A few of the things I’ve been up to since my last posty.

The Rotary Wheel is installed in the Rotary Plaza in Little Rock.

And so is the Mockingbird Shade at the Children’s Hospital in the same city.

“Mockingbird Shade”

WaterMusic is brightening up Jen and Scott’s beautiful new home!

Death Star.

This image of the galaxy Pictor A and it’s mind-blowing beam of X-rays wandered across my consciousness via social media.

The Pictor A galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center, and material falling onto the black hole is driving an enormous beam, or jet, of particles at nearly the speed of light into intergalactic space. This composite image contains X-ray data obtained by Chandra at various times over 15 years (blue) and radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array (red). By studying the details of the structure seen in both X-rays and radio waves, scientists seek to gain a deeper understanding of these huge collimated blasts.

The details of this thing are pretty incredible:

The Star Wars franchise has featured the fictitious “Death Star,” which can shoot powerful beams of radiation across space. The Universe, however, produces phenomena that often surpass what science fiction can conjure.

The Pictor A galaxy is one such impressive object. This galaxy, located nearly 500 million light years from Earth, contains a supermassive black hole at its center. A huge amount of gravitational energy is released as material swirls towards the event horizon, the point of no return for infalling material. This energy produces an enormous beam, or jet, of particles traveling at nearly the speed of light into intergalactic space.

To obtain images of this jet, scientists used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory at various times over 15 years. Chandra’s X-ray data (blue) have been combined with radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array (red) in this new composite image.

By studying the details of the structure seen in both X-rays and radio waves, scientists seek to gain a deeper understanding of these huge collimated blasts.

The jet [to the right] in Pictor A is the one that is closest to us. It displays continuous X-ray emission over a distance of 300,000 light years. By comparison, the entire Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter. Because of its relative proximity and Chandra’s ability to make detailed X-ray images, scientists can look at detailed features in the jet and test ideas of how the X-ray emission is produced.

In addition to the prominent jet seen pointing to the right in the image, researchers report evidence for another jet pointing in the opposite direction, known as a “counterjet”. While tentative evidence for this counterjet had been previously reported, these new Chandra data confirm its existence. The relative faintness of the counterjet compared to the jet is likely due to the motion of the counterjet away from the line of sight to the Earth.

The complete description from the Chandra folks is here.

I was inspired:

Creative Choices.

An artist’s life is often a cascade of choices; making decisions about subject, medium, style, color – the list is basically endless. Each choice prunes the tree of possibilities and dramatically effects not just the final result, but also the process. Making a painting with hammer and chisel is pretty difficult.

The choice of sculpture as my chief focus came as a natural progression from my exposure to and background in construction and carpentry. From laborer to craftsman to artist. The tools of these trades impacted not only the output of each discipline, but the artist himself: my body paid the price for my choices in the form of tendon and joint damage. Pain is another highly effective filter, forcing me to put down some tools and pick up others – like the computer. Working digitally enabled me to continue exploring form without the pain, the frustration of lost dexterity. The medium of 3D software comes with its own constraints and demands, including the obvious level of remove from the physical interaction with the work, as well a the massive intellectual overhead of learning how the software functions. I’ve run through the litany of software I use on this blog before, so I won’t burden you with that again. Suffice it to say that the number and complexity of tools between me and what I want to make can be frustrating. If I have to watch one more half hour tutorial video just to get the effect I envision, I may explode.


No boom.

I’ve once again taken the Oblique Strategy of returning to the beginning: my first exposure to creating on the computer was via vector drawing and Adobe Illustrator. In pursuit of simplicity and creativity through constraint, I’ve elected to see what I can make using just my iPhone and the App ecosystem thereon.  A company called Pixite makes several interesting creative apps, including a simple but powerful vector drawing program, Assembly – far simpler than Illustrator, but that’s the whole point. An added bonus is portability and the freedom to sit or lie in any position while working – it’s a great way to relieve the stress of desk jockeying (not to mention standing around all day on cold concrete, melting frigid stainless steel together).

Here’s some of the things I’ve come up with:

PS I’ve posted some things before in a similar vein.

Mandala for Mariner.

Percolator 2.4 (2.4)
Grind: Extra Fine (Small Circles & Effect: Saturate), Brew: Color Gels (1/4 Pic & Full Blended Circles), Serve: Stirred (Vignette Tone & Slate Texture)

Ooh, pretty!

