Supplies, tools and materials I adore.

I think a lot of people with art practices probably go through periods where they love a technique or tool for a long time and then later abandon it altogether a few months later––or maybe that’s just me. My practice has always been very intuitive and experimental. In and out of my art, I feel most alive when I’m learning and trying new things.

Unfortunately for me, this has led to a large body of work but little cohesion within it. I personally don’t feel that this is a problem, but for getting editorial and commissioned work it can be. Most clients and buyers want to know what they’re getting when they hire you. If your work is all over the place stylistically, this is hard to do. In 2017, I sought to nail down a specific signature style to my art and illustration. After a summer of deliberate experimentation with tools and techniques, a style within my work began to coalesce.

I still involve as much experimenting in my process as possible, but I try to keep my signature style in mind whenever I do this. Here’s the tools I have recently settled on.

All of the images below link to where you can purchase them on Amazon.

  1. Alcohol Ink Markers

    This is probably old news to a lot of you, but alcohol ink markers are amazing. It’s as if pure, vibrant, unadulterated color is pouring out on my paper. I tested the waters at first to see if I liked them with a cheap brand on Amazon and was pleasantly surprised. They were great. I liked them so much that I ordered them for the children’s art program I ran. Our patrons loved them, and a couple of professional comic book artists who taught our workshops also sung their praises.These are the same ones we used:
    Supplies, Materials and Tools I Adore - Ella Trujillo
    I recommend purchasing the cheap set and figuring out which colors you like the best. From there, find matching duplicates of a higher-end brand like Copic. Copic markers are hands down the best I’ve tried, but they are $5-7 each or more. Fortunately, they are refillable. Because of this I’ve heard they are cheaper in the long run than other high-end brands like Prismacolor.I’m slowly replacing all of my cheaper ones with Copics as the Artify markers run out. Most art supply stores will allow you to test markers before you purchase them. The Artify color numbers do not match up with Copics, so I’d recommend bringing in swatches of the colors you’d like to replace and testing Copics that look close alongside them. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Dick Blick or similar large art supply store, there is a ton of selection. Michael’s and A.C. Moore might have some, but I’m not sure how keen they will be on you testing them.

    You can also purchase Copics online, but it is hard to know what color you’re getting without testing it. You could also just purchase a large set if you have the funds.
  2. Tracing Paper

    I run through this stuff like it’s nothing. I used to buy the pads of it but found a lot of discrepancies in the paper quality. Of course tracing paper isn’t going to be high-quality, but I’ve found the rolls of it have a lot less dimples and creases. I once had to throw out a whole pad because of how bad the creases on it were. I’ve been buying it in rolls since.I’m going to let you in on a secret of how I get the vibrant, watercolor-like washes in my work. It’s not watercolor. It’s alcohol ink markers on tracing paper. The transparent quality of the paper also makes it less absorbent. Most paper would absorb the ink, but with tracing paper, the ink sits on top and creates watercolor-like effects. Give it a shot and let me know what you think. I discovered this by chance and it’s influenced all of my work since. I’ll also be expecting royalties for this.
  3. iPad and Stylus

    I’m a new convert to this world but I have to say, it’s AMAZING. Technology has come so far so fast. There is something to be said for working on paper with physical materials; it will always be the food for my soul. That said, working commercially and for tight deadlines, the iPad is perfect. Most people who work with one have an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro.

    Well, I’m still using my old iPad Air and a cheap stylus I got off Amazon.

    Musemee Notier Prime – The Precision Disc Stylus

    Even with these “inferior” options, I’m genuinely impressed by the quality of the pieces I’ve been making.

    I spend a lot of time painting, scanning and then editing my work for clients. Using the iPad has literally cut that time into a third. It’s also tripled the amount of doodling and sketching I do in a day. It’s easier, more convenient and requires no consumable materials. If you’re on the road frequently like I am, it allows you to still make art even if you don’t have the space.

    My favorite apps so far are Adobe Sketch and Adobe Draw. I’m going to give Procreate a try very soon, too!

