Tag Archives: maker

Best of 2018 at Tam Makers

2018 was an exceptionally fun and busy year for Tam Makers, the community makerspace which Geo Monley and I co-founded a couple years ago!

We welcomed new teachers, including our first student teacher. We created an award-winning art float for social change with over a hundred volunteers. We started a teen maker club and other activities for high school students. Our community members amazed us with cool new projects.

Here are just a few highlights of what happened this year at Tam Makers, with photos and shout-outs to community members who made them happen. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to join the fun, sign up for our new classes and workshops for adults and teens in 2019.

We’d like to thank all of our community members who made Tam Makers so special this past year! Your energy keeps our shop alive with activity and it brings us great joy to work and play with all of you. Happy New Year!

January 2018 – New Teachers and Classes

Several of our community makers took on new roles as regular instructors at Tam Makers. Furniture maker Pierina Dell’Avo led our You Can Build It workshops. Creative director Chris Krueger taught CNC Router classes at Tam Makers and made many improvements to our makerspace this year.

To learn more about our teachers, visit our Community page — or just sign up for their classes.

February 2018 – Community Table and Benches

A group of volunteers organized by Julia Dorn built this picnic table and benches, and set them up by Tam High School’s music building. This was just one of the community projects that took place at Tam Makers this year. See photos of our latest projects in our Tam Makers album.

March 2018 – Creating an Art Float for Social Change

In spring 2018, we created an Art Float for Social Change, to inspire people to participate in democracy. This community art project was built by a team of over a hundred volunteers, led by Fabrice Florin and Geo Monley at Tam Makers. We are grateful to them all — and to Tam High School for hosting this project and presenting it at the student center on Earth Day. To see how we created this float, view our project slides and photo album, as well as this Independent Journal article.

April 2018 – New Shop Tools

This spring, the Tam shop acquired new equipment for machining metal and plastic. Students used these Sherline milling machines and lathes to make a variety of parts, such as marble mazes and these handmade joints for our Art Float. See more photos in our Tam Makers album.

May 2018 – Art Float at Memorial Day Parade

The Art Float for Social Change made its debut at the Memorial Day Parade in Mill Valley. Our unique parade float featured Mother Earth and a circle of waving hands, spinning on a carousel of art pulled by a giant feathered serpent. Dozens of volunteers marched with us and our partners at Good Earth, MVCAN, Pataphysical Studios and the Youth Poster Contest. We received the Best Community Spirit Award for this collective art project, which invited people to vote and create a better world! To see the Art Float in action, watch this video and event photos.

June 2018 – New Student Projects

Tam High students created a variety of cool projects this year at Tam Makers, under the guidance of Geo Monley. Rebecca designed a beautiful bowl on Adobe Illustrator and cut it out on the laser cutter. Will designed and built this practical desk out of incense cedar and epoxy resin. To learn how to create projects like these, sign up for one of our classes for adults and teens.

July 2018 – Art Float on Fourth of July

People loved our Art Float at the Fourth of July Parade! We strolled down the streets of Larkspur and Corte Madera, showing off our giant earth and dragon of change to inspire thousands of spectators. Tam High student Emma Spike and the Freedom Singers performed classic protest songs on our float podium. Folks sang along, cheered us and responded to our call to “vote, speak up — and be the change!” See more parade pictures in this Art Float media page and in this photo album.

August 2018 – Planning Our Next Steps

To plan our next steps for Tam Makers, our core team held a retrospective this summer, with Chris Krueger, Fabrice Florin, Geo Monley and Meryl Rubinstein (shown from left to right on the photo above). They are holding the First Prize trophy we won for our Art Float at this year’s Fourth of July Parade in Corte Madera.

September 2018 – Our First Student Teacher

Tam High student Niles Wertz became our first teenage instructor this fall, with his ‘Introduction to Wood Turning’ class. An experienced wood turner, he showed adults how to make objects such as wooden pens, mallets, candlesticks, spinning tops, and bowls. He sells his own creations at local arts and craft shows, such as the Mill Valley Fall Arts show, where the photo above was taken.

October 2018 – Teen Maker Club

This fall, we started the Teen Maker Club, a new weekly afternoon workshop for students ages 12 – 17. As a result, many young makers have started to use the shop to create their own projects after school. They get to learn laser cutting, 3D printing, electronics, robotics, woodworking and more in activities supervised by Tam Makers director Geo Monley.

November 2018 – Automata Workshop

Last November, we led a fun workshop on how to create automata — or kinetic sculptures. Geo Monley hosted a group of North Bay Maker Educators, who learned how to make their automata move round-and-round, side-to-side or up-and-down. They designed their own animatronics, such as this animated cat, using bamboo sticks attached to foam cams, sliding through 3D-printed guides in their wooden boxes. We hope Marin students will enjoy creating their own automata as much as their teachers did! See also our short video, photos and lesson plan.

December 2018 – Meet our Community

Meet some of the folks who make our Tam Makers community so special! The week before Christmas, a few of the regulars joined open shop sessions to build projects that made us happy. For us, the best holiday gift of all was the act of creation, in the company of like minds.

We’re a community of makers and artists who like to build things together and learn from each other. To meet some of our makers, visit our community page. To learn about our activities, visit our classes page. And to stay in touch, sign up for our newsletter.

Happy New Year from all of us at Tam Makers!

