Critical Review: Carvy – A Digital Stylus for Pottery Makers

December 9th, 2015 by Chong Guo


How I get there:

I started with a question, people use tools to shape the outside of the pottery piece. But how could the tools help people to craft the inside of clay.


Context and scenarios:

For the first scenario, maybe you are trying to hide something inside a ceramic jar. You need a tool to guide you to shape from inside. And one more use case will be that crafters need a tool to quantify the making process and the material. Under current technologies, they have to build a mould. Creating a mould is not easy or flexible at all. Thus a tool that could measure and estimate can be used to unify the shape of material even the crafters are not in the same place.


A state of smarter objects:

The state of smarter objects haven’t changed the material or the making process totally. Crafter can still use their workflow and material that they are familiar with. But at the same time, they can create a much digitalized relation with the material that they use. For example, a computational tool in ceramics might be a 3D-printer that mixed different soils. An traditional physical tool is the weight tool to measure the weights of soils used in mix a new material. A smart object will follow the mix procedure but also tell the crafter what’s the possible outcomes based on the current mix ratio.


Then the question is, how could smarter objects help the transformative process of making. I would argue that in four directions. First, the smarter objects have limited computation but still, it’s computation. Computation could help shape the material in a much more strict way than human’s hand. Second, the smarter objects help people to learn without touching the material, in this case, the tool could mark a position without touching the clay. But using traditional tool, a physical marker will be left. Third, smarter tools brings extra functionality than the traditional tools. A digitalized brush could change its shape to provide vivid writing experiences. Forth, smarter tools pass digital data. With digital data, material’s shape can be imported to computer, to mobile phones. And the once the data flows to others, the data could be used creatively in generating new material practices. For example, masters can teach their students how to shape a pot remotely with this tool.

That opens possibilities:

I can see the tool be utilized in many area, e.g. Logan’s project; Automatic drawing machine that draw a special pattern from computer; A way to teach and learn; A remoted connected handler; Transform data from the pottery maker or the WWW, the cultural side can be visualized…


Prototyping Process: Carvy – A Digital Stylus for Pottery Makers

December 9th, 2015 by Chong Guo


From Machine to Stylus

When I brought the idea of carving tool. The first thing came to my brain was Machines that make projects from MIT. The goal of those machines is to create more machines out of that. They made lots of things look like CNC machines. Then the question became, how did I make that. While I was drawing, a new idea was generated inspired by the 53 stylus pens for iPad.


The First Design

My first thought on the curving tool is a kind of 2D-Printer on the wheel. Two motors will move the pin in Y-Axis ( from top to bottom), and X-Axis (from the left to right, but always starts from the center of the wheel. The bottom of the extension bar has two sensors to detect the distances to the bottom and to the wall. Thus the machine could the vertically placed pin to the wall and start curving.

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Prove of concept for the first prototype:

This prototype hasn’t been activated since it’s over complicated. It requires both customized materials and lots of trials.

Thoughts on the first prototype:

The first prototype actually starts with a hypnosis rather than a real world solution. So there are pros and cons for the first prototype. The down side definitely is the complexity of the system, it’s basically a 3D-printer without Z-axis movements. Another problem that will be generated by this design is the space issue. A low height structure will block user’s vision to the ceramic object. In addition to that, machines can only achieve single direction pock action, which is just a little part of the creative use of the carving tools.

However, the design has lots of benefits that couldn’t be compatible. Firstly, the design could run automatically. User could just draw simple lines in the software then the machine could be able to decode the drawing and transform it on the surface of the pottery piece. Secondly, the design could tell the thickness of the pottery piece’s bottom by moving the pin left and right. Since it has a distance sensor attached, and a fixed height. The differences of values can be considered as the thickness. Thirdly, the process of designing this machine informed me a lot of design principles, such as a changeable connection.


The Second Design

My second design simplified the machine. By changing it to a handheld device. User could be able to use it in a much flexible situation.

Key Approach to the second prototype:

The second prototype uses a C-shape structure to drop the pin in the middle of the pottery. A small led matrix shows the distance got from the distance sensor. The up and down movement can be captured by the distance sensor on the bottom. Another distance sense is used to detect the distance to the wheel. In this prototype the speed control of the wheel is added. The goal is to have a way to project the pin’s positions on the all 360 degrees.


Thoughts on second prototype:

The second prototype validates the way to combine distance sensor to grab the position of the tool’s pin. With data, we can also record a piece of user’s action and then use it as an instruction to help them repeat, or practice. But the device is still large and not easy to use.


Design presentation: Carvy – A Digital Stylus for Pottery Makers

December 9th, 2015 by Chong Guo

My Original idea started with a limited space when I first tried throwing on the wheel. When I reached my hand into the inside of my clay piece, I was totally fascinated by the feel of touching. In that situation, I couldn’t see what was happening inside my jar. I have to use my fingers, my fist, and the rotation of the wheel, to estimate the position, to try my next move. The interactive model can be represented like this: We start with the feelings, then we proceed the feelings using our criterias such as the thickness of the wall, the shape of the surface, and the humidity of the surface. Once we gather all the information we need to make a decision, we push our hands again to perform, to change the pottery. Then we start a new round.


Then I’m wondering, is there a way to work from the inside?

Looking at all those images that people is trying to curve the different forms for their pottery, and the ways to do that are creative and novel. And most of them are seeking for duplications and orders in pattern making. But how could people reach the narrow, dark area inside of the the pottery. Also, the design challenge here is that, if you are shaping the outside of clay, the open space is quite enough to stretch your arm, change positions of hands, twist your wrist. But everything can be changed inside, it can be hard to grab a small tool.


The absence of inner pattern

I’m also wondering when when talk about the pattern, includes the graphical painting pattern and the pattern of repeated shapes. Inter patterns are hard to be found even the in the zen culture from east Asia. As the need of ceramic crafting is shifting to a much more personal side rather than production side. I’m also interested in the idea of smashing ceramics. If we can hide information inside of the clay piece and the only way to see it is to smash it. That will be a Erwin Schrödinger’s pottery, which can be quite fun.

Intro to Physical Computing using Clay

December 5th, 2015 by MLgatech

Intro to Physical Computing using Clay -Critical Review


Motivation and Original Idea:



“The materials and tools we use as well as the approaches we take to design, prototype and build technology greatly influence how we think about technology, the collection of people who think about technology, and the look and feel of the technology itself.”[1]


This quote was a huge source of inspiration for my project throughout as I aimed to use clay as a material to lower the learning curve for Physical Computing.


To answer the questions as to Why teach Physical Computing? , this video captures the essence of that very well:


Concept Development:

Physical Computing has three main elements which are:

Input Output and Processing


Image Source:

But another main element of Physical Computing is the FORM. It is the form that gives meaning to the inputs and outputs of physical computing.

For eg. a glowing LED light by itself is not symbolic but if i cut-out a paper heart and stick it to the top of the LED, it starts to have some meaning.

Why Clay?

There are many ways to give form to such a project ranging from manual(sewing, paper craft, wood-working) to automated(3-D printing, Laser cutting) etc.

