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4/15/21

The TKS Modular Sculpture.



Introducing the TKS, The second in a series of magnetically modular mini sculptures. Everyone knows I love iterating around an idea and my last small magnetic work was ripe to expand upon. 

The first of the series was the NC3. When working on that piece I wrote about the novelty (and perils) of using magnets. I said that I am cautious when using materials that are inherently novel because novelty itself can become the dominant medium, one with a short shelf-life. 

While I am always careful about how I employ mechanics to ensure I am pursuing sculptural ends, it is easy to become dogmatic to ones detriment, and it occurs to me that in order to truly understand something (like novelty) it helps to lean into it on occasion. 

So with that said let's dive into what's behind this new piece. 


In addition to magnets, I have added some ball-bearings to the configuration, because if I am going to explore mechanical novelty, well, it ought to have layers. 

This results in a magnetically modular piece that not only spins, but also has a remarkable tactile feeling when rolled around in the hand. This piece is as much a joy to hold as it is to look at. 

There is more to why I find this work so interesting, so lets keep going.


Another topic that arose while working on the NC-3, the work that preceded this, is that it was based on well-defined geometric principles. The NC-3 was built around a platonic solid called a octahedron. This new work is built on another platonic solid, the tetrahedron. 

While practicing machine work requires good working knowledge of various geometric principals, I have never really considered what I do to be “math art”. If you dig around a bit, you will find that math art is quite its own thing (see my sculptor pal George Hart). Math art is not really something I can lay any real claim to (for lack of true mastery) but my work often overlaps with it at the edges and this is a case where I wanted to push into that sphere, if just a little. And so I quite intentionally adopted the tetrahedral format as my starting point rather than just being a convenient coincidence. 


The frame work for the entire piece was built around something called the "dihedral angle" which is the angle between the faces of a given shape. The dihedral angle of a tetrahedron is 70.529° and it is an important angle because it is used to ensure all of the magnets sit face to face when assembled.

The rest of the visual form was derived from using that angle as a constraint. 

In addition to basic geometry, this work had a number of more technical engineering challenges that proved a great opportunity to apply some fascinating physics principles.


For starters, unlike a octahedron, mating the parts of a tetrahedron with magnets does not present a straightforward solution in terms of arranging the polarity across them. Getting four individual pieces to attract the other three meant that I couldn’t simply apply a single polarity (north, or south) to each part evenly. Instead I ended up with a polarity map like the one you see above.

The result is that while the NC-3 was fully rearrangeable, this work really only assembles one or two ways.


Getting the magnetic assembly solved was just the beginning however. Making the rest of the mechanics play nicely meant finding a sweet spot between the mass of the parts and the magnetic forces employed to hold them together.

My first prototype for this sculpture had two main issues. The mass of the stainless steel spinning elements was a bit on the heavy side, and the magnetic pull holding them together was a bit on the weak side. This meant that the centrifugal force of spinning the sculpture was prone to sending those stainless elements flying off.


To make the parts lighter without wildly altering the piece, I applied what is known as the square cube law, which states that an object's volume increases (or decreases) at a greater rate than its surface area when being scaled. 


A simple example is that a 1" cube has a surface area of six square inches and a volume of one cubic inch. If you double its size to a 2" cube, the surface area increases to twenty-four square inches (a factor of 4 or 22).  However the volume of that same cube increases to eight cubic inches, (a factor of 8 or 23)

Practically applied, by decreasing the overall size of the parts by a mere 3%, I was able to make the entire work a full 10% lighter (I also fiddled with some internal dimensions to squeeze that extra 1%).


To increase the magnetic attraction between the parts, I had to move the magnets closer to their target. How much closer would make a difference? It turns out a very small amount, and the inverse square law is how to explain this. 

The force of attraction between two magnetic poles is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. In this instance I was solving for magnet to steel, but the principal is the same.