This page was created by Fabrice Florin and originally published here on the Tam Makers site.

The Dreamer

The Dreamer is alive. My new illuminated sculpture summons the spirits of Albert Einstein and other free thinkers, speaking to us from across space and time. Their faces appear on a translucent mask through the magic of rear-projected video, which brings them to life as if they were right in front of you, as shown in the video above.

The Dreamer’s face keeps transforming, showing fleeting characters and images, evoking memories and ideas that can move us and transform our lives. My goal is to make us more aware of how characters like these can influence us and change the way we perceive the world around us.

The effect is surreal, and this art piece seems to be breaking new ground. Special thanks to my Pataphysical Studios friends Jean Bolte (a.k.a. Dr. Figurine) for first suggesting the use of talking head videos, to Geo Monley (a.k.a. Dr. Geo) for the gift of vacuum forming at Tam Makers, and to Freddy Hahne (a.k.a. Dr. Really) for requesting that we conjure up Dr. Einstein!

See more pictures in our Dreamer photo album.


This interactive art piece will be presented in different ways:

• as part of the Time Machine we’re building at Pataphysical Studios (see photos above)

• as a stand-alone exhibit in art shows and galleries

• in large street performance during public events

• in short videos on the web.

The Dreamer is inspired by radical puppetry, maker technology and modern art. It is also informed by our recent art projects: Art Float, Bamboodu Theater, Maker Art workshops and Ubu’s Dreams.


The Dreamer is being developed at Tam Makers and Pataphysical Studios, our maker spaces in Mill Valley, where we are creating our first prototypes.

I’ve been prototyping The Dreamer for a few months now, and this interactive art project is coming along really well. I started by projecting photos against blank party masks, then creating clay sculptures of flattened faces, vacuum-forming them, and rear-projecting videos of talking heads inside our new translucent plastic masks.

See more photos in our Dreamer album.

We are just getting started on this project, so we don’t have final specs yet. We will add them here soon, after we’re done experimenting with our first prototypes. The small AAXA P2B projector we’re using seems to work best about 24″ away from a standard 6″ wide mask. And the mask’s illumination varies based on your viewing angle, so we may want to make it rotate a bit from left to right, using a motorized turntable, as shown below.  

Next Steps

To show what the Dreamer is thinking, our next prototypes will display images of people and nature, sparking different moods, each represented by a different color, as shown below.

The Dreamer’s emotions can be shown with different colored lights, such as: red for anger, orange for fear, yellow for happiness, green for surprise, blue for sadness, purple for love, for example.

You can change the Dreamer’s worldview by pressing buttons to make him/her more happy or sad, angry or kind, fearful or curious (like social media emoticons). In response, the Dreamer’s head lights up with different colors and facial expressions, as these emotions are activated in his/her mind.

This kinetic sculpture can give us a glimpse at what goes on inside our heads, as images of our lives pass by, fleeting like clouds in the sky, colored by our moods. The Dreamer’s quiet face keeps transforming, responding to new images and emotions with images and sounds of its own.

As times goes by, we see the interplay of the forces that drive us: anger can turn into love, sadness into joy, fear into curiosity. And we can learn how changing our emotions can transform how we view the world.

We started by experimenting with medium-size heads (8-inch high), to develop the characters and their interactions. These versions will be shown in toy theatres (about 2 feet square).

Future versions could let us open the Dreamer’s head to see the characters that lurk inside and drive her emotions. These characters could be moved or replaced at will, to change the influence they have on the Dreamer. For those versions, we can adapt the customizable robot kits we developed in our Maker Art classes.

In the next phase, we could create larger versions of the Dreamer for street theater performances, in public settings such as marches or fairs. For those larger version, we could re-use the same trailer we built for the Art Float, which could support a large puppet as high as 8-feet tall.

We can create fun interactive experiences with the Dreamer as a focal point. In “Share Your Dream”, we would invite you to become the Dreamer for a moment, and project your own face inside its head. You would then tell us about your dream and we could record you on video.  

The Dreamer invites us to better understand how our emotions make us perceive the world in different ways. It can show us how to replace our destructive emotions with a more positive outlook.

Learn more on our planning page: http://bit.ly/dreamer-plan

See more photos in our Dreamer album.


In previous experiments conducted in summer 2016 by Fabrice Florin and Jean Bolte, we attempted to bring characters to life by projecting videos of human faces onto ‘life casts’. For these first tests, we projected some of Fabrice’s interviews with Jean’s daughter Natalina and our friend Mark Petrakis onto the David Bowie and Sean Connery life casts, as well as on a plain mannequin head and mask.

The results of these first tests were very encouraging, as you can see in this video and in these photos of our first session and second session.

We think we can apply this projection mapping technique to the Dreamer project by combining full face projections with images of what the characters are thinking. For the Time Machine, we can project re-enactions of historical figures, against masks or heads set in a dark box behind of the Time Machine’s porthole. Opening the porthole would reveal an animated face from the past or future, which would speak to you for a moment, across time and space.