My exploration use Clay along with some other materials(pencil, magnets etc.) as a material because:

It is easily and cheaply available in most places

Easy to mould and shape

Can combine simple forms to each other to form complex forms

Can use tools such as knives, moulds, stamps etc.

It offers both malleability when it is wet and rigidity when it is dry

Can be painted on or drawn on when dry

Insulative(which is a very important property of any electronic circuit, the Yin-Yang  complement of conductivity)


I developed a set of prototypes with clay that demonstrated the concept. The next question was how to present this information to my target audience which was middleschool/highschool kids.

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Early Prototype- Bell mounted on Accelerometer—Plays bell sound in Processing when change in reading detected


Design Approach:

  1. How to step students through some concepts of electricity and introductory sensing and actuation?(incremental lesson plan)

The idea was to have a set of in-class activities that would allow students to learn some intro concept. Once the students had some confidence in building circuits they would be able to make personalized projects.

(problem based approach + constructionism)



I designed a set of activities which can be found here:

  1. Getting Started with Electricity(what is resistance, how does it change with length/area of cross section of conductor)
  2. Intro to Physical Computing (Digital input switch, Analog Variable resistor + Storytelling with form )
  3. Making forms with Clay (Making an interactive lamp form prototype)
  4. Intro to Arduino
  5. Going further with Arduino: Intro to Processing, Some more Sensors(accelerometer capacitive sensing)


The activities themselves can be found here:


Here is a short video demonstrating my work journey:


What context does your project stand in and What problems does it address?


Physical Computing lies at the intersection of the Physical and the Digital

My intervention explores using clay as the form-giver to physical computing projects. The problem it is trying to address is that of learning physical computing as a beginner. The material it uses are simple and easily available. A lot of projects in the maker community require skills such as 3d modelling, printing, sewing etc. (although there are plenty of examples with simpler crafts as well). My project puts focus on using Clay to solve this problem.


Clay can be used to give shape and form to and to materialize the imagination and stories of students.


Another, digital intervention is documenting the steps of the activities using digital multimedia. As my overarching goal is to teach, I am using the digital medium for its strength: replication(was able to borrow from existing sources that teach this and link to them),distribution(shareable resource) outreach.


What questions does it ask?


How can physical artifacts created with clay breathe life into electronic components such as sensors and actuators?


How to design a set of activities that is easy to follow  and engaging for students?


Does using clay give confidence to people that it is a material they can work with?


How do students Remix and Transform the activities to make projects which are meaningful to them?

The many forms an interactive lamp could take.



touch sensitive lamp

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Based on Diyas, lamps which are important in the Hindu culture (


Which of our readings does it relate?

The project is related to the Crafting Technology Reading[1] as well as the the Kit of No parts [2]. I also referred to a lot of blogs and websites in trying to compile my lesson plan:

Pencil CIrcuits:


What did it achieve?


My project was able to create a set of activities that introduced clay as a form-giver in physical computing activities. I was also able to document my steps in the form of a Step by step recipe.


What did it not achieve?

While I did come up with a lesson plan I could not think of a way to make certain exercises simple enough to be presented to students eg. the accelerometer activity with the bell or the touch sensitive lamp.

This would probably require a Participatory design activity with kids and teachers to see how best to present this information.



[1] Buechley, Leah, and Hannah Perner-Wilson. “Crafting technology: Reimagining the processes, materials, and cultures of electronics.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI)19.3 (2012): 21.

[2] Perner-Wilson, Hannah, Leah Buechley, and Mika Satomi. “Handcrafting textile interfaces from a kit-of-no-parts.” Proceedings of the fifth international conference on Tangible, embedded, and embodied interaction. ACM, 2011.


Exploring type-form through orderly & man-made metamorphosis.

December 4th, 2015 by ievam

Digital Intervention : 

Initial concept featured a digital intervention in the process of developing a form and mold for ceramics slip casting.

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Integrating an ongoing Industrial Design tessellations project, I sought out how to incorporate ceramic slip with the unconventional mylar material. The digital intervention would highlight the complexities of designing and building an unanticipated form and mold. As the tessellations are build from 2 dimensional pieces, the pattern design involves a transformation of 2 dimensional parts into a 3 dimensional form. Due to mylar’s flexible nature, the expectation was that the slip would reveal the true 3 dimensional form in the final form design.


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Digital Prototype :

The development phase revealed several issues in the initial concept. Using processing to develop the pattern had its setbacks in the fact that pattern feasibility still needed to be tested by actually building the form. As well, the concept development behind the pattern influence was weak and stronger foundation was needed in the theory of what drives the pattern. The other issue was the use of mylar as a mold, weakening the casting of the slip into an artifact. The mold was too malleable, with the clay often distorting the actual form. The slip also cracked very easily in the process of casting.

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The solution was to go back to slip casting in plaster, and focusing on developing a negative mold with the mylar forms.

Final Critical Design :

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The final digital intervention featured using a base pattern of hexagons, arranged in 4 tiers. This produced a simple flat surface on which the tension points(pentagons) could be used to morph the flat form into a 3 dimensional surface. The inspiration for these tension points came from the chemical element makeup of Kaolin (Al2Si2O5(OH)4). Using the electron arrangements in the first 3 orbit shells, I would be able to specify where the tension points on the base pattern could be arranged.

This project development was highly inspired by Richard Sennett’s ideas on metamorphosis. This idea of seeing a design go through an “elaboration of its species” was mostly reflected working with the electron structure of Silicon. The pattern arrangement was highly modular and produced a variety of diverse forms.

The final design was realized through a process of building 4 plaster molds from 3 different pattern designs for Silicon, Beryllium, and Hydrogen. As this was my first time working with ceramics, a drop out mold was an ideal approach to test this project. My initial work with Silicon proved to be a great learning experience.

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The biggest issued was the unanticipated interaction between mylar and casting plaster. While the form had no undercuts to start with, the positive mold turned out quite different. Due to the density and weight of the plaster, the mylar was deformed further than I anticipated, leaving several undercuts in the process. The final prototype was not usable for a basic drop out mold.

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The next 2 sets of plaster molds we built a bit differently. I opted to drop the form into the plaster rather than pour over. But I found that this had its own issues, as plaster was still so dense that the weak mylar form buckles under the pressure. One solution was to pour plaster into the form at the same time, but this resulted in the form sinking too far to the bottom of the mold.

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The final mold was submerged with layers of clay to provide structure during casting. Overall, the approach to this project required testing multiple proposals as working with such malleable and dense materials was enough of a contrast to cause several issues in the process. Additionally, the pattern design had its own limitations, as there was no way to anticipate how the from would reveal itself during the assembly process.

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Culture Cache: Travel through Representation

December 4th, 2015 by Teeter

Concept Development:

Swift Creek Complicated Stamp pottery – Scholars believe SCCS designs may have been used to represent people. Taking a SCCS pot from one location to another may have been an offering or representation of an important person that was not able to make the journey.

Stone Mountain – Occupation of the area began before Euro-American contact. Woodland people that lived in the area created a rock wall on top of Stone Mountain. Stones were taken or even rolled down the face of Stone Mountain for fun. There are contentious feelings towards Stone Mountain due to the Confederate engraving on the front. Recently, plans have been suggested for a Martin Luther King, Jr. monument at the top. Stone Mountain Park has focused their interpretation primarily on the Confederacy slowly incorporating Civil Rights themes. American Indian occupation of the area is ignored as part of the park’s narrative.

