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3D Printed Graffiti Tags

This week Frances and I continued helping with PAA’s Hip Hop Camp, introducing Tinkercad and the Makerbot to the campers. This was the second and final week of Hip Hop Camp and there was a lot of energy to finalize dance routines, raps, and fine tune graffiti projects. The week before, campers worked with local graffiti artist POKE on developing a name and personal lettering style. They learned how to embellish letters and exaggerate form to express identity.



Similar to our 2D to 3D library camps, we wanted to challenge the Hip Hop students with the idea of translating 2D images into 3D objects. We started with a lesson on Tinkercad, using a tool in the program called extrusion. This tool allows the user to move several points on a cylinder to create a unique organic shape. Using their drawn graffiti tag as a reference, the campers are able to translate each letter into the program by manipulating the extrusion tool to mimic each shape. Usually multiple extrusion shapes were needed to create one fluid graffiti style letter. Once their tag was complete the next step was to decide if they wanted to have the tag as a keychain or a necklace. We taught them how to add holes onto their design in order for a chain to go through.


Finally it was our job to use the Makerbot to print every student’s graffiti tag, so that they can each have an individual statement piece to wear. The campers learned how their graffiti designs could not only exist two-dimensionally, but could also be a cool three-dimensional piece of jewelry.

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Making LED Bracelets for Hip Hop Camp

This week we are helping with an activity at a different camp offered
through Progressive Arts Alliance. Hip Hop Camp is a two week long
immersive experience for children ages 11-18 to learn about Hip Hop
culture, music, and self-expression. Each day the campers are rotating
through different activities that include DJing, MCing, break dancing, and
graffiti art. We decided to incorporate an LED lesson where the campers
could make bracelet cuffs that light up for their dance routines. Our
activity provided something different and challenging to break up their day.
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The first step was teaching the campers about LED lights and how they work. LED stands
for Light Emitting Diode and they create a brighter, less heat producing light than
filament light bulbs. An LED has two metal prongs protruding from the
bottom, one longer than the other. These are called leads and the longer
lead is a positive charge and the shorter lead is a negative charge.
Next, we ask the campers what conductive means and if they
know any materials that are. Conductivity is the rate at which electricity
passes through a specified material. Campers yell out common conductive
materials such as metal and water. Materials that are not conductive are
called insulators, like rubber, wood and fiber.
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Each camper receives a rectangular piece of black felt with which he or
she will create a parallel circuit to power the LEDs. Instead of a wire we use
a special conductive thread that is made of cotton spun with steel. The
campers first trace the template of the circuit onto the piece of felt.
Then the campers will figure out which sides of their LEDs are positive by
looking for the longer lead. Each LED is poked through the felt, making
sure the positive leads are aligned. In order to sew the LEDs to the felt
we have to use needle nose pliers to curl each lead into a flat swirl. Once
the lights are on the felt, the next step is to start sewing the negative
path. Using the conductive thread the campers learn basic sewing techniques
and start by attaching the negative side of the battery pack onto the felt.
Then they continue with a running stitch and sewing through each negative
lead twice to secure them.

In order for the lights to be able to turn on and off, we created a break
in the circuit that can be completed when the two metal clasps are
connected. We achieve this by sewing on the positive side of the battery
pack and then sewing a path to the first metal snap and securing it. Once
that is tied off we can finish our parallel circuit by sewing on the other
metal snap and continuing that thread through the positive side of each
lead. The last step is to sew the sides of the bracelet closed using a cover stitch with regular black thread.

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This was a challenging activity to complete in two one-hour sessions, but
the campers remained focused and determined. Not every person was familiar
with sewing, so it was a fun challenge for them to learn a new skill. It
also took some trial and error to make sure the circuit worked and the LEDs
would light up. If the LEDs were not lighting up, they had to retrace their
steps and see where in the circuit the problem might be. Despite some
frustration learning a tedious new skill, the campers enjoyed being able to
problem solve and produce a fun accessory that will brighten up!

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Prepping Supplies for Fractal Bleach Activity

This week Frances and I have been prepping supplies and creating a lesson plan for a design challenge at University Settlement. The challenge is to use patterns and fractions to create art. Since this design challenge will be the last one for the University Settlement campers, we decided to do a fun outdoor T-shirt making activity using bleach. 

Each camper will receive a dark colored T-shirt with a large square taped off in the center. Their task is to create a fractal pattern out of masking tape within the square. A fractal is a never-ending geometric pattern that can be created by making a simple pattern and then repeating it on a smaller and smaller scale. An example would be to divide the square in half, then divide that half in half, repeating that process on each new half. Fractals are commonly found in nature as snowflakes, snail shells, plants, and lightening.


We will use an extract printing process with basic household bleach to make the patterns on the shirts. Bleach is a chemical that is commonly used to whiten or sterilize materials. Extract printing is a method of applying a design to dyed fabric by using a color-destroying agent, like bleach, to expose a white or lightened color on a the darker colored ground. In contrast, additive printing requires placing ink or paint on top of the ground. The difference between the two processes is that extract printing uses a chemical reaction to take away pigment, while additive printing uses a physical reaction to add ink or paint pigment.

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We experimented with this process outside on a hot summer day. We set up a table, taped off our fractal designs, and placed various materials on the fabric to see what patterns were possible. We experimented with strings of beads, Popsicle sticks, toothpicks, stickers, pasta shells, and tape to reject the bleach with. The next step was to spray our pattern with a mixture of bleach and water. After sitting with the bleach for a minute or so, the fabric required a three-bath system to halt the chemical process. The first bath was just water to rinse the bleach, the second was a mix of water and metabisulfite, a chemical that neutralizes the bleach, and the third was a bath of water to rinse everything away.

This is a fun end-of-camp activity that is exciting to make and lets the campers take home their artwork to wear in the future!

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Learning to Tinker with 3D Design

At the end of our one week camp we introduce Tinkercad, a free online program, to introduce the students to 3D modeling. CAD software stands for Computer-Aided Design and is used by engineers, designers, and artists in the professional world. Tinkercad has an easy to use interface and is designed to teach 3D digital design for printing. Our lesson begins with getting the students to identify simple base shapes within complicated objects. Tinkercad has an index of basic shapes that are similar to the shapes we learn about for building inflatables.

Bed     Broccoli

After learning how to perform basic actions in the program, the students are free to start tinkering and creating objects. Students can break down the object they want to make into simpler shapes, like making a bed out of a rectangular cube and a pillow out of a half cylinder (or round roof as Tinkercad calls it). A piece of broccoli is formed with a base cylinder and a cluster of spheres on top. The possibilities are endless, and the students are free to be creative. However, it can still be quite difficult to think three dimensionally. A face that might seem perfectly aligned at one angle could, at a different angle, actually be floating shapes that are far apart from each other. Designing in Tinkercad requires awareness of space and the ability to constantly be rotating and viewing the design at all angles. Since we are viewing our 3D design on a 2D screen, it can be difficult to remember the space around, behind, above, and below the object. Despite the challenge, the students are able to push through and create complicated and well designed objects that can later be 3D printed.

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Do-it-Yourself 3D Printing

On the last day of our 2D/3D camp we introduce our glue gun activity, which is an interpretation of manual 3D printing. Earlier in the week the students learned how to create shapes and objects using Tinkercad. We brought in our Makerbot 3D printer to show the class how the objects they are designing can be printed. As Leah wrote about last week, the Makerbot heats up a plastic filament until it becomes malleable enough to form the design layer by layer. The glue gun can be used in a similar fashion. The gun controls the extrusion of the liquid glue so that an object can be built out of glue using cross sections. In our class we use multiple fans so that the glue will dry quickly in order to be able to build up each layer. The Makerbot also uses a fan to make sure the plastic filament dries quickly enough for each layer of hot plastic to form on top of each other.

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Each student receives a 3”x3” piece of clear acrylic, a low-temp glue gun, and four colored glue sticks. The goal is to slowly pour an outline of a shape onto the acrylic and with the help of the fans, build up the shape.  Some students were very methodical, patiently waiting for each layer to dry, creating cubes and tall organic structures. Other students embraced the chaotic look of pouring the hot glue continuously in order to form a tower of scribbled glue. The objects created vary greatly, from volcanoes, nests, igloos, cats, a wizard, and simply abstract shapes.

