Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Diagnostics" - 2016 - A Commission About Automotive Repair

This might be a lengthy post, as it took 2 months to build this commissioned piece. Stick with me, I will try to make it interesting.

Back in November, my client contacted me and told me he was interested in a piece about the automotive repair business. After some discussion, we came up with this idea - a piece with a souped up sports car, whose owner is a little baffled why the humble mechanic can't seem to find out why it's not running well. So as the mechanic tries to diagnose the problem, the customer watches and waits with a look of indignation. The commentary is my client's notion that many of today's customers don't understand how complicated motor cars have become. They aren't designed and built like they were 50 years ago.

The final images are first - scroll down to see the in-progress pictures.

The piece measure 15" x 28" x 12", and is operated by the red button on the right.

I wanted to give the viewer the idea that the scene is set in a repair shop, without have to build the whole shop. I added the tires here and a service counter on the other side.

The mechanic is a little overwhelmed by the overly-complicated engine. His heads turns as he ponders the problem.

The engine sputters and the mechanic nervously bangs on it, trying to diagnose the problem.

As the customer reads his paper, he glances over and finally shakes his head at the mechanic's apparent ineptness. 

A closer shot of his paper.

An overhead shot of the sports car, showing the interior and overall finish. I was very happy with the way it turned out.

The Build...

Starting out, I foolishly thought I could go to an antique store or do a search for an appropriate sports car on eBay. No such luck. I knew exactly what I wanted, but couldn't find it. After a while, I realized I had to make it myself. 

So this is what I did first - I built myself a sports car. It was loosely based on a 1974 Maserati Khamsin because I found a nice drawing of it online.

Following the drawing, I started out with 4 pieces of basswood, and went from there.

I carved most of the detail by hand - and did a lot of sanding to get them just right.
Here I'm adding the roof. The back section, which includes the roof, was not glued on until much later, as I needed access to the interior.

The roof is finalized, as are the 2 post. It was very challenging to figure out these 2 (seemingly simple) post. They had to be as strong as possible and they had to hold the windshield and the 2 side windows - and they are curved in 2 directions btw.

After I found these hubs at a RC hobby store, I turned the 4 tires out of basswood to fit them. (I didn't want to make the hubs by hand, and didn't have any found objects to stand in for them.)
I also finished the interior, and started to flush out the interior of the engine compartment.

I've started to paint the interior, and I antiqued the hubs and tires.

Here I'm starting on the engine. 
I needed to hide the gearmotor inside, and to figure out how the wires were going to run. 
You can see the windshield here, which took lots of time to figure out it's size and shape. I made it out of plexiglas that was heated and formed over a mold that I carved from wood.
Also, the whole car got a red paint job, and then I antiqued and distressed the finish like I always do.

Here I'm about halfway through building the engine. The engine has many moving parts, and it stops and starts on cue. As you can see, I have yet to antique any of the shiny metal parts.

Here's the engine finished and all antiqued down. I had to make the whole engine removable in case anyone ever has to replace the gearmotor.

The figures....

Next up was to make the 2 figures - the mechanic, who is hammering on the engine, and the customer, reading his paper and watching the mechanic ply his trade.
Since both of their heads turn, a rod runs up one leg to their head. A line runs up the other leg that operates the arms.

One of the customer's hands is finished; and one to go. These are hand-caved from basswood.

Their bodies and their heads, (sculpted from polymer clay), are ready for paint. The 4
covers are to protect the mechanisms inside their chests.

The mechanic, ready to be assembled. (I design and hand make all of my clothes btw.)

The customer is ready as well. ( I love his smirk.)

The mechanism inside the customer's chest. As the string pulls down, the customer raises his newspaper. As you can see, the rod for his head runs right through the same area, so the rod for his arms had to be cut in half.

The figures are finished and ready to be added to the scene.

Starting the mechanism.
I knew I needed  4 cams to control all the action, and a switch that controlled the 'on and off' of the engine - the green momentary switch (seen here) will do that.

