While taking a break from reading through all the applications for Maker Faire Milwaukee I had an idea for some art we could use this year. It ended up becoming shirt art after I shared it with the other event producers.
The art consists of an 8×8 grid with 64 items, yes, as always, I try to make these numbers mean something. 8 bit, 64 bit, you get the idea… The color pallet comes from what we used previously for our kaleidoscope design.
The most difficult part was the typeface. I tried many existing fonts but nothing was working. Makey the Robot is (almost) square, so I needed the letters M, K, and E to be square. Stretching existing fonts did not work, so I ended up creating my own type.
Once I had the M, the E was easy. I just rotated it 90 degrees! The K was a bit more difficult, but the line width matches the parts of the M and E, and I then just aimed for the corners to make them end in 45 degree angles so it would all look even. It’s probably the best “MKE” I’ve ever designed.
Here’s a terrible photo of the shirt. We still have some left, so if you want one, let me know, and I’ll get you hooked up for a nice price! (The original design was completely square and did not have the long “Maker Faire Milwaukee” logo on the bottom, but Stacie reminded me we should really add that.)
Somewhere along the line of planning Maker Faire Milwaukee I came up with the idea to make some large video game characters, specifically Pac-Man and the Ghosts. Here’s my description of the project:
Pac-Man and your favorite ghosts, but life-size! How large is that? We’re not sure, because what is life? Probably 4 feet tall or more. Take a photo of yourself with Puck-Man! (Note: This is not a functional video game. It’s just fun art.)
Like many projects, I like to keep things inexpensive when possible. Maximum impact for minimum dollars and all that. The plan was to make them from half sheets of plywood, so it would take about two and a half sheets to make the characters and then what was left (and other scrap) could be used for the kickstands on the back. Stacie and I at Brinn Labs brainstormed it a bit, and she and her husband were going to do the cutting and painting, but time got tight so Jason kicked it out on the CNC machine and then got it all painted and assembled. The ghost eyes (both the black and white pieces) are cut and stacked pieces for a little 2.5 dimension (this was Stacie’s idea.)
Did you know Pac-Man was originally going to be named Puck-Man? It’s true!
What’s visual art without an audio element? I also built a small black box named “Tripping Hazzard” [sic] because that’s what John called it when I showed it to him. Oddly enough I did trip over it two days later so I scrawled “Tripping Hazzard” on it with a black Sharpie marker. (Yes, I spelled it wrong. I blame the The Dukes of Hazzard.)
Oh, the box! It plays the audio from the video game Pac-Man! Wacka Wacka Wacka and so on. The weird thing is, about a week after I built it, I heard the sound at Milwaukee Makerspace and Arnold was playing the same video I ripped the audio from on YouTube! That’s weird, just like him.
As for the cutting of the pieces, there was some discussion that Jason and I had about which style of ghosts we should use, and he won because he ran the CNC router. He was kind enough to send me his files so that I could make a miniature version on the laser cutter. I seem to have misplaced those, but I’ll find them soon. (Adrian was kind enough to paint the mini version which we used for a TV promo before the Faire.)
Anyway, in a lighter part of the Dark Room we set up some big Pac-Man and Ghosts and had a sound track for them which made it appear that Pac-Man was continually trying to get away from the ghosts, and I enjoyed that.
We made a giant laser cut & etched banana and stained it yellow and put it on the wall. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because we’re artists and we have a sense of humor and sometimes enjoy social commentary. But wait, there’s more!
You see, this specific banana is best know as being a piece of art created by Andy Warhol. Or maybe it’s best known as being the cover of a Velvet Underground album. Also, as we all know, Warhol was a thief. But maybe he was a thief in the way Steve Jobs was a thief. “Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal.”
So I stole Warhol’s banana, but I really just downloaded a file that someone else created, which is fitting. Stealing is pretty easy nowadays. Thanks, Internet!
Maybe you want to buy your own banana? You could probably do that, but you can’t buy our banana, because it’s not for sale! (I remain hopeful that someday someone comes into the office and actually recognizes the banana.)