Some earlier iterations:

Return to Simplicity.

I’ve been exploring Modo and Zbrush and Keyshot and… tired of the massive layers of complexity that stand between me and actually MAKING. Return to the beginning.


I am of two minds. Split, like what the Native Americans called “Two-Spirits.” I am coming to terms with this aspect of myself on multiple fronts, including creatively. Each Winter, I am drawn inward, away from making objects of the real world, and toward objects and imagery that only exist in my mind. Perhaps due to the increasing darkness and isolation of the season. Take a peek:

Taking a breath.

Been too long since I updated things here. Mostly due to massive time suck of remodeling our kitchen, and the cascade of chores that stem from taking something like that on.

Anyway, I made a giant elevated Rotary Wheel:

Shipped it off to the site – supposedly, it’s been installed, but I’ve no proof that it isn’t at the bottom of the Arkansas river.

I also designed and fabricated some privacy screens for a local client (thanks, Chris!)

AND, I made a 3d interpretation of a university logo for Harding University in Arkansas.

Split Infinitive, re-worked.

I designed this piece way back when Sketch-Up was my main software for modeling. I was pretty happy with the way it turned out, but over the course of its fabrication the first time around, I discovered a pile of things that could have been done better to yield a smoother and less laborious process. Chief among the changes was making the thing symmetrical vertically, which enabled me to eliminate two entire butt joints in the sheet metal, which means significantly less grinding – which means a much happier Humble Narrator. I used my original Sketch-Up model, importing it into Rhino so I could have a starting place for the geometry:

Mesh edges from Sketch-Up.

After a whole bunch of mucking about and snapping new construction curves to that stuff, I was able to get a cleaner version that had the added benefits of being easier to fab AND better aesthetics.

Fixed up in Rhino – and natively on my Mac in the Rhino Beta for OSX.

From there, I used Rhino’s Unroll command and some patience to arrive at a 2d pattern, ready to send off to the laser for cutting out of stainless steel.

Unrolled surfaces of the 3d model, colored for identification.

The Gallery below shows some of the initial stages of the assembly. I made a gumby little wooden jig to bend the tight inside curves; the outside curves bend against the “sides”, so don’t need to be pre-rolled.

I LOVED the piece with just the sanded metal surface, but this one is actually sold, and the client wanted a yellow powder coat. Yellow? :– {

Turns out, yellow is SPECTACULAR on this thing. The first image above shows the piece fresh from the powder coater, followed by some shots of the edges being filed back to reveal the shiny stainless underneath. I love the way this iteration came out. Hopefully my clients feel the same – shipped it off a while ago and wondering what they think.

Dutch angle with Japanese maple. Artsiness.

PS: I posted quite bit about the first iteration. Some linkage:

Here, here, over there, and here, too.


“HiveMInd” on site

“HiveMind” in Fort Collins, Colorado

When I proposed “Growing Together” for the Poudre River Public Library here in Fort Collins, I’d also included an idea for an outdoor piece that related to the idea of the hivemind. The committee liked it so much, they elected to work towards raising the money to purchase it (“Growing Together” was a percent-for-art portion of the new construction.) It took a while, but they managed to get the funding together. It turned into a really fun project, requiring that I stretch a bit and recruit the services of some outside vendors that I hadn’t worked with before. I’ve been growing more and more frustrated with the negative impacts welding has on the sheet metal I work with – the heat tends to warp and distort the sheets, plus the welds themselves need cleaning up through grinding and polishing. “HiveMind” ended up still requiring quite a bit of welding, but the key parts that make the design “sing” are pure assemblage. I’d like to push this idea even further in the future to eliminate welding altogether – the idea of not having to chase any welds coupled with the problem-solving involved intrigues me no end.


A hive mind is the emergent property of apparent sentience that arises from the behaviors of a colony of individuals. Just as your neurons, without individual intelligence, interact as a unit to become a brain, so one can view a hive of bees or a colony of ants interacting as a unit to become a mind.  The whole has behaviors, memories and characteristics that could not be predicted by studying an individual. The idea that the behaviors of the individuals in a society, on a planet or on a network, might interact as a whole to exhibit behaviors that were beyond the ken of parts.

