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D.I.Y Aquatic Biomes

May 8th, 2013

It’s Austin Mini Maker Faire time again! This year I demoed some DIY Aquatic Biomes: completely self-sustainable habitats for plants and little animals. These look fantastic, are completely enthralling, and are amazingly easy to make.

I first became familiar with the concept of a self-contained ecosystem many years ago with the EcoSphere. They’re cool little red shrimp habitats sold commercially, but the saying goes ‘if you can’t open it, you don’t own it’.

Through luck and curiosity, I found we have a genus of tiny (1/4″) freshwater shrimp called Hyalella living in Ladybird Lake that makes an excellent candidate for a biome inhabitant.

Hyalella shrimp, copepods, pond snails, nematodes, flatworms, along with fanworts, watermilifoil (not native, but we found it in the lake), pondweed, and duckweed (and many little hitchikers) make up these globes of awesome.   I have one on my desk at work and find myself staring off into my own little world…literally.

If you’re interested in making your own I’ve made some instructions, and a guide to some of the creatures I found for my biomes.  If you do make your own biome, I’d love to hear how your experiments go!

DIY Aquatic Biome Instructions

Austin TX Aquatic Life

If you have access to a lasercutter and would like to make the bases for 4″ globes shown in the top image, the file is below in both ai and svg format.

4″ Globe Stand Illustrator File

4″ Globe Stand SVG File

ElectroMechanical Sculptures and EAST 2012

November 10th, 2012

Come see me at EAST this weekend and next (Nov 10 & 11 and Nov 17 and 18) at the Phonix Trades Depot! I’m #154i in the EAST catalog.

ElectroMechanical Sculpture:

exploring technology in the arts and active viewer engagement

Art pushes boundaries, and trespasses frontiers as new technologies open up.  We are surrounded by mass-produced artifacts of modernity; I want to bring the artistry of our past to electronics, and want to expose mechanical operations for the beauty inherent in their functionality.  The pieces reminisce of a time when our technology was handmade, but also speak to the resurgence of such, as we regain control of our tech as seen in the DIY and MAKER movements.

There is a simple pleasure in watching things move, a satisfaction in creating that movement, and a deep-wired appreciation for discerning cause & effect.  The way in which viewers experience a piece of art has always fascinated me.  For the most part, experiencing art is an internal process; I’m interested in how engagement changes once it is brought into the physical realm.  How does agency affect the relationship of view and art?  I also wanted to bring an element of play into the pieces.

The content of the pieces draws on a personal artistic theme of contained realities, tiny worlds, fantastical habitations.  The houses themselves are in a style similar to Victorian Era “Painted Lady” houses, and when colored, I tried to invoke subtle levity.  And the overall conception for this line of experimentation grew out of finding the coolest way possible to merge all of the above inclinations.      

Design & Prototyping

This stage is by far the most time-consuming.  After getting the idea for a piece, it needs to be designed as flat pieces that will fit together three-dimensionally.  Each finished design has gone through several rounds of prototypes and revisions.


Once a design is ready to ‘print’, time on a lasercutter is scheduled.  These have all been cut on the ATX Hackerspace’s Universal Systems 60 watt laser.  Some design artifacts are due to the limitations of the lasercutter – for example, this laser cannot cut wood thicker than ¼ inch, therefore the doubling-up of the gears.  Each design takes about 2-3 hours to cut.


Electronic projects are increasingly becoming part of the art and craft realm.  This circuit is extremely simple – batteries, LED lights, and a resistor to ensure the LEDs get the proper voltage.  If you’re interested in incorporating electronic components into your art or craft projects, go for it!  Join a Hackerspace, Makerspace, and self-educate through instructables.com, Make magazine or any of the numerous Maker resources out there.

Assembly & Painting

This is the second-longest process.  If color is used, that involves extra planning.  All pieces have some sort of protective finish: acrylic for painted pieces and tung oil for natural pieces.  Since the mechanics are all wood, a lot of time and care goes into ensuring they turn smoothly: sanding, finishing, waxing, etc.  A piece may take up to 10 hours for assembly alone.  

Finished Pieces!

Each piece is unique.  I have an interchangeable set of tiny houses, so each piece may have something different!  Due to the natural variance of wood, each piece will turn a little differently as well.  


Fall Dress-Up Tea Party!

October 22nd, 2012

We have a tradition of fancy tea parties at our house.

ToyJoy Artshow

August 9th, 2012

The ToyJoy Artshow is going on from Aug. 9th to Sep. 1st, and you can check out my latest lasercut village there!

This is the second prototype, and possibly the production model. I found the switching mechanism unreliable in my first concept, so these switches are more robust. I also increased the resistance in the circuit which may make the batteries last longer. Next step is a selection pool of more-dynamic tiny houses!

Lasercut Village No.2

Adventures in Upholstery

June 15th, 2012

Situation: the lounge itself had proven the ideal lazy laptop setup, but white faux-suede becomes quite powerfully unattractive with daily use and an inability to wash. The solution was Upholstery! Or rather, a slipcover which isn’t quite the same thing, but “upholstery” is just such a comely word to say.