Bringing It Together :

Culture Cache is a community experience that utilizes the ideas of representation and representational travel. Based on the idea of geocaching, Culture Cache invites users to create a piece of pottery that is imbued with their personality. Selecting an adventure in Culture Cache leads users to American Indian sites to place their representational pottery for others while picking up another user’s representation. Pottery traveling from site to site, with documentation within the app, allows users to travel through their pottery; all the while learning about American Indian history.

The home page offers the ability to search for cache adventures, as well as tracking your own caches and pottery.

The home page offers the ability to search for cache adventures, as well as tracking your own caches and pottery.

Cache Adventures are based around themes supporting American Indian sites.

Cache Adventures are based around themes supporting American Indian sites.


Adventure examples include:

Woodland Builder – These sites feature stone walls built by Woodland people.

Woodland Traveler – Sites range from Florida to Northern and Western parts of America, as a way to learn about and experience Woodland trade route.

Mound Builder – These two adventures focus on the monumental architecture of their respective periods.









Woodland Builder

Start page for an adventure. The significance of each adventure is explained.

Stone Mountain Site

Location page. Each location is explained within the context of the adventure.


Tracking geolocation of cache. Users can take photographs, record thoughts and share.

Taking a new picture.

Taking a new picture.

Documenting the experience through pictures.

Documenting through pictures.

Documenting thoughts and experiences.

Documenting thoughts and experiences.

The Trackables page shows pottery you have left at each site and their new locations.

The Trackables page shows pottery you have left at each site and their new locations.

Points show the details of travels, including user, site, and documentation.

Points show the details of travels, including user, site, and documentation.

Critical Reflection: Portal Interactive Lamp

December 3rd, 2015 by hannahjgb

Original Concept

My original concept was to create a ceramic artifact that brings the nostalgia and feeling of “home” from video games into the real world through light.


Previous Iterations

My first concept was to create a physical manifestation of a digital skybox, but after critiques and further thought, it was concluded that a skybox would not contain enough of the “essence” of a game to bring it to life in a meaningful way.


My second concept was to create ceramic domes with a Portal theme, drawing on the game’s core gameplay element – shooting portals on various surfaces to travel through space and time from one portal to the other. The concept was to have two domes, where glazing would represent different areas in the game (interior and exterior), with portals on the inside and outside of the dome, allowing the viewer to be transported inside the dome by looking inside. Due to time constraints, these prototypes were made with epoxy and acrylic paint, rather than clay.

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Critiques from the prototyping session led to some design changes for the final product. First, it was suggested that the domes should be more interactive, especially since the video games that inspired the concept (and video games, in general) are highly interactive. It was decided that looking at the light sources to be cast into the domes would be an interesting way to use the portals to transport the user into the games. I also came up with the idea of adding sound as another element to bring the games alive.


Final Product

The final product built off of the previous iteration, and resulted in two domes, and a slightly modified concept. I built two domes to test different facets of glazing. The outside of the domes were carved and glazed to reflect the essence of the Portal game, while the insides were glazed white or clear (matte and glossy, respectively), to allow the lights cast inside the dome to reflect the games.

First, I coil-built the domes, and scraped them to form dome shapes.


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Second, I carved them to represent Portal.

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Finally, I glazed the pieces to reflect the colors of the game, based on the color analysis done in the previous stage.

Portal and Mass Effect


Then, the pieces were fired, and I began to build the electronic components.


I used Arduino and Processing to make the lamp interactive. I used buttons to simulate the feel of firing a Portal gun. When the red button is pressed, the LEDs in the lamp transition through colors from an image representing the game Mass Effect, while the theme from the Normandy ship plays on the computer speaker. When the green button is pressed, the LEDs in the lamp transition through the colors from an image representing the game Bioshock.

The images that inspired the exterior of the domes:

thecakeisalie1Portal and Mass Effect

The images that inspired the colors of the LEDs (the interior of the dome):

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 9.16.24 PM


What Questions Does It Ask?

This project exists in the intersection of the digital (video games) and the physical (clay artifact). It asks the questions:

How can physical artifacts created in clay interact with the digital world in the realm of video game immersive experiences?

Does the act of creating an artifact like this, or receiving a handmade artifact like this could bring a more personal feel to a digital and synthetic experience?

For me, I definitely feel a stronger connection to the games through trying to craft an experience to bring the games to life. The objects have a sentimental feeling to me from the time I spent working on them while spending time with my family. I would be interested to see if giving them as a gift would grant that “personal and real” experience to the recipient, and whether that would change his or her feelings towards the games.


What does it achieve?

For me, the lamp brings a real-world interaction experience to games that I had only experienced digitally before. I enjoy the fact that the domes represent a game (Portal) whose essence (traveling through portals to different places) allows me to be “transported” to the worlds of Mass Effect and Bioshock with the press of a button.


What does it not achieve?

I feel like the LEDs in the inside may not necessarily represent the games as well as a projector or a screen inside the domes might have. These other technologies would have allowed actual images or scenes from the game to be projected, rather than colors that represent the design styles of the games.


Inspirations from the Readings

Many of these were discussed in the proposal, but upon building the domes, some quotes came to be more impactful for me.

In the Ingold reading, we discussed the idea of clay or other materials coming into being through the process of the crafter interacting with it, often with the artist not really knowing what it will become until it does. I noticed as I was crafting the domes and carving them, that I kind of became “in the zone,” and wasn’t really consciously planning out how they were going to look or where I was going to carve. I was actually quite surprised by how they turned out.







Solving Problems with Entropy

November 29th, 2015 by logan

Going into the final stage of my project, I realized a lot of things about what I was doing as far as the process itself goes. For  example, my project is not about a final result. It is not about getting a physical end result. My project is a study of the process. The first hurdle with this was to look at the process of manufacturing. In most large-scale cases there is a designer who determines colors and patterns, and then hands it off to a manufacturer that executes the design choices. This is a dynamic that I find incredibly interesting, and wanted to play with. In order to get around the need to bring in an outside designer, I wrote a program that uses Brownian Motion (which is a computer generated particle system) to generate a line pattern.

Looking at Brownian Motion made me start thinking about entropy and chaos, and how even on a computer all of these things are pre-calculated. So I began researching what other ways I could use entropy to put a pattern on a pot. My first thought was to do something like a spinmaster or spirograph, where the pot would be on a spinning platform and pigments would be dripped onto it. However the problem with this was that it made transferring the pattern generated by the program almost impossible. Then I found a technique using nail polish in water that I realized would work perfectly. The water is a second particle system, but a real-world example rather than a computer generated one. And I could draw the pattern on top of the water, because of the film that the nail polish makes. And clay is the ideal material as a surface, because it’s so porous and absorbent that the polish dries almost instantly, and doesn’t have a chance to smear or rub off.