“HiveMind” consists of a central monolith with two sides faced with polished stainless steel hexagons. On one side these hexes are flat, in essence creating a mirror. The opposite side has hexagons which are rolled to make each one slightly convex – also creating a mirror, but one where the reflected subject is broken up into multiple images. I’m hoping to orient the piece such that the viewer sees oneself reflected as a whole, with the library in the background – symbolizing ones integration into the community formed around and within the library. Moving around to the other side of the sculpture, one then sees multiple reflected images, symbolizing the individual members and highlighting their importance to the culture of the library. Thematically, the sculpture is striving to accentuate both the collective community of the library and each person’s importance to that community.


After discovering the wonders of Radiant Acrylic, my brain was sparked by all kinds of ideas for exploiting its qualities. While goofing around with a remnant from the SoundSpindle, I noticed that the dichroic effect was even more pronounced when the sheet was bent – the angle of incidence at which the light strikes being the main driver of the color shifts. I also liked the lightness and freedom of hanging forms from the ceiling, eliminating the grounding structure of a base and letting the piece “float” mid-air. If you follow my posts at all – or just have a quick look around – you’ll probably notice I have a bit of a “thing” for hexagons. Can’t really explain it other than to point out that, geometrically, you can’t get much prettier than the hex. So, I used a hexagon as my starting point and lofted a tapered solid from it, ending up with what is essentially a truncated hexagonal pyramid with curved sides, mirrored across the Z axis – like so:

Hexamabob starting shape

Each face of this form was then “unrolled” to yield a flat pattern that could then be cut out with the laser, plus some kind of supports would be needed to hold the whole thing together. I ended up using SolidWorks to handle this stuff, using the sheet metal tools to create the actual sheet metal parts as well as the acrylic. The really impressive thing about SolidWorks is its parametric nature: I can go back into the file and change just about any parameter – overall scale, ratio of width to height, etc. – and the whole design updates smoothly, including the flat patterns. Saves TONS of work if I ever decide to produce other sizes or need to make changes to the material thickness or fasteners. Below is a gallery of images that shows some of the design process.

I didn’t think to get any shots of the actual assembly process, but the last image in the gallery does show how the digital design becomes real-world parts. I’ll get some more in-progress shots on the next one.

I really like this one – its simplicity and the level of impact for the amount of material used is pretty spectacular. I’ve gotten lots of good feedback, and it’s prompted me to try something new as a result. Stay tuned!

Hexamabob – finished, on black


I came up with what I thought was a pretty good idea for a proposal for the New Mexico School for the Deaf (which I didn’t land – more on that later). I had wanted to somehow engage the student body itself in generating the concepts, and thereby the forms, for the piece. I was messing around in Garageband when I noticed how the waveform being generated by spoken word portions of the playing track were pretty interesting when viewed as silhouettes – much less staccato and fuzzy than the instruments. Being a complete 3d software nerd, whenever I see interesting silhouettes, I always want to try to manipulate them somehow into three-dimensional forms. Tracing out the waveform’s outer edge and then spinning that outline around a central axis expanded the shape into the 3rd dimension while still allowing the original sounds to be readily evident. I thought, “How about having the students supply me with a bunch of words and phrases that have meaning for them, and then record these sounds to drive the shapes!”

I loved the idea, and everyone I bounced it off of said, “Cool!” before punching me for hurling ideas at them.

In a synchronicity that may seem hard to believe, while researching further on sound-derived sculpture, I happened across this Instructable for making bracelets or necklaces using the exact same technique I’d come up with for the sculptures. I felt a little nervous about “ripping off” the idea, but the fact that I’d arrived there independently, coupled with the waveform technique being freely available on the internet in a format MEANT to be reproduced, quelled my fears. Onward!

It wasn’t difficult (the link is right there on the first page of the Instructable) to find the author of the post: David Bizer, a jewelry designer in Berlin. I looked around on David’s website, and found this picture:

Lookit all them colors!

“What Devilry is this!”

The material just blew me away. Apparently, I like shiny things. Searching around the web, I was unable to pinpoint just what it was – so I sent David an enquiry. He wrote back immediately, calling it “Rainbow Acrylic”, which he gets from the online laser cutting shop Ponoko. I ended up having to contact Ponoko’s material guys, who informed me that the material is by Acrylite, and it is officially called “Radiant Acrylic”, and that it is not available at the US Ponoko shop.


