"Au Contraire" - A Commission - June and July, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I know it's been a while since I posted anything new. (Can you tell I've been busy?)

Here's a commissioned piece I did a while back. The client, who is in the wine business, saw my piece "Steadfast" at Red Truck Gallery in New Orleans, and thought a different version would be a perfect way to depict one of his wine labels. The label has an elephant and a mouse on a see-saw, and the wine is called "Au Contraire".

When thinking about how to approach this piece, I thought it might be overly complicated to get the elephant and mouse to move, they way the figures do on "Steadfast". But then I realized the movement wasn't essential to the overall piece, because the motion would be so slight. I also realized the real challenge with this piece was to make the elephant as light as possible. It had to be in scale with the label, but not so heavy that it would make it impossible for a motor to move it. I pondered using different materials - paper mache, fiberglas and resin, and others. Since I am a wood person, I decide to take the challenge, and carve it out of a block of wood. The hollowing out of the inside would be labor-intensive and testing at times, but it worked out well.

I will show you the in-progress photos first, then the finished piece.........

Here's the label the piece was based on. I even incorporated the colors in the final piece.

I glued up this huge, and heavy, chunk of basswood to begin with. It weighed about 18 lbs. at this stage.

Roughing it out. The block just barely fit in my bandsaw - it's approximately 6" x 13" x 15"

Taking off chunks at a time.....

Into carving - with chisels and gouges. All done by hand. BTW - I don't use power carvers - for me, too much dust and not enough control. And there's nothing more satisfying than a sharp chisel cutting through a piece of wood.

Almost there. (Not bad for a self-taught carver.)
Next is cutting it in half and hollowing it out; I've gotta get the weight down. 

 I cut it in half so I could carve out the inside. I began with various drills, which was a little slow, but it worked.

After using the drills to get rid of the wood,  I bought this rotary rasp and it really helped remove the wood. I couldn't carve it out by hand because of the way the grain was running - straight up and down. I think this was the only way to do it. Also I had to be careful not to cut through to the other side. I had a few 'incidents' but I easily glued small chunks into the holes - and kept going.

The carved elephant weighed in at about 9 lbs. After carving out the inside it was down to about 2.5 lbs. I will add a weight to the other side of the teeter-totter to make compensate for the weight difference.

To glue the elephant back together, I added 4 blocks to align the two halves. They also help to hold it together.

Finished elephant. I added the ears, tusks, eyes, tail, and finished the trunk - all basswood; saturated with thin CA glue for added strength.

The pivot for the teeter-totter. The rod that moves the plank comes up through the center, and two hinges are inserted on either side. Again, this is basswood.

Here I'm testing the weight and balance - and the position of the figures on the plank.

After carving the mouse, I added the tail; made from a tapered brass rod and covered with sawdust to add texture. His eyes were glued on.

Here is the pocket I carved, into which I will add that 2.75 lbs lead weight seen on top. This will balance out the elephant - which will make things easier on the motor that moves it.

In-progress. Right before I painted the final three pieces. Here I'm testing out the movement and the clearances - again. As you can see, I covered the top of the base with tin, attached many small nails.

I projected the logo and painted it onto the base. I felt like an old-timey sign painter., and I think it came out great.

Done painting and aging. I like how the texture from all the files and rasps stand in for the texture of the skin.

Love this color and texture - it's just what I was hoping for.

And I think the mouse came out pretty swell too.

The final image. The piece measures 40" x 25" x 8".

The elephant - I'm very happy the way he came out. I had my doubts in the beginning, but I even impressed myself with the final results.

The mouse. (He's a bit out of scale to the elephant but, again, I was going by the artwork on the label.) 

 I thought this shot was nice - the meek little mouse vs. the behemoth pachyderm.

The pivot point. (Though after it was all painted and aged, I realized I sort of flipped the colors.) I still love it.

Here's something interesting -----> while rough cutting the elephant, I found this lead bullet in the wood. This is the first time I've found one.  I've heard stories of golden bullets found in wood from South America..... still looking for one of those.

 Thanks for looking!


"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 represented by 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!