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 $13,600. 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!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yes, I'm Obsessive - An Introspection

I've been thinking a lot about my work lately. Maybe it's because of my recent apprentice-teaching duties where I had to verbalize all my creative thoughts and decisions; who knows? But something I've never pointed out before - and I think it's a significant part of every piece I make - is my obsession over my surfaces. I love a buttery-smooth surface.

I think this penchant of perfectly smooth surfaces first developed during the 'Materials and Processes' classes I took back in my days studying Industrial Design. My M&P professor would obsess over a smooth, perfect surface. He knew if he closed his eyes, and inspected it with his fingers, he could tell if a student put the time and energy into giving the prototype, or model, a perfect surface. I try to create that same experience. I love the smoothness of a painted surface after a good measure of fine sanding. Also, a good coat of Johnson's Paste Wax is the perfect finish, and probably adds to the buttery-ness.

I also love texture. And I love when multiple textures show up on the surface of a piece. Now I'm not talking about a tactile texture - I mean textures that results from the combination of.... the grain of the wood, the application of the paint, and the texture created by the wash of aging liquid, (which usually runs down into every minute crevice). After I obsessively sand over all of this, what results is an unpredictable, and most often, a beautiful, dynamic surface. A surface that looks textured but is actually very smooth.

Here's an example from my piece, "Au Contraire". This is the back of the elephant, showing all the rasp marks, sanding marks, and paint and age variation. And yet with all this going on - and after it was all sanded - what results is a smooth, touchable surface. Love.

Here's a shot of the floor and the shoes of my piece, "Wasted & Wounded". The floor has added texture because I (roughly) went over it with a hand plane to level out the surface. The plane added a lot great surface marks to the wood. After painting and aging, this was all smoothed out with lots of sanding, and finished with a coat of wax - hand rubbed to perfection.

Even on my oddball creations like this memory jug, I try to create a very touchable surface. This makes sense here because everything is done with one's fingers. Smoothing things out is a big part of the process.

Sadly, our phones and computer screens can not really convey the smoothness of these surfaces. People usually understand this obsession better once they've handled one of my pieces. Not that I want people handling my pieces - but it just goes to show the level of finish I put into every piece.

Here I am finely sanding the surface of a wall on a recent commission.....

And of course, this obsession spills over to all of my work - on the surfaces of my polymer clay heads, and on any mechanical parts, (cams, followers, levers, axles, etc. etc.) that have to be perfect.

The obsession continues.........

Thanks for looking, and happy sanding!


Monday, November 9, 2015

2016 Calendars are now out!

I'm happy to be able to offer these calendars again this year. (For many years in the past, I haven't found the time it takes to put one together) This second year, things were a bit easier, and it only took 3 days to get it ready for printing. The 2016 calendar contains 8 new high quality photographs of my new automata pieces created since last year's calendar - and 4 of my favorite images from last year.

This is definitely a unique calendar & makes a perfect gift for any fan of Automata, Wood Sculpture, Art Sculpture, and the Handmade Art world.

This is a Limited Edition Calendar using high quality printing, and includes my artist signature..... so get yours today - last year's edition sold out quickly.

Available here on my Etsy site for $30. Now $25 USD. Free shipping to US. Shipping worldwide.

Here are a few images for this year's calendar.

Thanks for looking!


Friday, October 30, 2015

My Danish Apprentice - September '15

Back in April - and out of nowhere - a young woman from Copenhagen emailed me and asked me if I could teach her what I do. I've only had one other teaching session with a student from Asheville, NC - a one day thing, so I wasn't sure if this was for me. After thinking about it, and discussing it with my wife (of course), I decided it might be a fun challenge. Originally, (my apprentice) Laura wanted to come for 90 days because that was the longest visa she could get. I said I could teach her what I know in a month. So we planned on her coming for the month of September - when it's not too hot or too cold in Atlanta.

When I told my friends and family I was getting an apprentice, most people thought it was like an internship, where she would be working for me. Since I understood the European concept of apprenticeships, and had to tell them that she was not working for me, but that I would be teaching her how I create my artwork.

So was here, staying with us, for the whole month of September. I've never thought of having an apprentice, (it's not a thing here in the US), and I discovered what it must feel like to be a teacher. 

The first week was spent taking apart some of the pieces I had here, and showing her the basic principles of mechanisms. Once she understood the basic concepts, she began to make her own piece. Besides teaching her mechanisms, I was also teaching her how to (safely) carve wood. She apprenticed for 4 years with the oldest Danish furniture maker in Copenhagen, Rud Rassmussen, so I knew she had good woodworking skills. Carving is another thing. And it has to be done safely - I wanted her to leave here with 10 fingers after all. 

Here are some pictures from our time together, and a rare glimpse into my sunny studio in Atlanta......

This is me teaching her how I carve.  
I've never talked so much - and it was interesting to verbalize my creative process, to think of things I've never thought of before, and to examine exactly why I do things a certain way.

Laura's work table. I brought in some of my older pieces, and collected lots of reference books for her to look through.

She decided her first piece would be an articulated raven, with wings that flap. Here she is figuring out the bird's proportions and how to make the wings move.

Her reference material, and the carved bird in progress.

Her mechanism in progress. It's a motor-driven cam and lever system. The lever will pull down on the small rods on the wings; making them go up and down.  

 The final piece - it worked really well, and her carving, and her attention to detail, were impressive.

Happy apprentice.

Working in the wood shop. You can see my tools are sized for my 6' 4" stature.

The next piece she did was a fully articulated figure, in the style of my "Mr. Oddball" piece shown above. She drew it all out, and started carving. I showed her how I did my connections and joints.

Her figure in progress - hand-carved from basswood.

She got this far before time ran out. The figure is a female boxer with an alien's head. The two levers out front operate the arms. She disassembled this piece but took the figure with her, and I'm sure it will show up in some future piece of hers.

One night she was nice enough to make us a delicious pasta dish, with garlic bread - so good.

Here she is off to her next adventure - she'll spend the month of October with another automata artist in Japan, Kazuaki Harada.
I was so impressed by Laura's willingness to learn, her sense of adventure, and overall pleasantness. I couldn't have asked for a better apprentice. She's a hard worker, tidy, and fun in the studio. All-in-all it was a really great experience. I guess you never know, but we all got along so well. My wife and I hope to visit her in Copenhagen sometime soon.

Thanks for looking.