I hunted down the Acrylite website and was able to get my hands on some of the stuff. The NMSD proposal required a maquette, so I elected to fabricate a mock phrase, “I am not broken,” to convey the idea. Below is a graphic from the proposal that illustrates  how this all works:

NMSD Proposal Graphic

After much cursing and fiddling about in damn near every software package I own, I was able to produce some usable patterns for my laser dude, Bill at Wesco Laser. (Caution: Auto-playing sound and animation, but NotNSFW linky.) Here’s how it looks while being assembled (please ignore the pretty towel):

I am not a photographer, nor do I play one on TV.

That there is some purdy stuff, yo.

Which brings us to the point of this post – I have a new material in my arsenal! (Heh heh – he said “Arse”) Radiant Acrylic is awesome. I love it. Even though I didn’t win the job for the New Mexico School for the Deaf, I ended up with a net positive. I went ahead and made some other forms using this technique, utilizing actual music to drive the waveform. I’m really excited by the possibilities here – any sound can be used, from someone’s name, to a poem, to a favorite piece of music. This one is “Spring” by Vivaldi, shot by the always-awesome Jafe Parsons:

“Spring” shot by Jafe – who IS a real photographer.

Beginning – from the beginning.

What, two blog posts in a week? Am I feeling OK? Yep – just finally have some time to sit down and update things. Here’s another piece I got done over the summer:


I batted around the idea of titling this one “Just After the Big Bang” or “Origin of the Universe” or some such – but I decided to simplify. Nonetheless, to me it represents what the Universe could have looked like just a few Planck Time units after the Big Bang, with a lot of artistic license thrown in for good measure. I started with a simple egg-shaped surface in Rhino, then used the built-in Paneling Tools to array the hexagonal base unit over said surface. LOTS of flailing around and reiterating until I finally got something that would work. One complication of this particular design that normally doesn’t occur in my Rhino work is the thickness of the material – because it incorporates repeating components, the thickness of each one must be allowed for in order for the pieces to properly form the correct final shape. This is one area that Rhino struggles in, as it employs surfaces that are zero-thickness rather than solids with volume like real-world sheet metal. I imported the surfaces into Solidworks and added the appropiate thickness, but then had to pull them back into Rhino to produce the correct patterns for the laser cutter – Solidworks is just too rigid to allow my crazy shapes to be modeled with its sheet metal tools. Go figure. Anyway, this is what I ended up with, pared down to a quarter of the whole form:


As you can see, each strip (color coded for clarity) is just slightly different from its neighbor, necessitating careful labeling in order to keep it all straight. It also takes someone who can handle simple arithmetic, like how many quarters it takes to make a whole – which I goofed on and had to order the other half after the fact. Oops. 2 X .25 is NOT 1. Below is the unrolled strips – half of them, anyway.


Evident on these strips are the bend lines, with mountain and valley folds color coded cyan and magenta. Keeping that sorted in my head was a source of continual stress. I ended up modifying a drill press vice to simplify bending the strips. The basic procedure can be seen below:


Once I had all the strips bent into these goofy accordian-like shapes, I was able to clamp them together and get a pretty decent tack with the TiG welder to glom them together. This was by far the most labor-intensive sculpture I’ve made so far.



As the strips went on, they gradually forced themselves into the desired egg-shape. I did have to tweak and clamp and swear and complain to compensate for small erors that grew larger over time, but it actually formed up pretty well.


This one was a real learning experience, forcing me to come up with all kinds of new techniques and procedures to get the job done. In other words, I loved it.

The frame you see in the top picture above is just for displaying “Beginning”; I envision this as a hanging piece in an atrium, stairwell, or foyer. The same techniques I empoyed here could be used on a much larger scale. I’d love to give it a whirl.


Wellspring: creation, Part II.

The sculpture sat, unloved, in the studio for quite a while as we sorted out a good install date. Eventually, it was time to load it up, haul it to Adams County, and install it. Getting it onto the trailer seemed to be a fearful task to a lot of my cohorts, but it ended up being a matter of a simple plan, well executed. I bought some heavy-duty casters (600 lb. load rating) and bolted them onto the exposed “legs” of the superstructure. This simplified the act of moving it into place on the trailer’s deck, and it also made lifting the piece into a vertical orientation with the crane much easier. Next, I picked the base end up high enough to allow the trailer to roll underneath, and supported it that position with a crossmember of leftover square tubing and two of my super-badass “saw” horses.


Backed the trailer under the piece, removed the crossmember, picked up the top end, and rolled the sculpture to the fromt of the trailer. Wah. La. All that was left was strapping it down, slapping some hazard flags on it, and loading up the tools for the install the next day.