Here are some of our observations from those first tests:

• this technique works well to bring characters to life

• it creates the illusion that you are seeing a real person

• aligning the faces from the videos with the life casts can be tricky

• we may need to hold the actor’s heads to keep them aligned while we shoot

• getting the eyes, nose and mouth to match may require adjusting the video as well

• some interesting expressions come out when the faces are not perfectly aligned

• people can be made to look older or younger, depending which cast you use

• when the face looks straight at the camera, you really feel that it is talking to you

• some facial expressions work really well, like shifting eyes left and right

• some interesting effects can be created by speeding up the footage, as in Max Headroom

Findings from these first experiments have informed the Dreamer’s development. Shifting from front-projected life casts to rear-projected translucent masks has opened up new ways to make it all work in a small space.

 This article was updated on Dec. 27, to add a video and photos of our first working prototype.

The Time Machine

We are creating a Time Machine at ‘Pataphysical Studios, our art collective in Mill Valley, where surrealism meets the maker culture.

The ‘Pataphysical Time Machine invites you to travel through time and meet characters from the past, present and future. We hope to engage our guests in a fun interactive experience that combines art, multimedia, theater and technology.

This 3D fly through video illustrates the experience we are creating. We invite our guests to go through a short interactive ritual during their visit: walk around the exhibit, step into our magic portal, pick a time to visit, travel to that time, meet its characters and return back to the present.

Through this experience, we hope to enchant guests of all ages and cultures. We typically host time travel expeditions with small groups of up to six people at a time, lasting between 10 and 20 minutes. To insure we don’t disrupt the delicate fabric of time, we ask that our guests do not exit the machine during our time travel journeys. We usually return our guests safely back to the time they came in from. Time travel is not for the faint of heart! 🙂

Press the buttons on this time travel dashboard to jump to different periods, which are shown on the illuminated screen above. 


Our Time Machine exhibit is inspired by steampunk and art movements from the early 20th century: Pataphysics, dada and surrealism.

Here are some of the artifacts we’re now building for our exhibit:

  • a mysterious, glimmering time capsule and cockpit
  • a violin-shaped dashboard with time travel buttons
  • an illuminated main screen to view scenes from distant times
  • animated figures of Anubis and the Creature from the Future Lagoon
  • frescoes of hieroglyphic characters from across the ages
  • crazy clocks spinning at random and singing about time
  • collages of time travel images and stories against the walls
  • mechanical iris portholes revealing mysterious apparitions

… and many more time travel artifacts!

To see our work in progress, view photos below, and our photo album for the Time Machine. To learn about other artifacts, visit our exhibit design spec for the physical structures. To learn more about the interactive experience, read our time travel design spec.

If you liked our ‘Pataphysical Slot Machine, we think this new art exhibit will transport you even further. Fire in the hole!

Animated figures of the ancient god Anubis and the Creature from the Future Lagoon are here to guide your journey through time.

To make our art come to life, we are now developing new media and technologies that will animate the exhibit with animated characters, lights, sounds, motion and videos of the different times you will travel to.


Our growing video library already includes dozens of short clips for different time periods, to create the illusion of time travel.

This Belle Époque video takes you back in time to Paris at the start of the 20th century, when the arts and sciences flourished, along with a “joie de vivre” (joy of living) that is music to our ears.

This short video is just one of the scenes you can visit with the Time Machine, and its authenticity is confirmed by copious historical footage from a variety of sources. Other scenes in our prototype  include videos of the Big Bang, Dinosaurs, Ancient Egypt, the French Revolution, A Trip to the Moon, Dada Cafe Voltaire, Trumpocalypse — and many more. Here are some of the other time scenes we‘re considering for the next version.

Meanwhile, our sounds library now includes many time travel soundtracks, as well as musical quotes about time (e.g. “Time!” by the Chambers Brothers, “Crying Time” by Ray Charles, etc.).

To learn about our multimedia plans, visit this media overview.


We will combine many different digital technologies to support the Time Machine experience: Arduino and Raspberry Pi for artifact devices, NodeRed for the central host, MQTT for the messaging protocol, EasyESP firmware and other tech.

Learn more in this infrastructure document, programming guide and technology overview.

Meet the team

About a dozen creators are building the Time Machine together. We’re artists, engineers, makers, performers, poets, organizers and multimedia innovators. Over the years, we have grown into a world-class troupe of interactive artists, who like to make things together and learn from each other. Most of us are members of Pataphysical Studios and listed in this community page

We work in small creative teams to design and build the different parts of the Time Machine, combining interactive art with lights, sounds, motion, and videos of different times. Besides Pataphysical Studios, some of our fabrication work takes place at at Tam Makers, our community makerspace in Mill Valley, where we use a wide range of tools, from laser cutters to CNC routers and milling equipment.

Learn more on our planning page and project lists.

Join us

This is the most complex art project that our team has taken on, and we could use more help. We are now recruiting a few more creators to contribute to our community project, so we can complete it together in coming years.

If you would like to help build this interactive art experience with us, email us at info@pataphysics.us. We’re particularly interested in collaborators who you live in the Bay Area and can join our weekly work sessions in Mill Valley on Saturday afternoons. But if you live outside the Bay Area, we can also collaborate on a variety of tech and media projects. Let’s talk!

It’s a true pleasure to help new teams come together to design and build the various parts of our Time Machine. That’s what collective art is about. We can’t wait to see what it will look like in a year!

For more project updates, we invite you to subscribe to our mailing list — and/or follow us on Facebook. Learn more at pataphysics.us. We hope to see you soon, online or in person.

Vive la ‘pataphysique!