  4. Journals and Sketchbook
    My journal system deserves a post of its own. I’ve adapted a system of Bullet Journaling for my own needs. I’m going to write an entire post about how I do this very soon, but it’s very similar to the one I’ve linked.If you’re not familiar, a Bullet Journal is essentially a DIY planner that you layout and design based on your needs. There’s a ton of information about different layouts and structures you can make online. Some people get very creative with it, but mine is very minimal. If you’re interested, the best course in trying it is trial and error. The layout I used when I started is much different than the one I use now. I really enjoy creating the most efficient layouts as possible that incorporate all of my tasks and goals.Since using this system, I feel like my brain is finally somewhat clear (side note: I have ADHD so I may struggle with this more than you might).I carry my bright red Moleskine everywhere I go. It’s small enough to fit in my purse but large enough to write comfortably in. I’m very fond of Moleskine’s brand of orange-ish red, but of course, these are available in lots of colors. If you don’t carry a purse, there’s a smaller size as well––and larger sizes!
    I use it every morning and make thorough lists of tasks and goals the beginning of every month, week and day, and subsequent series of reflections. It helps me dump all the crud that’s floating around in my brain onto paper. Then I reorganize it all based on priority––or decide if it really even matters to begin with. The process helps keep me accountable in my work and personal life. 
    I use my Moleskine for plans and structuring, and a separate, larger journal for something author Julia Cameron calls Morning Pages. Julia Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way which is essentially a practical guide to becoming more creative. It’s very structured and acts as a workshop; you’re meant to follow it for many weeks. Most of the book wasn’t particularly useful for me because many of the exercises were things I already do in my life as an artist. It’s more geared towards encouraging non-artists to be vulnerable, try things and fail. Artists and creatives are pretty used to that sort of thing. That said, Morning Pages were something I took and ran with. It hasn’t been long but so far I’ve written them every morning for the past 35 days.

    Here’s how to do them:

    Write 3 pages every morning about whatever is on your mind. Don’t read and review it. In fact, you won’t read it ever again if you can help it. That ensures that when you write, it is purely an exercise of meditation. There is no future-you or reader judging the writing. If you were to read it, it would probably read like the ramblings of a crazy person. Similar to my Bullet Journal, it acts as a brain dump. It helps me sort through difficult emotions. I have already grown and learned so much about myself and my art. I can’t recommend trying it enough.

    For me to be able to commit to a daily routine like Morning Pages, I must love the tools I use. This is just something I know about myself; I’m particular about textures, colors and how it feels to hold something. I write with Pilot Precise V7 Rolling Ball pens and use a Fabriano notebook.

    And then I carry a third book on me: My sketchbook. I struggled for a long time to find a sketchbook with pages that didn’t bleed through when I used wet materials. I tried a RENDR sketchbook and I haven’t gone back. The pages do not bleed at all. If you’re working with alcohol ink, that is very important. Plus, I really appreciate the minimal, black styling of the cover and that it’s hardbound.

  5. Water Crayons

    These are so cool. I first discovered them when I was backpacking through Europe and loved the convenience of them. You can draw with them and then use any moisture and it creates a watercolor effect. You can play with it to still keep some rough crayon texture in your work, too. I’ve only ever tried Caran D’Ache ones––I haven’t felt the need to venture. They’re buttery, vibrant and respond to moisture immediately.
  6. Waterbrushes

    These are great for convenience as well, and I usually use these partnered with the water crayons. Instead of having to have a separate cup with water, the water is stored in the handle of the brush. If you’re painting on the go, it is a relief to not have to think about carrying a cup and water with you. And it’s much less messy with less potential to spill. I’ve seen these at art supply stores and Michaels for about 6 times what I paid for them on Amazon. Maybe the ones they carry in store are a higher quality, but so far I haven’t had any issues with mine and I’ve been using them for months.
  7. Holbein Gouache

    Lisa Congdon recommended this brand on her blog so I thought I’d try them out. They are incredible! Very matte and extremely vibrant. I tried them while I was in art school, but wasn’t impressed by the colors. I believe I just got the standard set of primary colors. If you don’t plan on using colors beyond that, you’ll be fine. But if you want some bright colors, it is impossible to mix them. I grabbed a bright lime green and nearly neon pink and was converted to the world of gouache. 
  8. Signo Uniball White Ink Pen

    It’s a truly opaque white pen that you can use to write and doodle on darker colors. It is the most opaque white ink pen I have found so far.
  9. Gelly Roll Pens

    Gelly Roll makes a great white pen as well in case you can’t find the Uniball one. All of their light colors are very opaque. You’ll find this to be essential if you’re drawing with pens on top of dark colors––opaque reins supreme.
  10. The last tool I use frequently; Google Image Search. What would any of us do without it? I guess there was once something called a reference book?