My little Tacoma did a fine job of hauling this rig, despite the weight – “Wellspring” tips the scales at just 850 pounds, but the trailer is a beefy one at around 3K. (Thanks go to fellow Guild member and all-around good guy Denny Haskew for the use of his trailer.) An hour and a half later, and National Sculptors’ Guild honcho John Kinkade and I were on site, getting ready and waiting for our crane. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful crane, and a beautiful installation – we were done in less than an hour.



So, there you have it. Done.



Wellspring: creation.

After (finally) dedicating “Wellspring” last week, I thought it was high time to post a wrap-up of how it came into being. I leveraged Rhino’s formidable toolset to model the entire thing in 3d on my computer.


Rhino includes some really powerful tools for “unrolling developable surfaces” – flattening out the curvy bits so they can be cut from sheet stock. I usually try to color code the parts so my simple mind has an easier time figuring out what goes where, which can become problematic when you’re dealing with over two hundred pieces like I was here. I also model the footing and whatever anchoring hardware are called for by the engineer. This way I can at least pretend I’ve planned for any possible issues that might pop up regarding clearances and installation logistics, plus it makes accounting for a bill of materials a lot more accurate.


Once I’ve got that all squared away, I export a file of the pattern in a format that the cutting job shop can use to drive their cutting machine – in this case, a water jet.


I also modeled the internal superstructure of 3″ stainless steel square tubing. Again, doing so insures that it fits properly within the base’s envelope, plus it allows me to produce most of the sketches needed by the engineer directly from the 3d information.


Once the modeling, unrolling, and pattern making are done, I get to sit around nervously while the parts are all cut out. Any mistakes can be costly at this point, and I did manage to skip a couple pieces on this one. Sorting and identifying all the parts can be daunting and confusing, especially if many of them are just slightly different from one another. I should probably implement a better part labeling system at some point, dontcha think?



Now it’s time for the real work to begin. I started with the 12 gauge parts of the base. One of the difficulties presented by working with stainless is temporarily holding the pieces in place in order to tack them together with the welder – 300 series stainless (this is 304) is non-magnetic, so the usual magnetic clamps are useless and mechanical ones have to suffice. They often don’t, requiring some fancy gymnastics, some Rube-Goldbergian jigs, or a combination of the two.


The surface of all that stainless also needs to have a nice handmade swirl applied. Below is the top of the base, which is 1/4 inch plate.


Here is the superstructure being welded up, and then with the 1/4 inch top included:



I then welded the aforementioned 12 gauge base sheets to the superstructure. Somehow, I’ve neglected to get a picture of the finished base before attaching it to the rest of the piece. Oops. With the base done, I moved on to the “frame” part of the sculpture, which is the outline of Adams County itself. I came to regret including all those jogs – which, BTW, is the part of the county that got chopped out to make Denver International Airport.



Next came the grass blades. I always like working on the curved parts, as they magically form themselves into the correct shape as you draw the edges together. Not so magical is the tranformation of the raw welded seams into nice clean corners. HOURS of grinding and honing, all by hand, all by yours truly. Weeeeeee.


After each blade is finished, it is added to the frame. The design is such that the grass blades act as stiffeners and reinforcements, adding lateral inegrity to the structure. In the pics below you can also see I’m test-fitting the mounting system for the acryllic circles – which represent an aerial view of center-point irrigation.



After attaching all three blades and welding up all the connections that were easily accessed from the top side, I needed to flip the whole thing over so I could do the same on the other side.


With all the welding and chasing (foundry ratspeak for grinding) done on the main upper portion of the sculpture, it’s time to attach the base. This was by far the most technically challenging aspect of the fabrication, as the alignment of the frame to the base determines the attitude and verticality of the whole works. PLUS, the base outweighs the rest by 2-to-1, throwing the center of gravity way off from its previous location and making rigging and picking the thing much more complicated. PLUS the welded connection between the two is structurally critical. Lining it all up:


Once the alignment is good and the top side welded, I needed to flip it again to access the base/frame connection on the other side:


And then weld that up:


With the welding, grinding, and swirling completed, I needed to attach the acryllic circles. I’d fretted a bit about managing this without scratching the material, but it ended up taking about an hour to finish up.


At this point, the fabrication is finished. Ta. Da.