To start off celebrating the National Week of Making in the Tinkering Studio, we are having Beetleblocks+Watercolorbot workshop today, highlighting one of our favorite tinkering tenets “Merge art, science and technology!”
Beetle Blocks is a visual programming environment for designing 3D objects. The interface is very similar to Scratch: you snap blocks of code that tell the computer what to draw and how to move in a 3d axes (x-y-z), and you can export the design to a 3D printer to create a physical 3D object.
In the Tinkering Studio, because 3D printing often takes a long time and cannot serve for everyone in our drop-in style workshop, we have been exploring an alternative to 3D printer, and we've found that using Evil Mad Scientist's WaterColorBot as an output tool is our favorite since it takes only a few minutes to print out and at the same time it adds artistic elements to the project!
It is quite interesting to see how the WaterColorBot interprets the Beetle Blocks code. All of sudden, the clean and systematic geometric shape on the computer screen becomes a unique art piece. When the WaterColorBot executes a painting with the paintbrush, you see vivid and fluid color being drawn on the paper. Those colors sometimes bleed into one another, which is something you didn’t design on the computer. Because of this fluid nature of watercolor, the outcome always brings something unexpected but it often adds a nice surprise to your project.
Here are some of our favorite examples:
We see people spend a long time trying out programing to draw geometry shapes and the process is very iterative; they are quickly creating a code with blocks, testing out to see if it draws as expected, carefully observing the result, then revising the code and testing out again… Beetle Blocks on its own is already very interesting and engages people in an enriched tinkering process, but when you combine it with WaterColorBot, it makes the process even more tinkerable, and we think this is a perfect example of “Merging science, art and technology!”
Here are a few reasons for that and why we love this activity:
1) It is truly rewarding when you get an artistic geometric shape as a result of trial and error of coding. During the process, you are naturally exploring coding concepts such as loops, variables, and functions. Math and geometry are also involved here.
2) You kind of forget the fear of being “wrong” because your code usually doesn’t work the first time :-) That's the nature of coding, and it is totally ok not getting it right. Tinkering doesn’t start without failure, does it?
3) Because the coding process is iterative, you are naturally adopting a scientific method that is basically a cycle of making a hypothesis, doing experimentation, observing the result, and revising the code.
4) There is something interesting happens when your design gets transformed from digital (Beetle Blocks) to physical (WaterColorBot), suddenly you get your design existing as a concrete object that you can touch and feel. When you get an “object-to-think-with” in your hands, it accelerates tinkering.
5) It starts out with a block of code, which is very abstract and does not mean anything to you at first, but at some point the project turns into personally meaningful creations for you. It might be when you see your code draws a line, or when you get the first geometry shape, or when you see your design gets printed out. In any case, when you are working on something personally meaningful, you get especially motivated to make it work.
6) WaterColorBot always brings unexpectedness and whimsicality to your design. Here, getting the outcome does not become the end of your project. You feel you want to try more. Whether it is revising the code, tweaking the WaterColorBot setting, or replacing the brush, you are making a small but important adjustment for you. You find yourself in an eternal loop of iteration!
The possibilities with the Beetleblocks in the Tinkering Studio is not only limited with WaterColorBot. We’ve tried different tools and had fun to see a different outcome with each tool.
Beetle Blocks + Laser Cutter:
With Beetle Blocks, you can easily repeat a certain shape to make a beautiful geometric art which makes a great project for laser cutting. It is great to have lots of different materials such as paper, wood, plastics, or fabric to make different physical objects!
Beetle Blocks + 3D printer:
Lastly, this is what Beetle Blocks is originally for... 3D printing! Luigi made these projects. You can read about that here.
With the maker movement on the rise, there are more and more maker spaces equipped with digital fabrication tools like 3D printers and laser cutter. Turning a digital design into a physical object using those tools is fun, but the process of doing it is not always engaging. Some people simply download and print a ready-made design from an online repository like Thingiverse. We’ve found that combining Beetle Blocks with a digital tool makes a project very engaging. It is exciting to see that people going back and forth between digital and physical tools to pursue their personally meaningful creations.
For us, just having fancy technologies doesn't mean a lot. We've found that those tools become powerful and meaningful only when people find a "right" reason to use them. So, try to set up a context so that the materials, tools (digital/analog) and outcomes all spark people’s curiosities and their motivation for making and tinkering! We often find the magic of tinkering happens at the intersection of art, science, and technology.
About the development of Beetle Blocks and WaterColorBot activity, Ryan has written many blog posts:
- Beetle Blocks and WaterColorBot experiments (2015/06/25)
- Beetle Blocks and Turtle Art more explorations (2015/07/07)
- Nerding out visual programming (2015/07/17)
- First Tinkering Studio BeetleBlocks Workshop (2015/08/25)
- Beetle Blocks workshop iterations (2015/09/11)