Illustrator for Self Portraiture

During these days of distance learning, maker educators are all having to be flexible with their curriculum. I live in about 200 square feet in Brooklyn and I definitely didn’t have even tape in my apartment when my school decided to close due to Covid-19. I am incredibly lucky that my students all have their own MacBooks as well as Adobe Creative Suite, giving me options on how to pivot my Digital Arts Class.

For my 7th and 8th grade classes, I decided it was time to think about using Illustrator, but not with a focus on using it was a tool to design projects for the vinyl or laser cutter. I’m thinking this as a way to strengthen their connection to using Illustrator as an artistic vector based tool. My first prompt was to use Illustrator to design a portrait. I required them to use the different shapes tools and to not rely on the brush tool because there’s a loss of control when using it on a trackpad.

My school is using Zoom for distance learning and I’ve found it wonderful to start a lesson with a Google Slide presentation to set up the project. I started with this project with self portraits by Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Basquiat, Gustave Courbet and Picasso to show students they can portray themselves in more a more abstract setting if they preferred. I made a point to discuss backgrounds and how they can help with self-expression and hidden meaning. After the slideshow, students get to work while I also work on the project and if they have questions they are allowed to share their screen. The last 10 minutes of class has been students sharing their screens to share their progress. I like doing this because it holds them accountable for the 20 minutes of work time. So far the projects have been amazing!

Construct3D 2020 & Empowering Girls in the Digital Fabrication Process

Over President’s Day weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Construct3D Conference at the Rice University campus. I must say all the sessions I attended truly enlightened me and ignited my passion for 3D design and printing in the classroom. Hearing how 3D printing is involved in the films created by Laika Studios, medical schools, prosthetics and K12 classrooms illuminated how far this practice has come and how much is still possible in the future. I also loved how Gary Stager talked about using prompts in the classroom with project-based learning. Definitely going to be keeping that in mind as I introduce different projects!

While I was at the conference, I gave a 10 minute talk on Empowering Girls in the Digital Fabrication Process. It was fun to share my experience in the classroom with other educators, especially problem solving how to create a bridge between crafting and technology. The presentation I shared can be viewed below!

A Digital Fabrication Christmas

Finished star

For the first time ever, I got my own Christmas tree. It was a spur of the moment decision to make my apartment more festive. After picking up the tree on the way home the gym, I had to figure out how I was going to decorate it. I’m a huge fan of not buying ornaments and have truly avoided it over the years because it’s just more fun to make them yourself. With 3D printers at my disposal I realized I could have a lot of fun designing ornaments as well as a star to top my tree!

I first went to work on the star and decided I wanted to be a star but also use my trusty soldering iron to get it to light up. I wanted to make the star as hollow as possible so I could make the LED inside pop as much as possible. I decided to use my favorite color changing LED’s with a battery pack with a simple slide switch. I hot glued the battery pack to the back of the star as well as some of the loose wires. I’m so excited to add it to my tree!

Next was planning the ornaments. In the past year I’ve realized how deeply I’m drawn to geometric shapes. Luckily Tinkercad makes that need of mine quite easy to execute. Since my tree is on the smaller side, I made the ornaments a bit smaller. I chose to use white filament because I love the matte look it provides. But I also went crazy and decided to see how glitter looked on them. They look more crisp without the glitter and it’s fun having a blend of some with and without the glitter.

Empowering Girls in the Makerspace

Feminists Unite!

Next to sustainability, empowering girls in the Makerspace has been my focus for this school year. This initiative came after seeing how girls were using the makerspace during the first year of operation. They were building interesting creations but they generally chose to experiment with more traditional crafting materials. I’m totally for this but I wanted to find a way to create a bridge between crafting and digital fabrication.

First sketches

To get this initiative off the ground, a Feminist Maker club was created. Using the term ‘feminist’ was landed upon because it’s inclusive and I wanted anyone who was interested to join. The first task for this club was to create logos for our identity. They first sketched out the designs and then I showed them how to use Illustrator so the designs could get transferred to various digital fabrication software. Each member designed their own and in the end we organically ended up with two design options. Currently we’re using the vinyl cutter and the embroidery machine to show off the logos. The next step to start thinking about how we want to utilize them i.e. keychains, t-shirts, totes or even jewelry!

