Gathan Beaga

Bella and Rosa try Ponoko

With all this crap weather lately, the weekends can drag a bit. The girls often ask to get out the old iBook (“Bella & Rosa’s rorohiko” says the label on it) and visit their favourite websites over and over and over again.

A couple of weekends ago I’d finally had enough of the sound effects of Elmo’s Potty time and Puppy In My Pocket. You can actually use a computer for more than just games (passive entertainment) or work (drudgery), I told them, you can actually make things too. (I’d been meaning to have this conversation with them for a while: but having seen Mr Reasonable’s blog posting the whole idea was front-of-mind again.)

This took a bit of explaining. They’d already had some contact with Ponoko – Becky has been doing stuff with Ponoko since it started – so Bella cottoned on quickly. Her idea was to make some special necklaces that she and her best friends (“the Secret Sisters”) could wear. We got Inkscape running, and she quickly used the Draw Freehand Lines and Fill Bounded Lines tools to draw what she wanted.

I had to take it the rest of the way. Using the Stroke to path tool I could change her outlines into something the laser could etch, and then added a cut line around the outside and a hole for the necklace to attach to. Clone by four, and there we had it. We uploaded it to Ponoko, where Bella chose clear perspex as the material. Five days later, she had it her hands, and she was well stoked. (Unfortunately, I can’t show the results, as these remain highly secret.)

The next weekend, it was Rosa’s turn. Being a bit younger I found she had a little frustration with using the mouse, trackpad or even the drawing tablet to draw directly into Inkscape. So she drew what she wanted on a piece of paper and I traced this into Inkscape using the drawing tablet. Again, I used the “stroke to path” tool to create thick lines that the laser could etch, and added cut lines around the outside (this time using the handy Offset tool to do these). Rosa chose clear perspex for her material, and she got her work back earlier this week:

Bella and Rosa meet Ponoko

What you see is a small self-portrait, a dog, and a cat. All that’s waiting now is the addition of loops and chains. Like Bella, Rosa is stoked with the results.

So it all turned out well, and both girls are thinking about what to do next.

And while I suppose it’s a little debatable how much of the technical effort here actually belongs to the girls, the creative effort is theirs alone, and that’s the main thing. They both feel like they’ve made things using the computer whose reality matched their creative vision. This can only lead to good in future, as their technical abilities catch up with their creative abilities.

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