Fabrice Florin (a.k.a. Dr. Fabio)

On behalf of Pataphysical Studios



To see more photos of our work in progress, visit our photo album for the Time Machine.

This page was republished from our Pataphysical Studios site.

Ubu’s Dreams

Ubu’s Dreams is a shadow puppet show featuring Père Ubu and surreal characters from his unconscious. This play was created by Mark Petrakis and Fabrice Florin, with Edward Janne, Dan Cantrell, Phyllis Florin, Jean Bolte and our friends at Pataphysical Studios.

We premiered Ubu’s Dreams at the Canessa Gallery in North Beach, San Francisco on November 3, 5 and 12, 2016. Watch the video here. The show was part of the ‘Pataphysics of Dada exhibit for the Dada World Faire hosted by City Lights Books.

What’s it about?

Ubu’s Dreams stars Père Ubu, the protagonist of Alfred Jarry’s plays at the turn of the 19th century. This shadow puppet show features many surreal characters from his unconscious: big faces, talking ravens, exploding cows and other creatures from the wild ubu-beyond.

Ubu’s Dreams explores new ways of telling stories with shadows, combining laser-cut wood figures, mechanical automata, a rich musical soundtrack as well as video and multimedia scenery. This 12-minute show consists of three separate plays with music interludes.

Watch the video below. For more details about this first show, check out this scripts page.

Where was it shown?

We premiered Ubu’s Dreams on November 3rd, 5th and 12th, 2016, 6-8pm, during our ’Pataphysics of Dada exhibit at the Canessa Gallery in North Beach, for the Dada World Faire.

We may perform Ubu’s Dreams again in 2017. Please contact us at info@pataphysics.us with any questions or suggestions of possible venues for our next show.

In the meantime, you can watch the video of our first performance here on Vimeo.

And here is our photo album from recent shows, including the ‘making of’ Ubu’s Dreams.

How are the characters made?

The shadow puppets in Ubu’s Dreams are made of wooden figures and shapes created in Adobe Illustrator and laser cut onto ⅛” birch plywood. We animate these puppets by hand from behind the screen, holding them on thin vertical sticks planted on animation stands. A few of the characters have moving parts, such as arms or mouths — and some of the parts light up.

We plan to bring some of these figures to life by making them move with small motors. We’re also experimenting with spotlights and other forms of automation. Some long-term aspirations for this experiment are outlined in this Theatre Mécanique blog post.   


What does the show look like?

Here are photos for each scene in the show.

See more pictures in this photo album — including the ‘making of’ Ubu’s Dreams.

What is going on behind the screen?

Here are photos of the performers and their puppets.

How does it work?

This shadow puppet show takes place inside the Magic Theater, a mobile stage for interactive storytelling we created for this project.

The Magic Theater is based on a wooden cart with a PVC framework. It includes a powerful projector over the performers’ heads, which illuminate the top of the screen, so the show can be seen even in a crowded room.


Who created this?

Here are the fine folks who created this project:

Created by Mark Petrakis and Fabrice Florin

Written, Performed and Directed by Mark Petrakis

Designed and Produced by Fabrice Florin

Animated and Engineered by Edward Janne

Music by Dan Cantrell

Stage Design and Construction by Fabrice Florin, Phyllis Florin, Edward Janne, Mark Petrakis and Jean Bolte

Special Thanks to our friends at Pataphysical Studios


How can I learn more?

Watch the video here. See also: photo album, scripts page and timeline.


Bamboodu Theater

Behold the Bamboodu Theater, my new puppet stage for civic events and art shows.

This interactive theater experience features the Bamboodu spirit, a mythical creature rising from the earth to expose the troubles facing America and the world. Above his head are some of the characters that haunt his dreams, playing out the eternal fight between fear and hope.

Our first scene stars Lady Liberty and Mr. Trump. As surreal music plays, Mr. Trump’s recent tweets and alternative facts scroll by on a news ticker below the stage. Each time Trump says something wrong, Liberty hits him on his thick, bobbing head — until his oversize jacket falls off, revealing that the emperor truly has no clothes.

At the end of this short play, we invite our guests to sing along the inspiring words of Emma Lazarus’s poem about the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor …”). Through this interactive experience, we hope to engage people of all ages to think about the values we share — and help change the world through civic action.

Bamboodu Theater is a work-in-progress, combining mixed-media art with radical puppetry, along with electronic text, lights and sounds powered by Arduino. We customize the experience for each public appearance, whether it is shown as a stand-alone exhibit, a parade float or a street theater performance.

We premiered this interactive theater experience at Signs of Hope, an inspiring exhibit of political art that ran from April 14th to 29th at Art Works Downtown in San Rafael. See photos of our theater in that exhibit. Learn more on our project page.

We are now building a special float to feature the Bamboodu Theater at the Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 29, 2017. To create this float, I am working with a wonderful team at the Mill Valley Community Action Network (MVCAN), a local political group which I recently joined to resist the conservative takeover of our country.

Our new Bamboodu Float is coming along very nicely, as shown in this photo album. Learn more on our project page. In coming months, we plan to show it at other civic events and political rallies.

Bamboodu Theater was created by Fabrice Florin, in collaboration with Phyllis Florin, Edward Janne, Mark Petrakis, Geo Monley, Jean Bolte, Howard Rheingold and our friends at Pataphysical Studios and Tam Makers. Special thanks to Gareth Loy for permission to use his Mother of Exiles song, and to all the MVCAN members who are helping build our parade float: Danny Altman, Laura Boles, David Glad, Peter Graumann, Suz Lipman and Jean Marie Murphy, to name but a few. I’m deeply grateful to you all.