Supplies, Materials and Tools I Adore

I think a lot of people with art practices probably go through periods where there love a technique and tool for a long time and then later abandon it all together a few months later. Or maybe that’s just me. My practice has also been very intuitive and experimental. In and out of my art, I feel most alive when I’m learning and trying new things.

Unfortunately for me, this has led to a large body of work but little cohesion within it. Personally, that is not a downside for me. Professionally it is. Most clients and buyers want to know what they’re getting when they hire you. If your work is all over the place stylistically, this is hard to do. In 2017, I sought to nail down a specific signature style to my art and illustration, and part of that was nailing down a process, after much deliberate experimentation.

I still involve as much experimenting in my process as possible, but I try to keep my signature style in mind whenever I do this. Here’s the tools I have recently settled on.

All of the images below link to where you can purchase them on Amazon.

  1. Alcohol Ink Markers
    This is probably old news to a lot of you, but these things are amazing. It is like pure, vibrant, unadulterated color in these things. I tested the waters at first to see if I liked them with a cheap brand on Amazon. They were surprisingly great! And they are significantly better than other cheap-o brands I tried later. After I tried them, I went on to order them for every library the art program in Philadelphia I worked for was located. Our patrons loved them, and a couple of professional comic book artists who taught workshops also sung their praises.These are the same ones we used:
    Supplies, Materials and Tools I Adore - Ella Trujillo
    I recommend following my lead; purchase the cheap set and figure out which colors you like the best. From there, find matching duplicates of a higher end brand like Copic. Copic markers are hands down the best – but they are $5-7 each. Fortunately, they arerefillable. Because of this I’ve heard they are cheaper in the long run than other high end brands like Prismacolor. I’m slowly replacing all of my cheaper ones with Copics as the Artify markers run out. Most art supply stores will allow you to test markers before you purchase them. The Artify color numbers do not match up with Copics, so I’d recommend bringing in swatches of the colors you’d like to replace and testing Copics that look close alongside them. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Dick Blick or similar large art supply store, there is a ton of selection. Michael’s and A.C. Moore might be able to get you buy, but not very well.

    You can also purchase Copics online, but it is hard to know what color you’re getting without testing it. You could also just purchase a large set though, if you have the funds.
  2. Tracing Paper
    I run through this stuff like nothing. I used to buy the pads of it, but found a lot of discrepancies in the paper quality. Of course tracing paper isn’t going to be high quality, but I’ve found the rolls of it have a lot less dimples and creases in it.
    Also, I’m going to let you in on a secret of how I get the vibrant, watercolor-like washes in my work. It’s not watercolor. It’s alcohol ink markers on tracing paper. The transparent quality of the paper also makes it less absorbent. Most paper would absorb the ink, but with tracing paper, the ink sits on top and creates watercolor-like effects. Give it a shot and let me know what you think. I discovered this by chance and it’s influenced all of my work since then.
  3. iPad and Stylus
    I’m a new convert to this world but I have to say, it is AMAZING. Technology has come so far and so fast. There is something to be said for working on paper with physical materials; it will also be the food of my soul. That said, working commercially and for tight deadlines the iPad is great for digital painting and drawing. Most people who work with one have an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro.

    Well, I’m still using my old iPad Air and a cheap stylus I got off Amazon.

    Musemee Notier Prime – The Precision Disc Stylus

    Even with these, “inferior” options I am genuinely impressed by the quality of the pieces I’ve been making.
    I spent a lot of time scanning and then editing my pieces for editorial clients; I’ve literally cut that time into a third. It has also tripled the amount of doodling and sketching I do in a day. It’s easier, it’s more convenient, it requires no consumable materials.

