Tin Art at Lighthouse

Our second light-themed project at Lighthouse Community Charter School was to create illuminated, perforated and scored pieces of tin art. Hojalata, tin artwork, is the Mexican folk art practice of manipulating soft tin sheets by bending, perforating, and painting. Tin art supports tinkering practices that students have been developing over the past two semesters, such as soldering, iterating on initial designs, and using task-specific tools.

One reason why we are very excited about tin art is because the artistic practice of manipulating tin is found all over the world. Tin art has been found in Europe, the southwestern United States, and throughout Central and South America. Many of the students at Lighthouse have connections to Central and South America and the practice of tin art is very strong in these countries. We also like that tin is an easy to manipulate and inexpensive material that can be shaped into complex and beautiful pieces.

Tin art has deep ties to tinkering (a person who made and repaired things made from metal was often called a tinker or tinsmith), and we believe the activity embodies tinkering because of its multiple entry points, the ability to manipulate the material in many different ways (emboss, deboss, add color or repetition), and the ability to incorporate circuit making by illuminating a tin piece from behind or within. Rosie, the head Lighthouse teacher in the Tinkering Club, also brought in her tin ornament collection from Oaxaca, Mexico. She told the students about her collection and was able to share something personally meaningful with the students.

We supplied two different types of tin for students to use: spray-painted soda cans to create luminarias, or illuminated tin art, as well as square, flat sheets of tin. Marceline created a luminaria, but instead of using a soda can, she painted tin sheets black and curved the metal around a LED tap light. She perforated a hand-drawn design into the tin using a pushpin by first sketching her character on paper before transferring.




Marla’s luminaria featured delicate punched flowers scaling the sides of the soda can. She added a single blossom on top of her luminaria because she wanted some light to shine upward like a lamp with a lampshade. The effect was the light from a single flower projected onto the ceiling of the classroom. In her artist statement, she explained that Japanese kimonos and cherry blossoms inspired her tin art design.



Some students also constructed their own lights for their luminarias. Students used prior knowledge of constructing paper circuits from copper tape, LEDs, and coin cell batteries to customize their tin art. Stephanie illuminated a starry luminaria with a color changing LED by constructing and soldering the circuit onto a base that could be housed underneath her piece.




Some students focused on color and texture in their tin art, like these two examples below, and used Sharpie markers to create striking, vibrant pieces.


After students finished their tin art, we encouraged them to write a title card to go alongside their artwork on the Tinkering Club bulletin board. On the card, students included their name, title, media, and an artist’s statement.


Shipping things!

Former Tinkering Social Club guest Jesse Genet, creator of Lumi Ink, launched a delightfully quirky yet informative YouTube show all about… shipping things! It's called Shipping Things. I'm already a subscriber!


Stab Stitch Bindings with XTech

For most of the month of February both of our XTech cohorts have been learning about and making badges and books from a tradition of stitching called Stab Binding. The method dates back many centuries to parts of China, Japan, and Korea and involves using thread to make double-sided images onto a material like fabric or paper. We covered our introduction to these making projects last month, and continued to use an app by a friend of XTech named Natalie Freed.

Having spent our last post discussing the iterations of the warm-up to stab binding with patch-making and mini-book design, we wanted to include some words and thoughts on what the actual book-making looked like for a few of our students. The project for us touches upon the idea of “intuitive mathematics” and sense-making using a linear material like thread to produce intricate and multi-layered designs that also function as book bindings. Clever use of this algorithmic thinking allows even complex shapes to come to life with a single piece of string. But, designs are always at risk of not getting made. Even with forewarning, some students found they had to retrace their steps and remove the string from some of the holes they’d stitched to take a different path. Often, it took actually experiencing these moments themselves in order to fully understand how to troubleshoot and proceed. Through the various ways we introduced stab bindings to the collective challenge of finally constructing books, we’ve been invested in learning how this embedded strategy manifests itself through creative planning and innovative decision-making. We continue to see some real strides in personalization and individualized tracts of methodology in XTech, and it’s incredible to see the students take on this fusion of technology and craft head-on.  


