Make Summer Camp: Box-Books & Maker Philosophy

This summer, I’m working my way through some paper-crafting exercises, as a way of learning how to be more of a Maker — a guy who folds, glues, tapes, and otherwise attaches paper together in a way that makes something cool, be it a book, a polyhedron, a box, origami, a map, a machine, or what have you.  It’s part of my Make Summer Camp effort, which you can read about, and join, here.

Box-booksToday’s effort was book-boxes. Or maybe, box-books. I think I like the idea of box-books somewhat better. They’re little accordion-fold books tucked inside of paper jewelry boxes, well suited for making talismans or symbolic records of working with the planets — or simply for recording information about the planets in Astrology, which is what these will be: the top, orange one is for Mercury; while the bottom, green one will be for Venus.  There’s also one for Jupiter, in purple; except that for a variety of reasons I’m gradually thinking about Jupiter as true blue, and the Moon as purple; and I’ll likely make the shift before I finish making the box.  You can see that one here, as well. When closed, they’re tiny; you might walk past them on a shelf and ignore them completely.  Open, they’re going to be effectively altars, or shrines — consciousness shifters, of sorts, to the seven planetary powers (or at least three of those seven — Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  I got interested in them because they’re important in alchemical theory, and alchemical theory is surprisingly important if you want to develop Designer’s Mindset or Maker’s Mindset.

Box-booksSome of it is pretty simple, really.  If you want to understand how to be an effective designer or creator of objects, you have to look at the world through ten lenses, and learn to shift your perspective.  Some of my readers will be intimately familiar with the diagram below, but will be used to seeing it labeled quite differently, and likely thinking about it quite differently.

For me, it’s becoming pretty standard. If you’re not interested, that’s fine, but I suggest skipping what comes after the jump.  If you like esoteric theory, you might consider reading on.

Because, of course, sometimes designers have to deal in undifferentiated wholeness.  They have to see the system as complete, and that means seeing themselves as part of that whole.  It’s a beautiful state of mind, but — and this is important — it’s hard to get anything done in that state, which we might effectively call la-la land at least as far as designers are concerned. It’s beautiful, it’s elegant, you see the connections between all things and yourself, and you don’t even think of yourself as separate.


But self-awareness, and awareness-of-others, are really critical mindsets for designers. Sometimes we’re solving problems for ourselves; and sometimes we’re solving problems for others; and sometimes for both.  Our design has to (or should) take into account the whole universe around us; in fact, it’s hard not to take into account the whole world around us and around the others: that’s who we’re designing for.

But sooner or later, we have to reach into the nitty-gritty of our designs.  That means engaging in brainstorming, or the expansion of our ideas; and critique, or the limitation of them.  These are two different mindsets, and they have to be separated from one another in both time and space.  It’s better to do each in its own place and at its own time; and you’re going to bounce back and forth between them regularly. So will your students, if you run a MakerSpace — so it’s good to teach them that these two mindsets are lurking out there, waiting to catch them.  The risk is that brainstorming is expansive and cool, and you want to do everything out of a spirit of generosity; but Critique is pretty severe — it imposes limitations like cost and materials and power and supply chains on your design… and yet it’s good to make sure your amazing idea is possible in a real-world environment with both economic and technical limits.

Yet the idea worth pursuing is a confluence of those two ideas.  It’s what makes it uniquely your idea, that fiery vision that you decide to put into practice.  And that’s the golden-yellow circle at the center of the chart, our powerhouse, the driving force that gets us up in the morning.

But (and here we get into alchemical theory)… it’s important to remember that part of that vision of your product, or service, or program, is uniquely you.  It’s green, it’s Venus, it’s fecund, it’s generative, all those good things, in alchemical theory.  Here, I just call it Creativity, or my ideas.  This is what I’m bringing to the table.

On the other side, in orange, is Mercury.  And this is research.  IF your idea is going to come to fruition, or mine, it’s going to be based on a lot of other people’s work.  These box-books came from my research process on Pinterest, and this person at Martha Stewart who apparently thought up box-books.

Emerging from both of these — my general idea, fueled in part by my personal creativity, but also by my research interest in alchemy, my interest in Hermeticism, my current interest in studying the work that can be done with paper — is the idea of these specific box-books, each made with the intention of playing around with the idea of box-books in general, and their relationship to alchemical ideas in particular.

And finally, here they are. They’ve been Realized. They’ve been made real.  In part that was because they began as ideas, and I helped them become physical forms.  They’re not done yet. There’s more realization to be done around them.  But what began as a small creative idea, and an academic interest in learning more, has become something physicalized, manifest in reality.

And that’s kind of how Makers think.  I think.

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