I [heart] The Art of Tinkering


We at MAKE love The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, so when we heard that its directors, Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, were going to capture their community of artists and engineers (“Tinkerers”) into the pages of a book called The Art of Tinkering, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. And you know what? They have exceeded my very high hopes for what they’d create.

This book is not just a must-read, it’s a must-make. In fact, many of the artists featured in the book took on the challenge of hacking it. Check out the fun video (above) capturing a few of the ways the tinkerers destroyed … transformed the book.

The Art of Tinkering felt like an instant classic as soon as I opened it—as if I couldn’t imagine that we didn’t have this book before it was published. It’s the book that I and reportedly at least one mentor of mine wish we had written. I imagine several other dozen friends must also have Art-of-Tinkering envy, which for me quickly turned to utter joy as I got lost in its pages, in awe of the density of information and inspiration. From artist studios to maker families to summer camps to graduate schools of education, this book is sure to have a broad impact.

It is not your typical “art” book. Every chapter profiles a different tinkerer, then they follow up each lushly illustrated profile and process spread with an as-beautifully photographed, easy-to-do project through which you can dabble in the same medium or theme each Tinkerer enjoys. All projects are accessible and appealing to even the youngest makers. Finally, after the hands-on exploration, each chapter bursts back out again to reveal many other related projects and artists.

We asked for a book excerpt of The Art of Tinkering to illustrate this pattern for you. Thumbnails of the three sections included in that excerpt are below to entice you to click and download this wonderful gift!

Jie Qi

See an extraordinary gallery of papercraft in “Electronic Popables” with Jie Qi.

Paul Spooner

Take a tour of some curious creatures and a great shop in “Absurdist Automata” with Paul Spooner.

Grace Kim

Tear into the closet of the future in “Wondrous Wearables” with Grace Kim.

Besides Grace, Jie, and Paul, the book does in-depth profiles of a couple dozen other Tinkerers: Cris Benton, Ranjit Bhatnagar, Cardboard Institute of Technology, Nicole Catrett, Arthur Ganson, Shih Chieh Huang, Tim Hunkin, Grace Kim, Walter Kitundu, Leigh Anne Langwell, Moxie Lieberman, Bernie Lubell, Ken Murphy, Paul Nosa, Jie Qi, Danny Scheible., Paul Spooner, AnnMarie Thomas, Dan Trax-Caffee, Barry Underwood, Asia Ward, Scott Weaver. They “meet 150+ makers working at the intersection of art, science, and technology in all.” The book includes a foreword by Dale Dougherty and an introduction by Leah Buechley.

If you don’t know Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, the co-directors of The Tinkering Studio, this book will serve as something of a biography of sorts, as they introduce you to their life work: seeking out those people blissfully occupying the intersection of art, science, mechanism, and delight and forming them into a community of effervescent artist and engineers. These Tinkerers-in-Residence collaborate with them in the Studio to fantastic effect. They are all about getting kids’ and adults’ hands dirty all around the world. The Tinkering Studio provides a constant stream of inspiration and partnership to MAKE in our shared ambitious goal of rekindling a love of creating things from many sources—from scratch, from reuse, from circuits, from the ideas of others, from anything that catches one’s fancy. The Tinkerers in The Art of Tinkering will strike any reader of MAKE as a familiar breed, as they’re the same kind of people we call “makers” here at MAKE. In fact, a number of them have appeared in the pages of our magazine, on our blog, in online hangouts, and at our events, often thanks to Karen and Mike.

If you know someone who loves making or Maker Faire or the Exploratorium or just the delightful little moments of everyday life, make sure this book makes it into their hands. And don’t forget to top your gift with an LED and a 9v battery, so that your happy recipient can tinker right away with the conductive ink on the cover.

Buy The Art of Tinkering now from the Exploratorium. (They even ship internationally!)

Or you can pre-order from Amazon to get your copy in February. (You read that right—you can get your copy months before those poor souls waiting on Amazon by buying it straight from the Exploratorium!)

Tinkering Social Club Kicks off by Taking Things Apart

1077581_10151767363321233_24397788_o The Exploratorium in San Francisco is one the best science museums in the world because it takes a delightfully hands-on and out-of-the-box approach to learning. And in line with their creative approach to education, they’re launching the “Tinkering Social Club” this Thursday evening:

The Tinkering Social Club is an experiment in learning through tinkering as a community. It’s an opportunity for the curious and the adventurous, experts and novices alike, to come together and mess about with tools, materials, and technologies. It’s a chance to share what you know and what you don’t know, talk about your passions and discover new ones, and meet some delightfully quirky people.