One of our Intermediates, Claire, took on the challenge of making multiple books each with designs of a single word, like “hi,” “cute,” or the names of friends, and even maintained the same typographic style throughout. (Over the two consecutive weeks over the two months we worked on stab bindings with her cohort, she was constructing books quick enough that she decided to gift her second and third to schoolmates.) On Girls’ Day in January, Claire had noticed one of the examples provided by Natalie Freed of a word, and pretty immediately got to work on the laptop to map out, animate, and stitch her own word design. The first book took practically the entire session, and involved some line/geometric work and the word “hi,” as a cheeky nod to the poetic platitudes on some of the example books we had shared and explored during the introduction. (Claire has an incisive wit, and wears it readily during our one-on-ones.) In conversation with her during the process of stitching, she shared that she had to troubleshoot constantly on both the app and in her stitching because the words had to come together in a particular way in order to look complete (since even one mismatched stitching could result in a line of the letter “h” being absent). Her lowercase “hi” ended up not having the dot over the “i” because Claire wasn’t sure how to include it. Still, Claire was visibly relieved that she reached completion of her first book in a day, and was happy with her design - even receiving a few callouts by her peers at her tenacity to do a grammar-centric design.


A comparison between app and book. The double-lines on the app reflect the double-sidedness of the finished book.

When we saw Claire again in February, it was clear she’d digested and reflected on her first project and applied those learnings to her next book design. The words she chose were longer and had letters that were relatively intricate (“t”s and “s”s), the designs larger so that the word occupied nearly the entire space of the spine, and the line work featured curvature. Her confidence with the project was evident, but not without some troubleshooting. When we discussed difficulties she’d run into, the question came up of which letter, specifically, had proven most troublesome to do. Without hesitation she said, “s,” and explained that it consists almost entirely of curved lines, which she determined were necessary to do or else it would look like a “5”. Saying this, Claire and several others chuckled, and it appeared this relieved some of the tensions of having struggled through this. Claire continues to be an awe-inspiring student to see evolve. She is very transparent about her work and willing to share her process.  I anticipate her becoming an even more valuable resource of ideas and support for her peers in Xtech and other spaces.


Notice how Claire decided to leave the “t” unfinished as she proceeded through the word. She finished crossing it on her way back because otherwise the stitching path would have become jammed.


Another Intermediate student, Wai-Kirn, has been developing a wonderfully whimsical aesthetic centered around arcade and old-school games, usually with a twist that conveys his command of scale and space. When we introduced the book bindings, Wai-Kirn spent a great deal of time on his first badge, planning and stitching, even when others had physically moved on to the tables with laptops. This is common for Wai-Kirn. His care and attention with the tools and concepts introduced in our warm-up activities is something to appreciate. Wai-Kirn fully immerses himself with figuring out tool use and tool limitation before starting anything else, and applies these observations into how he maps out his designs to sidestep difficulty later. Its also an area of his process that will be great to draw on once he becomes a Facilitator-in-Training and starts supporting our beginning students.


It is refreshing to see students diverge from expectation, and really exciting when we see deliberate abandonment of our recommendations in favor of risk-taking design. Even though Meg and I had offered mostly examples of stab designs that formed one continuous shape, Wai-Kirn used the laptop app to draw out a schematic with three separate figures that together produced a wink and nod to one of his favorite games, Pac-Man. His design involved the title character front and center along with two of the pellets forming a design that ran across the space of the spine still allowing it to function perfectly as a binding for his book. Wai-Kirn was focused and committed while on his laptop, and when I asked about his design as he stitched, he noted how simple each of the respective shapes was to make despite their collective appearance of intricacy. So simple, in fact, that he ended up making each of the three gaming icons three-dimensionally drawn with lines jutting out from them to give them depth. The approach Wai-Kirn took also seemed to influence others to experiment either with game-inspired designs or with designs that involved separate, distinct shapes. Sometimes innovation requires breaking with recommended pathways.  


Wai-Kirn’s Pac-Man-inspired stab book design, nearly finished.

Natalie’s online app once again proved essential for making these stab bindings and for the stitching process (Xtech used the app for last year’s Girls Day as well). But things could always be improved, and we had several suggestions by students for what could be done to have made their projects come out with greater ease. Knowing how much string to use was one consistently noted wish. When we had more string than we needed, it often became tangled and we had to come up with methods for keeping it tidy as we stitched. Another suggestion offered was to show the sheet of paper as a whole in addition to the available field on which to draw designs. This would allow students to visualize how much space they would take up with thread, and to better map out the design as a whole book cover. Natalie has already told us of her plans to make many of these changes including one that would really help particularly in classroom situations or when a project is worked on over several days. That is the ability to save your design and reload it in the app later, on a different computer or a different browser to be able to continue to use the animate mode until you’re finished stitching.


We have wrapped up stab book bindings with both cohorts and have begun a new project, but one thing I’d like to implement in later returns to this are how other, maybe unexpected materials like wood or conductive thread would do and be utilized in creative and personal ways.




