A short while ago I briefly installed my latest piece “Armed and Dangerous” at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  This can be a very crowded place, and the majority of visitors tend to be young people.  These young people happen to be the best stress-testers available for work like mine.  A big robot with buttons and gauges can sometimes produce mania in kids and this time was no exception.  Their enthusiasm quickly revealed several flaws in my design.

The first issue I noticed was that too much heat was building up inside the sculpture.  I had never run it so constantly before.  The solution was to add cooling fans and air intakes in the head and torso.


The second issue was an attention span one.  The piece is designed to be in “stand by” mode while the mercury switch mechanism in its head goes through its revolutions.  This way the arms only move for a few seconds out of every minute.  Most children couldn’t bear waiting and just pounded on the start button until it burned out.  Lesson learned, there is now a toggle switch inside that allows me to over ride the secondary timer so that the arms move as soon as the button is pressed.  I prefer the piece in its original state, but part of working with the public is making compromises with them.


Another problem was that the motors driving the upper arms began to struggle after the first day.  I had made an error in assuming that since all of the arms were the same weight, they would need the same force to move them.  In fact, since the upper arms project further from the body they need considerably more.  I replaced these motors with new ones, increased the tension on the damping springs, and added brass counter weights to the inside.  They now require nearly the same energy to move as the lower ones.


So essentially the piece looks the same as it did before, but is now considerably more robust and up to the challenges presented by heavy use, and enthusiastic children.  Each new piece reveals its quirks the first time out of the studio and I’m always grateful for the opportunity this provides me with to further hone my craft.


I just got the mechanism working on a new Nautilus sculpture.  Eventually it will be built in to a diorama for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I still plan to add a few more tentacles and install a LED behind the eye, as well as a few other small touches.  I’ve found its best to work out the moving elements before getting lost in the details though.

It’s pretty unusual for me to find myself making multiples of parts.  Lately I’ve been working on a figure that will have four arms, so I’ve had to make an exception.  Shown here are the individual pieces that will make up the shoulder joints.  The motor mounts and cranks will come later.


A short while ago Michael Sturtz gave me a nice old radio.  You can see from the “before” image on the left that its face had been damaged.  Upon seeing it I immediately worried that it would displace the head I had been developing for a large scale figure I was working on.  Well, this turned out to be the case.  The radio has since evolved into some kind of Chihuahua / Bat / Monkey creature.  I’m currently working on a little machine that will cause the eyebrows to pivot back and forth on their center.


I’m working on a new large piece that I would like to have four arms.  This is tricky because it means finding twice as many matching parts as usual.  I think I’ve settled on a design I like that I can replicate.  It consists of bean scoops, table legs, pipe elbows, coffee pots, and some strange industrial wooden spindle things I cant identify.  Ideally the wrists, elbows, and fingers will have a little bit of adjustability so that each arm can have a slightly different pose.


CTP gave me these incredibly cool bomber pilot map lights a while back.  You can change the output from a clear amber light to blood red by rotating the lens.  It has always been my intention to incorporate them into a sculpture as eyes.  Its finally looking like I’ve got just the right project in the works to do this.  We’ll see…

Bomber pilot map light

Early stages of motorcycle fairing.
It would be a stretch to say I’m getting “good” at this, but I’m at least beginning to see how it works. To me, a new skill is only enjoyable once I’ve reached the point where I can improvise with it. Up until now I’ve felt totally at the mercy of what the metal was willing to do. Now at least I feel like I’m gaining some control.

I definitely underestimated the difficulty in my tail light concept. I had planned to simply back the slots with strip LEDs. Turns out these are nowhere near bright enough. The solution was a hacked pair of LED car tail lights. Same light source, but each cell is encased in a tiny reflector cone which greatly increases the visibility (and they were pre-wired for two brightness levels). Needless to say the original plastic housings were not eager to play nice with my aluminum tail shape. Bandsaw, belt sander, zip ties, and some custom brackets and I can finally call it a success.

I’m excited to have finally begun my motorcycle project! I was given a Honda CX500 in poor condition as a starting point. My plan is to rebuild the tank and body work from aluminum sheet. This is a process I have always wanted to learn but have little experience with. To get over the vertigo of not knowing where to begin, I’m roughing out design possibilities with styrofoam. No telling how many attempts it will take before I eventually get a form worth translating into a metal pattern. Bear with me, this one may take a while.

Yesterday I made the mistake of saying “I kinda want to build some models of shapes to make patterns from.  Maybe out of styrofoam, but where am I gonna find a huge chunk?”  Then Jeremy says “Oh, theres one on the curb a block from here”.

So now I am the proud owner of a huge block of styrofoam.  I had to whip up a 13 volt hot wire cutter to process it into manageable pieces.  Next up is a smaller, more precise cutter to do detail work.