This project was an interesting exercise in taking direction, as opposed to designing something for myself. Yes, the design is just a complex line, but the manufacturing is the important part. As a 3D prop modeler, my entire job will be taking the concepts from other people and turning them into fully formed objects. This project is a smaller scale to that, with a computer telling me what to do, and I have to figure out how to do it. The biggest hurdle was finding a way to transfer the pattern from the computer to the water. The best way I found to do it was to trace the lines on tissue paper and then lay it in the water. This also keeps the polish in place, because without a medium to hold it, it just spreads across the surface of the basin.

End results aside I am calling this project a success, because I found a way to take a pattern that was given to me and transfer it onto a ceramic piece. The entropy created by both the Processing program and the water bath was to eliminate the typical precision that computer generated graphics tend to have. Digital artists have a reputation for clean, crisp lines, because computers lend themselves to that. Organic shapes are something that every digital artist struggles with, and the dual particle systems forced precision lines into organic shapes, breaking the stereotype of digital art.


This is a short video showing the process that I used, as well as the clay pots that I used to demonstrate.



Clay Meets Electronics: Clay as a material for teaching Physical Computing- Prototype Presentation

November 10th, 2015 by MLgatech


Concept Development:

Based on feedback received during the design presentation, review with Michael and some independent reflection I decided to make a set of activities designed for kids to learn Physical Computing using clay as a material for story-telling.

Here are some properties of clay that render it good for use as an entry-level material:

-Malleable: can be moulded easily with hands+simple tools

-Rigid: can be transformed to rigid forms

– Insulative: can mount electronics easily on the surface

-Adhesive: can be combined with other lumps of clay + electronics can be plugged in easily


Activity 1: Decorating a clay form with Graphite and LED’s to learn about circuit loops and to provide a segue into using digital technologies for some sensing action on clay forms. Inspiration for decorating these pots with  was derived from art forms such as Warli and other African Prints(

A fine folkart tradition - Warli Painting

Courtesy : Pandiyan V (Follow A fine folkart tradition – Warli Painting)


Graphite on clay tab     Light up LED on clay tablet


Activity 2: demonstrating some sensing and action and seeing how Clay forms impart playfulness

The idea here is to see how clay can transform the look of electronics which look very functional to impart a sense of play

Bell Demo Clay


Further Exploration:

To develop the learning further the idea is to explore the use of clay as an insulator in forming some basic components for a circuit. Think switches and connectors and other Input/Outputs.

Using everyday materials to lower the entry barrier for Electronic Craft- Design Presentaion

November 10th, 2015 by MLgatech

Textile Tilt sensor courtesy @


“The materials and tools we use as well as the approaches we take to design, prototype and build technology greatly influence how we think about technology, the collection of people who think about technology, and the look and feel of the technology itself.”[1]

I have encountered a lot of Leah Buechley’s work on maker learning and trying to engage girls in computer science through craft and always felt inspired by it. The paper “Crafting technology: Reimagining the processes, materials, and cultures of electronics” by Wilson and Buechley revealed the research that had gone behind developing some of the craft+electronic techniques. I had always seen the more playful side of their work  but this paper talked about how they spoke with crafters to gain insights on what motivated crafter’s, their experiences with their craft etc. The paper revealed some inherent differences between traditional crafters(sewer’s, carvers and painters) and electronic makers and demonstrated some examples of “high” and “low” tech that tried to combine crafts+ electronics.

A Kit-of-No-Parts demo wall

A Kit of no Parts by Plusea


My initial idea was in the space of maker learning and aimed to use clay as the material along with everyday conductive objects(paper clips, pencil circuits, batteries etc.) to make analog electronic circuits and to make some of this content on maker-;earning more accessible to audiences who may not have access to stores like Adafruit or Sparkfun.


The clay would serve as the material that would give form to the parts. The advantage of using clay over paper and materials was that clay can be moulded into 3-D forms easily when compared to paper, textiles etc.

Digital Intervention:

Since I believed that the circuits being produced at the end of this would be analog I thought of other ways of digital intervention.

I started pondering about what Digital is really good for : speed of production, distribution and this helped me arrive at using Intructables as a digital means of sharing my process with he maker community. This would also mark as my transformation from being a Lurker to a Contributor in the Maker Community. Another transformation I anticipated was people using the process and remixing the projects to make what was most meaningful to them.



Feedback on design:

-to bring out the advantages of the materiality of the clay more

-since,there was no guarantee that people would comment on/remix the approach, I should consider rethinking the digital intervention

-using clay to make sensors?



[1] Buechley, Leah, and Hannah Perner-Wilson. “Crafting technology: Reimagining the processes, materials, and cultures of electronics.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) 19.3 (2012): 21.

[2] Buechley, Leah, and Hannah Perner-Wilson. “Crafting technology: Reimagining the processes, materials, and cultures of electronics.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) 19.3 (2012): 21.




Portal Interactive Lamp: Prototype

November 3rd, 2015 by hannahjgb

Prototyping     Hannah Glazebrook


Original Concept

Physical implementation of a digital skybox.



I originally wanted to create a lamp that, when used, depicts the feeling of home and nostalgia in video games.


Proposal Feedback Received

A skybox may not be the way to best depict the game nostalgia. Instead, try to focus on images or colors that depict the game’s palette, and present them with an interesting way. Rather than cutting out random shapes in the clay lampshade, make sure that all changes to the form (cutouts, etc) have real meaning in the game depiction.


New Concept

Utilizing the gameplay element in Portal, bring that visual component into a lamp that works as a “Portal” to other games. In Portal, players can cast Portals on various walls, and use them to travel through space to another location. It would be interesting to create lamps that utilize this gameplay element of portal to “transport” the user to another location by allowing them to look through the Portal into another world. I want to be able to use the lamp to bring people into the worlds they enjoy, and have some control and interactivity.


Feedback from Prototype Presentation

Bring more digital into the product.

Make a dome that is reflective on the inside, with a Portal persona on the outside. Use multicolored LEDs to change the inside of the dome to reflect the colors from different game palettes, evoking the color “feel” of the games, rather than physically painting the environment on the inside.



Original Concept:

Galaxy Projector Light

(image source:


First Prototype: Interactive Lamp

For this part, I built a lamp using a coil technique and carved it to build in shapes and texture. I then built the lamp part by using Arduino and multicolored LEDs. When you turn the potentiometer, the color inside the lamp changes.

Interactive Lamp


Second Prototype: Image Analysis with Affinity Designer

For this prototype, I found several images from the video games I love personally, and analyzed them using Affinity Designer to get the RGB values. I then used that “palette” to test glazes to see whether I could get accurate glaze coloring.

Bioshock and Fallout

Top: Fallout 3 Bottom: Bioshock


Portal and Mass Effect

Top: Portal Bottom: Mass Effect 3


Second Prototype: Testing Glaze to match the palette

20151028_150258 20151028_150333

Third Prototypes: Modeling Epoxy and Acrylic Paint


For these prototypes, I used a modeling epoxy to make the domes by molding them to the shape of a wine tumbler, and painted the interior and exterior of the domes to match images selected from the games. For these, I have a Bioshock dome (left) and a Mass Effect dome. When looking through the portal on each, you can see the inside of the image. For the Bioshock dome, the exterior is Rapture (the underground city) and the inside is a walkway inside the city. For Mass Effect, the exterior of the dome is the Normandy SR-2 in orbit around a planet, and the inside of the dome is the bridge of the Normandy.

