As we develop new actives in the Tinkering Studio, one common thread throughout is that we often find ourselves repurposing common materials for new uses. Whether it's strawberry baskets as the base of a scribbling machine, dixie cups as fliers in a wind tube, or copper tape meant for stained glass acting as a wire for paper circuits, there's always something that gets used in a slightly unusual or odd way. This practice has become so ingrained as part of our work that we've made it one of our Tinkering Tenets in The Art of Tinkering.
One of our favorite materials is the near-universal cardboard. It seems to find its way into almost any prototyping session we do. Out of curiosity, I did a search on our blog to see how many times cardboard came up and there are 184 results! We have just over a 1000 posts published, so that's almost one in five that mention it as a material in some way. Those projects and experiments have cardboard run the gamut of uses, from signs and walls, to wearable costumes, to mechanical contraptions, to giant pop ups, and more.
Our love affair with cardboard has always existed, but it really took off in 2011 when we dedicated the whole Tinkering Studio at the Palace of Fine Arts (our old location) over to a local artist group called the Cardboard Institute of Technology. Over the course of a month they slowly transformed the Tinkering Studio from a blank slate into a cardboard subterranean underworld. Throughout the month we hosted several workshops and activities around building with cardboard. Visitors made costumes, built tiny towns, and contributed to the CIT installation itself.
The month culminated with the opening of Sub-Terrain and Open MAKE: Cardboard, an event completely dedicated to the multipurpose material. Below you can see a brief tour of the interior of the space transformed with one simple material (and a lot of creativity and collaboration):
Another activity we love is cardboard automata. Historically, automata were commonly made out of wood or metal. In the Tinkering Studio we've experimented with making them out of wire, wood, paper, and even trash, but we keep returning to cardboard as a base material for building because of its flexibility and familiarity. It's fairly quick to get started building out a cardboard support, then grows in complexity as you add mechanical motions to animate a scene or figure above. Cardboard is also just really versatile as a building material for automata, so it can be the exterior support, decorative elements, cam followers, and more.
We've spent a lot of time lately experimenting with linkages (simple mechanisms that transfer one type of motion into another type of motion) using materials like LEGO, clothespins, straws, and more. Our most successful material for getting these contraptions to work has been cardboard. Using cardboard as the base material we've been able to make 3D sculptures, flat animated scenes, and lively animals that move with linkages.
This weekend in the Tinkering Studio we'll be making these fun linkage machines out of our favorite, humble material - cardboard. We'll also have a live stream set up to see cardboard creations being built at other museums around the country for National Week of Making. Come by and tinker with us!
This blog post is part of a series of Tinkering Studio posts highlighting a variety of ideas during the National Week of Making. weekofmaking.org