It’s been a true pleasure to work with so many friends and neighbors to keep democracy alive through art and theater.
Vive la liberté!

Teaching Maker Art

Students show off their Halloween Wonderbox at our first 'maker art' workshop at the Mill Valley Library.

Students show off their Halloween Wonderbox at our first ‘maker art’ workshop at the Mill Valley Library.

For the past couple years, I have been teaching ‘maker art’ to lower and middle school children, to help them create interactive art with electronics and storytelling.

In our after-school classes, we build magical worlds together: a city of the future, a haunted house, a time machine or a halloween wonderbox. We show students how to bring them to life with animated characters, light them up, make them move, play sounds and tell their stories.

This hands-on, project-based activity invites children to learn by doing, in a playful way that engages all their senses and puts them in charge of their own learning.

Here’s an overview of our first  classes for elementary and middle school students ages 6 to 14, in four different Bay Area schools and libraries (see list below).

Watch the video below for an overview on Maker Art. See also our separate report on the Time Machine, which we created with our 4th and 5th graders at the Lycée Français in 2017. Later this year, I will post more reports on our other projects (Haunted House, City of the Future).

Watch this video of Fabrice’s talk about our Maker Art classes at the 2017 Maker Faire.


What is Maker Art?

In our Maker Art classes, we invite children to create magical worlds together, combining art, technology and storytelling. Our students get really engaged in the process, which helps them develop their creative, problem-solving and social skills.

Here’s what we have learned so far from these Maker Art classes:

  • Maker art is deeply engaging
  • Art + tech + stories appeal to more learners
  • They identify with their characters
  • Creative freedom gives them license to play
  • Student-driven projects build their confidence
  • Collaborations are fun and productive
  • Family activities level the age gap
  • Wonderboxes help frame our imagination

This is what school should be like: project-based, hands-on, student-driven and collaborative.

To learn more, watch the above video of my talk on Maker Art at the 2017 Maker Faire. This 20 min. presentation gives a good overview of this promising new way to encourage children to develop their creative, problem-solving and collaborative skills (see slides).

I will give another talk about our Maker Art classes at the ReMake Education Summit in August 2017. In the meantime, check the above videos and slides, as well as these photos of our classes. I plan to write a more in-depth blog post about these findings in coming weeks. For now, here are more lessons learned, written by our team during our first experiments.

Update: In winter 2017, our Maker Art class built a Time Machine, a new time travel experience created by 4th and 5th graders at the Lycée Français. As shown in this video, our interactive art exhibit invites you to travel through time and meet characters from the past, present and future: participants created nine diorama scenes, from the age of dinosaurs to the 50th century. Read our full report on this class.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, we invite you to come visit us at Tam Makers, our new makerspace in Mill Valley. We offer a range of maker classes for adults and teens. Join one of our free meetups on the First Thursday of every month, starting in September. Making art together is fun and educational!


Young art maker Josephine Maeght shows off the Chinese New Year Wonderbox she is creating with another student at the Lycée Français.

Young art maker Josephine Maeght shows off the Chinese New Year Wonderbox she created with another student at the Lycée Français in Sausalito.

Create Your Own Wonderbox

In our workshops, we give each student a small cardboard ‘wonderbox’ and ask them to create an interesting scene in that box, on a given theme (e.g. Chinese New Year, see below). They learn to design and build their artworks, then bring them to life with lights, motion and sound. At the end of the course, we assemble all their boxes together and ask students to tell their stories for a short video ‘show and tell’. We provide all the materials for this course and students can take their wonderbox home at the end.

This educational program invites children to develop a wide range of new skills, across multiple disciplines: from creative expression to science and engineering. They seem really engaged by the freedom to create their own interactive art, which gives them more control over their learning experience. And working collaboratively, they get to experiment together and help each other create something greater than any of them could do on their own.

Learn more about our Wonderbox workshops here. For more info, read about our first Wonderbox workshop at the Mill Valley Library, then view this video and photo album, as well as the workshop instructions. This program was developed by artists and educators at Pataphysical Studios, creators of the ‘Pataphysical Slot Machine.


Maker art students are creating Chinese New Year Wonderboxes with different animals from the Chinese Zodiac at the Lycée Français in Sausalito.

Maker art students created Chinese New Year Wonderboxes with different animals from the Chinese Zodiac at the Lycée Français in Sausalito.

Chinese New Year Wonderbox

Celebrate the Chinese New Year by making an art wonderbox with a paper lantern and animated character.

In this course, students get to pick an animal from the Chinese Zodiac (e.g.: dragon, horse, tiger, snake). We give them a laser-cut wood figure as a framework to build on, as well as lots of art & crafts supplies and electronic parts. Kids bring them to life by making their characters move, light up, play sound — then coloring and decorating them with markers, fabric, feathers and jewels (see photo).

Children learn to:
• Light up a paper lantern
• Make a button and circuit
• Make their animal move
• Decorate their box
• Play sounds
• Tell their story

To learn more, watch this prototype video of the Chinese New Year Wonderbox — as well as this video of our first experiments with making animals move. You’ll also find more details in our course overview.