The banana was laser etched and then cut from 1/4″ Baltic Birch Plywood and it took about five hours. I think it should have gone faster but this was (more or less) a stress test for the laser cutter. It definitely etches (and cuts) stronger on the left side than the right. Good to know.
Becky is holding a Cutie (aka a “mandarin orange”) for scale. I forgot to bring a banana for scale. I should probably do that. There’s also a 12 ounce can in some of the photos, which is also for scale. I don’t know how many ounces the banana is.
For this year’s WMSE Art & Music event, I created a new board I call OctoNoise. It’s an eight note piano featuring capacitive touch pads, LEDs, a Teensy LC microcontroller, and some fine woodworking. This is somewhat similar to last year’s piece.
You may know me for my work with decagons, but I also work with octagons, and this pattern is known as a 16 cell and it worked well for my design which utilizes 8 touch pads and 8 LEDs.
I’m not an amazing woodworker, but after laser cutting wood I can typically sand it, stain it, and add some polyurethane. At least it looks (somewhat) nice. I didn’t alter the bottom piece, and I just left it as a square, the way I received it from WMSE. My original design for this piece (over a year ago) was a bit different, but I wanted this to match the style of last year’s WMSE piece (and I was a bit rushed getting this done.)
The OctoNoise features and on/off switch, which is handy because it runs on batteries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made electronic things for myself and not included and on/off switch. It’s nice to have one! When you turn it on the touch pads calibrate for about 5 seconds. There’s a startup sound that happens during calibration. (I added a note about that on the back of the piece.)
There’s a “somewhat” hidden control knob on the side that ajusts the delay between notes. The way the code is written, it plays one note at a time, but you can alter that to very quickly (or slowly) oscillate between multiple notes. You can get some interesting variances in sound by turning the knob.
Note that it is difficult to turn the knob while also touching the pads to make sound. This is by design, as it’s also difficult (if not damn near impossible without using various parts of your body) to play all the notes at once. This was done to encourage collaboration and playfulness.
Here’s a side view. The height was determined by the speaker that was chosen. Once again we’ve put the electronics on display as part of the piece rather than hide them inside an enclosure. They are mean to be celebrated! (Each wire has a label showing what it connects to, if needed.)
Here’s the Teensy LC, which runs the code. The board has built it capacitive touch pins, which make writing the code fairly easy. The notes used are C5, D5, E5, F5, G5, A5, B5, C6. This is real piano, and you can play actual songs. I based the code on a project I did for Brown Dog Gadgets a while back. You can check out their Touch Piano on Github.
This device also contains an built-in amp with a volume control. Again, a sometimes rare feature in the things I build. Often amps require 12 volts and that’s not always fun to deal with, but I’ve found some that work on variable voltages from 3 to 12 volts, so running them at the same voltage as a microcontroller becomes very easy.
Besides all the wood and electronics, there are some 3D printed parts that pull it all together. The on/off switch, delay control, amp, and battery holder all have their own 3D printed part that they attach to and then easily attach to the wood with some #4 screws. Once again, things are left “open” to celebrate rather than hide the electronics.
The other 3D printed pieces are the custom standoffs that raise the top piece above the bottom piece to (partially) enclose the electronics. I created a 2D profile from the original artwork used to laser etch & cut the piece to create the correct angle. I then extruded that design to make the tall standoffs and printed 8 of them.
I started playing around with the #plottertwitter thing and wanted to do some creative coding with Processing, and at least one person asked about the code, so I’ve included it below.
Instead of drawing a rectangle, I’m creating a shape, and then varying the position of it a bit more with each row that is drawn. I reused some code I’ve used plenty of times before that keeps track of where things are drawn so the code knows when to start a new row, and when the screen is filled. After it draws a screen full it will save a PDF and exit.
Once you have a PDF (which is a vector file) you can make your plotter (or laser cutter, or CNC machine) do what you want with it. I typically bring the PDF into Inkscape and make any adjustments needed before I save it out in a format suitable for the machine I’ll be sending it to.