Artisan's Asylum Thu, 18 Aug 2016 20:25:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Artisan's Asylum 32 32 Empowering People with Free/Libre Software Thu, 18 Aug 2016 19:35:40 +0000 Artisan’s Grant recipient Devin Ulibarri of Free Computer Labs explains how he became a free/libre software evangelist. Free Computer Labs teaches students how to build their own computer by refurbishing old computers and installing free software. They will be offering a teaser demonstration at the Artisan’s Asylum Friday, August 26th from 5:30 to 7:30. You can register for the full class starting in September at Eventbrite.

Free Computer Labs

Devin (right) with Julian Daich.

by Devin Ulibarri

Three years ago, I was doing all my work on a MacBook Pro. I am a professional musician and I was using it to document some music testing. One day, I found that I could not use my computer for what I needed it to do anymore. My computer basically said, “Upgrade, or I will not do what you want.” I thought it was ridiculous that my computer was telling me to do anything. It should be doing what I tell it to do, not the other way around.

I was broke. The upgrades to the operating system would have cost between $50-100 at that time, but I didn’t have that then. Even if I did, I did not want to spend it on an upgrade. That is when I discovered “free software.”

“Free software” is software that puts its users in control by giving them the same freedoms as its developers enjoy. This gives the power back to the people. Plus, you can download much of it for free from the Internet. I decided at that point that my next upgrade would be from Mac OS to GNU/Linux, a free software operating system.

I loved it.

I love it because it puts me in total control of my computing–an increasingly important part of our everyday lives. I learn so much about computers just by using it. I also can share it with others.

Free Computer Labs class

Julian Daich teaches a student about free/libre software

I decided to start Free Computer Labs with my friend, Julian Daich, in order to have a way to share this software with others, as well to give them the knowledge they need to really take advantage of free software’s best aspects–freedom, power, and community.

We use old computers in our classes (that students then get to take home). We receive many hardware donations and we need a place to store them.The Artisan’s Grant has helped us with what we needed the most–space.

Donated hardware

Devin shows off some of the donated hardware they use in class

Many of our hardware donations come in working perfectly fine upon delivery, so it is not too much work. The only thing “wrong” with many of them is that they are old and the latest version of Windows will not work on them anymore. However, an up-to-date version of GNU/Linux will work on these older computers just fine. And for those still needing more power, we can show you how to exchange parts to maximize performance.

We do receive some computers that are not fully functional. For those units, we experiment to see if trading out parts will bring it back to life. Usually trading out a hard drive or a fan will work. These units become a great lesson, too. Free Computer Lab teachers work together with students so that they can accurately diagnose problems with their computers and help them gain the knowledge on how to fix them.

We’ve had many success stories. A recent student did not have a computer at all before she participated in Free Computer Labs classes. Now she has her own computer loaded with powerful software tools. With her computer, she is now doing her banking online, accessing her email, doing research, and archiving her personal photos. She uses her computer almost everyday.

Student B

A student with the computer she built with FCL

We want to share our knowledge at Artisan’s Asylum with our “Make Your Own Computer” class to help empower others with technology and introduce many new folks to the wonderful world of free software. Please come join us!

Did I mention that all participants who complete the course get to bring the computer they build home?

As well as being a free software advocate, Devin is a musician and educator. His latest project is Music Blocks, a free/libre software that teaches children music and programming. Along with Julian Daich, he will teach Make Your Own Computer this September. They will offer a teaser class and demonstration on Friday, August 26th from 5:30-7:30 PM. The teaser class is free for members and friends, and by suggest donations of $10 to the public. Donations can be made by check or cash at the front desk or on our website.

Cosplayers Get Ready for Cons at Artisan’s Asylum Thu, 11 Aug 2016 18:24:41 +0000 By Arlene Elkins


Sarah Kaiser (lower left) posing with friends in cosplay.

