Signmaking at Camp Yale

Here's AJ's sign.  He was the first to go wild with colors.

Here’s AJ’s sign. He was the first to go wild with colors.

At the fifth annual Camp Yale neighborhood summer camp, each kid created a nice memento – a wooden sign with their name carved into it and painted.

The kids were thrilled. They put a lot of creativity into them, and they’re proud of the way they look.

First, for every kid, I helped them choose which typeface they’d like their names to be displayed in. In Adobe Illustrator, I showed how their names looked in many typefaces like Copperplate to American Typewriter to Cocktail Shaker, a cursive font. In doing this, they thought deeply about how typography conveys meaning and emotion.

Second, I carved a wooden board with the artwork we created using my Shopbot Desktop, a “CNC router.” In watching me use this tool, kids saw firsthand how a graphic file created on a computer could be sent to a machine to cut into wood in much the same way that a graphic file is sent to a printer to lay ink on paper. Thus, they got a taste of how modern high-tech manufacturing machines work.

Two kids look on as I show them a computer rendering of how Alex's sign will look when the Shopbot carves it.

Two kids look on as I show them a computer rendering of how Alex’s sign will look when the Shopbot carves it.

Then, finally, the kids painted in the grooves cut by the Shopbot in two steps. First, they painted a clear coat primer to prepare the wood. Then, after waiting a day for the primer to dry, they painted in the grooves with colors. The first kids used one color for all letters on their signs, but once one kid splashed many colors around like a untamed modern artist, other kids experimented with colors in all sorts of ways.

The kids were very enthusiastic and focused on this signmaking project, much like they were for the other major event of this year’s Camp Yale, Huntopoly 3.0. They played a major part in making something that is meaningful to them. Many told me that they’re displaying their signs prominently in their rooms now.

I hope the lasting impact of this activity is not only a sign in each of their bedrooms, but also insights into how to make things with computers, computer-controlled tools, and paint.

AJ's sign was just carved on the Shopbot.

AJ’s sign was just carved on the Shopbot.

This can serve as a small step, I hope, toward a profound understanding of how all the physical stuff we see and use every day gets made.

Steve Jobs’ childhood experience as a tinkerer was crucial to his later career as a tech entrepreneur. In the video “One Last Thing,” he commented on how this experience changed his world view:

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you … the minute that you understand that you can poke life … that you can change it, you can mould it … that’s maybe the most important thing.

Alex paints his sign as kids play street hockey in the background.

Alex paints his sign as kids play street hockey in the background.

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