HackSpace magazine

Meet the Maker: Jiří Praus

By Andrew Gregory. Posted

Free-form electrical circuits tick all the right boxes for us. The creativity, the sculptural quality, the fact that you’re passing an electrical current through a physical thing that you’ve made... all of this is great fun.

Anyone we’ve spoken to who has had a go at this art form always mentions one name as an inspiration: Jiří Praus. We caught up with Jiří to find out what it is about free-form electronics that inspires him.

“By day I’m a full stack developer. I’m part of a small team creating a platform for creative teams who want to be more effective. Making things is my hobby.

“Three years ago, I needed a special regulator for my home heating system, and the only one I could find was ridiculously expensive. So I bought an Arduino kit and started hacking. It was a great challenge to do low-memory, low-fat programming for me, as a Java developer.

“I read a quote along the lines that, to be a great developer, you need to design your own hardware. That stuck with me as a great challenge. And that was my first project. It was fun, useful, and a great start.

“I started looking around on the internet for other things I could do with the Arduino. One day I saw this great guy, Mohit Bhoite, the father of free-form electronics for me.

“It was winter, two years ago, and I got the idea to create a snowflake with this free-form art. It combined all the passions I have: the programming, electronics, and 3D construction. I put all my heart into it and created this free-form snowflake.

We still can’t quite get over the fact that this immaculate snow ake sculpture was his  first-ever free-form electronics project

LEARNING NEW THINGS

“First, you need proper tools, and the right materials to make nice joins. And then, of course, you need a lot of imagination to make all the connections properly. If you miss something, it’s really hard to repair – unlike a computer program where you can just fix the error. It’s pure creativity, which is why I love it.

“The second one, which I think to this day is still the most famous of them on the internet, is the mechanical tulip I made for Valentine’s day for my wife. That thing got a lot of attention.

“I love the freedom that comes with not doing it for money. I’m doing it for fun, so I only have to do the things that I really enjoy.”

“The Freeduino was a challenge of a friend of mine: ‘Hey, I saw this Arduino somebody made from wires [rather than a PCB]. It’s not that good-looking. What do you say?’ I said, ‘Challenge accepted, man!’ It works. Everything I do has to serve some purpose. I don’t like things that look nice but do nothing, so it actually works.

“For me, every project needs to give me something new. Some new concept or process, or something else new that I need to learn. For example, the tulip, there was a mechanical part. For the Freeduino, it was creating my first complicated circuit encased with epoxy.

The Freeduino is a fully functional, much prettier, clone of an Arduino Uno

“I was asked to do a workshop at Maker Faire Prague last year, so, to fit into one hour, I came up with these small badges, with a coin cell battery and a few LEDs in different shapes. You can make them in an hour, so they’re ideal for anyone who wants to have a go at free-form soldering.

THE PLAN IS... THERE IS NO PLAN

“What next? That’s a tricky question. I don’t make plans. When I plan things, it typically ends up a disaster. Or, I get bored and leave half-finished projects at the bottom of a drawer, because it’s no longer fun for me. My ideas come to me when I’m not looking for them: in the shower, in bed, and as soon as the idea comes, I have to start working on it. That’s what I do instead of planning for projects. I do plan to do more YouTube this year, though. I started two months ago, and I want to do more, and also to visit some more fairs and conferences this year.

“Making totally clears my mind. It helps me focus on work, and work helps me focus on my hobby. Those two things are totally different. While one part of my brain is relaxing, the second one is working. I hate to sit at home in the evening and watch TV. I can do that for an hour, maximum, but then my hands start looking for something to do. I therefore spend four hours a day on my projects, usually in the evenings – not every day, but most of the week.

“My message would be not to be afraid of trying something new. Just do it! You will fail, I guarantee it. I’ve failed loads of times, but I only ever show off my successes, because that’s what people share. That’s another reason I don’t like to share plans, because it normally ends up differently. But I fail big time. You’ll fail, but eventually you’ll make something great.”

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