The cam followers on the ends of the levers are precision bearings. They will never need to be lubricated and will (pretty much) last forever.

After many, many days of challenging work, it's all finished. (The arm that holds on the cam stack has been remove in this picture.)

Here is one of my many drawings - this one is for the timing of all the action - the figures and the motor.

The cams are all cut and ready to be assembled into the cam stack. The one on the lower right also contains the 'cam' for the (green) engine switch. And the one on the upper left is the timing cam for the whole scene. As the red button is pushed, it raises a small rod (out of that small notch on top) and turns on the motor by way of another momentary switch. Toward the end of the cycle, as the notch comes around, the small rod drops into the notch, and disengages from the momentary switch - turning the whole thing off.

The cam stack in the base. (Again, the arm is removed in this picture.)

Here are the tires I turned out of basswood. They are stacked behind the customer in the scene.

Here is the movie - it's best to view it full screen

Thanks for looking!


Friday, March 25, 2016

"Perpetual Motion - Contemporary Interpretations of Fine Art Automata" Opens April 16th at Heron Arts in San Francisco

Since becoming a full time artist in 2000, I thought it would be amazing to have a show of all kinetic, figurative pieces - a show of artists that do work similar to mine. Thanks to the internet, I have discovered many artists that make automata; and they have discovered me. (And the word automata seems to be coming more and more recognizable here in the US. Over in Europe and the UK, automata is a pretty common term. People understand what it is. Over here, when I say I make automata, people get this blank look on their faces...... until I say it's figurative, kinetic artwork.)

The show opens April 16th, 2016 at Heron Arts, 7 Heron Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
***  Opening Reception is from 7 - 10pm   ***

More info here. Heron Arts is open Weds-Sat 3-7pm, and the show will be up until May 14th.

How it came to be.........

Last summer, Noah Antieau from Red Truck Gallery, asked if I would co-curate an automata show. Since the idea has been simmering in the back of my head, I jumped at the chance. My list of artists was pretty much a no-brainer, though I did do a little research to make sure I wasn't missing anyone. I made a short list, Noah made his picks from my list, and we whittled our roster down to 10. These 10 artists were culled from all over the globe. Most are multi-talented creators of fine kinetic sculpture. Working in various materials, these artists aim to tell stories with their work. Not satisfied with just the ability to make a static sculpture move, the artists push their audiences to examine - and interpret - the narrative of each piece for themselves.

Our Artists......

Dean Lucker and Ann Wood, USA   A husband and wife team in Minneapolis, who have been working together since 1987; they make a variety of beautiful kinetic pieces that range from simple to complex. Sometimes personal, sometimes fictional - their elegant work is highly captivating; and prized by collectors.

Thomas Kuntz, USA  A super-talented creator living in Los Angeles, CA. A master of the 'old way' of making automata, Thomas has the skills of a jeweler, the dexterity of a clock maker, and the eye of a fine sculptor. He uses many antique devices to fabricate incredibly intricate tableaux.  Highly regarded as a maestro in his field, his automata work was recently featured in Guillermo del Toro's latest movie, "Crimson Peak".

Paul Spooner, UK  Paul has been creating amazing works of whimsy out of Stithians, Cornwall for the past 35 years. He often makes delightful, and insightful, wooden figures - propelled by ingenious mechanical devices. Paul’s work combines humor and an obsessive attention to detail, with delightful and intriguing mechanisms.

Richard Landon, USA  Though new to the field of automata, Richard has spent many years as a special effects expert for the film industry. His many credits include work on Edward Scissorhands', Jurassic Park, Aliens, Life of Pi, and The Terminator.

Chris Fitch, USA
  A multi-disciplined artist from the Boston area. Chris' creations include a large range of kinetic works, using a variety of materials. He doesn't limit his imagination, or his choice of mediums, to pursue his ever-reaching aspirations.