Domes with a portal. The interior is different from the exterior, representing passing through the portal to a different location in the world.


Mass Effect Inspiration


Mass Effect Execution




Bioshock Inspiration


Bioshock Execution


Challenges and Potential Solutions:


Executing the shape of the domes is challenging without slip-casting. I could make pinch or coil pots and carve them, or try and use slip molding or press molding in a mold that I 3D print.

Ceramic Skybox: Design Proposal

November 3rd, 2015 by hannahjgb

Design Proposal   Hannah Glazebrook



Importance of Craft

In Shiner’s “Fate of Craft”, he states that for work to be considered craft, it must be – made by hand, have a use or purpose, be created by a craft master, and have an emphasis on material. Since we can’t do all 4 in this class (mastery takes 10,000 hours or more), I want to focus on material and use, with my final project being made by hand. I want to focus on what clay can do, the way that it could cast light differently with glaze, thickness of walls, etc. I also want to create something that will be used by someone and have a purpose other than just decoration.

Material and Use

Looking at Silve’s “Romanticism” paper gave me ideas on how different materials affect how light can be displayed. My 11-month old son is in love with lights, and I would love to be able to create something that he can look at and explore. Additionally, Giaccardi spoke about the sentimentality of objects, and that fascinated me with respect to how artifacts can take on a life of their own.

Bringing in the Digital

One of the most interesting phenomena in the digital realm (to me, anyway) is the way in which playing video games can have an impact on emotions, and how sentimental reminders from games such as toys and artifacts inspired by the game can evoke those emotions. There is also research relating to how video game immersion can be impacted by digital design decisions. That inspired me to create a physical artifact that could reflect these digital experiences and bring them into the real world.


My initial thought was to try and create a light fixture that evokes the feeling of a game. My inspiration was lamps that can cast stars on the wall like this.

Galaxy Projector Light

(image source:

After considering the ways in which this lamp might take form, I considered various techniques including coil-building, slip-casting, and building the object as a cube or box.

The box idea got me thinking about whether I could replicate a skybox from a digital game into a real-world skybox that either could be looked inside, or could project outwards.


image source:


image source:

image source:


Intervention in Form

I considered building the form in multiple shapes.


Can be hand-built or slip cast, must deal with translating images to a dome-shape and maintaining shape.

Dome Prototype

Hand-built dome shape prototype

Sketch 1

Dome sketch

It could also be built as the shape of a cube, and built by rolling the clay, and then piecing it together.

Cube Lamp Sketch

Cube lamp sketch

Clay tiles can be carved and then affixed together to form a cube

Clay tiles can be carved and then affixed together to form a cube – (image source:


By varying the thickness of the walls or carving them out, the form could change the appearance of the the lamp both in translucency/opacity and in shape.

Interventions in Color

There is also a possibility to try and impact the light quality through color. One way is through Arduino. By using multicolor LEDs, I could change the appearance of the environment to be more blue, bright, red, etc.

Another possibility is changing the colors of the glazes, and mapping the colors from images in the game to the colors glazed on the lamp.

Another possibility could be using multi-colored slip casting. This would likely be more challenging and require more skill and training, but would allow the color to be actually inside the clay rather than on top.


Slip Molding

Image link:


How is it transformative?

The project brings the digital into the physical.

The project brings sentimentality to a digitally-inspired and modified physical object.

The experience from the game shapes the object, the object might shape the way you relate to the game.

There is a dialogue between digital experiences and physical experiences

The digital doesn’t just fit inside the physical, it shapes the form, color, and experience of the physical artifact.



  • Giaccardi, E., & Karana, E. (2015). Foundations of Materials Experience: An Approach for HCI. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
  • Shiner, L. (2010). The Fate of Craft. In S. Alfoldy (Ed.), NeoCraft: Modernity and the Crafts (pp. 33-47). Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design
  • Silve. The Romanticism of Digital Making, for Craft Research and Practice, and the Upshot for Teaching Future Voices.

Entropy Prototype Testing

November 2nd, 2015 by logan

The biggest thing that I took away from my original proposal presentation was that my project naturally focuses on the process, rather than the end result. That being said, I also knew that I had to modify my original plans for the project. Originally I had thought about using only porcelain clay, and several different coloring techniques. The more I thought about it the more I realized that it served no purpose to show two ways of doing the same thing, and therefore removed the shaving cream portion of my study. It didn’t add anything, and limited the materials I could use. Now that I am only using the nail polish technique I ca n use any clay that I have access to and it doesn’t have to be fired. The only caveat to this is that the dipping has to be done quickly, because un-fired clay, as I learned today, can be made malleable again if exposed to water too long. This means that while firing is not mandatory, I may decide to do it to prolong the life of the object and not risk it falling apart during the dipping process.

Fortunately I know for a fact that my concept will work, and now I have to focus on the execution. There is no doubt that Processing can create randomized lines, nail polish will form a film on top of water, and the polish will adhere to clay when dipped into the water. With the “how” determined, now I need to focus on the “why”. Why do I want everything to be randomized? What purpose does it serve? What does it say about the correlation between craftsmanship and design? While these questions may seem rhetorical, they are in fact relevant to the process.

Several of the papers we have read this semester dealt with the ideas of craft and process, using specific examples in the paper but applying the ideas to the industry as a whole. Tim Ingold’s paper, for example, started out with the quote from Paul Klee of “Form-giving is life” and “Form is the end, death”. This idea of creation being the primary goal, with the end form being an almost unnecessary by-product, is the crux of my project. If the end result looks interesting, then that’s just an added bonus. If it looks terrible and ends up in the garbage can, that’s also totally alright. The core tenant of my project is the idea that creating is more important than creation. This is something that a lot of people could learn from, because I know that a lot of 3D modelers start out with concept sketches and get too focused on making it look exactly like it, as opposed to letting it organically change through the modeling process.

A supplementary idea in my project is that of computer-guided art. In most art that takes place at least partially on the computer, the user is trying to be as careful and precise as they can, and telling the computer explicitly what to do and how to do it. This project turns that idea on its head, where the computer is telling the user what to do. Granted, the user (in this case me) has to write the program, but this is why the program is randomized. It removes the largest portion of control that I have over what is generated. Instead of the crafter, which would be my usual role, I am instead the manufacturer, being told what the crafter wants and trying to do it as closely as I can to their specifications. This metaphor falls apart slightly upon scrutiny, since I am setting the factors that the computer can choose from, but that’s what manufacturing companies do. They say “These are the materials we have for you to choose from” and the crafter has to make the decision at that point. So the loss of control makes the project take on a life of its own, with the computer being the production lead.

As seen at Maker Faire

October 4th, 2015 by MLgatech

IMG_20151003_140849155  IMG_20151003_140859190IMG_20151003_140802754 IMG_20151003_140909203



September 16th, 2015 by Michael Nitsche

Some impressions of the work seen at the Cherrylion studio:

IMG_0167A foam-based model for a later project – all inspired by a 2D goes 3D idea. Clay for Marty is more a tool, a stepping stone toward the casting (often done in metal or whatever material, really). See below for one of those strange forms – this one used a pizza cutter to create the edgy look.