After crunching the numbers, I calculated that I could increase the magnetic force by a factor of 2.6 simply by moving the magnets a mere .016” closer to the parts I wanted to stick. 

This small design change was trickier than it seems, but it made an enormous difference. Now the parts all attach quite securely.


This is all pretty basic stuff to an engineer, but I still find it immensely satisfying to be able to ground elements of my work in some real nuts-and-bolts logic. In the video above I discuss all of this a bit more casually.  A video is worth a million words however, so hopefully it helps smooth out all the "umms" and "ahhhs"that come out of my mouth.

Another fun thing is that since these pieces contain magnets they sort of talk to each other when moved in proximity. 


I am pleased with how many interests of mine I was able to wrap into this little work. I hope it helps demonstrate how pursuing machine-work as a visual medium constantly brings one into contact with other spheres of knowledge. 

I have never had to look far to find a catalyst for a visual concept and this piece embodies this idea nicely. Who knows, maybe this will end up being a three piece set. 

Simulated color pallet for the edition

So as is customary, I am going to offer these up as an edition. 

I am adding pink and yellow to my anodizing line so there will be lots to choose from in terms of colors. 

 I will post a sign-up starting Friday April 16th at 10 AM EST. I will include details of the sale as well as the price at that time.

As always, comments and questions are welcome.

3/30/21

Sculptural Knife Bowl

 


Introducing the next installment in my “Sharp Arts” series, The "Sculptural Knife Bowl". It is a piece that combines elements of knife making and wood turning (and yes a big chunk of iron-nickel meteorite) into an object that is far more sculptural than it is functional.



If you are unfamiliar with my earlier project, The Sculptural Knife Vase, I highly recommend you visit it as the premise for this sculpture remains similar and I have written a tightly packed thesis for the whole project on that page.


But even if you don’t go back, I will adventure to flesh this out some here as well, there is always more to say, if in a slightly different way.



The premise for my sharp artworks series, simply put, is that machine-work is a medium that straddles a lot of worlds within the industrial and decorative arts. To properly understand machine-work as a sculptural medium, one needs to foster an appreciation for the way it intersects the fields of glass art, woodturning, ceramics and the other metal trades. Most of the industrial trades that have since been turned to various arts mediums have distinct craft forms that help define them.



These craft-forms are of interest to me because while machining is a craft that shares a similar industrial past, there are few signature forms one can point to that uniquely representative it as a medium.


The machinist landscape seems to lack ubiquitous forms that fall neatly into the paradigm of craft and craft-form.


Because of this absence of unique craft-forms within the world of machined metal, I have spent considerable time exploring what a “machined craft-form” might be. Should machining eventually find better standing as a sculptural medium, what forms might come to define it?



knife making and wood-turning have been front of mind for me a lot lately. I follow quite a few craftspeople within these fields who demonstrate manual dexterity and skill, as well as a thoughtfulness with materials that I find inspiring.


My appreciation for these makers has led me to believe that telling my story means telling their stories. To do this properly, I reasoned direct appropriation would not suffice. If I were to simply turn a bowl, then it wouldn’t be a commentary on woodturning, it would simply be an instance of that vocation. Likewise, making a traditional knife wouldn’t be recognizable as anything other than an exercise in knife making as well.



I felt the best way to do a proper appreciation that creates an opportunity for dialogue was to combine various craft forms in a way that played off each other in an interesting way and highlighted the unique possibilities my medium brings to them.

It has led to this kind of mash-up, where elements from multiple disciplines are combined to make objects that are wholly impractical, intentionally more sculptural than functional, but represent the commonalities between various modes of object making.

This is my second attempt with this line of thinking and the result is the Sculptural Knife Bowl.


Why Woodturning? 


Woodturning is a craft that most resembles aspects of my own process. Aside from the fact that woodturning is most often performed with hand guided tools instead of constrained by manual or automated machine motion, turning wood and turning metal have much in common.



