"Time Will Tell" music video is out.....

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Yes, after more than a year, the video I collaborated on with Lucy Schwartz is now out. My blog post about the production is here.

Enjoy...... and watch it full screen.

Thanks for looking,


Repairing a Nodder - March, 2011

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A few years back, when I was with Obsolete in Venice, CA, they asked me to look at a mechanical store display that a customer had purchased. The customer knew it wasn’t operational, but just loved the way it looked and bought it anyway. The piece was a paper mache man sitting on a stool, rubbing his foot.

Always up for a challenge, and anxious to get my hands on a unique piece, I couldn't wait until it got here. When it arrived, I poured over every inch of it. I would guess it was from the 40's or 50's but it could have been older. On the label was the name "Pytram Ltd" in New Malden, England. 

It had a pivot at the neck and a pendulum inside that made the head nod from side to side. Around back there were wires coming out of a small red box, some slightly rusty parts that seemed to pivot, a pendulum-like weight, and a few other unknown pieces.

Well after a day or so trying to figure out how to make it work again, I decided to called up some friends in the automata world and ask them. I called Dug North, who seems to know about everything old and new when it comes to automata. He first asked a collector of similar objects, but no luck. Dug suggested contacting Michael Start at the House of Automata, in Northern Scotland. I knew of Michael's work through the internet and his many videos of old automata on YouTube. I emailed him some pictures. 

Turns out, besides being a 220 volt (European voltage), the piece was missing some essential parts. I found out it's called a nodder, and is fairly rare. 

I, being a purest, always want to repair things to near original condition, but at this point the only thing I could do was to forget about what might have been there before, and redesign the mechanical parts. Since I could figure out what the movement was, all I needed to do was design a simple offset pin attached to a slow moving motor, to move the rod, which moves the head. 

Here is what I came up with – it’s fairly straightforward. I added a spring to ensure the lever would ride against the pin, this helps the head move back the other way. (The two notches allow easy access to the two bolts that hold the motor in.)

I also carved a wooden back to cover the opening, and painted it black to match the rest of the body.

The movies....


I like this kind of work....... but wouldn’t want to do it full-time.

By the way, the new owner was Sheryl Crow, a good customer of Obsolete. They wanted to surprise her by getting it back in working order. I hope she was surprised, and hope she appreciates my work.

Thanks for looking,


"Retrofit" - 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Retrofit is one of those indomitable figures, ready to take on, and surmount, any challenge.
The idea for this piece came from the "claw" I made for "Claude". It was way too big for Claude - he was a young boy - but I really liked the way the claw looked and moved. It has many loose fittings and it moves in a very dynamic way.

He measures 11" x 22" x x11" and is Available through Red Truck Gallery for $4640.

I added a pulley to his upper arm so when he pulls on the string his mechanical arm moves - the "bucket" end opens and shuts, then his whole arm raises up.

Love this shot. And I like his intense stare, as if he's really trying to figure out the best way to make this thing work....

Details shot of his "leg", and the spare parts. By adding these spare parts to the scene, I tried to give the impression that he's working on building his mechanical arm and leg. He's a very self-reliant kind of guy.

In-progress shots....

This is where I always start. Certain things needed to be plotted out before hand - like the tube in his leg - in which a line will run up to his chest, to move his arm.

So many pieces and parts to choose from. When building a piece like this, I go through all my found objects and pick out the ones I think look appropriate - then I lay them all out on the table. And I make my final choices as I build.

The leg in progress - almost done. I wanted it to be in the same style as the arm.

The "claw" that was left over. The only addition was the pulley on the left.

Here I'm testing the position and movement of the arm.

All the parts - before his head and arms, etc were painted.

After painting, and after making the clothes. You can see the two "doors" which will cover the opening in his torso. His arm moves via the lever inside his chest.

I will post a movie soon......

Thanks for looking.


"Ruffian" - 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

 Since I've been exploring more sinister characters, I went back over my many notes and sketches, and discovered I had this idea of a man wielding a knife for some time.... 

He measures 9" x 20" x 8" and is $ 4850. from Red Truck Gallery.

I'm very happy with the way he turned out. He moves his knife from side to side and his head turns side to side too. The movie is posted at the bottom.

The base is an old box I found at a flea market. It's just big enough for the mechanism to fit inside.

I like this composition, (if I do say so myself).

Side view.

His head came out pretty much as I imagined - and I love it.

In progress shots.....

I started - like I always do - with the legs and the torso. Since I wanted all the mechanisms to be internal, I needed rods in each leg to run 2 lines up to his chest.

His torso hollowed out, and carved.

The hands after cutting the rough shape on the bandsaw. Next step is hours of carving. The hole on the right hand is for the knife.

As I sculpt the head from polymer clay, his personality starts to emerge.....

The finished head - scowl and all.

His body - ready for paint.

I wanted his head to rotate smoothly so I used 2 roller bearings stacked on top of each other.

Finding the perfect springs for the mechanism - it's nice to have a collection to pick from.