The place itself:


Rachel Garceau

September 14th, 2015 by Michael Nitsche

To give some idea about Rachel’s work – some of it we discussed last week – here is the great nut project:

And you can find more info on her work here.

Some more scribble documentation

February 18th, 2013 by Michael Nitsche

Mini update from TEI: some invited presentations that look like craft

February 12th, 2013 by Michael Nitsche

There are some presentations over here at TEI 2013 that kind of touch on craft. One is Movement Crafter

The movement crafter attempts to reconcile the pace of new technologies with traditional crafting activities that are performed as pastimes. The project explores concepts of quiet communication and technology hybrids and attempts to support crafting without making the craftsperson overly selfconscious of their practice.

What it does is tracking the movements of two pairs of knitting needles and visualizing it. When I tried it only one of the two stations worked and it was not too precise. But it kind of relates to the handiwork concept from Ashton.

Another art project deals with the special ink that changes visibility under changing heat.

Transience is the Japanese calligraphy work with dynamic color changes. The scene where the letter colors are changing from moment to moment can give af”uent dynamism and feeling of vitality of calligraphy to viewers, and at the same time, it can express stream of time. Calligraphy is integrated with technology and materials seamlessly and Transience is produced to show ever-changing aesthetics fermented in Japan. In order to change letter colors on paper, we developed our original chromogenic mechanism from functional inks and conductive materials. For producing the chromogenic technology suitable for paper, we examined ink materials repeatedly, and as a result we realized the expression where calligraphy harmonizes with computer.

It was beautiful to see the change of the ink over time – but mainly because the lettering looked so good. Paint Pulse was definitely more ambitious.


Evolving guidelines for digital intervention

February 6th, 2013 by Michael Nitsche

Our scribbles from the discussion today regarding guides and rules for digital intervention in craft.

Open Source Ecology

February 6th, 2013 by Michael Nitsche

Sam pointed me to that – and some of us might not be aware of this trend:

Open Source Philosophy. from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

Their spearhead project is the Global Village Construction Kit. As we drift into crafting and social context, it might be a good touching point for where digital media stand.

Sifteo Cubes – Cadavre exquis

February 6th, 2013 by Phillipe

While considering creative coding as a digital craft, I think the most striking and emotional part is the realization you know what to do and now you just have to do it.

The notion of the dots getting finally connected is mesmerizing : among all the possibilities a path gets drawn, and the object you want to build exists in the virtual space of your mind. In the Keller and Keller theoretical framework, it would be close to the moment when the umbrella plan gets finally assembled.
Seeing the code as the material this is the moment when you feel how to shape it, assemble it, which parts are going to be thrown away and which are the ones that are going to stay.

Design Idea

I want to share this idea of connecting the dots in a playful way, while having multiple viable solutions.
To implement this idea, I suggest creating a game using a variation on the theme of exquisite corpse.
One person, the “language master” will write down a short sentence. Then for each of the word of the sentence, he will choose 4 other words (similar or not).

Other people, the “language wannabees” will then have to try to reconstruct the original sentence. You can choose to collaborate, and help each others (share knowledge about the language master to increase the chance of success), or on the other hand try to sabotage other’s work (giving crappy advice) to simulate the competitive environment creative coders are living in.

The first one to find the right solution becomes the brand new language master and pick up a new sentence and a set of words.
During the process you might write down unsecessful sentences for further reference.

This can be implemented using a sheet of paper but as we’re trying to live in a digitial era, I did it using sifteo cubes.

The choice of only one solution valid among all the possibilities is arbitrary, and could be extented to any solution the language master likes (or the group if you’re prefer democracy).

[coming soon]

Tempo and tension in handiwork

February 6th, 2013 by some bears

Crocheting is technically just a series of knots looped through previous knots in the yarn. It “builds up” through different sequences of actions. The actions include looping yarn around a hook,  pushing the hook through existing loops, and pulling the hook through again. The process is mechanically simple. However, skill and practice is required to achieve an even series of knots with the right tension on the yarn. Too loose and the work shows unsightly holes. Too tight, and the fabric buckles, or worse, the needle does not easily slip through the loop on the next row.

The two hands work together to crochet. One hand maneuvers the hook and loops the yarn. The other hand holds the work and feeds the yarn to the hook that’s looping it. This hand holding  the work is responsible for maintaining an even tension. It does so by pulling the work down while the hook in the other hand tries to pick up the work as it pulls the yarn through existing loops.

A crochet piece achieves visual complexity when stitches are made in different combinations. This requires the crocheter to count silently while they work and maintain an even tension. Some rows are repetitive and induce a meditative state. At this point, the count is internalized as movement. The crocheter actually feels the rhythm of the pattern as they carry out manual tasks with the needles and yarn. The actions result in a tempo that internalized to relieve the need to count for long periods of time.

To communicate this tacit feeling of this work, this intervention simulates a repetitive double crochet chain. A Processing application visualizes the ideal sequence of operations, the passage of time, and input from the sensors attached to the hook and the work.

The left hand holds the work. The work is a crocheted pouch with a force sensing resistor inside. The user grips the work firmly when pulling new yarn through existing loops. This additional force counters any pull from the hook and maintains even tension. Since the hand holding the work also feeds yarn to the hook, it should otherwise relax to prevent stitches from being worked too tight.

The hook has a photocell attached to its tip. The hook slips in and out of an semi-opaque tube. When the photocell registers a transition from lighter to darker environments, the stitch has “passed through” a loop and a new knot has been made. A double crochet consists of three knots in one loop. So, the user will repeats this for a total of three times before starting again.

Users should attempt to match their tension to the tension levels illustrated at different points on the action pattern. Likewise, knots registered by the photocell should be completed at the three specified times. As users’ actions converge on the pattern, they start to understand the feel of tempoed action. Crocheters maintain this tempo between tool and hands to sustain peace of mind and achieve an even tension for their material.



Practice holding the fabric with the correct tension. A photocell on the end of the crochet hook detects a “stitch” when it enters the dark tunnel. A force sensing resistor measures the grip of the hand holding the work.

When the circles align, it’s time to retract the hook into the tube and make a stitch.

The Voicing Hole.

February 6th, 2013 by paul

The absolute most time consuming/frustrating/dangerous part of making a sweet potato clay ocarina is the voicing hole. Tuning the instrument can be difficult, but with enough time and the right techniques and tools, it’s much more of a precise science than the voicing box.

To make the box, one must cut out a small hole that matches where the air stream is coming from the mouthpiece and then cut a wedge, so it divides the air stream (somewhat) perfectly. This must be done while the clay is still malleable, the ocarina is in two pieces (so structurally unsound) and often must be done and redone several times throughout the whole process.

In order to test if it’s working, one must put the tools down, make a temporary seal (place the two halves together) then blow. Sometimes one can manipulate the mouthpiece, other times the ocarina is too delicate, and will break.


If I were to move completely away from actually doing this, I would propose two plastic shells be used, one with a hole for a mouthpiece like part. This must be rectangular. The user would try to put the mouthpiece in alignment with the voicing wedge as perfectly as possible.


