Metal Mermaid

OK, the mermaid is pretty much done – I have a couple more hours of texturing and touching-up, but I’ve got all day tomorrow. We put her on a truck for Norfolk on Tuesday. Here are a few shots showing the assembly process. (Descriptions are UNDER each pic.)
Mermaid Fabrication
The flat pieces, cut according to the pattern I posted earlier. Cut with a laser from 14 gauge stainless steel.

Mermaid Fabrication (4)
Beginning the process of sorting out who goes where – these are parts of the tail fin. You can see the leading and trailing edges up front and the side faces in the background. I use the neighboring pieces as bending guides; as the edges are drawn together, it forces the planar sheets to curve into the proper shape.

Mermaid Fabrication (6)
The tail tacked together.

Mermaid Fabrication (8)
Her hair being assembled. You can see some of the printed out guides from Rhino that I use to keep myself somewhat less confused.

Mermaid Fabrication (11)
The face was, ahem, a real bitch to get to fit properly. I should have broken that center strip up into at least 3 parts – this would have saved about 3 hours of bending and tweaking due to the tight curves in opposite directions lying right next to each other. I printed out a profile section at 1:1 scale from Rhino to use as a guide. Do you get the idea that I love that program?

Mermaid Fabrication (14)
Parts being finish welded.

Mermaid Fabrication (17)
One arm is assembled and chased, with another underway. This is about when I remembered fully just how hard 304 stainless really is. There is carbon in there, and it precipitates into the Heat Affected Zone around and in each weld – making it just that much harder right where you need to grind. Weee.

Mermaid Fabrication (19)
The other arm roughly finished and the start of the main portion of the tail.

Mermaid Fabrication (21)
Attaching the face to the hair – with both mostly chased out. This was the last of the small parts to get done before moving on to assembling the tail/body and hooking them all together.

Mermaid Fabrication (24)
Mermaid Fabrication (30)
Putting the structural member in. I designed the structure keeping in mind two factors: the fountain construction docs called for a 6″ sleeve to receive the sculpture, and aesthetics. I used 5″ standard pipe to slide down into that 6″ sleeve, plus the thick pipe looks less like a lollypop. Structural engineers in Norfolk analyzed my design and found it adequate without any changes to account for all the forces in play on the piece – that means I done goodz.

Mermaid Fabrication (32)
Torso panels going on.

Mermaid Fabrication (39)
Attaching the first arm – I was able to spin the pipe on the table in order to work on both left and right halves. My back thanks me. At this point, the size of this thing in comparison to the garage is becoming really evident.

Mermaid - Upright
John Kinkade of the Guild and Mike Allison helped me stand her upright. I built a shipping stand for her so she can ride upright on the truck out to Norfolk – I like to avoid having the piece in contact with the flatbed when possible to minimize the risk of denting the (relatively) thin sheet metal. I also prefer not to attempt to cover the sculptures – the coverings tend to do more harm than good.

Mermaid Fabrication (45)
Yours truly doing some final chasing on the parts I couldn’t get at in the garageshopstudio.

Mermaid Fabrication (48)
Got a sunrise shot of her the next day. Basically done but for some final texturing and nitpicking.

This was a huge project for me – not in terms of size, but time. Start to finish in just about a month is pretty much unheard of. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. 10 hour days for 30 straight days will do it, I guess. That and lots of beer and the support of a really awesome woman.

And some great friends.

And a good portion of too stupid to know better.

Bizzy. Backsun.

I’ve been out in the shop (studio? – either way, it’s just the freaking garage) bending and welding sheets of stainless steel into the shape of a mermaid – for 18 straight days.

Why the hell would you want to do that, Mark?

The City of Norfolk, Virginia contacted the Guild looking to have their iconic mermaid logo sculpted into three dimensions. Ren put together a package of potential artists, and, long story short, they chose me. The single greatest criterion for this choice was most likely the simple fact that the fabrication method I use permits a much faster design-to-finished-sculpture time frame. Ya see, Norfolk first contacted us at the tail end of April – with an unveiling date of July 2nd. That pretty much rules out anything cast – and should rule out any kind of sculpture at all, unless crazy people happen to be involved – ooh, look at the grouse!

I spent a couple weeks in May coming up with two designs for them to choose from, both based on their original logo.
Mermaid Outline
The first idea was simpler from a fabrication standpoint. It consisted of a series of plates bolted together.
Mermaid - first design
This concept was nixed – probably a bit too industrial. I loved it, most likely because I’d be done with it already.
Time was so tight Ren put her considerable drafting skills to work on the second design while I doofused around in Solidworks on the first one. Here’s what she came up with:
Mermaid - Main View
Hmmm. Who’s the artist on this project?
Showing perfectly sensible good taste, the City chose Ren’s design.
(Time for dinner. More later.)

