Motion, Mechanisms and Work: An Introduction to Basic Mechanical Design for Art and DIY

Instructor: Michael Kontopoulos

3 Sessions
Sunday Jan 3rd, 2-5pm
Wednesday Jan 6th, 7-10pm
Saturday Jan 9th, 2-5pm

Sorry, sold out.


Making a project move or effect the physical world is an exciting prospect, but stops many creative people in their tracks. Physical computing platforms such as Arduino are a great place to begin learning about collecting data and/or using actuators such as motors. Often times, however, the emerging hobbyist or media artist will become frustrated by limitations: “I know how to control this motor, but how can I use it to animate the arms of a doll?” Or mechanize the flapping wings of a wooden bird? Or 100 birds?

This workshop will serve as an introduction to simple machines, linkages, couplings, basic mechanism and how all of these combine into more complex machines. We will cover many critical concepts including levers, block & tackle, gears, work, force, machine elements, and most important, translation of force. Focus will be on creative applications.

Workshop hours will be divided between lecture, demo and labs with a small final project in the end. The workshop will be almost entirely analog. We will be focusing on materials, methods and applications; When combined with physical computing savvy, these skills will help bring your ideas to life!

Michael Kontopoulos is a Los Angeles based artist-designer-tinkerer, and a recent graduate of the MFA program at UCLA’s Design | Media Arts program. His personal work mixes the media of sculpture, physical computing, programming, and video.

>> No physical computing knowledge is necessary. Rotating elements will be provided for the
final project.
>> Some tools and materials will be provided; Others will be brought in by each participant, as
>> Comfort with tools (cutting, sanding, drilling), geometry, physics are a plus. Craftiness and
visual thinking skills are a huge plus.


Here’s a rough outline of what to expect (subject to adjustment):
Day 1
Back to high school physics, but without math this time.
Classes of simple machines. Uses, Applications in Industry, Design and Art…
Levers, Pulleys, Wheels, Gears, Screws, Planes & Wedges, etc.
Prompts distributed for Final Project.
Day 2

Demystifying machine elements (i.e. Learning the proper words for “doodad” and “whirlimajig”)
Overview of Bearing, Springs, Linkages, Couplings….
The uses of mechanisms: Translating Motion, Gaining force, Gaining speed.
Turning rotary motion into linear motion, Changing direction of force, Cams, Irregular motion.
Work, Power and Force
Group presentation / discussion of final project proposals. Don’t worry! At this point you are
only expected to provide concepts and ideas. We will talk about the technical ways to execute the
project. This isn’t a critique; it’s a discussion.
Day 3
Work Day! Execution and Documentation of Final Projects.
Extensions: Going beyond the prototype…

Note: With each lecture and demo, I will be showing A TON of examples of mechanical motion
in: The machines around us, Notable DIY projects, Fancy-pants Artworks, Funny online videos.
The goal of the workshop is to demystify the concept of mechanisms, give you an overview of
construction options, and the vocabulary for extending your experiments beyond the workshop.

Refund policy:
Please note, all class fees include a non-refundable enrollment deposit of $25 that will be deducted from your refund if you sign up for, then drop, a class. So, for example, if you sign up for Machine Sewing 101 and pay the $155 class fee, but then remember that you have trapeze school final exams that conflict with the Sewing class and shouldn’t have signed up after all, we will refund you $130 of your tuition payment.
Gift certificate purchase:

If you have a Machine Project gift certificate you’d like to redeem for a class, please email us at and let us know.