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handheld Welcome — Make Like Picasso

Recently I came across a quotation about making things, attributed to Pablo Picasso. I found it in a wonderful, hand-lettered how-to book from 1973 called Nomadic Furniture 1: How to Build and Where to Buy Lightweight Furniture That Folds, Inflates, Knocks Down, Stacks, or Is Disposable and Can be Recycled, by James Hennessey and Victor Papanek.

Here’s what Picasso said: “When you make a thing, a thing that is new, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly. But those that make it after you, they don’t have to worry about making it. And they can make it pretty, and so everybody can like it when the others make it after you.”

Picasso was right, and the authors of Nomadic Furniture were wise to quote him, because a lot of the furniture pieces in the book are functionally clever, but they’re eyesores. That’s not surprising for first generation, proof-of-concept prototypes. The authors included the quote as a challenge to the reader: we worked hard to design this easy-to-build furniture, now it’s up to you to improve on what we’ve create and make it look pretty.

Some of the projects in MAKE aren’t beautiful to look at. They do what they’re supposed to do, but they lack aesthetic appeal. I know that many makers are more interested in function than in form, because the challenge of getting something to work the way you imagined it can be an all-consuming activity. That’s great, but when you create something that’s amazing, it makes sense to honor it by endowing it with physical appeal, too.

The object shown here is an example of an attractive package for a neat homebrew gadget called the Multari (retroactive.be/multari). It’s a handheld Atari 2600 clone built and designed by a teenager named Marshall H. from Kansas. Marshall packaged the circuitry for the Multari in a vacuum-formed styrene plastic case, and it looks terrific. (To create your own vacuum-formed 3D parts, check out MAKE, Volume 11, page 106, for instructions on setting up a Kitchen Floor Vacuum Former.)

Throughout his life, Picasso never stopped challenging himself to learn new ways of doing things. Why not challenge yourself by learning how to make your creations look better?

Here are three more pieces of good advice often attributed to Picasso (found on paintalicious.org) about becoming a better maker:

1. “He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.”

2. “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

3. “Action is the foundational key to all success.”

Have you come up with a way to make your projects look pretty? We’d love to see them. Please show us at makezine.com/14/welcome.

Mark Frauenfelder

Mark Frauenfelder is the editor-in-chief of Make magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.


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