Light Painting at Lighthouse

This semester at Lighthouse Afterschool Program we're exploring light, shadow, and color related activities. After making our journals, the next activity we dove into was Light Painting. We spent two weeks on this activity, with the first week spent exploring the materials and techniques, and the second week refining those processes to make images that convey a message we want to share with our community. One thing I value about our collaboration with Lighthouse is the emphasis they place on student voice and community action. Seeing positive messages around the school inspired us to try this community-oriented spin on light painting.

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Writing with light painting can be challenging - your instinct is to write normally when you face the camera, but that ends up making the words appear backwards. Marcelline came up with a technique of writing with her back to the camera but holding the LED so it pointed towards the camera to form her words. That way she could write normally, and still have the camera "read" the letters the right way. With this technique she could quickly write out a complex sentence without having to worry about the letters being backwards. To describe why this message is important to her, Marceline said, "I think that my message is important because integrity is what most try and work on. It's a difficult value. And when people lie it's not always hidden."


We also had stencils on hand to facilitate incorporating words. Katrina and Sandra collaborated to make images that included the words "respect" and "peace." They used EL wire and an app called Pablo (rather than a digital camera) to make their messages. I like they way their silhouettes are included too. They said they chose peace and respect because those are "what we really need on this planet."

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Rosie, our co-teacher from Lighthouse, worked with Shauna and Rose to create a Tinkering Club light painting. Shauna used a color changing LED to make the designs at the top, and Rose used a green LED to make the swirls at the bottom. They made several iterations of this image to get one they liked, and Shauna used her observations of what they found worked well to help give advice to other groups.


Sara and Yesenia collaborated to make several versions of light paintings with the words "Justice for All." When reflecting on why they wanted to send this message to their community, Sara said, "we chose Justice because we believe that not everybody has justice so they can't be equal. I chose this because we really need justice in our lives."

Although many of the ASP students chose to use words, others wanted to make abstract images to convey an idea. Marguerite, Karla, and Thalia collaborated to make the image below. Marguerite wrapped herself in EL wire and spun around to make the bright stripes, and Karla and Thalia used different light sources to make the subtle patterns across the top and bottom. They decided to call the image "I am Me" and Marguerite said, "this is me because I express myself to be a little bit crazy and like to have fun."


The approach of using light play as a medium for conveying messages was new for us, and I was super happy to see the breadth of ideas the students had for what was important to them and how they wanted to share it. The following week we brought back printed photos of the students images and gave them the opportunity to add a title and description. We then hung those posters on a bulletin board outside of the Creativity Lab so their thoughts could be shared with their school community.

Overdeck Family Foundation

This collaboration is funded by the Overdeck Foundation and the National Science Foundation.


Light Painting with BAME


Earlier this month, the Tinkering Studio hosted our first BAME meet-up of 2017 with a Light Painting activity. Lianna and I had been prototyping Light Painting for an after school program that we teach at Lighthouse Community Charter School and wanted to test out some tools and techniques with the educators in the meet-up group. Light painting is the process of taking long exposure photographs while moving a light source across a camera’s field of vision. A wide variety of effects can be achieved with this method, from spelling out words to creating abstract patterns and colors.


We encouraged participants to iterate on their ideas throughout the evening. When doing this activity, it often requires multiple trials to achieve desired effects. When Lianna and I tested our ideas in the Learning Studio, it was not unusual for us to create two or three images before we were satisfied. We also found that trying an idea easily lead to other ideas, and we wanted the members of BAME to also have these experiences.

After initial experimentations with different lights and effects, we saw the educators test and redesign their ideas throughout the event. They made modifications to the execution and design of their images, and improve on the clarity of their initial ideas. We saw participants find make silhouettes ...


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... create a beach scene ...

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... and discuss with one the way in which they wanted to make their next image. The collaboration and creativity in the room was infectious!

For those who are curious, below are resources for our camera set-up. Generally speaking, we set our aperture (or F-stop) very high and our ISO very low. For our cameras (a Canon Powershot G11 and a Nikon V2), we used the following settings:

• Use the small wheel to change the setting to “M” for manual
• Use the big wheel to set the ISO on “100”
• Set the f-stop to highest number possible, F8
• Change the exposure time using the click wheel and the top right button

Nikon V2
• Change the ISO to the lowest setting, 160
• Set the f-stop to F11
• The top-right click wheel is the length and has a “bulb” setting, or “B”, and will keep the camera shutter open by holding down the button

For BOTH cameras
• Use a HDMI mini to HDMI to attach a camera to a monitor
• To display images on a monitor, click on the play button, symbolized by the arrow pointing right, as images won’t show up automatically

We also used a free app called Pablo that creates long exposure pictures and as well as video capturing the entire process.

Thanks to all who participated! For more information and inspiration on Light Painting, check out this resource. For more information about the Bay Area Maker Educator meet-up, check out the Google+ page.