  4. Journals and Sketchbook
    My journal system deserves a post of it’s own. I’ve adapted a system of Bullet Journal for my own needs. I’m going to write an entire post about how I do this very soon, but it is very similar to the one I’ve linked.
    If you’re not familiar, a Bullet Journal is essentially a DIY planner that you layout and design based on your needs. There’s a ton of information about different layouts and structures you can make online. The best course if you’re interested in trying it and is trial and error. The layout I used when I started is much different than the one I use now.
    Since using this system, I feel like my brain is finally somewhat clear (sidenote: I have ADHD so I may struggle with this more than you might).
    I carry my bright red Moleskine everywhere I go. It’s small enough to fit in my purse but large enough to write comfortably in. I’m very fond of Moleskine’s brand of orange-ish red, but of course these are available in lots of colors. If you don’t carry a purse, there’s a smaller size as well. And larger sizes!
    I use it every morning. I make a thorough list of tasks and goals the beginning of every month, week and day, and a subsequent series of reflections. It helps me hold myself accountable. It helps me dump all the crud that’s floating around in my brain onto a paper and reorganize it all based on priority and if it really even matters to begin with. 
    I use my Moleskine for plans and structuring, and I use a separate, larger journal for something author Julia Cameron calls Morning Pages. Julia Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way which is essentially a practical guide to becoming more creative. It’s very structured and acts as a class. She stresses the importance of keeping Morning Pages. Most of the book wasn’t particularly useful for me; most of the exercises were things I already do in my life as an artist. I think it’s more geared towards non-artists allowing themselves to be vulnerable, try things and fail. I think most artists and creatives are pretty used to that sort of thing. That said, Morning Pages were something I took from it and ran with. It’s only been about a month since I’ve started, but so far I’ve written them every morning for the past 35 days.All there is to it is you write 3 pages every morning of whatever is on your brain. You don’t read and review it; in fact, you don’t read it every again if you can help it. That ensures that when you write, it is purely an exercise of meditation. There is no future-you and other reader judging the writing. If you were to read it, it would probably be near jibberish or the ramblings of a crazy person.Similar to my Bullet Journal, it acts as a brain dump. It helps me sort through difficult emotions. I have already grown and learned so much about myself and my art. I can’t recommend trying it enough. For me to be able to commit to a daily routine, I must love the tools I use. I write with Pilot Precise V7 Rolling Ball pens and use a Fabriano notebook.
    And then I carry a third book on me: my sketchbook. I struggled for a long time to find a sketchbook with pages that didn’t bleed. I tried a RENDR sketchbook and I haven’t gone back. The pages DO. NOT. BLEED. at all. If you’re working with alcohol ink, that is very important. Plus, I really appreciate the minimal styling of the cover and that it’s hardbound.
  5. Water Crayons
    These are so cool. I first discovered them when I was backpacking through Europe and loved the convenience of them. You can draw with them and then use any moisture and it creates a watercolor effect. You can play with it to still keep some rough crayon texture in your work, too. I’ve only ever tried Caran D’Ache ones — I haven’t felt the need to venture. They’re buttery, vibrant and respond to moisture immediately.
  6. Waterbrushes
    These are great for convenience as well, and I usually use these partnered with the water crayons and colored pencils. Instead of having to have a separate cup with water, the water is stored in the handle of the brush. If you’re painting on the go, it is a relief to not have to think about carrying a cup and water with you. And it’s much less messy with less potential to spill. I’ve seen these at art supply stores and Michaels for about 6 x’s what I paid for them on Amazon. Maybe the ones they carry in store are a higher quality, but so far I haven’t had any issues with mine and I’ve been using them for months.
  7. Holbein Gouache
    Lisa Congdon recommended this brand on her blog so I thought I’d try them out. They are amazing. Very matter and very vibrant. I tried them while I was in art school, but wasn’t impressed by the colors. I believe I just got the set of primary colors. If you don’t plan on using colors beyond that, you’ll be fine. But if you want some bright colors, it is impossible to mix. I grabbed a bright lime green and nearly neon pink and was converted to the world of gouache. 
  8. Signo Uniball White Ink Pen
    It’s a truly opaque white pen that you can use to write and doodle on darker colors. It is the most opaque white ink pen I have found so far.
  9. Gelly Roll Pens
    Gelly Roll makes a great white pen as well, if you can’t find the Uniball one. All of their light colors are very opaque. You’ll find this to be essential if you’re drawing with pens on top of dark colors – opaque reins supreme.
  10. The last tool I use frequently; Google Image Search. What would any of us do without it? I guess there was once something called a reference book?