The user can test how good the connection is by putting the mouthpiece hole in front of an LED that is turned on. The light transmits through the hole to a photo resistor on the underside of the wedge that is calibrated for the room. The photoresistor will make a second LED brighter or darker based on the amount of light it receives.




Too much or too little light make the light go out (just like if it were the ocarina, it would make no sound). Because there’s not a definite “you did it right” feedback in the actual process, the led getting slightly brighter and softer is the perfect analogy. A user can only tell if they’ve gotten it right by a subjective sense. It’s very obvious when it’s making sound, but whether the sound is getting better with each adjustment is a skill that takes a trained ear and many hours to determine.

Cutting Stencils with Cookie Dough

February 6th, 2013 by The Artist Formerly Known as Kate

The “feel” for stenciling is best exemplified through the cutting process. While the design is certainly an important part of the craft (and experience helps determine what is “cut-able” and what isn’t), the act of slicing the plastic with an Exacto knife is what requires some real manual dexterity. It’s the part you really need to just “do” for awhile until you figure out the best approach. You learn what kind of curves you can do in one stroke, which areas to tackle first, and how to create corners.

To recreate this experience, I thought about other activities that involve some kind of tracing or complicated line following. I was inspired by our trip to the craft center. Rolling out the clay reminded me of rolling out cookie dough. I thought about what it would be like to freehand cut sugar cookies (rather than using a cookie cutter to stamp them out). I think there are some similarities to plastic (hard plastic/hard dough cracks more easily, soft plastic/dough cuts too easy, doesn’t keep shape).

I wanted to experiment with different cutting tools to find the right level of difficulty. It shouldn’t be too easy to cut the dough. It should be very difficult to turn sharp corners. Pulling the cut dough away from the rest should also be slightly challenging.

Overall, much like cutting a stencil, it seemed like any of these tools could have worked if I spent the time to practice. Like stenciling, the sharpest implements cut best, but also allowed me to make mistakes more easily.

Preparing the dough and tools:


Attempting cuts with various tools:


Pairing Knife


Pairing knife didn't work out so well...

Sharp Chopstick

Small Spoon

Attempt with plastic butter knife


The big gun(s): Chef's Knife


What is your sound?

February 5th, 2013 by sam

What is your sound?

Last week I wrote about the craft of reed making for an oboe. One aspect in the process of reed making which is important is the thickness of the reed. The thickness of the reed has a lot of influence on how it will be used, how the oboe with reed will sound and play. So somebody making a reed has to experience this, it is very personal. What kind of reed do you want, how do you want to play?

To experience this I propose to create a device that measures air pressure and based on the air pressure makes a specific sound. The idea is that you have to blow into a device and the way you blow and the strength of it will be measured using air pressure sensor (as shown in the image above).

You could conceal this device in something made by clay, and shape it to afford blowing into it. It could look like this:

The goal is not to create the most ‘pure’ sound, no sound coming out of the device will be wrong. The idea is that you find your own sound. What sounds good to you and how do you need to blow to achieve this sound? In the end the data is stored together with a recording of all the sounds you created. In visualization you can see the way you blew and you can hear the sound that is related to the way you blew.

In clay

February 4th, 2013 by Michael Nitsche

Today we finally played with some pottery at the craft center. And DWIG became the proud owner of its own storage shelf.

Third Challenge

January 31st, 2013 by Michael Nitsche

Now that you have documented a practice as a logical action and planning breakdown we turn to the experiential parts of it. Look at the breakdown of the practice, identify a key moment that exemplifies the “feel” for this practice. It should answer the question of what is the most experience-based (including sensual, illogical, personal, joyful, painful) part of this practice? Design something that recreates the experiential quality of this moment.
It does not have to use the practice (e.g. if you want to describe the feeling of wood fibers you might do that with woolen threads) but should reflect the chosen key moment.

Process of making an Ocarina.

January 30th, 2013 by paul

One day at around three in the morning I decided I’d learn how to make an ocarina.  After spending a few hours reading about how to make one, I went to the Georgia Tech craft center.  Since then I’ve made several, but have only fired and tuned a few, due to the enormous amount of time it takes to tune them.


Cultural Craft
An ocarina is a wind instrument that uses both hands and a fingering system to play different notes.  Hand-made ocarinas are typically made out of clay or wood, and machine made ones are typically made with plastic.  Wooden ocarinas are typically shapped in a rectangular fashion, whereas the clay one I made are typically shaped like an egg with an attached mouthpiece.
Prior Knowledge
I know the general shape of a clay ocarina, and I’ve made a couple before.  I learned this from watching youtube videos, reading tutorials, and learning about the (very) basic physics of the voicing hole.  Additionally I’ve played wind instruments for the last 13 years, and know how to work a tuner.  Despite the videos and tutorials, the first time I tried to make an ocarina, I had no skills in using clay.  Fortunately, the people at the craft center when I went were kind enough to explain some of the basics of working with clay.

I’m making this for myself, but want to try to make a smaller ocarina.  I’ve typically made much larger ones which I’ve found are somewhat less finicky to get to make a sound.
Umbrella Plan

  • Finances:  All the blocks of clay at the student center are about 15$.  Everything else involved in the craft is free.
  • Materials: I went with a more grey type of clay.  They had several to choose from and I didn’t have great experiences with the brown or reddish clays, but had used the grey successfully before.
  • Skills:  I know how to use the tools that are below, as I’ve used them at the craft center for this specific purpose.  I know how to tune an ocarina basically, and very well with a tuner present.  I don’t really know how to make a wooden ocarina, so I’m going to be working on a clay one.

Begin Crystalization/Decisions
First I need to decide what tools I’ll use.  I pick out some of the clay tools, then decide upon which pre-made mould ( an egg shaped lump of hardened clay that will form the inside of the ocarina) I want to use.

The clay is cut from the block, then kneaded to get rid of the bubbles and flattened with a rolling pin. Then I cut the clay and form it around the mould I’ve made. If the clay doesn’t feel even around the mould, I’ll add more. Next is shaving off more clay to make it less lumpy.  It’s always difficult to determine when to stop–the more I shave off, the less structurally sound the end product will be (and the harder the next steps will be) the less I shave off, the more uneven the ocarina is, which can cause problems in firing.

Once I’ve got a basic mould set up, I cut the ocarina in two, and decide upon a “bottom” half.  I construct and attach the mouthpiece.  If the hole for the mouthpiece isn’t big enough, I have to make it bigger and recut.  If the hole cut for the mouthpiece is too big I have to add more clay. A small square hole is cut where the popsicle stick meets the shell.


The hardest part comes in making the wedge that splits the air from the mouthpiece to create the sound. This often takes at least half an hour of evaluating, making decisions about how to fix it, and proceeding from there. Often the sides will not be straight enough, or the actual wedge will need to be reformed, or realigned.

The last bit is putting the two halves together, sealing it, smoothing out the edges with more clay, and then cutting the finger holes. During this whole step the wedge will need to be realigned, reshaped, and sometimes the entire ocarina is unsalvageable.

Final Analysis.

Since this is just a simple ocarina for myself, whether or not it played was my final analysis. I wasn’t too interested in tuning it this time, as I’ll do that later once it’s hardened more.