Our lower school students seem to love this fun and educational activity. They enjoy lighting up their lanterns and making their art move — and they gain a deeper understanding of electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as creative design and innovation.

Young art maker Theodore Carman built a cardboard propeller to move his flying dragon for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox he is making at the Lycée Français.

Young art maker Theodore Carman built a cardboard propeller to move his flying dragon for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox he is making at the Lycée Français.

For example, to make their animals move, they had to explore different ways to animate their creatures: using glue sticks to make them vibrate, or hand-made paper propellers to push them forward and make other objects move (see photo). In the process, we’re all learning to create simple ‘poetic robots’ — with just a few affordable parts that anyone can assemble together.

The Chinese New Year is our theme for January and February 2016. Our next theme from March to July 2016 will be to build a City of the Future, as outlined below.


What will life be like in the 22nd century? Help dream up a better world and build a City of the Future. Art by Boombastik3 via Deviant Art.

What will life be like in the 22nd century? Help dream up a better world and build a City of the Future.
Future City Art by Boombastik3 via Deviant Art, freely licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA.

City of the Future

Create a city of the future with arts and electronics!

In this course, children will imagine what the world will be like in 100 years, then build a futuristic model together.

This spring, I am teaming up with teacher and builder Geo Monley to teach this cool after-school maker course for middle-school students, held in his fabulous wood shop at Tam High. We will invite kids to invent the future by building it with art and electronics, making models of what life might be like in the next century. Starting March 30, we will meet every Wednesday from 3:30pm to 5:30pm at Tam High School in Mill Valley.

Students will first make a futuristic home with a cardboard ‘wonderbox’ and a small character, featuring a new invention that might change our lives in the 22nd century. They will then bring them to life by making their characters move, lights blink and sounds play. Next, they will work with other students to assemble their boxes into a small city of the future. At the end of the course, we will make a short video of their creations — which they get to keep.

Here is a first example of what our city of the future could look like.

The City of the Future will include a row of 'wonderbox' homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. It will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be placed on a rolling 'maker art cart.'

This 3D model shows a first visualization for our city of the future, to be designed with our students.
Created by Fabrice Florin with Sketchup, CC-BY-SA.

Our city of the future will include a row of ‘wonderbox’ homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. The model will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be showcased on a ‘maker art cart’.

Learn more about this City of the Future course here.


2016 Courses

We taught 5 different ‘maker art’ courses and workshops in 2016, in Marin and the Bay Area:

(Update: courses grayed out below are either full or have already occurred)

Maker Art Class
Lycée Français in Sausalito – Jan. to June 2016
Weekly after-school class for children ages 6-10
Themes: Chinese New Year | City of the Future
Thursday afternoons for 90 minutes
For enrolled students of the Lycée only
Learn more

Wonderbox Workshop
Lycée Français in San Francisco – Feb. 15, 17 and 19
Special workshop for children ages 7-10
Theme: Chinese New Year
Three classes of 90 minutes each during ski week
For enrolled students of the Lycée only
Learn more

Create Your Own Wonderbox
Mill Valley Public Library – Feb 16 and 18
FREE workshop for children ages 8-10
Theme: Chinese New Year
Two classes of 2 hours each during ski week.
No experience required. Grades 3-5 only. Parents welcome.
Learn more

City of the Future
Tamalpais High School – March to May 2016
Weekly after-school class for children ages 10-14
Wednesdays at 3:30pm, for 2 hours
No experience required. Parents welcome.
With Geo Monley at Tam Makers
Learn more

Create a Haunted House
Lycée Français in Sausalito – Sep. to Dec. 2016
After-school class for ages 7-10 (grades 4-5)

Thursdays at 3:30pm, for 90 minutes
For enrolled students of the Lycée only
Learn more


Learn more about the maker art program in this project overview — and follow our progress in this photo album.

Next steps

Overall, this ‘maker art’ program seems like a great way to teach art and technology to school children, in a playful way that makes their learning experience more fun. So far, the students are responding well to this hands-on, project-based activity: they seem engaged by the freedom to create their own interactive art, which is music to my ears. And their parents also seem to really appreciate this fun and educational program.

To experiment with this vision, I am leading these pilot courses in 2016, with the help of my maker art community. We will determine next steps for this program after evaluating our first pilot results. Possible outcomes might include more Wonderbox workshops, a public maker space in Marin, a full line of Wonderbox kits, an online Wonderbox site for videos — and/or training programs for educators. We also hope that this program can help grow an ‘art maker movement’ over time.

For now, I am really enjoying this new chapter of my life as a maker art teacher. Designing and leading this program has been very fulfilling so far — even if it can be exhausting at times. In a sense, this is a culmination of all the work I’ve done in my career, from education to entertainment and technology, bringing together the physical and digital worlds to support better collaborations and deeper understandings.

Every decade or so, I try to re-invent myself and take a new challenge. My last decade was focused on facts and how to tell them apart from fiction — first with our NewsTrust experiment, then on a much wider scale with Wikipedia. It’s very likely that my next decade will be all about art, learning and community.


Art makers from Pataphysical Studios help prototype different ways to make animals move for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox course.

Art makers from Pataphysical Studios help prototype different ways to make animals move for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox course.

Thank you

I would like to thank my art and learning communities and the great team of friends who are working with me to offer these classes.