Maker Jawn’s Other Role: Providing Emotional Safe Haven For Youth

Originally written for Maker Jawn‘s blog. “Maker Jawn aims to provide a unique space for community members in North Philadelphia Free Libraries, where self-directed experimental and experiential learning is promoted through a focus on creativity, critical thinking and skill-building.”

Maker Jawn is a predominantly youth-serving maker space that operates in libraries in North Philadelphia.

I live here. I’ve made great friends here and I appreciate my neighbors. That said, North Philly has some very real problems. More than 900 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2016 alone. Philadelphia has an overall poverty rate of 26 percent: the highest recorded among the nation’s 10 most populous cities.  In North Philly, that rate jumps to 57 percent.

Every other month there is an addict passed out at a table or in the bathroom at our library from an overdose. In December, one of our participants was taken out of school because he threw up from literally starving. Our makers regularly deal with trauma at home, at school, in the park and on the street.

But as much as my ability allows; our little maker space in the back room at the library is as trauma-free as I can provide. Providing this and the many other resources that we do is a constant struggle personally, and I am always trying to learn the best way to communicate with youth, the best way to teach youth, and the best way to simply be a friend.

Last week, I printed out a handful of questions to aid in storytelling for movie making and comic writing. One of the questions was, “who has been the kindest to you in your life?” One of our teens in the space told me, “well, definitely you all here.” The week before, he had revealed to us that he had suffered from depression since he was much younger and that this was the only place he felt safe to talk about it.

Is it possible this 17-year-old had truly never experienced kindness until becoming a part of our maker space? Yes, it is. The deep poverty of North Philadelphia and subsequent problems that comes from it make this not only possible, but probable.

As a mere part-time educator at a library there is not a lot I can do besides continuing to provide the emotional support and kindness. I will continue providing this service among the many others that Maker Jawn does.

How do you quantify emotional liberty?

Developing Programming for Adult Library Patrons

Originally written for Maker Jawn‘s blog. “Maker Jawn aims to provide a unique space for community members in North Philadelphia Free Libraries, where self-directed experimental and experiential learning is promoted through a focus on creativity, critical thinking and skill-building.”

In a low-income, high-poverty setting, it is a struggle to get adults to come to the library and participate in programming. As far as I can tell, this is a true situation across the nation. Parents in high poverty settings often don’t participate in school functions. A Pew research study also suggested that residents in low socioeconomic status are not aware of the resources that many libraries now offer in the 21st century.

The survey notes that while 62 percent of libraries offer online career and job-related resources, 38 percent of adults don’t know whether their library offers them. Likewise, 35 percent of libraries offer high school equivalency classes, and nearly half of adults don’t know whether their libraries offer them. The numbers are similar for programs on starting a new business, online programs that certify people who’ve mastered a new skill, and ebook borrowing.

Since the start of 2017, I’ve been attempting to develop adult-targeted programming at Kensington Library. This came out of being asked to start scheduling Saturday programming from our program’s coordinator and knowing attendance was painfully low on these days. In an attempt to make the most of the new requirement, I saw an opportunity in reaching out to adults who may not otherwise come on a weekday due to the high volume of younger children on those days and availability in adults’ schedules.

I discussed the idea with Kensington Library’s librarians to get an idea of what they saw their library patrons being interested in. From there, I consulted our mission and created a series of workshops based on their feedback that fit within our program’s goals.

So far, I have tried a repeating Computer Basics Workshop and a Sewing Workshop. We’ve listed them on the calendar and left flyers around the library. All of the workshops we’ve attempted have had zero participants.

I have been trying to consult our original grant documents, as well as articles from other institutions trying to reach adults and families in high poverty settings. Overwhelmingly, my anecdotal experience combined with what I’ve been able to gather from research suggests that attempting to engage low socioeconomic communities on weekends is not effective.