So, now it’s time to figure out HOW to make it. I struggled for just long enough to realize that Solidworks is just not the right tool for such a task. Nor would any of the other tools in my toolbox be fast and accurate enough (in my hands at least) to build the complex surfaces needed for the mermaid. FormZ? I’d have thrown my computer out the window after half an hour. I realized that an old friend was going to be required – hey Rhino, how ya doin’? Before I lost my marbles and abandoned the Windows world for a Mac, Rhino was the program that first enabled me to make the switch from carving stone to computer sculpting. I was amazed at how it all came back to me – I was able to jump right back in almost as if the last 5 years hadn’t intervened.

Nonetheless, I was still too inept to just start building developable surfaces that looked like the mermaid in Rhino. I needed something to start from – so I modeled the rough form in Modo.
Mermaid in Modo
It was pretty easy to flesh out the shape I wanted – that sort of work is the bread and butter of polygonal modelers like Modo. Plus, it exports formats that Rhino has no problems translating. Here’s the mesh out of Modo with the beginnings of surfaces (the tail) that will eventually be the sheet metal of the mermaid.
Mermaid - Mesh to NURBS in Rhino1
Some more progress:
Mermaid - Mesh to NURBS in Rhino2
And the finished model:
Mermaid 4-View
From here, it’s time to unroll all those surfaces so that they can be used as a pattern to drive the laser cutter. My Rhino rustiness let me make a few problematic surfaces – they were curved in two directions, which is pretty damn hard to persuade 14 gauge stainless steel sheet to do. Happily, Rhino also includes tools to compensate for this – actually, Rhino seems to be one of those programs that allows you to do pretty much anything you can think of; the tools are there if you just dig deep enough.
Anyway here’s what the unfolded parts look like:
Mermaid Paths
And here’s the final design, all gussied up for its trip to Italy:
Mermaid Render - Front
(No, it’s not REALLY Italy – just a cheesy computer render)
I’ll post more when I get some time.


In an effort to make up for a dearth of posts, here’s a whole bunch of crap vomited into the tubes all at once.
BookMobile - bottom 2
Book mobile design for a school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Here’s another angle:
BookMobile - top
Buffalo - Pattern and Model
Once again when I’m desperate for cash, my friend Bruce comes through. I spent quite a bit of time working with him to get a usable unfolded pattern made for his buffalo piece. Looking forward to seeing it finished one of these days.
Ristra Mobile
Have some good clients down in Santa Fe who are looking to find a way to bring some durability to the omnipresent ristra. (They are having problems with the wind, mice and ants destroying the traditional ones.) This was my first concept, which fails on the wind-resistance front. Presently working on iteration number two.

More SolidWorks designs.

SkatePark_Entry 04
Entryway for a skateboard park with walls for donor plaques.
Mokingbird Awning-shadow
Stainless steel “awning” designed to emphasize the cast shadow.

Skinning the bases.

Water&Power 008

Ren helped me install the second layer of 12 gauge sheets to the bases. In the lovely “November in Colorado” wind – a 30 mph gust can sure make 150 pounds feel like 300. Yippee! Drilled and placed over 200 rivets over the course of three days.

Bitching aside, it’s that much closer to being done.

Water and Power – installed.

W&P Install 019

The Water and Power sculptures are (finally!) in their rightful places. I was a little too busy to get any good action shots, but I’ll see if I can’t find some and post ’em. In the meantime, check out my flickr photostream for more.

These things are really, really big. And blue. And yellow.

Water & Power – the end is near.

Water&Power 002I intended to follow up on my previous post with a little info about my new computer and new software, but forming and pouring 30 cubic yards of concrete sorta stifles the urge to make blogginess. I’ve been having a blast, despite working my ass off, due mainly to getting a chance to work with my big brother Scott again. Couldn’t have done this one without him.

Thanks dude.


Thing are under construction around here. I’ll post a more detailed explanation of what’s going on soon – but for now, suffice it to say that I’m moving back to Blogger and using it as my main web portal. I was able to consolidate all my old Emptyful posts into this new Exocubic Studio blog using Google’s Blogger in Draft mode, which allows importing and exporting whole blogs. So if you haven’t had a chance to look at the old stuff, there are actually some pretty interesting posts from way back. Here are a couple:

Making a Monument

Talk about coming around full circle:

Symbol Sconces

I’ve made some candle holders that mount on the wall (uhh – you hang ‘em on a nail). They are made of 14 gauge stainless steel with a sanded matte finish. You can put one or two tea lights on the little shelf that is sandwiched between the plates.
Candle Sconce Set
Here’s a diagram that shows how they are constructed:
Martini Sconce 3dEXPLO
And a truly professional night shot, with a lit candle:
Candlelit Sconce

“Water” being sandblasted.

TD manufacturing in Greeley, Colorado prepping the “Water” piece for powder coating. Lloyd from Master Metal Works and I ran out to look it over and correct any flaws (I point out, Lloyd corrects). The metal looks really good. I’m excited that this project is finally starting to coalesce.
Sandblasting "Water" - 3

Meme is finished.