The Boston area has it fair share of fan conventions (or cons for short) from Arisia in the winter to Anime Boston in the spring to Boston Comic Con, happening this coming weekend. Many Artisan’s Asylum members participate in local cons and some even travel to go to out-of-state cons. Some go as volunteers and others go to cosplay. For them, cons are a break from the normal day-to-day. “I get to pretend I’m someone much cooler for a few hours!” says member, Sarah Kaiser.

Sarah makes props and costumes out of a variety of materials, including foam and silicone, in her studio space. “[Artisan’s Asylum has] given me a large, easy to clean space out of my roommate’s hair with a wealth of knowledgeable helpful neighbors.”

Jade Harley is another maker who uses her studio space to work on cosplay. “It provides an environment that I call the ‘get off your ass and work’ environment. The presence of several artisans makes it easier to find motivation to do work, and being in a creative space helps me find the will to get things done.”

Jade started to do cosplay after a friend suggested she try it. “Cosplay was just meant to be an idle pastime,” she says. Over time, it became an important creative outlet. “I always try to take on an outfit that has at least one component that I don’t know how to make, in order to challenge myself to learn a new technique.”

Jade in her Korra of Legend of Korra cosplay.  Photo by Regan Cerato, of CowButtCrunchies Cosplay

Jade in Legend of Korra cosplay. Photo by Regan Cerato, of CowButtCrunchies Cosplay

Like Sarah, Jade casts in silicone, but she also uses other methods from high (3D printing) to low-tech (chainmaille). “Having easy access to tools like a 3D printer and the metal/woodshop has allowed for much more detailed pieces to be made.”

Jacob LaRocca uses resources, including the shared workshops and help from the community, at Artisan’s to make his cosplay. “I 3D print props, as well as use foam, metal, and wood, but EVA foam is my main costume material, and I have someone else do all of the actual cloth work,” he says. “[Being at Artisan’ Asylum] allows me to collaborate with other cosplayers, costumers, and prop builders. The tools are nice, but the resources in the people have been immensely educational and I have learned so many things from the people here.”

Jacob takes that community mindset outside of the Artisan’s Asylum walls. He brings tools with him to cons and offers free cosplay repair. “I was at DragonCon last year, and didn’t want to wear the one costume I had for the last few days. I realized I had my whole tool kit with me, so I went to CVS, bought some cardboard, some extra supplies for repairs, and some markers and my free cosplay repair gig began.”


Jacob offers free cosplay repair at cons.

Photos of him in his repair gear went viral in May and he was interviewed in Kotaku, prompting many online commenters to refer to him as a real-life hero. “One of the first fixes I did was duct tape a girls shoe back together. It had literally disintegrated. The fix worked!”

But not all of it is cosplay. Brian Johnson is the owner of MakeWright, a company he runs out of Artisan’s that creates immersive experiences, including pop-up escape rooms and a starship bridge set, complete with crew. “We once had the pleasure of having Garret Wang (Ensign Kim from Star Trek: Voyager) be the captain of one of our bridges for a few hours. He really got into it, and everyone had a great time!”


Brian dressed up as a Starship captain.

Last year, Brian received an Artisan’s Grant that allowed him to create Escape Velocity, a pop-up escape room. Visitors had to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape a crashing space ship. It made its debut at the Artisan’s Asylum in the fall and Brian plans to take it to conventions in the future. “Conventions are a great way to reach a wide variety of like-minded people. I really enjoy bringing events to cons, where people can bring home great memories!”

Escape Velocity

Escape Velocity’s control room, set up at Artisan’s

While everyone’s work is different, they all agree that preplanning is important. “For Escape Velocity, we built a 1:10th scale model of the entire layout, and it allowed us to see how we’d flow people through the area, as well as where we wanted to put puzzles, clues, and props. It allows us to make sure we’re telling a good story,” explains Brian.

