My Month at Instructables as an Artist in Residence Answered
It's easy to see Instructables as a single entity who's persona is summed up in one yellow robot. During the month of November I had the good fortune to spend a month as an Artist in Residence at Instructables HQ and had the opportunity to look behind the yellow curtain and learn more about the people who craft the website and the work that they do. During my stay I met artists and technicians, crafters and programmers, and I was allowed to peek into their world and see the inner cogs whirling away. Oh yeah, I was also let loose with a million dollars worth of 3D printers and laser cutters with no more direction than to have fun and make stuff!
Day to day life at the office was not what I expected. Before arriving I had envisioned a, well, a madhouse. I figured that there would be 10 ft cardboard robots beeping away in one corner, office supply archery in the other, and paper airplanes gliding over the top of it all. When inside though I didn't find a room of chaos, but a room of people quietly working. I soon found out that between community management, site development, contests and other site duties there is a massive amount of work that goes into making the Instructables DIY hub function. It wasn't all business though, there was certainly time for liquid nitrogen ice cream, communal lunch hours, and pizza Thursday!
I am very much a robot / tech person, so one of the highlights of my visit was getting to talk shop with randofo and amandaghassaei, Instructables technology editors. They had the coolest gadgets, and both fit the role of tinkers perfectly. Randofo had a huge bin of motors, gearboxes and other electrical delights that he patiently let me riffle through, and Amanda's work area was mass of dismantled keyboards, wire and test equipment. They practiced a type of electronics where novelty is the main function, and it was amazingly fun to see their projects come together.
And yes, of course, the 3D printers were a blast. I really was allowed to dive in and try anything I wanted with the Objet machines so I took every spare moment working with them. I spent a fair amount of time running test prints of the different materials and testing their physical and mechanical strength, (aka breaking them). Once I had a feel for the UV cure pseudo plastic, I had just enough time to print everything I wanted plus some. I should also mention that this same building had two of the fastest laser cutters I've seen, and all the plastic and cardboard I could possibly need for my scale of projects. I can't possibly relate how liberating it felt to be able to think of an idea, draw up the CAD, and have a working prototype in less than an hour.
The Instructables office is found on a busy street of San Fransisco, above a deli and a bar that plays full Talking Heads albums. This was my first time in California and I loved every minute of it. There was this creative energy all about and it seemed that there was some kind of art plastered anywhere it could fit. I felt like I was on an expedition, seeing for the first time things that I had only read about; I saw subway performers, photographers, and a silver painted robot guy. I ate at a Kwik Way and bought guitar string from the store that the Mythbusters bought their trumpets from. Not only that, but there are celebrities in California and I'm almost positive that Elton John rode the same bus as me every day. I could be wrong, but he had these huge glasses and the hair cut and everything. (I've never seen a celebrity before.)
I visited California for a month but it felt like it flew by in minutes. After giving a small presentation over a Thai lunch and a short goodbye, I left San Fransisco and Instructables with a greater awareness and appreciation of the creative community and the talents of its members. Visiting the office and meeting the Instructables crew was an unforgettable experience and I hope to visit again someday. I would highly recommend the AIR program to any one in the position to participate, I had the time of my life.