Meme - Finished - 03
Jafe Parsons got some preliminary shots to me this weekend of the finished “Meme” sculpture. Really, really pleased with this one. I think it is my best work to date – if that statement actually means anything. I oftentimes feel that my latest effort is my best; it takes a bit of time and perspective to get a true sense of how a single work fits into an oeuvre. Yet this does feel like a less tentative, bolder statement of form that is derived intrinsically and exclusively from my current process – the computer as primary tool for sculptural expression.

Number Six.

"Together" - Little Rock
Back from Little Rock, Arkansas having installed my sixth major piece of public art. None of these installations comes off without a hitch, but it seemed like this one was actually easier than some of the others – perhaps indicating that John* and I are actually learning? Personally, I was able to relax a bit more, which in turn allowed me to communicate better with our crane operator and everyone helping us. The elderly crane owner was there (in addition to the operator) and his expertise made a huge impact – but he was very soft-spoken and had the thickest Arkansas accent I’d yet encountered. It took a conscious effort on my part to pause and really talk things over with him in order to comprehend what he was advising. I think I’ve finally gotten mature enough to shut off the ego and do what’s needed to achieve the goal. About time. Also, the Little Rock Parks and Rec guys were there to help us out, and they REALLY did. The strongest lesson I came away with was that we collectively are much more capable and wise than any of us is singularly.

* – John Kinkade, the Executive Director of the National Sculptors’ Guild and my dear friend of 16 years. (That’s him on the far right above.)

More pictures here.


I’ve been working on some ideas for more utilitarian designs – if you can call a candleholder useful. The first image is the sheet metal shapes as modeled in FormZ.
Candle Holder Model
And here is the first prototype in 14 gauge stainless.
Candle holder
This is (kinda) what it looks like with a tea light candle inside. I made a little platform that sits inside that will hopefully make the thing a little safer – the top of the enclosure does get pretty hot, but one of the unique properties of stainless steel is it’s low thermal conductivity compared to other metals. The top gets hot but the sides stay cool.
Candle holder Lit
The whole point of this piece is the pattern generated by the flickering light traveling through the holes, but my low-light camera skills is be real goodz – I could show you the pretty black rectangle I made, but… yeah.

Environmental responsibility and the artist.

This picture, of Antony Gormley’s “Waste Man” burning – filling the air with the noxious smoke of tons of discarded wood – set me thinking. Uh oh.

I understand that part of the point of this piece was to call attention to the massive amounts of waste we in the developed world produce, and to highlight the ephemeral essence of all the “stuff” we strive so hard to acquire. Gormley is one of my favorite sculptors – but this kind of condescending spectacle has definitely lowered his esteem in my eyes. Why exacerbate the very problems you are hoping to solve?

This brings up a point that bugs me no end regarding my own choice of method and material: how to reconcile the obvious environmental crisis-in-progress and my part in it with my (and our culture’s) need to create and express. Is Gormley’s monstrous cloud of smoke any worse in the end than the unseen multiple such clouds emanating from the iron mine, the steel mill, the tractor-trailer delivering the raw material for MY sculptures? Finding a point of equilibrium that allows one to be in the world without accelerating it’s destruction is probably the most profound and important question we all must ask ourselves as we venture into a new millennium.

What do you think?


Meme 1
This idea – or at least the seed of it – has been floating around inside my mind’s eye for quite a while. I finally have the tools to make it a reality, which I find pretty damn exciting. It is meant as a symbolic treatment of Richard Dawkins’ “meme” concept:

“A meme (pronounced /mi╦Ém/) consists of any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods and terms such as race, culture, and ethnicity. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a “culture” in a manner similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a gene.” (From the Wikipedia article.)

It’s that “propagate” bit that this piece plays on in the form of a concentric ripple – an idea moving from mind to mind like a wave, spreading out from it’s origin and altering the energy state of other ideas within the culture. It also employs the imagery of a matrix or lattice to illustrate the memeplex being made up of individual, discrete consciousnesses experiencing a collective and individual transformation through the propagation. I think of this process when I analyze the slow but steady progress our species is making from one cultural paradigm to the next, as ideas like liberty, responsibility, and reason spread virally and replace those of dominance, exploitation, and superstition. As more minds begin to cohere, constructive interference amplifies these waves – and everything gets just a little bit better.

Pas de Deux (Hello, Captain Cliche)

I’ve finally had some time to break away from the Water & Power project. What do I do with the time? Design more sculptures, of course. OCD, anyone? I need to update my How? section to reflect the new tools I’ve been using – I’ve moved away from SketchUp and into fromZ for modeling. FormZ is a much more powerful tool, but it’s burdened with a commensurate bump in complexity. I still spend more time wondering what the hell is going on rather than feeling confident in the necessary procedure to do what I need. This confusion has actually been a subtle prod to more creativity – playing without understanding can bring you back to the “Beginner’s Mind” that breeds newness and breaks habits.
Pas de Deux Studio 1
I just couldn’t shake the impression of one form aiding the other to float overhead – like two ballet dancers in a pas de deux. This was rendered in Maxwell – I’m a rank amateur, so am excited about the potential quality renders looming on the horizon.