The inaugural guest will be Todd McLellan, a photographer whose new book Things Come Apart: A Teardown for Modern Living, features beautiful images of everyday objects taken apart into their component pieces and arrayed in ways that make them as beautiful as a collection of parts as they were as whole objects.

MAKE will be represented at the event by Founder Dale Dougherty, Executive Editor Mike Senese, and myself, Editorial Director Ken Denmead, and we want to meet all you makers and hear about the things you’re building, even as we take things apart at the Exploratorium. Please join us!

The event runs from 7pm-9pm on Thursday, August 8th at the Exploratorium (its new location is at Pier 15, on the Embarcadero). This is during the adult-only evening hours at the Exploratorium, and the cost of entry is $15 (or $10 for members). You can purchase tickets here.

New Exploratorium “Emerges” Today

3 stills from Obscura piece

After Sabrina’s sneak peek at the new Exploratorium Monday and enjoying listening to Dennis Bartels, Rob Semper, and Susan Schwartzenberg on KQED’s Forum Tuesday morning, I wanted to share some videos that have documented how the Exploratorium moved from its original location at the Palace of Fine Arts to its new home at Pier 15, a momentous occasion they are celebrating with a full day of special events both inside and outside the museum today from 10am to 10pm, Wednesday, with the special evening events continuing tomorrow Thursday after 8:30pm.

Free outdoor daytime events until dark include the elaborate rangoli by Purvi Shah and volunteers from the India Community Center along a south end of the museum and outdoor demos and activities with the Explainers in The Plaza. Donald Lacy of KPOO, the oldest continually operating Black-owned radio station west of the Mississippi, will broadcast live.

Photo by Amy Snyder. © Exploratorium

Photo by Amy Snyder.
© Exploratorium

Around 8:30pm and 9:30pm both nights, artist Miwa Matreyek will perform This World Made It Self, a luminous play between shadow and animation. A giant heat camera exhibit is projected on the wall of the café. And of course, you can also get tickets to be among the first of thousands to enjoy hundreds of exhibits and activities both familiar and new inside the museum.

Making of a BellWednesday morning opens with the assembly, unveiling, and ringing of the museum’s new bell. The Exploratorium’s own Moving Images crew, headed by Nicole Minor, kicks off their new season of “Science in the City,” with The Making of a Bell, an in-depth story about how Artist Nick Diphillipo skillfully cast the new bell at The Crucible in Oakland, California, where he teaches the foundry arts he’s mastered in over three decades of practice. The designers of the bell explain that the seven pieces and a locking piece of the bell’s crown represent the museum’s new spaces and seven things that bring the museum where it is: memory, visionaries, catalysts, builders, makers, champions, supporters, and the users.

Obscura Digital built this piece by conducting ten small experiments in “fluid dynamics, microorganisms, particle interactions, living systems, crystallization, and growth.” I hear it’s a “spellbinding, visual odyssey” in “multiple time scales.” Obscura built a laboratory in their studios for this piece. After creating ten scale models of the museum’s façade, ranging in size from a microscope slide to a plumbed tank about 3 inches deep and 4 ft wide, they filmed everything from marine microbes to  immiscible fluids to fast plants. The page Creating Emergence provides more delicious details behind this elaborate artwork.

hunkin-clockPerhaps the piece I am most excited to see live in the new museum is the clock by delightfully whimsical and brilliant automata artist Tim Hunkin, located in front of the new Tinkering Studio (MAKE’s home away from home at the museum). I snuck a peek of Tim in the midst of the clock installation about a month ago, but this video by Luigi Anzivino captures a time-lapse of its creation beautifully.

For those, like me, who love to see the growing pains of moving into a new home, to experience the transition as the museum staff has, and to laugh along with the crazy things you learn and notice about real world physics through happy accidents, Lianna’s Moment of Zen: Unexpected Outcomes of Exhibit Placement won’t disappoint.

Local television station ABC7 has been documenting the move for the past few months. You can relive these 100 days the pupa of the museum spent in its cocoon with these clips.

NBC gave the new space a spin too: Exploratorium Lifts Curtain For Museum Sneak Peek

A lot of people have been sharing their first snapshots of the new museum. We especially enjoyed the photo gallery shared by Lenore of Evil Mad Science and some pictures before any crowds visited, from Sally Kuchar.

I can’t wait to go with my family and snap my own shots.