Conditional Art Vinyl Experiments

After designing vinyl initial stickers in Illustrator with my 7th and 8th graders, I wanted to continue their connection with using Illustrator, Silhouette Cameo and the process for applying vinyl to surfaces. The inspiration behind this project came again from Erin E. Riley’s The Art of Digital Fabrication.

My makerspace has a pretty big white wall which I’ve been waiting to utilize. After reading the section in Erin’s book on Design With Rules, I decided it would be a great jumping off point for what I wanted to do with my students.

After exposing students to Sol Lewitt and his use of Conditional Design blueprints, I gave each student a slip with a specific design rule on it. Each student then had to utilize this design rule in Illustrator, setting their project size to 12in X 12 in, the size of a vinyl sheet. Once students completed their design rule, they would use the Silhouette Cameo to cut out the design. Each student’s vinyl sheet was to then be transferred onto the wall I spoke of earlier.

Examples of rules were:

  • Fill your page with no more than 15 triangles. Using the “Line Segment Tool” fill the rectangles with lines. Make it so the lines in triangles next to each other are moving in the opposite direction.
  • Fill your page with acute triangles of varying sizes. Make sure an angle on each triangle connects with 1 additional triangle.
  • Fill your page with no more than 15 triangles. Using the “Line Segment Tool” fill the rectangles with lines. Make it so the lines in triangles next to each other are moving in the opposite direction.

One outcome I didn’t expect from this project was how having students add their designs to the wall would give them additional ownership of the space. They proudly share with each other which design is their own. The effect is also quite stunning. I’m looking forward to see how they use Silhouette for personal projects going forward.

TurtleStitch & Embroidery

One my first efforts this school year to increase the desire of my girl students to use technology while in the makerspace was to get a embroidery machine. I’ve been spending time with TurtleStitch to plan how to use it in my classes. It’s such a fun program to experiment with and the possibilities seem to be endless.

As I’ve experimented with TurtleStitch more and more, one warning that kept coming up was “DENSITY WARNING!”. I decided to embroider one design with that warning just to see what would happen. The design version on the right has a running stitch and the design on the left be a satin stitch to better understand the warning. The running stitch was fine but the satin stitch was not a success. It didn’t upset the machine but the back of the design was pinched downwards where the density was pretty intense.

Backing of the Density Warning

Going forward I will definitely take that warning to heart. It’s so nice to visualize what a warning on a application turns into. Sadly it seems like most of my TurtleStitch designs have that warning and I’ll just have to spread out the designs more to overcome the issue.

The Brother PE800 Embroidery Machine is a dream. Seeing student’s eyes light up when I have it running is amazing. Since my school is an Apple school, bringing TurtleStitch designs into software to add elements to the designs hasn’t been as easy as I hoped. I turned to Embrilliance Stitch Artist and it’s worked nicely but it won’t be possible to get it onto student computers which is a bummer since it requires a license. I’m still searching for alternatives and will keep you posted!

Cardboard Connections

As I prepare to teach my first grade students, I made sure to carve out time to prepare a cardboard technique example wall for them to refer to. Last year I made fast, scrappy examples and I’m so excited to have something that can live in the makerspace as a reference for everyone.

Cardboard is such an incredible materials to use for a number of reason. Firstly, it’s free thanks to all the deliveries happening at my school. Secondly, it’s so malleable. These examples of techniques truly highlight all the possibilities. I also love that tape isn’t always needed when connecting cardboard pieces together. I find students assume the more tape they use the better. In my focus on sustainability I’m trying to use as little tape as possible on projects and showing these techniques will hopefully empower students to realize tape doesn’t solve everything.

Experimenting with these types of connections will be the second class focus with the first graders. I will have them simply experiment with connecting cardboard together using several techniques to see what they can create. Our first class together will be a scavenger hunt of looking for specific materials to orient to them to the makerspace. These first graders will have never taken class with me before I want to make sure they understand the room and where to find certain types of materials.