When I meet woodturners there is instant kinship. They get my work instantly and the conversations quickly proceed to highly technical and interesting topics. 


One of the most common craft forms within woodturning is bowl making, and so it seemed a natural fit for this project. Sometimes it is as simple as that.



Why knife making?


I have already written extensively about this over on the Sculptural Knife Vase post so I will just pull some quotes from there. 


Knife making is a discipline that perfectly captures the dichotomy between historical and contemporary industrial processes. It is a field that mixes historic and modern methods and is that rare craft that maintains working “first hand knowledge” of nearly every technological step of its long history.


While its historical traditions are alive and well, the world of knife making has also been completely transformed by the adoption of modern machine tools and new technology.



Knife making’s influence on the creative culture of machine-work is undeniable. It has a long decorative arts tradition that has only grown with the adoption of digital fabrication technology. As a metal sculptor who is involved in the ways the process can inform the aesthetic elements of a craft, knife making is beyond fascinating to me.


I found it difficult to approach the craft directly through my work. My process typically involves stripping away the utility from various design or craft concepts to better reveal what is aesthetically interesting about them. However it occurred to me that it isn’t necessary to fully strip the utility from a knife to appreciate its inherent aesthetic qualities; one can simply put those qualities into a unique context.



The knife bowl?


Creating a distinct and impractical Bowl might seem an odd way to explore woodturning and knife making together, but as with the Sculptural Knife Vase (above), using blades as sculptural elements creates an interesting contrast that elevates what would otherwise be utilitarian forms into something to be appreciated aesthetically. It is the best way I know of to get people to stop and consider what the decorative arts have given to the creative arts and vice versa.



I am committed to periodically visiting this tangent in my work as time permits. When I sketched out a plan for this series, I made three designs, two of which I have now made.


Time will tell whether or not I get around to the third and final piece in this saga, but no doubt these experiences will find expression elsewhere in my work. 



Process notes:


I have folded in many of the technical elements I learned over the last few years. I spent the better part of last year making sculptures with components that were turned from various exotic hardwoods. My approach to the blades was also heavily informed by my previous work.


The body of the bowl is turned in Desert Ironwood, which is actually a common knife making material, but not one you often find in a wood turning studio. Likewise, I couldn't resist the urge to include a large piece of machined iron nickel meteorite (a very exotic knife making material with historical roots) as the focal point for the bottom of the bowl.

(See here for more details on the use of meteorite in knife making)


I documented some, but not all, of my work on this one. I was juggling a few projects and so I was spotty with the camera for a bit. Above is what I was able to capture. I hope it is at least partially illuminating (if incomplete).


As always, questions and comments are welcome.




1/11/21

NC-3: A Magnetically Assembled Machined Metal Sculpture



I have another fun little sculpture to share with all of you. This one is inspired by my most recent major work, which itself was inspired by a number of much older sculptures. The whole thing is kind of circular in a satisfying way to me. 

This work happened because I wanted to give weight to a simple phenomenon that I have encountered many times during my career. It is easy to overlook, but common enough that I have heard numerous artists mention it also. I suspect what I am referring to is actually quite universal.
 

What I am talking about is this; often when I am executing a design, I will reach a point in the work that, while unfinished from the standpoint of my original plan, the work seems interesting or complete as it is. I will sometimes look at a half assembled sculpture or a solitary part and think “this could be a sculpture all by itself”. This happens with some frequency, and it happened yet again while I was assembling my last sculpture. I decided that this would be the time I latch onto the moment, and make a small sculpture with that it in mind.

Of course I am being dramatic, but I think it is important to exaggerate the little things. However one is able to identify and commit to ideas is worth elevating just a bit. When I was a younger artist, I was often dismissive of the little quirks of mind that yielded the best ideas. There are no doubt others in my shoes and I relish taking small luxuries with my work. My smaller works are expressly intended to be a fun way to approach some of the trends I see in the fine art world, the machinist world, and my own muddled head.


