Jess Weichler is a media arts educator from Pittsburgh and the founder of MakerBox, a group that facilitates workshops for kids and teens in the fields of science, technology and art. On November 4, she will be bringing the It’s Electric! workshop to Maker Faire Wellington where you can interact with her ‘Living Circuits’ art piece!
“I’m an eclectic maker,” Jess explains. “I love combining art, crafts, technology, and science to create interactive art.” Jess is a firm believer that knowledge should be open to all and says, “Accessibility is really important to me, so all my favourite projects use common objects anyone can get ahold of, like cardboard and items repurposed from the tip shop.” In fact, Jess’ first Maker project was a robot penguin made out of recycled boxes. By using a Hummingbird Robotics Kit, Jess was able to bring the penguin to life with LED eyes and the ability to say, ‘hello’ when your turned a knob. “I still think it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever made!”
In her younger years, Jess found herself naturally drawn to Making and art. “I love creating, experimenting, and learning new things. I learn best through hands-on activities, so it was only logical that I would be attracted to Making.” However, it wasn’t until she was 23 that she became involved in the Maker community. “When I was a kid there was no ‘Maker movement’… At the time the Maker community was just starting to take off, with lots of free and low-cost Maker spaces for kids and teens in the city.” Jess was teaching at a film and arts centre in Pittsburgh at the time which enabled her to visit these Maker spaces, learning and gaining inspiration from the other participants.
When asked about the fellow Makers who have inspired her passions, Jess says, “I’ve had so many teachers over the years, it’s difficult to list everyone who helped me become the Maker I am today.” Perhaps her biggest influence is her childhood art teacher, Carol Salyers. “She taught me all about the great artists of the past, but also encouraged me to find my own style and to be myself.” Jess is also inspired by the young people that she teaches. “It was a group of 8 year olds that first taught me how to code in Scratch. If it wasn’t for them I probably never would have had the courage to learn how to program.”
Jess’ work is all about engaging people with science and technology through art. “I get inspired thinking about how others will interact with my work and what they might learn from it.”
Her advice for aspiring Makers? “Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back from Making! You don’t need expensive robot kits, fancy tools, or a university education to create amazing things. Take apart old electronics to harvest the parts, salvage some cardboard boxes from the recycling bin, learn how to code online. Just go for it!”
Join Jess at Maker Faire Wellington on November 4 for her It’s Electric! workshop and make your own light up creation to take home!
By Ariane Galope