Making a reed

January 30th, 2013 by sam

Making oboe reeds


When I was younger I played the oboe (I still can by the way) and an important part of the oboe is the reed.  A good reed can be the difference between a nice sound coming out of your oboe or a bad one. It can also make a difference in what way you need to play the oboe. A thick reed requires more blowing strength from the player then a thinner reed. However, the thickness of the reed has an influence on the sound but also the lifespan of the reed. One can say that a reed is therefore a very personal part of the musical instrument and that is also why many oboe players make their own reed. Truth be told, I haven’t done this in a very very long time but that is also the reason why I want to focus on this for my design challenge, to hopefully regain some of the knowledge I lost. I will analyze this practice using the Keller & Keller text. Keller and Keller quote Wertsch saying the following:


Our research focuses primarily on the interrelations of knowledge and action as individual phenomena, although the inclusion of individual action within a larger activity system requires that we can draw on both social and routine elements. From this perspective neither the human organism nor the external world is solely responsible for developing knowledge about the world (Wertsch, 1981, p. 38).


In a different publication by Janice E. Fournier called How a Creative “System” Learns: The Distributed Activity of Choreography, the author goes into Keller and Keller also implicitly referring to the quote above. Fournier states that most studies investigate how individuals or groups of individuals coordinate their activities in accomplishing routine tasks or solving well-defined problems. Keller and Keller however, as can be read in the quote, see practitioners engage in iterative processes of visualizing goals, planning a means for creating those goals in form and acting on the plan with a mind open to alterations and new ideas as the form evolves. In this creative system, activity is distributed across the practitioner and specific tools and structures in his environment (Fournier, 2012).

Thus, to discuss how a reed is being made, how I have made reeds is to discuss and analyze the creative system. So we need to know how activity is distributed across the practitioner and specific tools and structures in my environment. Knowledge is simultaneously a prerequisite and a consequence of action and action is like a prerequisite and a consequence of knowledge (Keller & Keller, 1994). One leading statement for me to get a grip of this analysis will be from Leont’ev stating that the internal mental order is continually transformed by external actions and their material constituents and results.


Prior Knowledge


To make an oboe reed prior knowledge is necessary. The first time I made a reed was during a workshop. The workshop lasted several weeks and was being taught by an oboe teacher and reed maker. The prior knowledge you need is not only about reed making but also about oboe. For one, this is because the reed has a specific function, it is necessary to play the oboe. Two, the reed needs to be personalized. Person A prefers a different reed than person B and thus you need knowledge about the instrument but also about the client. Usually you are your own client. Reeds are not made on a large scale and usually not for others. When you are a beginner at oboe playing you can buy reeds from your teacher. He or she has made the reeds, and luckily also knows you a bit so the reed is somewhat personalized to your needs.

During the workshop however I was confronted with a set of tools and materials I did not know well. Scrapers, specific kinds of wood, lines etc. I had years of playing the oboe though and also of using reeds so I had a mental image of what a reed was supposed to be like. Not only how it was supposed to look like, but also function and feel like. However, now I had to bend the wood, and make the cork. How far can I bend it? When does it break? These are especially points where material constituents and external actions (such as by my oboe teacher) interrelate with my internal mental order. A workshop is of course the perfect place for this. In a way a workshop is the place to question the internal and external, it is a place to experiment and learn.

A big part of making a reed is scraping. You need to scrape the cork but also the reed itself. Scrape too much and the cork might not fit and/or the reed becomes too weak. But scrape too little and it becomes too hard to play (and the cork still does not fit!). So here we have a constant evaluation in progress. A reciprocal process between crystallization and finalizing. My teacher would of course advice on what to do, but the teacher can only do so much. It almost becomes like an actor network, where all these actors play a role; the material, the teacher, the tool, you yourself. Human and non-human actors all playing their part in the ongoing process. Already we see a creative system where activity is distributed across the practitioner and specific tools (like the scraper, the wood etc.) and structures in his environment (such as the teacher).




Analyzing the Processing of Screen Printing with a Stencil

January 29th, 2013 by The Artist Formerly Known as Kate

For a period of a few years in the mid-2000s, I made and sold craft clothing items. I wanted to learn about screen printing, but the need for emulsion and other chemicals seemed too complicated, so I started making my own stencils.

Cultural Considerations

The look of stencils is usually a bit rougher and more “amateur”-looking than screen prints. There are also some connotations with homemade activist clothing (i.e. the ubiquitous Che Guevara shirts) and posters, as well as graffiti. It’s a craft for people who don’t want their final object to look clean and professional and who want the ability to make a series of prints.

Prior Knowledge

Although I learned the basics of screen printing in a high school art class, I taught myself how to make stencil prints by using internet tutorials and trial and error.  I’ve never personally seen another person perform this process. People new to this process will inevitably make errors when designing the stencil because all of your “negative” space must be connected (in each single color process). Because I’ve done this many times, I’ve learned to carefully analyze my design before I start cutting because repairs are difficult.


Since I no longer sell my crafts, my current goal would be to make myself a print or clothing item. I could choose my subject based on my personal likes or to express an opinion. If I don’t have to sell a print, the standards will be a bit lower, as I am probably more accepting of imperfections and mistakes if I’m not charging money.

Umbrella Plan

Finances: Finances are rarely a consideration, since stenciling is a very inexpensive craft, costing only a few dollars per item.

Materials: Paint (varies based on what is being printed), plastic, a good Exacto knife. These are supplies I keep on hand and are easily obtained.

Skills: The most important skill in this process is the design (considering positive and negative space) and the ability to make fine cuts through the plastic with the knife. The paint application requires almost no skill.

Standards: Although my own standards are probably not as high as the “craft community,” I would still attempt to create something that looked good enough to post/share online. Looking at the work of others and comments from the community would inform my perception of quality.

Begin crystallizing
Decisions: There isn’t a lot of room to change decisions once you start cutting, so the design process is critical.

The first step is decide on an image that will lend itself to a high-contrast (black and white) conversion. Because of applications like Photoshop, it’s easy to test out different images. I need to analyze if there are “floating” negative spaces that I would need to connect in my stencil. If I’ve chosen a good image and made the necessary alterations, the stenciling process will be much easier.

Next, I print my image and begin cutting out the black areas with my knife. This part of the process requires the most manual dexterity, but not much decision-making. I’ll need to make decisions if I’ve made a mistake in the design process (or if I’ve made a mistake with the knife). If there’s a “floating” area that I’ve missed or a weak connection, I’ll need to figure out and attempt a fix. I might need to start over with the design process.


There are usually two points of evaluation:

1. After the image has been printed (does it look right in black/white contrast? Is it still identifiable? Will it be too difficult to cut?)

2. After I’ve applied paint and removed the stencil. This is the last step of the process, so if I’m not happy with the way it looks, I need to determine if it’s a design flaw, a poorly cut stencil (i.e. jagged edges), or the paint seeping under the stencil. In this case I would use the “academic standards” to determine whether I will need to start again (from the beginning or from a later step in the process).

Final analysis/thing

Once I’ve completed the process until I’ve “passed” the evaluation, I’ll have a stenciled item (and a stencil that can be used many more times).