Weekday programming can be geared towards families, as we already have many families that participate in programming after school. It may be a better use of a makerspace’s resources to create programming around the schedules of library patrons as opposed to trying to impose that schedule upon them.

Quantifying Success

Originally written for Maker Jawn‘s blog. “Maker Jawn aims to provide a unique space for community members in North Philadelphia Free Libraries, where self-directed experimental and experiential learning is promoted through a focus on creativity, critical thinking and skill-building.”

Maker Jawn is an unstructured, participant-directed, drop-in program.

I am the mentor at Kensington Neighborhood Library.

Here’s an average day:

I come in at least 30 minutes before programming with a basic idea of an activity I think our makers will enjoy. They typically come to the library as part of their daily routine, once they’re let out of school at 3:00PM. At the front of the library, they complete their homework with another program that specializes in homework help and literacy.

Then they come bounding into the back room. I’m there, engaging with one of the activities I’ve set up. I often set up a few. I’m hoping that they’ll see how awesome/amazing/exciting the activity is and want to participate as well.

But it doesn’t always happen that. It actually doesn’t even happen that way most of the time. More often, they will take the materials I’ve set out and do something I never could’ve imagined or prepared for; for better or worse.

And while this can be frustrating when I’m really excited about a project I’d like them to work on and complete, one of the fundamental points of our program is self-directed learning.

Sometimes this works in unforeseeable, awesome ways. Last week I set out some rubber bands in order to make popsicle-stick catapults. One of the makers used them to make a rubber band-powered propeller on a mini-car.

However, the self-directed nature of our program doesn’t always result in one, solid and completed material product. Sometimes the thing gained is much more abstract and hard to articulate.

Almost on a daily basis, one of the makers uses a tool to cut apart or saw something into pieces. Usually this is cardboard or paper, and usually they use one of our electric, handheld saws for cardboard. This is still learning. This is tactile, and therapeutic. This teaches them the boundaries and usability of the saw and the material. Even if it doesn’t result in a completed project; it is important.

Things don’t always serve an objectively obvious, quantifiable purpose but they are still valuable and necessary. Things don’t need to be of concrete use in order to have value.

Can Non-makers Lead Maker Spaces and Education?

Originally written for Maker Jawn‘s blog. “Maker Jawn aims to provide a unique space for community members in North Philadelphia Free Libraries, where self-directed experimental and experiential learning is promoted through a focus on creativity, critical thinking and skill-building.”

First, we should discuss what a, “Maker” is in the first place. All of us have the potential to be Makers. Adam Savage worded it perfectly, saying, “Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals; we use tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing both at once.”

However, in our recent globalized, hyper-consumer culture less and less people have been taught the skills that enable them to make things. We’re able to buy everything we need – why should we make it ourselves? Making was once a core component of the American middle class. Home Economics was a required class in high school. Times have changed though and being able to make things is a unique skill. But being a Maker is more than technical skill, it is also a mindset.

Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and Maker Media has discussed this thoroughly. “Today, making lives on the margins of society, but it is thriving nonetheless. Makers are likely to see themselves as outsiders, like some artists and writers, who do not follow the traditional paths. They create their own paths, which is what innovative and creative people do.

Makers are those of us seeking an alternative to being regarded as consumers, rejecting the idea that you are defined by what you buy. Instead, Makers have a sense of what they can do and what they can learn to do. Like artists, they are motivated by internal goals, not extrinsic rewards. They are inspired by the work of others. Most importantly, they do not wait until the future to create and make. They feel an urgency to do something now— or lose the opportunity to do it at all.”

By no means is being a Maker reserved to an elite few. All of us are naturally born as makers. Quite simply, we need to encourage more people to explore, create, discover.

We are moving into what has been worded as the latter-stages of the program. We don’t know what the future of the program looks like, but we’re trying to ensure our mission carries on. To, “provide a unique space for community members in North Philadelphia Free Libraries, where self-directed experimental and experiential learning is promoted through a focus on creativity, critical thinking and skill-building.”

One possible direction of our program is providing physical resources in the form of portable kits (I.E., tools, computers, materials, even curriculum) and having other library staff conduct  Maker Jawn-esque activities in different library branches through out the city.