First off, I’m very grateful to the schools and libraries who are hosting this program: Andrew Sobol, Marjolaine Debord and Wladymir Wladymir Paiva and everyone at the Lycée Français; Anji Brenner and Karen Clarke at the Mill Valley Library — and Chris McCune and Betty Sue Johnson at the Tam High Union District. This classes would not be possible without their wonderful support of our cause.

I’m particularly grateful to my partners in the classroom: Cynthia Gilbert at the Lycée Français; and Geo Monley at Tam High School. Heartfelt thanks as well to my wife Phyllis for preparing the art supplies for this class, and to my art friends from Pataphysical Studios: Howard Rheingold, Jean Bolte and her daughter Natalina for their advice, creative prototypes, art supplies and help assembling the kits. Kudos as well to Tara Brown at Kithub for supplying the electronic parts.

Last but not least, it’s a real pleasure to meet parents of our students, and getting them engaged in the process. And it’s a real pleasure to be teaching their children, whose curiosity, creativity and enthusiasm are an inspiration to me.

I’m so happy to see a little community grow around our first maker art courses: I hope that over time we can turn this initiative into a vibrant community learning network.



Introducing Tam Makers

Tam Makers is a community of makers, teachers and students in Marin County. We build things together and offer courses, meetups and a makerspace at Tam High School in Mill Valley. To learn more, visit http://tammakers.org

We are starting Tam Makers, a new makerspace in Marin — and invite you to come visit, if you are in the area.

We offer courses for adults and teens, meetups and a new makerspace at Tamalpais High School, in our state-of-the-art wood shop and computer lab.

We created this community center to serve the needs of our local community, whether you are interested in making things for yourself or supporting a makerspace for your children.

Join our meetups

If you live in our area, come to one of our free meetups, so we can tell you more, hear what you think and plan our next steps together. Our monthly meetups are listed here and run from 6 to 8pm in our makerspace at Tam High School (see address below). Adults and teens welcome. If you missed our last meetup, here are photos and slides of this event, as well as the video of our presentation and group discussion.

Sign up for classes

This year, we are offering a wide range of classes for adults and youth: from Arduino to laser cutting, hand tools, wood turning and how to make elegant boxes, to name but a few.

Learn more in our Classes page, where you can sign up for these classes before they fill up.

All adult classes start at 6pm. Teens can also sign up for these classes, with the help of an adult.

Visit our makerspace

All events are at Tamalpais High School, in our state-of-the-art wood shop and computer lab: 700 Miller Avenue (Room 416), Mill Valley, CA 94941. See map.

The best times to visit our makerspace are during our free meetups (see above). To get a feel for our space and community, check out the Tam Makers Photo Album.

Meet our team

Organizers include: Geo Monley, Fabrice Florin, Howard Rheingold and our maker friends, with the Tam High School District’s Community Ed program.

We are developing this program to build fun maker projects with our community and learn from each other.

For more information, visit tammakers.org . To get our newsletters, subscribe to our mailing list. You can also email us at info@tammakers.org .

We hope you will join us. We invite you to share this page with friends and neighbors.

See you soon!

This post was updated on August 6, 2016 to introduce new classes and meetups.

Maker Art: Build a City of the Future

What will life be like in the 22nd century? Help dream up a better world and build a City of the Future. Art by Boombastik3 via Deviant Art.

Create a city of the future in this cool after-school activity.
Future Art by Boombastik3, CC-BY-NC-SA.

Update: This spring, we created a city of the future with lower and middle school children, ages 7-14.

We invited them to imagine what the world will be like in 100 years, combining art, technology and storytelling to express themselves and develop new skills.

We taught this after-school ‘maker art’ class in two different schools:

Children were deeply engaged by this hands-on, project-based, student-driven, collaborative activity. We think this ‘maker art’ program is a great way to learn by doing, and we would like to offer it to more children and educational partners.

Here’s our original overview for this fun and educational after-school activity.

What is it?

Create a city of the future with arts and electronics!

In this maker art course, you will build a cool model of what our world could be like in 100 years. You will first make a futuristic home with a cardboard ‘wonderbox’ and an animated character. You will then bring it to life by making your character move, lights blink and sounds play.

Next, you will assemble your boxes into a small city of the future, and landscape it together. At the end of the course, we will make a short video of your creations — and you get to keep your box when the course ends.

Who is it for?

This after-school course is for middle-school students, ages 10 to 14 (6th to 9th grades). No experience necessary!

What will students learn?

Our classes combine art and technology to help you develop a range of skills: science, technology, engineering, art and math skills (STEAM); creative expression and communication skills.

You will create your own interactive art, in a playful way that makes learning more fun. You will also collaborate with other students to build something greater than you could do on your own.

When is it?

During our spring course, we meet every Wednesday from 3:30 to 5:30pm at Tam High School’s wood shop in Mill Valley. This 2-hour class runs for 8 weeks, from March 30 to May 25, 2016.

What will it look like?

Here is a first example of what our city of the future could look like.

The City of the Future will include a row of 'wonderbox' homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. It will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be placed on a rolling 'maker art cart.'

This 3D model shows a first visualization for our city of the future, to be designed with our students.
Created by Fabrice Florin with Sketchup, CC-BY-SA.

Our city of the future will include a row of ‘wonderbox’ homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. The model will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be showcased on a ‘maker art cart’. See our course slides for more images.