“Everything starts with reference materials,” says Jade. “Where I can, I like to get 3D models to spin around, but most of the time, references are just a corkboard of screenshots and concept art of the character. From there, I break down the piece into its components. Almost everything gets a pattern or schematic drawn up, and from there I make the pieces one by one until it’s done.”

When asked about her process, Sarah says, “it’s different for every get-up, but it always begins with sketching.”

Our con makers are always looking for new and improved ways to make their creations. “I’m really looking forward to the prop shop opening up [in Artisan’s Asylum], which will feature a large vacuum thermoformer, as well as casting booths, a spray paint booth, and tools!” says Brian.

Keep an eye out for our makers this weekend at Boston Comic Con! Says Jacob, “It’s a fun way to express my nerdiness in a way I can also showcase some of my favorite hobbies and skills. It’s really just an outlet and a way to connect to other nerds.”

Arlene Elkins is an arts administrator, marketer, and project manager. Her hobbies include dance, jewelry-making, and sarcasm.

My First Maker Faire Thu, 04 Aug 2016 17:00:38 +0000 by Dylan Citron

A few weeks ago, I volunteered with the Artisan’s Asylum at Boston’s first Mini Maker Faire, held at the Children’s Museum. I had never been to a Maker Faire before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
A2 banner

The first thing I did on arrival after stopping by the Artisan’s Asylum booth was take a good walk around. The Faire was split into three large tents, each filled with companies and makers, showing off their particular skill sets. Among the larger names in attendance were Google (handing out sunglasses like party favors), Bose, and Battlebots.

Walking around the Maker Faire was a lot like walking around a toy store as a kid, but if the toy store appealed to every age group, all at once. Even though some booths aimed at a specific age group (ours was set up for adults), the features themselves were captivating to all. Between the hand-sewn stuffed animal faux-taxidermy booth to the dozens of activity stations aimed at teaching children to program or engineer, there was never a dull moment.

Inside the Makerfaire

The view of the Boston Mini Maker Faire from our table.

By the time I returned to Artisan’s booth, I was excited and in a great mindset to talk about what we do. Our booth was lined with projects from dozens of our makers, including but not limited to the 3Doodler pen, sample investment casting models, and a SCUL bike. The bike was especially a large draw, with a good portion of faire-goers stopping to inspect it.

While the Maker Faire itself was incredibly busy and crowded, when it came to approaching our booth, many seemed tentative at first, preferring to watch from a distance than to actually engage us. I found the best and most satisfying conversations were with people who seemed uncertain at first, but slowly realized their interest in us along the way. About after an hour, we had given away a good amount of business cards and I had nearly lost my voice!

It was incredible the support people showed once they realized what our mission was, and I hope to see them all stop by for a tour sometime soon!

Boston Mini MakerFaire

Dylan Citron is a student at Northeastern University and is currently doing his co-op with the Artisan’s Asylum.

Learning to Fabricate with Argentium Thu, 21 Jul 2016 14:02:23 +0000 by Karen Christians

Everyone should have the opportunity to study under a true master who is passionate about her craft and highly skilled in teaching. I had such an opportunity earlier this year when I spent six weeks studying Argentium fabrication under Ronda Coryell at Creative Side in Austin.

Argentium class

My classmates at Creative Side

Argentium is known as a high karat sterling silver. With the addition of germanium, Argentium is tarnish resistant and maintains its luster longer than traditional sterling silver. What makes Argentium unique is its ability to fuse to virtually any metal, including copper, steel, bronze, brass and high karat gold. Fabrication time is cut in half without need for solder.

Argentium project

The start of one of many projects.

The six-week intensive was Monday through Friday from 10-6pm. Everyday we had a new project, sometimes two. Fridays we could catch up, but sometimes not if the projects ran over. Each day, we were given a packet of all the supplies to make our daily project. Ronda would demo the piece in sections and we would follow her.

Tools and materials

An example of the tools and materials we received everyday to work on our projects.