This work incorporates two dozen magnets to hold the assembly together and their use is another thing that I have given an unusual amount of thought to. Magnets are inherently novel, and while novelty is a tool many artists use, it is one that should be handled with care because it wears off ver fast.




There have been many novel art fads that have come and gone, and the work that outlasts them is work that has more going for it than what is in vogue (fidget spinners anyone). I think it is perfectly appropriate to make work that addresses a trend, but I always try to do so within a framework that takes a much longer view of whatever it is. 



So if I am going to use magnets, I just want to be sure I have sufficient justification for doing so other than the fact that, no matter how much you understand them, magnets still always seem to be somehow magical. 



Many of you will be familiar with some form of (currently popular) magnetic desk toy, rightly or wrongly this work will no doubt fall into this category for some. Now I don’t really mind how people view my work, but as most of you know, I personally do not see these pieces as toys or gadgets, I see them as experiments in sculpture (fine art or otherwise). 

Hopefully this is seen by most as some combination of commentary and appropriation. 



With that all said, my choice to use magnets in this case was actually a simple one. This work is a scaled down version of a larger concept that utilizes a mechanical turnbuckle system. Magnets provide a perfect analogy for the forces that system creates, only by a different means. 


If you are unfamiliar a turnbuckle, it is a piece of hardware typically used to adjust tension in a cable or chain. It has three primary components: a body, a right-hand threaded end fitting, and a left-hand threaded end fitting. When you turn the body, the two threaded ends are pulled together or pushed apart equally. 

With the larger works, alternating spheres had either right-hand or left-hand threads to allow the turnbuckle bolt in the center gears to tighten those elements together. It was the engineering framework for the entire piece.



For this much smaller work, a turnbuckles system was both too complex, and overkill from a fastening standpoint. So instead, this work uses magnets to attract the spheres and uses alternating magnetic poles of attraction to similar effect.

On the configuration above, the brass spheres have north facing magnets, and the Stainless spheres have south facing magnets. Only opposite spheres will attract each other and because they are at right angles to each other, they self aline quite nicely.

This material combination demonstrates that functionality perfectly. Because of this, I am calling this particular color combo  "Polar Logical" 


There is an elegance to this smaller work that the larger ones lack, this piece derives a lot of complexity from only two unique machined parts (excluding the magnets that is). This is precisely what I aim to do in all of my work, set up a logical system that builds and amplifies itself to create complexity from a relatively small number of constraints and visual elements. Rarely does it work quite this well. 


Given the interest this piece has already attracted, I am going to be offering it as a pre-order edition. I will send out a second post this coming Wednesday Jan 13th with the sign up form and all of the details of the sale. I have a lot of details to work out still, but let's say 11 AM EST. 

I will likely offer the four varieties above; stainless/brass, brass/stainless, polar logical, and full stainless steel.  

As always, questions and comments are welcome. 

12/5/20

How do you engineer a work of Fine Art?


How do you engineer a work of Fine Art?

-Think about what you want to make.

-Think about how you are going to make it. -Consider how the processes and tools you might use to execute your idea can inform and change it in a conceptual or aesthetically meaningful way.

-Adjust your concept or design accordingly.

-Repeat this process until your idea and it’s process considerations reach an equilibrium, a state where each fully complements and reinforces the other without dissonance or significant compromise.

-Now go make it. 

Video notes: I did my best with this process video. Designing, engineering, and fabricating a work this complex is quite a feat in itself, being my own videographer and editor on top of that was sometimes a stretch. I occasionally missed a step, got a poor shot, or the quality suffered in some way (hey, I am one person). There were times when ensuring that the fabrication process at hand was successful took priority over filming. This is especially true at the end when I was assembling the sculpture. I just needed to put all my energy into carefully assembling this thing without destroying months of work, and so I missed a lot of that process. All and all, I think it is still an enjoyable ride though. Thanks for watching.

