Friday, November 1, 2013

"Out of the Darkness" - 2013

Inspiration for this piece came when I received a collection of beautiful ornaments from my friend Eric Cortina to be used in our "Boxcar Fair" Fortune Teller's set. I loved the look of the ornaments and I knew I just had to make a kinetic piece using them. Thanks for the inspiration Eric! 

As she pulls the rope, the 3 lanterns raise and lower. I hid a motion detector in the bottom part of the piece, one of the reasons for the 3 cutouts.

A side shot to show the depth. This piece is meant to hang on the wall, but it can be placed on a table or a shelf. It measures 25" x 27" x 7", and is sold.

The overall look is a bit of a return to my older style - a fully painted tableaux. Originally, the pulley and rope were to be secured to the "box", but I like them attached to the "tree" in the corner better.

Her dress is a piece of fabric from a former clothing item of mine - I won't say which one.

I wanted some sort of textured background, and since I have plenty of scrap wood around, I thought a pieced-together fence might be interesting. I love how this came out, (I'd love to build one full-size some day).

The mechanism is hidden in her chest. I figured out all the mechanics before I spent any time carving the body.

I'm using 2 bearings which will let her arm rotated almost friction free. A line that runs through her leg will pull the small lever down, and make her arm rotate.

I made two "access doors" that protect the mechanism from interference.

My worktable, post-carving.

Her polymer clay head.

Her body ready to be painted. You can see the two carved "access doors" that will be pressure fitted into the torso.

Her body, ready for final assembly.

Here I'm testing out the placement of the figure and the lanterns - this determines where the mechanism below needs to be. It's always a bit of a balancing act - what looks best verses what works and how much room is required.

The back access panel open - just before her shirt is sewn up.

Making the cabinet. I couldn't find an appropriate container in my stash, so I decided to make it from scratch, (much more time consuming).

I laid parchment paper in the box in order to build the fence. The fence is made from many bits of scrap wood. I needed to remove the fence in order to properly paint and age it. Here you can see that I already painted the background.

After the glue dried, I pulled the fence out. Here it is ready for multiple applications of stain and paint.

Before I painted, I masked the "trees" off - they already had great color. It was fun creating this and I sometimes miss this kind of painting.

Continuing the painting of the box.
The bright blue is just an undercoat - a bit of this color is seen after I aged and sanded the cabinet.

Finally putting it all together - slowly. Before the fence was glued into place, I had to run the wire for the lights up and around the tree on the left - and then fish it down below so it can be connected to a transformer.

Here you can see the motion detector, and cam and lever.  I made the motion detector and transformer easily replaceable, (if ever need be).

Here's that movie... it's best to watch full screen.

Thanks for looking!



  1. Great blog post; I enjoy seeing how and where the inspiration comes from. I was going to ask where the fence idea came from, it is so unique, but you answered it. I love those moments of out of the box inspiration.

  2. Thanks Len. I try to answer lots of questions because that's the way I am - always asking questions.....

  3. Hi Tom, first let me say how much I enjoy your work. You definitely have your own unique style - I love it! I have 2 questions if I may. The first is do you carve the hands for your figures from wood or do you use polymer clay? Secondly, I note that you achieve a kind of crackled/antique finish to the painted faces of your figures; how do you achieve that?

    Kind regards,

  4. Hello Eddie, Glad you like my work.
    1. I carve the hands from basswood, only the heads are polymer clay. In 2005, when I switched over to polymer clay for the heads, I did do some polymer hands, but that was short-lived.
    2. After painting my figures, I put a wash of brown paint over them, and when dry, I gently sand them.