Laser cut felt cuteness

Kristina Larsen on her recent laser cutting adventures:


Most of the time I've spent with the laser cutter has centered around learning what different materials will do when cut or etched, and thinking about how to use Illustrator as a pattern-cutting tool. I'm not sure that I made anything before this that I couldn't have made some other way in a similar amount of time. But in making this felt box I finally took advantage of one of the best features of the tool -- generating multiples!

I made a little pile of them in like 10 minutes. So exciting!

They're cute and fuzzy, utilitarian, and fun to fold. I think they look happy when they're full of stuff.

At first I tried to make a test version out of paper, but it didn't work very well. (Paper's not as pliable and forgiving as felt.) I also had been trying to do all the design thinking in Illustrator ahead of time at home, so I could simply go into the learning studio, cut out the thing and be done. But it didn't really work out this way -- some tweaking was required.


Turns out it's much much easier to cut one out of felt, mess with it (cut it up, draw on it, squish it), adjust the Illustrator file, cut out a new one, and repeat as necessary. Hey, I guess that's rapid prototyping in a nutshell.

Possible next steps are to try scaling them differently (shorter sides, more rectangular shapes, steeper angle to the top) and incorporating a second contrasting color showing through cut-outs. Since I only can visit the learning studio once in a while I still am doing a lot of thinking about the design away from the laser cutter. But I've also got four of them to futz with while I re-work the design.


Marble Machines - training with the Explainers

As has become a sort of yearly tradition, we hosted a three-hour training with the new batch of Field Trip Explainers, who will be starting to work on the museum floor in a couple of weeks. This is a particularly fun and creative group to work with: their ideas are always clever, the mood happy, and the insights that transpire in the "debriefing" session afterward always worth listening to and taking note of.

Click on the image below to be taken to a gallery of their work and creations:

Marble Machines training

And here's a sweet video of their wonderful contraptions:


LED light sources in motion

The video shows a set of materials for light experimentation: A simple screen made with an embroidery hoop and a self-made moving LED light source. I wanted to create a set-up that can work on a table or be mounted on a wall, something that can be changed to produce different light patterns. In this instance, the light is moving through a translucent tube, photos below show the same light source inside a mirrored prism and other tunnels.

I got interested in the beautiful effect of a point light source moving through a mirrored tunnel when I worked on kaleidoscopes with artist John Edmark. In the last couple of months, I made this equipment for my own experiments and I would like to try it with our visitors on the museum floor. I think at first I was excited about using this with a Mylar tube (left) , but recently I like to use mirrors and translucent materials.

Once I had started with the embroidery ring as a screen I decided to make everything out of wood. The linkage I used to move the light back and forth worked pretty much right away. It was harder than I thought to find a good light source and that led to inventing one specially for our needs.

Mirror Tunnel


We use a LED star with a simple circuit board. It is much brighter than a Mac light, stays at the same brightness for a couple of hours on battery power and can also be plugged in using a 4.5V power supply. On top of being bright, the LED star stays cold and is small enough to fit nicely into the light tunnels I use.

3256459538_c395902459_oWhile playing with my new equipment, I noticed that some of the most stunning effects originate from bringing the light source really close to a reflective or translucent material, the light projection can work like a magnifying glass and show the detailed structure of the material projected on a surface.


Exploring reflections: a workshop

Reflections workshop

Inspired by the awesome Reflections show that is now on display at the Exploratorium, the Learning Studio offered a 3-hour workshop in which visitors built their own "Shiny, Sparkly, Something-or-Others," as the title said. This constituted an experiment for us in several ways, and a good first step into the kind of activities and interactions that we would like to start offering in the future. First of all, it happened in parallel with a current show on the museum floor, and that alone allowed for adjacencies that were a source of inspiration for us, in developing the activity, and hopefully for the participants to the workshop, in coming up with their own creative ideas. We also combined the workshop with an unusual two-week residency for artist Chris Bell, who had collaborated with us before. We thought he would be a great source of inspiration because of his previous work with lights and reflections off of common household objects, and proposed to him that he would be building and experimenting with an installation on the museum floor, right next to a gallery showcasing similar work by participants to our own workshop. Graciously, and it take a particularly selfless and generous artist to allow this, he accepted, and a great collaborations resulted once again. So, this workshop started in the Learning Studio with a brief introduction to what we were going to do: essentially explore some of the aesthetic qualities of lights and reflections, and create our own expression of that.

Chris meets the participants

Then we led the group onto the museum floor to have a chat with Chris, while he was starting to work on his installation. This was a great moment in which Chris introduced himself and his work as an artist, and had some very insightful words on his process of creation with such an ethereal medium, with a particular emphasis on knowing "when to stop," which I think had a great and positive influence on the visitors' work.

initial explorations

Then it was time to head back to the LS for an initial exploration, using just a light source and a simple sheet of Mylar, in order to start generating ideas, and to familiarize ourselves with what was possible and beautiful with this medium. After a while, we introduced, as usual, a host of different materials, all somehow reflective or translucent, as well as construction materials, wood, tape, motors, switches, etc.

Similar initial explorations led to different end results

The mood became very quiet and meditative, and the visitors got to work, and soon different avenues of thought took shape. I found it very interesting that often similar initial explorations led to very different end results. Likewise, as is often the case with our activities, the participants ranged both in age (from about 12 to older adults) and gender, and all seemed to be equally engaged in the activity.

Taking our pieces to the wall of Light
The final incarnation of the Wall of Light

Ideas were tried and discarded, problems were solved, and slowly each participant got to the point were they were satisfied with what they had built. At this point we took their creations, which were on independent "shelves", and took them on the museum floor, where they became part of a collective Wall of Light, which stood on display for all museum visitors to see and appreciate for an amazing full two weeks.

And that concluded the first part of our exploration with light and with different kinds of interactions with the public. In the next days I will talk more about our next steps, which led to some interesting events!


Maker Faire 2009 time-lapse

Well, now that it's over, it's time to reflect on what an amazing ride Maker Faire was this year.

We organized a 3,600 square feet booth, including exhibits, snack activities, demonstrations, prototypes, and two PIE activities: a giant marble machines fort, and an even bigger enclosure where we let visitors build their portion of a collective chain reaction machine.

Photos from the event are coming soon. In the mean time, enjoy these frantic movies: they are two time-lapse movies, each compressing a full day of chain reaction workshop in less than a minute. You will notice the ebb and flow of visitors, and twice during each movie, the crowd building up to watch us set off the whole reaction, and then us taking it all down and starting again. It makes me tired and happy just looking at it!

Day 1:

Day 2:

The big set-offs were web-cast live on Saturday! You can see the archived versions here: