Thursday, December 29, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 22: Heart and Design

Heart and craft with a 3D print pen
Pop Up Thinglab 22 was a drop-in open learning 3D printing craft and design workshop at Northolt Library. We had a pair of Flashforge Finder 3D printers and an XYZPrinting daVinci 3D print pen to promote the scope of art, craft and making things in an age of the mass consumption of things.

In an era of increasing automation we are developing the value of people by promoting human centric making rather than machine centred production. At the heart of what we are doing is the exploration of an artisanal economy of scope rather than a machine economy of scale.

With 3D printers and a 3D printing pen we had two different but related technologies for making - both melting "plastic" to make things but with the 3D print pen using manual craft and the 3D printer using digital design. 

Mainstream education has become all about the head rather than the heart - to such an extent that many hear Thinklab instead of Thinglab ... I have to explain that it's called Thinglab because its not just heads on but hands on and that its about doing things as well as thinking.

Digital technologies and methods play an important role in the contemporary maker spaces and many focus on digital making - "digilab" being a a popular name for this type of maker space. While digital is a major factor in what we do we didn't want to be limited ... we wanted to be able to do anything ... painting, origami, knitting, needlework, cooking ... :)

Having the 3D print pen and the 3D printer together in Thinglab 22 demonstrated why we chose the name Thinglab. Thinglab is about experimenting with any thing - analogue and digital - art, craft and design. Thinglab is about our hearts and our heads.

Using a 3D print pen is a craft ... its a lot like like icing

Both 3D printing and 3D crafting with the 3D pen need patience. Watching a 3D printer make something is like watching paint dry but the making is automated so you can get on with other things while the printer does the making. Using a 3D printing pen also needs patience but I notice how people get absorbed in what they are doing - they are engaged in the making and show real satisfaction with what they have made "I made that". Thus reminds me of a chapter in a book by Stephen King (Cujo I think) where a relative is showing off the new juke box he has just bought - "did you make it" the other relative asks ... he just can't get what the big deal is when you simply go out and buy something.

The 3D printing pen is a good way to explain how 3D printing works and a good way to explore the differences between manual\analogue craft and digital design and manufacture. 

Using the 3D pen is just like writing with a pen - its a live performance that creates a unique physical artefact in real time  - errors and all. 

Talking about performance and patience we spoke about how using a 3D printing pen is a lot like using an icing gun or doing sculpture. I spoke about how Nissan commissioned the worlds biggest 3D printing pen sculpture of a full size Qashqai car to mark its 10th anniversary of production. This took 800 hours and 8.3 miles of filament to make using a 3Doodler 3D printing pen.

Watching people with the 3D pen reminds me how quickly people can learn and how natural learning is outside the managed learning environment of formal education. None of our thinglab experimenters had used a 3D pen before but after a few minutes trial and error they all got the hang of it, got ideas for what they wanted to make and started making - learning and doing at the same time.

Making things with multiple colours was natural for those using the 3D printing pen but its far from straightforward with a 3D printer. I think of 3D printing and their filaments as like 2D impact printers and their ink ribbons of the 1980s - you couldn't mix colours and it was too much effort to change colours. Many 3D printing professionals simply print in white and finish with acrylic paints. I am waiting for the next generation of 3D printers that will do for 3D printing what the laserjet and the inkjet did for 2D printing - speed things up and let us mix colours easily. 

Digital design and 3D Printing
Many people refer to 3D printing as "additive manufacture" or fabrication but I think 3D printing describes it wonderfully  ... using a 3D pen is like writing with a pen but 3D printing is just like using a word processor and a printer.

Using a 3D printer separates design and making - this widens the scope of possibilities and provides exciting opportunities. There is enough scope for people to specialise in the separate fields of 3D design and 3D making or do both. Digital designs can be shared, mixed, re-mixed and tinkered - the diverse, variation and selection and copy- transform-combine "sex life" of digital design provides an evolutionary engine of a maker movement. 

Thinglab 22 took place at Christmas so we 3D printed Xmas decorations from the Thingiverse shared 3D design gallery and tinkered some of them with Tinkercad to put people's initials on snowflakes and their names on stars and xmas trees.

Thinglab 22 craft and design
There was something for everyone at Thinglab 22 - art and craft for the heart with the 3D printing pen and digital design and printing for the head.

For more images of Pop Up Thinglab 22 visit: Thinglab 22 images (Flickr album)

For our Thingiverse collection of easy 3D printed Xmas decorations visit

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

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