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At the office we explored this activity ourselves. Frances experimented using two planes of glue protrusion on her object. She built up a tree trunk and then turned it to its side and built up the branches at a different angle. If patient students are willing, we would like to push their boundaries and see if more students can build more complicated objects in future camps.


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Why We Use the Makerbot and How It Works

For our week long 2D/3D camp this summer, in the Cuyahoga County Libraries, we wrap up the week by showing the campers how to use Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a free online program where students can learn 3D modeling and build designs for 3D printing. During this part in our program, we also bring in a Makerbot 3D printer to demonstrate the process. On Thursdays and Fridays the campers get a run through on how to use Tinkercad so that they can design something to be printed on a Makerbot.

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A Makerbot is a desktop 3D printer that we can easily take from our office to the the libraries. Once a students has made a design on Tinkercad, we save the design as an .stl file and open it up in the Makerbot software. The Makerbot software slices up your 3D model into cross sections that are a fraction of a millimeter in thickness. Since the material the Makerbot extrudes out is so thin it cools instantly and transforms the hot liquid plastic into a solid mass.

The filament used by the Makerbot we have for the camps is PLA plastic. PLA is made from starchy foodstuffs, is decomposable, and is also a thermoplastic. A thermoplastic is a material that becomes malleable above a certain temperature and once it cools down returns to a dense form. The filament is wrapped on a spool and has the thickness of a spaghetti noodle. This spool then attaches to the back of the Makerbot where it is fed through a tube that holds it in place as a motor feeds the filament through an extruder. The extruder is a small nozzle that melts the material. The Makerbot builds up material a fraction of a millimeter at a time. The machine extrudes plastic in cross sections determined by the Makerbot software.

At this camp we challenge campers to think about what 2D is, what 3D is, and how they can go from one to the other. By the time Thursday hits, the campers have made drawings, transformed those drawings into 3D models, taken those 3D models and broken them down into simple shapes to make inflatables. This way when they start working with Tinkercad they are already familiar with the shapes the program has and have a good grasp on how to use those shapes to create a design. The Makerbot is perfect to wrap up the camp because it shows the students how to draw in three dimensions on the computer and then how that drawing can be 3D printed in the real world. This activity lets them use their imagination in a practical way that shows them a new world of possibilities.

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Kinetic Sculptures: Working with Homopolar Motors

This week at University Settlement we challenged the group to create homopolar motors. Created in 1821, a homopolar motor is the simplest type of motor powered by electricity from a battery. The components of a homopolar motor are a AA battery, some disc magnets, and a long copper wire. The negative side of the battery is placed on top of the disc magnets and the copper wire is bent in such a way that it touches the positive side of the battery and the disc magnets simultaneously. This creates a direct current that powers a rotational movement, which we observe as the wire spinning around the battery. The students learned that homopolar means the same polarity. One magnetic field that does not change creates a Lorentz force. This is the force that is exerted by a magnetic field (disc magnets) on a moving electric charge (battery and wire).


The students had some frustration when trying to bend the wire in a way that would make it balance while spinning. Some students had trouble touching the wire to the top of the battery and to the magnets on the bottom, while at the same making sure the wire was a closed shape. The group was resilient though and pushed through the frustration and created kinetic sculptures by taping cut out magazine pictures and paper onto the wire. Through adding these paper objects we learned about weight distribution and balance when creating a moving object. The students were excited to see a static image became a moving object. One student utilized this by choosing a magazine cutout of a lion that also had a picture of a dolphin on the back. When it spun we saw both animals in rotation. Some students took a more comical route by taping pictures of local hero Lebron James onto the motor to watch him spin.

We learned about direct currents and how movement changes the quality of static images. The group had a lot of fun putting images in motion and tinkering with the motor so that it could balance and spin without interruption.

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University Settlement Green Screen Project

For this week’s design challenge, at the University Settlement, we experimented with altering reality through photography. The challenge: create a three image narrative using a prop from the prop box as the inspiration. We showed the students examples of storyboards and comics to demonstrate how to create movement and narrative in a single image.