I have spent many years working with traditional sterling, so Argentium provided some challenges. I had to get used to heating a piece to almost a melting temperature that would have sent regular sterling into a huge lump. It took me about four of the six weeks to master the torch.

Argentium project
Ronda is a perfectionist (which I admire) and she did not hesitate to point out something I was doing incorrectly. I’ll admit that when she left my bench, I often uttered expletives all the while knowing she was correct and I’d go back to make it better. I wanted her to be proud of me.

Ronda Coryell teaching

Ronda demoed each day’s project in stages and we had to follow along.

There were 10 of us in the class. In six weeks, I hardly met anyone. I spent each day with my head down, measuring, cutting, swearing, fusing, filing and working out problems. Several days I woke up in a pure panic. I missed my husband and my cats. I came home nights completely exhausted to my rented Tiny House (which I loved) only to get up and do it again. The experience was intense, but now I find myself missing the focused projects and doing something just for myself.

finished project

All finished!

Karen Christians is an educator and maker in the metal arts. She teaches nationally, lectures around the country, and is published in many professional and technical magazines. Karen has written two books: Making the Most of Your Flex Shaft and The Jewelry of Burning Man. She is teaching Artisan’s first class in Argentium fabrication on July 23rd.

Inside the Inside-Out Gallery Thu, 14 Jul 2016 15:52:47 +0000 How the Artisan’s Asylum’s Inside-Out Gallery ArtBeat installation came to be
by Arlene Elkins

Inside-Out Window

Photo courtesy of Heather Balchunas and the Somerville Arts Council

In 2009, the Somerville Arts Council debuted the Inside-Out Gallery inside the CVS windows in the heart of Davis Square. Since then, several Artisan’s Asylum members have contributed work to the windows, including Emily Garfield’s window for ArtBeat in 2012.

This year, SAC approached Artisan’s about creating a window with work from our members. They offered us the July window coinciding with ArtBeat, one of Somerville’s biggest festivals, and whatever we did had to work with this year’s theme: roots.

“Roots” could have many different meanings. Were we talking about a plant’s root system? Part of a math equation? Or our ancestry? Christine, our Development Manager, came up with our answer: since Somerville has a rich history of manufacturing, and we’re a makerspace, our window should be a tribute to Somerville’s making roots.

A group of our members further fleshed out the idea. We’d find pictures of items manufactured in Somerville and display them next to “modern” versions made by our members. We’d make pedestals to look like bricks to honor Somerville’s first industry. We’d place a giant map of Somerville in the background and hang roots to tie it all together.

ArtBeat Window Mock-up

A mock-up of the original concept, done by Emily Garfield.

Melissa Glick volunteered to research the history, diving into the archives at the central library and collecting images of old factories. She met with Somerville historians and collectors, some of whom allowed us to borrow their artifacts for the window. She also went around Artisan’s and convinced members to let us borrow their work for the window. Meanwhile, Jeanne Flanagan worked on the roots, weaving them to resemble ropes, honoring Somerville’s rope industry.

As time went on, the exhibit evolved. Instead of being a “then and now” display as originally envisioned, we collected work that represented the Artisan’s variety and juxtaposed them with the vintage and antique pieces Melissa had collected. We decided that instead of a historical map, our map would be an artistic representation of Somerville. Emily drew the map’s outlines and then invited the rest of Artisan’s members to fill them in.

Map collaboration

The map took two days two create

The installation took place over two days in the last week of June. First, we displayed the map and hung the roots.

hanging map

Emily and Heather of SAC hang the maps

Hanging roots

Jeanne hanging her roots

Then came the fun part: bringing in all of our members’ work. Even though we had staged it at Artisan’s Asylum, we did most of the design and arrangement on the spot in the window. Once we got all the work in, we hung the historical pictures Melissa gathered and lastly, placed a sign with the names of everyone who participated.

Arranging the work

Heather and Jeanne arrange the work in the window.

Window display

Vintage and antique pieces (including Somerville bricks Jeanne found in her backyard) are side by side with modern work.