11/24/20

Sculpture: OT 822233761411553612

New Work!

While all my sculpture releases feel special to me, this one feels almost momentous. It is my first attempt at using mixed materials in a major sculpture work, and in as much, it feels like it has opened the field a bit for me. 

The concept for this sculpture was well over a decade in the making, with active development running about two years from rough sketch to completion.


This work incorporates many elements from my most recent wood based experiments, the Woody Worry-stones, the BWD, and SPG projects. 

While free standing works on their own, these forerunner projects were serving double duty as color and material trials, and helped me refine a number of machining techniques that paved the way for fabricating this much more elaborate composition.


There is plenty in this work that speaks to recent developments within my craft, but the design also marries them with a visual language I have been developing for much (much!) longer. If you dig through my catalogue, you will find references to works that stretch back well over a decade. In this way, I consider it a retrospective piece, one that shows the spectrum of where my work has been and where I think it is going.


While the thesis for some of my smaller editions can often be very specific explorations of a craft or novel concept (like knife making or Netsuke), these major works are typically broader attempts to bring together an entire body of hard won knowledge. So with that in mind, I won’t expound quite as much as I sometimes do. 




Technical notes:

The earliest drafts of this work were made with the intention that the entire piece would be made of various metals, as is typical. But once my comfort level with working Desert Ironwood increased, that quickly changed as the opportunity it presented is quite obvious. 


Once I made the decision to incorporate ironwood into the piece, the rest of the design fell into place quite naturally.

Everything that is except for the color palette, which I was fine tuning right up until the last minute. I even changed a color decision while some parts were underway in the anodizing tank!


The assembly of this work incorporates elements I have used in a number of past works. Most notably is a turnbuckle style fastening system that holds the main body elements together. It is one that I think speaks to the unique opportunities being a machinist can have for the creation of sculpture. The video above should explain a bit more.


Above is also an image with a soda can in it for scale. I was sure to include one this time, as it is one of the most common requests when I release a work.


Dimensions are roughly a 22” square.



The technical drawing for this piece is huge, over 77" across at full scale. 




As always, comments and questions are welcome.

10/13/20

It isn’t exactly mud and metal but let me explain: A collaboration with ceramicist Eric Moss


Today I wanted to share something that you might not know about me. I have been a metal sculptor for over two decades, but strangely enough, a very large proportion of the artists I follow happen to be people who primarily work in ceramics and clay (one of them, is Eric Moss). I can’t say why exactly, but while I live my creative life among metal, I am disproportionately drawn to pottery and ceramic sculpture. 

Maybe it's because I found I am allergic to dusty environments that my path took me into metal instead of clay. Either way, despite my vocation of choice, I have developed a great appreciation for the muddy arts. Given that knowledge, one might assume that a mud and metal collaboration with another artist was inevitable, and you would be right...sort of 


So while I would like to announce a collaboration between myself and fellow ceramic artist Eric Moss, the funny twist is that my contribution to this project will not actually be made of metal, it will be wood? Who would have thought? 

I should really let Eric speak for himself as he is the one doing the heavy lifting for this project. Below are his thoughts on the project. 


From Eric:


“I first encountered Chris’ extraordinary art in 2018 in the Instagram posts of one of his collectors, who also happened to be following my channel. He remarked on our similarity of appreciation in forms (and even then dreamed of a collaboration). The core of my practice then was raku firing ceramics, a low-tech, fast and brutal process with the end result left very much to the whim of the kiln gods rather than the artist – in my early years much of my output was lost to thermal shock breakages in the final moments after firing. Raku, I thought, might be too far removed from Chris’ precise, controlled and tight-tolerance work to consider a combined artwork?

