Tag Archives: form

Digital Artisans – some notes

Some quotes and context around technology and art teaching, and the history in Leeds.

An understanding of contemporary media and the means of production, informed by a sense of digital technology, aesthetics and ethics.

Process & materials. Mechanisms of communication.

“In a field that moves so quickly – where today’s innovations may be obsolete tomorrow – students need more than just technical skills. They need an understanding of the underlying structures that fuel the dynamism between technology and creativity.”

Sara Diamond, Artistic Director Media and Visual Arts, Director of Research, The Banff New Media Institute

“… if technology and the ability to be connected disappear further into the background, what will occupy our foreground? A bit of the humanity we’ve always valued in the “real world.” Legislators who are currently fixated on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education as the key to innovation will realize that STEM needs some STEAM–some art in the equation. We’ll witness a return to the integrity of craft, the humanity of authorship, and the rebalancing of our virtual and physical spaces. We’ll see a 21st-century renaissance in arts- and design-centered approaches to making things, where you–the individual–will take center stage in culture and commerce.”

Your Life in 2020, John Maeda (2010)


“Innovation is born when art meets science.”

John Maeda, President, RISD

Leeds Mechanics' Institute
Leeds City Mechanics’ Institute

  • 1824 – Leeds Mechanics Institute founded.
  • 1845 – Leeds College of Commerce founded.
  • 1846 – Leeds College of Art founded.
  • 1868 – Leeds Mechanics Institute became the Leeds Institute of Science, Art and Literature, later renamed Leeds College of Technology
  • 1874 – Yorkshire College of Education and Home Economics founded.
  • 1907 – City of Leeds College of Education founded (part of City of Leeds Training College)
  • 1933 – Carnegie Physical Training College founded
  • 1970 – Leeds Polytechnic was formed from the amalgamation of Leeds College of Technology, Leeds College of Commerce, part of Leeds College of Art and Yorkshire College of Education and Home Economics

George Birkbeck (1776-1841), held a degree in medicine. When he started his lectures in 1799 he found it necessary to have a good deal of apparatus, and while this was being made under his instructions he became acquainted with a number of Glasgow artisans. He found them so intelligent and so eager to learn that he resolved to start a course of lectures and experiments in mechanics ‘solely for persons engaged in the practical exercise of the mechanical arts, men whose situation in early life has precluded the possibility of acquiring even the smallest portion of scientific knowledge.’ The lectures proved a great success. After Birkbeck removed to London in 1804, the lectures were continued by the next occupant of the chair; and finally, in 1823, the members of the class organised it into a ‘Mechanics’ Institute’. Its purpose was defined as ‘instructing artisans in the scientific principles of arts and manufactures’.


Artisan: “A skilled manual worker who uses tools and machinery in a particular craft. A person who displays great dexterity.”

  • open, free, course of lectures on the ‘mechanical arts’
  • mix of classes, library, reading-room, and apparatus for experiments
  • lectures on mathematics and its applications, and on natural and experimental science and drawing
  • “threw into relief the connection between material advancement and the necessity of education to take part in its advantages”
  • funded by benevolent groups and individuals, businesses and small rental fee
  • provided free light on two evenings a week from the local Gas Light Company


[in] 1955 [Harry Thubron] became Head of Fine Art at Leeds College of Art. During his ten year tenure in Leeds he helped to revolutionise art education in England by establishing the Basic Design Course, a programme inspired by the German Bauhaus college and the theoretical writings of Herbert Read. In this programme, art and design students were not taught specific skills for any of the disciplines of art and design, but visual literacy in the use of colour, establishment of form and construction of space. Out of this, and similar experiments undertaken by Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton at Kings College Newcastle, a new introductory course for art, design and architecture students emerged, called the Foundation Course, which went on to became the standard degree course-entry qualification for art, design and architecture students … He also helped to create a prototype for Britain’s Polytechnics by sending his students to work on collaborative projects with engineering students from Leeds College of Technology, out of which Leeds Polytechnic was formed.


Students recreated the Locked Room
Out-take from Christopher Burstall’s BBC documentary A Question of Feeling 1970. Day one with students on the reconstructed The Locked Room project. © Garth Evans


I thought I’d dig out and edit down some old email conversations I’ve had about making inflatables. After making the networked rabbits I’ve had occasional emails over the years asking about the best way of building various air filled projects. This is a summary of a couple of my responses.


Basic answer is just get making! I put off starting to make inflatables for quite a while, trying to find the right plastic, etc..

Then just tried making one with a computer fan, a bin bag and some sellotape (scotch tape) that worked great.

You can get computer fans from larger computer or electronics shops. they look like this.

You can find them in an old thrown away computer too (just unscrew the case and unplug it from the main circuit board).

Computer fans tend to run on 5, 9 or 12 volts. They tend to not mind too much if you run them at the wrong voltage either (within reason), so just find an old power supply that you’re not using (it should have the voltage and the polarity of the wires written on the sticker on the back).

How big do you want your inflatables to be? these computer fans are only good for small (pillow sized) inflatables.

Do you need them to react to things, or just ‘breath’ a little?

You can use lots of materials. If you want to use fabric, try kite material. My rabbits were lined with light bin bag plastic to keep them more air tight and then wrapped in satin-finish material. The satin alone actually held the air pretty well, but took too long to re-inflate for my needs.

Lots of ideas in this book if you can find it:

The Ant Farm group did a lot of large scale inflatable projects. I ran across one of their original guides to making inflatables from the 70’s, but they’re hard to track down. They have info on a dvd too. More inspiring than useful information, but good to watch if you can find it:

They suggest melting plastic together rather than sticking with tape to build shapes. I found melting too fiddly for small scale projects. But foil wrapped around the seam to stop it sticking and then an old iron or hair straighteners should work for some plastics.

Simplest control of inflation is:

  • turn on the fan for a while
  • turn if off
  • on again
  • etc..

A more complicated system would change the fan speed, but i don’t think that’s really necessary.

To turn the fans on and off, you can use a micro controller (a small chip you can program), but you would have to buy or make a circuit board. PIC and ATMEL are two ranges of these chips. I used PICs because I had inherited a whole load for free, but building circuit boards is a little pricey for small numbers and a little laborious by hand. So instead, especially if you’re new to this type of electronics, I’d suggest you check out this project:


which took it’s inspiration from this project:

“Arduino can be used to develop interactive objects, taking inputs from a variety of switches or sensors, and controlling a variety of lights, motors, and other outputs. Arduino projects can be stand-alone, or they can be communicate with software running on your computer (e.g. Flash, Processing, MaxMSP.) The boards can be assembled by hand or purchased preassembled; the open-source IDE can be downloaded for free.”

For bigger inflatables you’ll need a big purpose made inflatable blower. Another way to inflate a structure and make it float is to use helium (more costly but longer lasting) or heated air (cheaper but short-lived). We used helium to make a giant inflatable pretzel. Check out some of Otto Piene’s work for more examples of large scale inflatables of this sort.

And yes, I do wish I’d thought of Joshua Allen Harris‘s subway airvent inflated animals – such a lovely design and motion. And for me a nice evolution from Michael Rakowitz’s HVAC inflated and heated paraSITE homeless shelter too.