Once the students had selected their prop/costume they started to create their stories by drawing colorful backgrounds using texture rubbings and crayons. The students then took pictures of their finished backgrounds with iPads. After saving the three drawn images, they were able to get in front of the green screen to act out their stories. Using an app called Color Screen, we were able to select everything in the digital image that was green. The app then deletes the pixels that are green and inserts the drawn image in their place. With this technology, the students were able to act out their narratives with the backdrop of their crayon drawings.


Some of the stories that were thought up included a super hero who saved a town from a fire, a disco dance party, a wizard Olympics, and two hip hop concerts. The campers had a blast imagining their characters, stories, and backgrounds



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Meeting with Jimmy Kuehnle about Inflatables

This week Frances, Leah, and I met with local Cleveland artist Jimmy Kuehnle to learn more about making inflatables. Kuehnle is well known in the artist community for his large scale, colorful and humorous inflatable sculptures. We sat down with him at the Cleveland Institute of Art, my alma mater, to learn more about constructing inflatable structures. At our previous camps we have been using scotch tape and packing tape to hold the edges of our inflatables and we have been attaching them to the fans using a paper tube. Kuehnle talked to us about the importance of having a strong air current, which requires the use of the whole fan, in order to have the object inflate fully. Our paper tube did not cover the whole fan and was just not enough air for our students’ projects. This revelation also meant that we needed to make the inflatables much larger than previous camps had made. A larger scale for the student projects will be both easier to inflate and easier to manipulate. Moreover, larger basic shapes are a great base to build off of and create more complicated soft sculptures. Kuehnle showed us how to add smaller appendages to a large inflatable by taping it on the outside and making a hole from the inside of the base so that air will flow into the appendage.


Kuehnle also suggested using an iron to meld the plastic together for a stronger more reliable seam. He demonstrated this for us and it did work on our plastic material. Our only concern about the iron was that our age group was not old enough to handle a hot iron.

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During this meeting we also talked about limiting the types of objects the students should start with to basic 3D forms. We decided on a cube, a sphere (beach ball net), cone, cylinder, and pyramid. These shapes are the same basic forms used in the 3D modeling program, Tinkercad, we use later in the week ( It is important to stress that these basic forms are combined to make many of the everyday objects we interact with.

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With these newly learned techniques in hand, we changed our lesson plan and tried it with the North Olmsted camp this week. We brought one iron and made Leah in charge of ironing students’ projects. Since there was a wait for the iron, most groups chose to tape their projects, which also worked well. The large basic shapes proved successful for the group and many exciting sculptures were created! One group made a duck using cylinders for the body, another group made a clock tower out of a rectangular prism, and another group made a cupcake out of stacking different sizes of cylinders. Jimmy Kuehnle helped us out greatly and we are excited to use our new knowledge of inflatables for future camps!


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Preparing Materials for the 2D/3D camp at Think[box]

For our 2D/3D camp we have been giving the campers platonic solids to build shapes out of to assist with the understanding of taking something 2D and transforming it to 3D. Diana and I use the laser cutters at the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[box] to cut out paper triangles for the lesson.

In its new location, Case Western Reserve University’s think[box] is located in a 7-story building on campus. Three floors are currently being used, and more of the floors will be undergoing renovation soon so that they can be open to the public. It is one of the largest innovations centers in the world that is run through a university and averages 5000 visits every month.

There is a lot of equipment at think[box], including but not limited to, 3D printers, Makerbot 3D printers, soldering stations, vinyl cutter, sewing/embroidery machine, a full metal shop and wood shop, and 4 laser cutters which we have been using to cut the platonic solids out. The laser cutters can run at up to 120 Watts, can etch and cut wood, certain plastic, paper, matt board, leather and even more. When something is etched on the laser cutter it will burn semi-lightly through the surface and when something is cut it is burned all the way through the material to make the cut.




This process can take a long time if you are working large scale or are etching something complex but it is worth it for its phenomenal accuracy and precision. The machine makes our job of cutting the platonic solids go much faster and more accurately than if we cut out 7,000 of them by hand. Think[box] is a wonderful place and is open to the public all year round, check out their website below!

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