David Archer, AUS   Based in Adelaide, South Australia. Conceptually, much of David’s work is concerned with social comment approached through humor, but always with the human element to the fore. Recent work has included several electric coin-operated fortune-telling machines, along with intriguing electric working models, such as “George” the mechanical drinking monkey.

Pat Keck, US  Another artist who's been perfecting her craft for many years, Pat works stark figures in wood and then has them set in motion. Striking in appearance, Pat's figures seem to inhabit a strange detached world of their own. She is based in Massachusetts, and has been known to cut her own trees down to supply her needs for large sections of wood.

Nemo Gould, USA Working out of his studio in Oakland, CA, Nemo uses select found objects to create his movable sculptures. His style is unmistakably shiny and polished, as his choice of materials is usually aluminum or steel. He also loves to include found motors, select lighting, mechanical devices, and other bits of gadgetry.

I will have pieces in the show too.

This showcase - the collected works of this amazing group of talented artists, in one location, at one time - is something that has not happened before in the US. It's going to be amazing to see all the pieces together - we will exhibiting about 20 all together. If you're anywhere near San Francisco, or can get there, you'll want to check out this show.

Thanks for looking,


Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Seeker" - A Gothic Hot Rod - 2016

Heading into 2016, I began to think how I could make my work a little more edgier. I've mentioned this once or twice before on this blog, so it's not really a new idea for me. It's the way my brain works - things have to stew a while. 

In thinking about a new cast of characters, I researched a bit, but mostly relied on my life-long memories, as I often do. Things began to pop into my head - The Munsters, The Addams Family, Big Daddy Roth and Rat Fink. Hot rods, drag strips, and seedy hangouts permeated. Since I'd done very few vehicles in the past, and had never done a car piece..... I wanted to do a hot rod! How fun and interesting I thought this idea was - I could make a vehicle with little attention to how an actual car was made up. The sky's the limit!  I like when the sky's the limit - it lets me dream. 

Believe it or not, the whole concept for the hot rod came from a small jewelry "cabinet" I found at a thrift shop years ago. I had two of them at one time. One became the basis for my piano piece, "Crescendo", so I still had one floating around my studio. It was already black and a bit gothic looking, and I thought, "That would make a great seat for a hot rod".

This is how I came up with "The Seeker". The final piece measures 21" x 12" x 20", and is Currently Available for $11,900. It is now showing at Red Truck Gallery, in New Orleans, LA.

The images.

I really love how this piece turned out. After almost 200 hours of hand-building, retrofitting found objects, and tweaking every last inch, it surpassed my high hopes - the hopes I have for every piece I make.

The colors, the figure, the engine, the passenger compartment, the wheels, even the base; I thought all turned out very good.

A little closer shot. The 3 lines going down to the base are the 3 'strings' that control the motion of the figure.

As you can tell, the figure turns his head. There's a small lever in his chest, that moves when the 'string' is pulled, and a small spring that moves it back when it's released.

Since his body is on an angle, his head and neck are on an angle. This makes for a much more dynamic head movement.

A side view. (BTW this piece looks good from every angle.) One of the most challenging parts of his movement was his left hand. I wanted to make him steering the wheel. (In actuality, the wheel moves his hand.) The position of the wheel, the position of his arm, and the constraints of the 'cockpit', all made the movement a bit limited. Also, he had to have a complex 2-way joint at his wrist. It allowed his hand to flex in one direction, but also, twist as the wheel turned.

A straight-on shot. 

A shot of the rear of the hot rod. The back tires are 6" x 1 3/4". And I love the little oval window in the back.

The front end. 
All the components were mounted on a half inch piece of wood, and all the details had to be just right. The bumper is made from a nonfunctioning hole punch that my wife was getting rid of. The 'hood ornament' is some sort of piece off a musical instrument, maybe a drum? 
After an exhausting search for the perfect vintage front tires, I went to a local hobby store and bought these rubber ones. (I pretty much never buy new pieces for my artwork - I like vintage.) I disguised them with custom hub caps, (I think one of them is from a tambourine?) The 'suspension' was a bit of a challenge - to make sure everything was straight and square.