Window sign

Jess Muise made this sign on the laser cutter to tie the exhibit together.

“The Roots of Manufacturing in Somerville” will be on display until the end of the month in the Inside-Out Gallery. You can learn more about the artists who participated at our website. Also, visit our table at ArtBeat, Saturday July 16th and learn more about the history and future of making in Somerville!


Robot by Skunk

Additional thanks to Heather Balchunas and Melissa Glick to contributing to this blog and to Derek Seabury, Kate Gormley, and Christine Glowacki for copy editing.

Happy July 4th! Sat, 02 Jul 2016 17:43:45 +0000 Boston_Harbor_Fireworks_-_Composite_(21189670832)

Have a wonderful holiday weekend and a safe and happy Fourth from all of us at the Artisan’s Asylum!

We will be open as usual to our monthly members, but our staffed desk hours will be limited this weekend due to the holiday. Please check our calendar before coming in to use a day pass or to take a tour. Regular public hours will resume Tuesday, July 5th.

Help us make our mark. Thu, 30 Jun 2016 18:35:07 +0000 Makeourmark

Artisan’s Asylum began as an ambitious experiment in community and making. But this year, we’ve taken huge strides to develop our makerspace into an institution that will support creation and fabrication for years to come.

We have laid the groundwork for our future success, including a lease extension on our 40,000 square foot facility. Our community has celebrated tremendous milestones – SCUL marked its 20th anniversary, our Awesomenaut program traded invaluable tool and equipment training for volunteered labor, and our membership has expanded and improved the infrastructure and offerings of our facility with the development of a Metal Casting shop, a Wood Guild, and its Shop Leads program. We are constantly striving to improve and grow, made evident by recent updates to our Computer Lab, the acquisition of new equipment, and the awarding of the most Artisan’s Grants to date.

Please help us celebrate the past, present, and future of Artisan’s Asylum with a donation. Together, we can make sure that creativity and innovation have a place to thrive in Somerville, Greater Boston, and beyond.

Derek Seabury
President and Executive Director

3D Printer Users Meetup at Artisan’s Asylum Tue, 28 Jun 2016 23:31:35 +0000 meet up

On June 27th, around 50 current and future users of 3D printers from all over the Greater Boston area came out to Artisan’s Asylum for a special social and user-friendly demos!

The night started out with four presentations by local users:

  • “BlocksCAD: OpenSCAD for People Who Can’t Code” by Matt Minuti
  • “Integrating 3D Printing with traditional tools in the medical device market” by Sarah Boisvert of Potomac Photonics, Inc.
  • “3D printing fractals, atoms, and more” by Mark Stock
  • “Capturing Fine Detail with Professional 3D Printing” by Caylee Kozak of Formlabs

Afterwards, the attendees socialized and showcased various demonstrations of their 3D printers (Formlabs demonstrated their new castable resin and Zachary Sherman with his Printbot Simple Metal V1). Overall, the event was well attended and the demos were a success. We look forward to having more people familiarize themselves with the 3D Printer revolution and are excited for more events and meet ups at Artisan’s Asylum!

Get Your Make On: Makerspace Exchange Program Wed, 08 Jun 2016 21:08:55 +0000 Announcing Our New
Makerspace Exchange Program

Artisan’s Asylum is launching a new cultural exchange program that will allow makers from all over the world to connect, work, and learn from each other. Partnering with Makerspace Thailand, the first residency is planned for December 2016. With your support, the initial $5,000 grant will fund the first exchange.

We are thrilled to offer this new program that expands our efforts to support the growth makers and makerspaces across the nation and now the world.

Join us for the Kick-Off Event!
Thursday June 9th, 6:30-8:30pm at Artisan’s

Nati Sang and Makerspace Thailand: A Global Perspective on Making
a Social Night and Speaker Series special eventNati Sang, Founder and CEO of Makerspace Thailand in Chiang Mai, will help kick off our new Makerspace Cultural Exchange Program by speaking more about this exciting new collaboration, and share his personal experiences in the makerspace movement.Thank you to member Karen Christians for bringing us this incredible opportunity and for hosting Nati and this event.