Over the summer, Maker Jawn collaborated with another educational program at the library. Maker Jawn’s mentors, including myself, wrote a number of different lesson plans and activities that a group of college-bound high school students conducted and led groups of school-age kids through at other branches. The high school students had mentors of their own that would help them conduct the activities.

Once a week, at least one MJ mentor met with the other programs’ mentors at a group meeting and training session for an hour to go over the requirements of the activity and answer questions.

I created a basic e-textile activity. (See the lesson plan here.) It was a hand-embroidered patch of your given zodiac sign’s constellation, with one of the stars as a light-up LED. When I wrote the activity, I included lots of diagrams and pictures as well as resources for information on a basic electric circuit to power the LED. I had assumed most people would not have had experience with circuitry.

But I left out any information on how to sew by hand. This was an oversight on my part, as it hadn’t occurred to me that most people don’t know how to sew.

I had thoroughly prepared for the meeting with diagrams and videos to go over circuits and how to embed the LED in the fabric, but I had nothing prepared to go over hand sewing. I managed to find a video that showed the process, but I’m fairly certain the e-textile activity was most likely skipped.

This highlighted a big question for me; If the future direction of the program is to provide the physical resources and activities to be conducted by other library staff; will they be able to do it? Of course any of the other programs’ mentors could’ve been shown how to sew. They could be shown how to do anything; with enough time and leadership. But giving them the tools, supplies, lesson plan and an hour of our time was not enough for them to be able to do it on their own with their own makers.

One of the foundational ideas of the maker movement is that anyone can be taught to be a maker. But it takes time and leadership. Physical resources and thoroughly planned out activities simply aren’t enough. As my time at Maker Jawn progresses, everyday I see evidence that one of the biggest resources of our program is our mentors.

From Floater to Lead Mentor

Originally written for Maker Jawn‘s blog. “Maker Jawn aims to provide a unique space for community members in North Philadelphia Free Libraries, where self-directed experimental and experiential learning is promoted through a focus on creativity, critical thinking and skill-building.”

Since my first day with Maker Jawn I have been a floater mentor, happily helping out at the branches where I was needed most.

I was able to watch how two of our most senior mentors handled their maker spaces. Slowly, I was able to build a relationship with the makers at these branches as well as the library staff. Having seen Gavin and Goda in action at Cecil B. Moore and Widener, it is clearly evident to me how important it is to have a relationship with not only our program participants but also the library staff. I noticed quite a big difference between how the kids and staff treated the longstanding mentors and myself; which comes as no surprise. Gavin and Goda have been working in their libraries for years now. They have had the opportunity to watch some of these kids become tweens and then become teens. And they’ve had that time to build working relationships with the library staff.

As time went by, the makers and library staff warmed up to me too. If I’m being honest, building a relationship with the program participants wasn’t difficult. Kids are open and trusting of library staff and people they perceive as teachers. Remembering their names and their interests and discussing their lives made a big difference.

The hard part was getting to know the library staff.

A lot of the time it feels as if we are a nuisance to the library staff. We’re loud, we make messes, we do not approach child “behavior management” in the same ways that they might be familiar with. I’ve been asked multiple times to clean up and leave the building 15 minutes before the library closed; which means 15 minutes less for the kids to participate in the program. Its definitely frustrating and it hinders how much I can do my own job but its not simple enough to direct anger towards library staff. They want to go home right when the library closes and I can’t blame them for that.

At Cecil B. Moore, I worked through the spring on Saturdays with the makers alone. On one Saturday, I brought our button maker. There were a handful of kids that happily made hundreds of buttons for the entire 3 hours of programming that day. They painted, collaged and drew different images to be pressed into a button with the machine.

With only 6 of us to take the buttons home, I asked a few of the kids to hand out buttons to the library staff since we had so many. Later that day, several of the library staff that had never spoken to me approached me, thanked us and expressed something close to delight at being handed a button made by an 8-year-old. After that, I noticed a much better reception to my presence in the library. And I wasn’t asked to leave early again.

Since this Saturday several weeks ago, I am now the lead mentor at Kensington Branch. I am extremely grateful and excited for a consistent position where I will have an even greater opportunity to build relationships with our makers and library staff.