Who is teaching this?

Fabrice Florin is teaching this course with Geo Monley, Cynthia Gilbert and other art makers.

As a multimedia innovator, Fabrice has led the development of many pioneering products in education, news and entertainment, working with Apple, Macromedia, Wikipedia and other digital media groups. He is a lead designer at Pataphysical Studios and is teaching several maker art courses in the Bay Area.

The Tam High course for middle school children is hosted by Chris McCune and Betty Sue Johnson at Tam District Community Education. Advisors include Jean Bolte, Tara Brown, Donald Day, Dale Dougherty, Phyllis Florin, Natalina Frederick, Cynthia Gilbert, Howard Rheingold and our art maker community. We’re grateful to them all for making this course possible!

Will you teach more courses?

Yes! We will also teach a week-long ‘maker camp’ the week of July 11, every weekday from 9am to 1pm: in this camp, we will learn to program Arduino boards to build our city of the future.

Sign up here for this summer camp.
Tuition: $325 per student. Materials and Arduino board included.

How can I learn more?

You can learn more about this project in this course overview — and read about our other ‘maker art‘ courses in 2016.

For our spring courses, you can track our progress in each school here:

If you have any questions, you’re welcome to email me — and we invite you to spread the word in your community.

We look forward to coaching more children to become art makers!


Maker Faire 2015: bringing together art, tech and education

Maker Faire 2015 gathered many hobbyists, artists and innovators from the growing “maker movement”.

The Maker Media tent showed visitors how to create their own projects. Photos by Fabrice Florin, CC-BY-SA-3.0.]

Maker Faire 2015 gathered many hobbyists, artists and innovators on May 16-17 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in California. Empowered by new technologies such as 3D printing, Arduino and Raspberry Pi micro-computers, these creative enthusiasts have triggered a cultural revolution that is transforming the way we work, play, learn — and express ourselves. This growing “maker movement” just celebrated its 10th anniversary and keeps getting more interesting every year.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

I visited the Faire with Jean Bolte, a.k.a. Dr. Figurine, one of our art collaborators at Pataphysical Studios. Along with a dozen of other doctors, we are building the Pataphysical Slot Machine — a community-created poetic oracle, that’s powered by Arduino. We were there to check out the scene, on behalf of our other art friends who couldn’t come this year.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted with fire art from Burning Man, which always gets me inspired. Makers and burners have a lot in common, and it’s nice to see these two cultures overlap in this annual gathering. In our own work, we also try to blend art and technology, to grow an ‘art maker movement’ that draws on these diverse cultures.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

The most appealing art experiences for us were in the dark Fiesta Hall, where a wide range of light sculptures and interactive exhibits caught our eye, wherever we turned (see photos). We loved the illuminated tree of changes …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the flying dragon and the synchronized pods …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the giant giraffe …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the glowing cubes …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… and the touch-sensitive mandalas.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

I loved seeing so many children getting their hands dirty and making things together in workshops throughout the show. I think this maker movement has a huge educational potential, because it encourages young people to learn with their hands, through trial and error, to solve problems in ways that can’t be taught with books and lectures. The maker mindset invites this kind of “experimental play”, and as Maker Media founder Dale Dougherty points out: “out of that process emerge new ideas, which may lead to real-world applications or new business ventures. Making is a source of innovation.”

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Robots were everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. They seemed both easier to build and more sophisticated than previous years. It’s worth noting that many of the hundreds of robots I saw were made from 3D printed parts.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Which brings us to 3D printers. That technology has matured well — and is becoming mainstream. This year, there were more 3D printers at the Faire than ever before — and some of them were a lot more affordable for regular folks like us. Dremel now sells a reliable ‘idea printer’ for under $1,000, which is getting within our reach (see photos). With a 3D printer, I think I could make the parts we need for our Pataphysical Slot Machine a lot faster, with a better fit and higher quality.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

We had a great chat with Maker Media Lab director Marty Marfin and his crew (see group photo): we are discussing a possible installation of the Slot Machine in their new location at the Palace of Fine Arts. They greeted us warmly and gave us great tips for what software and hardware to use for 3D printing. Rhinoceros is their recommended software for creating the 3D models, and we got a nice demo of how it works.

Marty is a former sculptor and model builder and is interested in working together to create robots that look and behave more like sophisticated puppets — taking this tech-centric medium up a notch on the artistic scale. This is very much in line with what we are proposing to do with Théâtre Méchanique, so stay tuned …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

We also joined a talk with Arduino founder Massimo Banzi, who gave us a good update on how this open micro-processor platform keeps growing, enabling millions around the world to create new and interesting things. I bought my first Arduino at the 2010 Maker Faire, then had a chance to chat with Massimo in 2013 — and I can honestly say that Arduino has changed my life, giving me the ability to express myself through interactive art in ways I never thought possible.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

It’s a real pleasure to see so many hobbyists, artists and innovators join this ‘maker culture’, which is changing the way we learn and express ourselves . Over time, I’d like to help grow an ‘art maker movement’ to merge the sensibilities of artists and technologists, making our collective creations more meaningful to more people — and maybe even touching their souls.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

For more photos of this and previous events, check out my Maker Faire album.

And if you have any stories or links to share about Maker Faire or your own experience as a maker, feel free to share them here. That’s how we learn from each other. 🙂

Onward …