Early in 2020, as Chris was preparing for release of his ‘worry stone’ meld of metal and wood, and in mutual appreciation of each other’s work, we agreed an artswap. Chris sent me a prototype worry stone in exchange for one of my two-part, wheel-thrown raku-fired ‘squid’. By 2020 I had already branched out into slipcasting my ‘waveform’ sculptures in porcelain tile form, driven by the need economically to make identical pieces for tessellating wall arrays. So, when Chris posted an image of a small collection of ‘overrun’ machined exotic wood ‘jewels’ from his project, and I mused how they might look presented in a ceramic mount, Chris sent a dozen over to me in the UK to “have a play”!



The initial impression of Chris’ worry stone was chrysalis-like with the grooved wood jewel appearing like the segmented underside of a beetle. So, I decided my ceramic mount might echo a beetle’s upper side ‘elytra’ (or wing cases). But, still occupied in ‘oloid’ and ‘waveform’ production, I first tried the jewels in both modified oloids and waveforms, each given a new recess to accommodate the jewel. These Prototypes #1, #2 and #3 had the feel of seeds with the jewel forming the germ part and Instagram posts of them were sparking interest and requests to acquire. Prototype #3 ‘waveforms’ in Parian have the added appeal of translucency as well as tactility.

My early experiments prompted Chris to offer to promote a possible collaborative edition, although he was still keen to see a prototype #4 of the ‘elytra’ that I’d first suggested. I set out to try to make these and to make the means to batch produce all four prototype themes should each/any garner enough interest for production? The modified oloids (Prototypes #1 & #2), with my primitive making methods, entailed so many hours of finessing that I elected to make them only for special commission. I am still investigating the technicalities of making the elytra in ceramic (developing a ‘slip injection process’ using plaster casts and kitchenalia) but present instead a divergence into pewter casting of the carved cuttlefish variant ‘elytra’ which I think works beautifully. I rediscovered cuttlefish casting in 2019 and was keen to incorporate it into my practice both in metal and ceramic. Lead-free Pewter is a pleasantly heavy (and easily cast) metal and it well defines the expressed laminae of carved cuttlefish in a sensuous, tactile form.“
E.M.



As you can read, Eric went in quite a few directions with this project, and really used it as an opportunity to explore and grow into a range of processes. I have enjoyed exchanging messages with him over the last couple months as developments unfolded.

The more I have learned about Eric's work, the more I see myself in it. His aesthetic instincts are quite complementary to my own, so it is fascinating to see my small wooden gems serve as a powerful catalyst for his work. To have something I designed and machined juxtaposed with such a diametrically different medium is an invaluable way to reflect on my own process and contrast the two.


My craft is inherently precise, and Erics is much more squishy, but they have more in common than one might think. Ceramic work actually fits perfectly into one of the themes I talk about quite often here on this blog.

Ceramics is one of the oldest industrial processes, And while it has taken many forms throughout history in many cultures, its transition to a distinct contemporary fine art studio medium exhibits similarities with others crafts that share a utilitarian and decorative tradition.


Like wood turning, glass making, and various kinds of metal work, it is a process whose primary function has (very slowly in this case) shifted from the utilitarian to artistic as technology has changed. While I am wholly unclear on the timeline, one might point to the transition away from manual ceramics production to industrial slip casting as the point where the modern studio ceramics movement was really able to take shape. 

Again and again, when we see industry turn away from skilled labor and toward technology, those cast off skills often find a new niche within the fine arts. As a sculptor working with technology, that story has always captivated me and it is a great point of intersection between what I do, and what Eric does. 

I think this project embodies all of that perfectly. 


So the next question might be "Can I own one?"

Of course. As you might have guessed, we are going to offer up this project as an edition. I will be making a range of hardwood inserts for Eric, and he will be lovingly crafting a home for each of them.

If you are a collector of my work, or Erics, and are interested in adding one of these wonderful artifacts to your collection, simply click the link below and everything you need to know should be there.  


Thank you.



I hope you enjoy this project as much as I do, and as always, comments and questions are always welcome.