Where Art and Design Education meets MakerEd


by Erin Riley -

Making knows no boundary between discrete disciplines in education. As innovation programs facilitate skill sharing and as makerspaces and fab labs become more common in schools, art programs can access exciting new tools for self-expression and design. 

At the recent NAEA Conference in Chicago, the volume of STEAM and makerspaces sessions was a testament to the growing knowledge base and enthusiasm for new technologies and materials available to young artists through Making. This is no surprise; many parallels can be drawn between the characteristics of Maker and Art and Design Education:

Art making and Making is student-centered

MakerEd and choice-based art studios put students in charge of their ideas and creative process. Learning environments rooted in TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) and constructionism are hubs for student-centered work.

Art making and making is meaningful

Students enjoy being engaged in processes that have an impact outside of themselves and that which have personal meaning. Design challenges that look outside the individual to solve problems encourage the development of empathy. Art making engages students to self-reflect and bring meaning through creation of an expressive object.

Share culture

The culture of makerspaces and fab labs promote sharing in the interest of advancing ideas. Designs from Thingiverse and Instructables are modified/reshared like an appropriated remix for others to build on.

Design is a common thread

Design weaves through fields of art, design, and engineering. The Elements and Principles of Design, Design Thinking, and Engineering Design Process are frameworks used by artists, designers and engineers to inform their practice.

Making and building use materials that employ the hands and it is inherently STEAM

Manipulating materials is spatial (math), understanding materials is science, and making with materials brings the physical language of STEM into the world to communicate an idea.

Failure is a necessary part of the process

Turning “mistakes into art” or working through an iterative cycle to improve an idea are necessary and provide opportunities for learning.

Celebrate the commonalities and let your makerspace/fab lab add to your art program

If you are fortunate enough to have a makerspace/fab lab at your school, allow it to introduce new possibilities for your art program.

2D/3D design and digital fabrication

Students using 2D vector design programs in the studio can fabricate their designs in the fab lab using the laser cutter, CNC router or vinyl cutter. Among the list of objects for art that can be generated include: printmaking plates, screen-printing stencils, and CNC drawn designs, laser paper cuts. The possibilities are endless.

Artwork using 2D fabrication (upper left-clockwise): vinyl cut stencils for screenprinting, laser cut wood prints, laser paper cuts, laser cut cars, paper cut lamp design (center) scanned drawing fabricated on the laser cutter.

Likewise, possibilities for 3D design and fabrication include: 3D CAD and scanning for the 3D printer and building 3D models from laser cut flat material or generating 3D positives for mold making.

3D artwork (upper left-clockwise): 3D model and print in sections, laser cut box with living hinge, scan and 3D print, 3D model and cardboard slice model, moldmaking.


Simple electronics can add beauty and meaning to a work of art. Paper circuits and e-textiles bring together technology and craft.

Art work using circuits (upper left-clockwise): Deconstructed book with LED stickers, circuit within book, 3D deconstructed book with LED stickers, hand-enameled card with paper circuit. 

Programming and Microcontrollers

Using programs like Turtle Art and Processing can empower students to use creative computation to generate 2D designs. Likewise, 3D forms can be animated and interactive art can be produced through the use of simple electronics and controller boards in artwork.

Art work using programming and microcontrollers (top): TurtleArt designs, (bottom left): Ardunio controlled gingerbread houses, (bottom right): student gear project.

Alternative Photography

Bringing together the wonder of electronics with long exposure photography is magical. The­­ traditional process of cyanotype can be modernized with stencils generated with the laser or vinyl cutter.

Alternative photo processes (left): long exposure photo with LEDs, (right): cyanotype using vinyl cut stencils.

Art work using low-tech materials (upper left-clockwise): Recycle pile, leather sketchbook covers, cutting a book, recycled paper for sketchbook, drawing in an upcycled sketchbook.

Art and Design Education meets MakerEd and at the intersection are possibilities

The art studio is a rich place for student growth as they master the tools and language for art and design and craft objects that hold meaning. With the building of STEAM programs in schools, creative disciplines merge and art programs gain access to an even wider set of tools and materials, further expanding the options and creative potential for young artists.