday I’ll consolidate my spaces in a single building, but I think that’s going to happen in a different residence than where I am now.

I make a lot of different things with different materials and using a lot of different tools. A few recent examples are in a previous post. My work is often traditional using wood, metal, glass, paint, and drawing, while other projects live in the ether like projections or computer graphics/film projects. I also make beer, which is its own sub-set of the maker movement called the craft beer and home brewing movements.

To get into making I suggest that one look at his/her activities that get handed over to someone or something else and see if it could be done on one’s own. For instance:

  • Cook your meals. If you haven’t done it before then try starting with something like chili. Find a recipe (the logic), and then spice it and add other ingredients to your liking (the creative).
  • Filmmaking students – make your props and design your costumes beyond what’s in the actor’s closet.
  • Change your car’s oil. BTW, another idea from Crawford is that one should stay away from the “time is money” point of view when considering tasks that could be done by someone else for a few bucks. I heard this years ago and it made me go back to changing my own oil and doing basic maintenance like I did before getting a job back in 2000.
  • Get a Dremel and do some projects.
  • Make some Christmas or birthday presents
  • Learn to program using Python, Javascript, Apple’s Swift, Java, or C. And/or HTML, CSS, and Javascript.
  • Follow stories in Make and Instructables. Try something out that intrigues you.
  • Customize your bicycle (replace the seat, bars, pedals, or whatever makes you uncomfortable when riding)
  • Learn to make 3D models using Sketchup or 123Design or Blender so you can 3D print them.
  • Fix a leaky faucet or constantly running toilet
  • Change the oil in your mower and sharpen the blades
  • Make a lamp including doing the wiring from scratch
  • Fix a lamp
  • Mend a piece of clothing. Sew a button back on
  • Buy a Raspberry Pi or Arduino and teach it to do tricks
  • Carve a pumpkin for Halloween and/or Thanksgiving
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