Learn more about this program and how to apply here.

Donate to the Exchange Fund

Select “Makerspace Cultural Exchange” in the drop-down for your donation to be earmarked for this program.

Made at Artisan’s: PB&J PROPOSAL PLAQUE by Phil Babcock Thu, 26 May 2016 15:46:00 +0000 Phil Blog 1

When I decided to propose to my girlfriend, I wanted to make the proposal special. However, I didn’t want to make it some fancy, difficult-to-execute, overblown event, lest I end up like this guy. So I thought it would be great to make something to propose with that would be significant to our relationship and also cute as heck. I also wanted it to be metal, because metal is the best. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know how to make what I was envisioning, much less in or with metal. I used my front desk volunteer shift at the Artisan’s Asylum to ask around–pitching ideas and seeing if anyone wanted to help me out, and was pointed in the direction of Karen Burke, a jeweler and metalworker, who was enthusiastic about the project and had a bunch of ideas on how we could execute it. Best of all, she was willing to teach me how to do it again if I wanted. We ended up making the totally awesome plaque you see above, and I’m happy to report that it totally worked. If it’d hadn’t, this would be a way more depressing blog post.

The idea for the plaque came about when I realized that the sentence “Will you make a sandwich with me?” would be a hilarious way to propose to my now-wife, Jane. This references a series of events from early on in our relationship that started we realized how terrible our mashup names were. “Phane” sounds too much like a Batman villain to capture the spirit of our enthusiastic and often quite saccharine affection for each other, and “Jill” is just someone else’s name, which is both boring and misleading. The last name options (working from Babcock and Carter), were “Babter” and “Cartcock,” and while the latter is genuinely hilarious, we felt no attachment to it. Then I realized that our initials could be a mashup. Phil Babcock and Jane Carter; PB & J. We got a good kick out of it–it’s definitely what the tabloids would call us.

A month or so later, Jane asked me out on a date with a card upon which she had drawn a very cute depiction of us as the peanut butter and jelly halves of a sandwich smiling and holding hands. It was this image that inspired the question, and this image that I wanted to capture in metal.

Karen’s plan for making the plaque were to photo etch the image and accompanying text onto a plate of (I think) 20 gauge steel. Photo etching (in this case) is a process which etches a design into metal by submerging it in a corrosive acid. Of course, to avoid corroding away the whole piece of steel, we covered the steel in a resist material, which we then laser cut away, exposing the steel that we wanted to etch. To get the colors of the PB & J image onto the steel, we decided to do a two step bath: first etching away the deeper outline grooves and text, then exposing the peanut butter and jelly areas and etching again, resulting in a contrasting texture. Below is an image of the plate with the resist cut away in preparation for the second etch.

Phil Blog 2

Once the plate came out of the second etchant bath, it looked pretty much like it did when it was finished, which I was quite stoked about. All that was left to do was cut a hole to suspend the ring in, then I could present it to my unsuspecting girlfriend. Karen, though, thought that the heart shaped hole needed some more pizazz. She “took some liberties” and fabricated a second heart out of steel, which she attached with tiny brass bolts and spaced with equally tiny little sections of tubing. The effect is awesome, and provided a nice, neat way to suspend the ring in the heart cutout.


Phil Blog 4

Phil Blog 3

I proposed to Jane on a Tuesday night after making a dinner at our house, presenting the ring displayed in the plaque. She had no idea what was going on until she saw the ring, but she said yes, which was awesome, and we had grilled PB&J sandwiches for dessert. We got married in Maine on July 18th, 2015, and a lovely time was had by all. The plaque made a nice display at our reception in addition to being an excellent ring delivery system. Mission accomplished.


Photos courtesy of Lorie Lin