There are 2 springs inside his chest - one for the head and one for the arm. After this shot, I closed up his chest with 2 pieces of heavy card stock,  cut to fit.

My drawing of the mechanisms. Usually I only draw out what I need. This piece was more of a challenge because the box I chose for the base was rather small.

The mechanism is usually upside down (like this) as I work on it. I made it so it would slip into the lid once everything was figured out, and fabricated.

I glued the mechanism assembly into the "lid" and then mounted the figure. This is where I figure out the subtleties of the movement, and the shape of each cam.

Everything is done, and now I just have to add a power cord and insert this assembly into the base.

The cams and levers. Nowadays I try to use bearings for any moving part. Here you can see 3 of them.

A shot of his shoes...

His handmade knife.

The movie.........

Thanks for looking!


"The Usual Suspects" - 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

You may have noticed I've recently begun to move my work towards a more shadier side of life. I've always been fascinated with characters - underdogs, the downtrodden - but also, more recently, I've been curious about small time criminals and people just struggling to get by. (Who hasn't been inspired by the characters in some of Tom Wait's songs?) I'm excited to explore this side of the human condition - and can't wait to see where this exploration might take me. Stay tuned!
This piece sort of popped into my head all at once - a police line-up with many seedy characters. I thought it'd be intriguing to have so many personalities in one scene. These men are all in the same situation; each dealing with it in their own way. And each figure has a different movement to convey their feelings.

Making this piece was like making 5 pieces at once. Everything took sooooo long - 10 hands, 10 arms, 10 legs, 10 shoes - and all the clothes that go with 5 figures. I really didn't save any time on making multiple pieces, except maybe some of the mechanical parts. I have over 250 hours in this piece.
It measures 32" x 21.5" x 8.5" and is currently available from Red Truck Gallery for $18,500. It's powered by a 4.8 RPM gearmotor.

There's the final shot of the completed piece. The base is also made from scratch - the top is actually a board salvaged from the basement of our building.

A closer shot. Each figure moves in it's own unique way- see the video at the bottom of this post.

Another shot. The guy closest to the camera points to the others, as if to say, "It wasn't me!"

Left to right - the heads. 
I like how the cigar adds to his guy's character. I grew up with a neighbor who always chompin' on a stogie, and looked a bit like this guy.

This guy is sort of the hippie of the group - his hair was inspired by a friend's hairstyle. 

The most normal looking guy in the line up. (It's always the one you least suspect.) He holds a piece of rusty pipe in his hand.

This guy's a bit flamboyant, but that's okay. A good friend hand-knitted his scarf out of kite string, using 2 toothpicks as needles.

The last guy - he's not happy one bit.

One of the last things I did was to carve this newspaper, (the guy needed a newspaper in his hand). One of the headlines reads, "Crime Spree".

In-progress images........

Just starting out. Some of the torsos, legs and shoes are carved. Much work ahead.....

More progress..... I pretty much use basswood all the time.

The majority of hands where not holding anything, and I carved all of these in one day. No power tools are used; I do it all the old-fashioned way - with knives and small chisels. And sandpaper.

Eight of the 10 arms. Some had to be weighted with lead so they would "swing" when the body moved.

After all the carving is done, the last part of the body to be made are the heads. I usually work on heads one at a time - but with this piece, I wanted to keep the heads relatively the same size - so I roughed them all out at the same time.

The finished heads - sculpted from polymer clay. 

The bodies, waiting for their clothes to be made --- then on to painting. At this point all of the internal mechanisms have been figured out.

All the clothes are made. (I took this shot so I could remember who's wearing what.)

I always "wash" the clothes in a watery mix of raw umber to age them down. Then I hang them up to dry.

And I paint while the clothes dry. 

When painting, these magnifiers really help me see all the tiny details. They're indispensable to me now, I use them a lot, in every aspect of fabrication.

The heads - painted, aged, and lightly sanded. I also give them a coat of paste wax.

The mechanisms.....

I made 3 of the levers the same. (It saved a bit of time.) These levers will pull down on a line to move various parts. I use precision bearing whenever I can; you can see 3 of them here.

These two levers control the last guy on the left. The lever with a "3" on it, moves his arm, and the other one moves his head back and forth. (The cams, that work these levers, are not in place yet.)

The 8 cams are ready to be installed in the base. This is after days and days of figuring out each movement, and mechanism. All this work is from scratch, using the trial and error method, which is pretty time consuming - but it's the only way to do it.

The cam assembly.  You see 2 more precision bearings here. These bearings will never need oil and will last for decades, probably longer. (I love them.)

The cam assembly installed. Here you see the cams and levers which control the first 3 guys. The gearmotor, that powers the piece, is all the way to the left, (you can see the wires).

After the piece was completed, my gallery owner, Noah, suggested I make a back piece to complete the  police line-up feel. It is slightly shorter than the base.

 Another shot of the back piece.

I made a movie of this piece. I want to make a "making of" video too, but have not yet. Enjoy.

Thanks for looking.