The Art of Tinkering – Book Review

Art of Tinkering - Book Review

We were sent a free copy of The Art of Tinkering to review, but all ideas shared here are our own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Last year I had the good fortune of getting my hands on a copy of The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich. Karen and I went to the same grad school (different years), and she invited me to join her in a virtual hangout last year, Engaging Children with Making and Tinkering, but it wasn’t until last month that we finally met. And I was lucky enough to have her and Mike sign my book!

Art of Tinkering - Book Review

Karen and Mike work at The Tinkering Studio at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, where Karen is The Tinkering Studio’s Director and Mike is the Director of the Making Collaborative. In this capacity the two of them interact with countless artists, designers, and tinkerers who invent, build, and construct wondrous things.

The book includes behind-the-scenes peeks at the creations and inventions of 150+ makers who work at the intersection of art, science, and technology.

It’s laid out beautifully and artistically, just as you would hope a book like this would be. Each turn of the page presents the eyes with a feast of tools, textures, and materials that make you want to reach right into the book and play.

The project ideas are introduced with examples of artworks that exemplify the technique, and then followed up with a how-to, so you’re not left wondering how on earth you can tap into what seems like magic.

Take a look:

Art of Tinkering Inside Pages - Book Review

Putting it into Practice

While this book caters to an adults audience, grownups with kids in their lives will find plenty of useful takeaways. So, I sat down with my older daughter (then 5-years old) and after MUCH looking she was most inspired by the toothpick sculptures of artist Scott Weaver.

Weaver creates elaborate sculptures made of thousands of toothpicks, and you can learn more about him on the Exploratorium website.

We learned that his mega-artwork, Rolling Through the Bay (see below), a model of San Francisco itself, is made up of roughly 100,000 toothpicks, the only glue that’s holding it together is Elmer’s, and it took the artist about 3,000 hours to make…over a period of 34 years!

One more thing. Do you see those tiny balls at the bottom of the sculpture? To give you a sense of scale, those are ping pong balls that run through pathways in the sculpture.

Art of Tinkering Toothpick Sculpture - Book Review

Fully inspired, we pulled out our collection of colorful toothpicks, our trusty low-heat glue gun (neither of us had the patience for Elmer’s on this day), and started to build. My daughter was thinking more geometrically, and we started gluing squares together, which soon turned into pyramids.

Toothpick Sculpture - Art of Tinkering

And then, what began as a series of squares and triangles somehow turned into a crown! My daughter added some ribbon to tie it around her head, and voila!

Toothpick Sculpture - Art of Tinkering

The toothpick sculpture is just one idea of many that has sparked dialogue and ideas in our home. The marble run page is wild and wonderful, and will give you a feeling for the Exploratorium itself.

Every few pages highlights a different tinkerer and his or her craft, along with plenty of inspiration and ideas for diving right in, material lists included! It’s not a how-to book in the traditional sense, but for anyone who likes to borrow ideas from the makers themselves, this book is a treasure and will not disappoint!

Order The Art of Tinkering

The Art of Tinkering on Amazon

More about the Exploratorium

Visit the Exploratorium

See our review of the book Exploralab, 150+ Ways to Investigate the Amazing Science All Around You

I was fortunate to hold my book launch party at Helix, a temporary outpost of The Exploratorium in Los Altos, CA.

The Exploratorium’s Education page has a host of valuable resources for home tinkerers and educators.

You can search part of their site for videos that explore all sorts of science + art phenomena.

Recommended Supplies

Our favorite low-heat glue gun


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