One of the first things I thought about when I decided to make a hot rod, was that the engine had to be HUGE, and powerful looking. I was so excited about how awesome this engine might look, it was the first component I made - and finished.

I had to have something back here, and I liked this little rack I had. I cut it down a bit, and added two snuff tins to it.

The build. (December '15 - January '16)

This humble jewelry cabinet was the initial inspiration, though it was way too wide for a passenger compartment, so I started by cutting an inch or so out of the center.

Here I'm cold-bending the 8 'must have' over-sized exhaust pipes. They're made from pliable copper pipe I had laying around in the studio. This method was primitive, but it worked pretty well.

The results - 8 pretty good exhaust pipes. I used the 'spring inside the tube' method to keep the pipes from collapsing. It worked relatively well, except it destroyed the springs as I pulled them out. Good thing I had extras.

Here I'm testing the look of the pipes on the engine block. "Yep, this is going to work."

Adding detail to the engine block - these gimp tacks given to me by a fellow artist. I love them.

Since copper exhaust pipes would be all wrong, I had to find a way to 'chrome' them. Paint might have worked, but would have been kind of fake looking. I wanted a real metal look. Then I remembered that when you wiped hot solder off a copper pipe, it looked pretty shiny. I did a test on an extra piece of pipe, and it looked great. It took a while, and multiple tries, but I finally got the finish to be smooth and shiny. 
Okay, so I got an engine, and the basic carriage shape. Now how the heck am I going to fit in one of my long-legged characters? Luckily, I had this articulated figure from when I was making shadowbox pieces, so he made a nice stand-in. I had to shorten the legs and arms a bit, but it helped me get his body positioned correctly.

Next to figure out an appropriate carriage. This fancy tin has been in my collection for a while; I don't remember where I got it, but I thought it would be perfect for my gothic hot rod - it is.

Once I knew how big the figure needed to be, I went ahead and made it from basswood. Here you see the metal rod that will hold his head, and one of the two bearings that will insure it moves smoothly from side to side.

After cutting the tin down, I had to figure out how to make a 'dashboard' for the wheel. Here I'm figuring out where the wheel is going to be.

I made the dash out of the leftover pieces of tin. Here I'm preparing to cut the hole for the area where the mechanism goes through to the wheel.

Everything is soldered together - no glue. The tin is nailed to the U-shaped piece of wood.

The two hands - they're very similar, but will function very differently.

Testing out the action of the shifter.

A view of the wheel. Now on to the challenge of how it'll integrate with his left hand. Hint- I had to cut the wheel to get his hand on it.

The left hand on the wheel. I had to paint and age the hand before I put them together.

A view into the cockpit - showing the mechanisms that will move the shifter, and the steering wheel.

The finished figure; painted and ready to be dressed.

Turning the back wheels. They're made from 3 layers of MDF. I've never used this stuff in any of my pieces before, but for some reason, I had some laying around the shop. It seemed to be the perfect solution for the back wheels. I later sealed them with sanding sealer.

Two wheels done. I made hubs out of two brass wheels I had, and added two small toy tin dinner plates (I think), to make them look more hot rod-like.

The inner and outer hub caps - patinated down with a brass darkening solution. All the shiny metal on this piece got a good dousing of this wonder-stuff. And then a coat of Johnson's Paste Wax - another shop favorite.

Here I'm establishing the final position for the vehicle, and determining the location for the 4 mounting holes.

His head - sculpted from polymer clay - painted, aged, and given a nice coat of paste wax. Somewhat modeled after Vincent Price, but also others.

Originally I wanted more of an angry grimace, but I was pretty happy with the results.

The final shape of the 3 cams. I thought they were pretty interesting.

An image of the final mechanism; hidden in the base. One cam and lever for each movement - two arms, and his head. All precision work that no one will ever see, but will (hopefully) run trouble-free for years to come.

I think this is one of my best pieces to date - so proud of this one.

Thanks for looking!