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.
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.
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.
Thanks for looking!