On a recent trip to Vancouver, I visited the Vancouver Hack Space (which is awesome, by the way), just to see what local makers were doing. There I met a soft-spoken guy named Aaron Bleackley who introduced himself as the creator of “the greatest spirographs in the world.” Wait, what? Is that really a thing?
Spirographs were invented in the late nineteenth century by mathematician and electrical engineer Bruno Abakanowicz, but didn’t become a popular toy until the 1960s. They allow you to create a wide range of kaleidoscopic designs by putting your pen into one of many holes in a set of interlocking gears, then using your pen to push the gears around an outer ring. I hadn’t used one since elementary school, but Bleackley’s passion reminded me of how satisfying it was to watch those amazing designs appear under my pencil.
The best part is that Bleackley wasn’t kidding with his humble boast. He’s the creator of Wild Gears, a company that makes several spirograph sets that are guaranteed to please your mathy, artsy, weirdness-loving mind. He prototypes his acrylic gears using a laser cutter at the Vancouver Hack Space, and fans can order his kits through the Ponoko store.
A former environmental chemist, Bleackley has so far funded his work with two extremely successful Kickstarter campaigns. His work is beloved by the spirograph community on YouTube, and his goal is always to create bigger and better designs (he’s got a tutorial on 1001 things you can do with spirographs here).
Bleackley told Ars that people like his gears because they’re transparent, so you can see the art emerging as you make it. But mostly they love the nutty creativity of his gears, which come in basic round gear sets, but also in “strange” shapes and snap-together pieces that allow you to create your own gears. One of his recent sets even does something that spirograph fans thought impossible: it allows you to create parallel lines in your design.
Watching Bleackley’s spirograph videos made me realize that this art form is an even geekier and more satisfying version of the adult coloring book craze. You can make your own geometrical shapes, then color them in. It’s an incredibly soothing activity that engages your mind and results in very cool images.