A new high contrast baby mobile

A previous post described my process for making a plywood mobile. I’ve since added a new tool and some materials to my process so I thought it would be relevant to document this latest build.

This mobile was commissioned by a close friend (disclaimer, I struggle a lot with commissions so I don’t take them easily). I started by drawing several sketches by hand and then putting them into a digital document as a mockup. I made several but I’ll show you only the one my friend chose:

mobile mockup

The fish are a salmon and a flounder since I wanted to have some species from California. I’m particularly proud of the salmon drawing. At this point I converted the images to vector drawings and started cutting them on the laser cutter. I used 1/8″ birch plywood. Every piece was cut in two parts that were mirror opposites. The plywood had masking tape which allowed me to precisely cut the mask for the shapes I had drawn.

In order to glue the pieces, I made registration holes that fit a paper clip. Conveniently I could later use the registration holes for hanging the pieces. The holes were 0.03″ in diameter and 0.03″ apart.

I pre-treated one side of the plywood with spray-on shellac and a light sanding before applying the masking tape. I found that a light coat of shellac allows me to remove the masking tape without raising the grain and it’s a good surface for painting.

two salmon pieces coming out of the laser cutter
Flounder ready to be glued with the paper clips aligning the two pieces.
Never too many clamps when gluing. I used plain wood glue for this part.

The fun thing about scoring the masking tape is that I don’t have to re-trace the drawings and I get to paint one of the colors with a blunt tool. For the black, I did two coats of Montana water-based acrylic paint, and for white two or three coats of Golden high flow acrylic. I like high flow acrylic because it can be applied with a brush or a quill for finer detail.

acrylic paint
acrylic paint
Weeding out the mask to uncover the black sections.
Ready to paint
It’s nice to wear gloves for this step.
Peeling the mask for the white sections.
There was a little bit of bleed.

The bleed wasn’t too much of a problem on this project because I had a two-color palette but, incidentally I just saw this video where they suggest applying a clear coat before painting to clog the edges of the mask. I have to try that next time. On the last picture, I’m applying paint with a small brush and a quill for small areas.

Ready to hang!

I didn’t do all the pieces at once because I wasn’t sure the proportions were right on the mockup. I worked from the bottom up and at some point, I even re-cut the pieces that go on the flounder. The process could be more efficient but at the end, I was happy with the results.

For the lines, I like using bead stringing wire. It’s flexible, strong, and it looks really clean. The one downside is that you need to purchase crimp tubes and a crimping tool. I think you could skip the crimping tool and use regular pliers if you are in a pinch. The crimping tool just gives you a slightly cleaner and more consistent look.

In order to make the pieces face down for the baby to see, I used this triangular arrangement:


Perhaps the most challenging part of this project was taking pictures of the finished product. It’s really hard to convey the experience in still images. Here are my attempts, thanks for reading!

 

    

Experiments with Air-Dry Clay

When I saw Shaun Tan’s “The Singing bones” I fell in love with his simple and evocative sculptures.  I was delighted to find out he used inexpensive materials and techniques so I set out to experiment on my own. In the afterword of The Singing Bones Shawn explains:

“The main materials I’ve used are papier-mache and air-drying clay, carved back and painted with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, wax and shoe polish. The resistance of clay in particular at a small scale encourages simplicity, especially where the key tools are blunt fingers and thumbs: Faces and gestures are abbreviated, just like characters in the tales themselves. “

He also wrote a blog post about his process. I remember playing a lot with modeling clay when I was a child. I created a lot of creatures and strange faces and I think I wanted to experience that aimless sense of creation again. I bought some relatively inexpensive Crayola brand air-dry clay at a store near me and set out to feel the material.

My first tub of air-dry clay

It’s nice to work with when wet and it accepts the common clay techniques and tools. But my favorite part is carving it when it has dried a little bit (usually a few hours depending on your climate).  A made a short video to demonstrate:

 

The tools I’ve been using besides my fingers are a couple of carving gouges, an X-Acto knife with a #22 blade (the curved edge is nice for scraping), a paper clip and a bamboo skewer:

Some of my carving Tools

Size wise I’ve stayed below 1.5″ x 1.5″ roughly. I think this type of clay can support bigger sizes especially if you make a wire structure but it’s nice to have limitations. Here are some of the characters I’ve made so far, ruler and coins for scale:

 

I think I would enjoy making more elaborate sets for these characters but so far I’ve kept it simple. Sometimes I take pictures on top of my sketchbooks or inside a lightbox I made out of foam core and tracing paper. Total cost (without the lamps) was less than $2, there are a lot of tutorials out there for building your own, this Instructable would be a good start.

DIY lightbox is about 12″x12″x12″

Right now I’m more interested in the shapes than in the stories of each character. Although I hope some of the pictures will suggest a story by themselves. Here is a collection of the ones I’ve posted so far on my Instagram account. I think it’s a fun and approachable material, I suggest you give it a try.

 

One year of Melt-thology

I have a ritual with my friend Joe Linton. On the third Tuesday of (almost) every month we ride our bikes to Meltdown comics and draw together at the Melt-thology comix jam. A big part of the appeal for me is to hang out with Joe and talk about comics and life, but it is also a good opportunity to draw in a different environment. Occasionally Joe will bring his daughter Maeve (aka Super Maeve) and it’s great to watch them collaborate on a comic.

It’s a very friendly set up and at the end the artwork is collected with $3 for printing costs and you get a zine the following month with a collection of everyone’s contributions. It goes from 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm which sounds like a lot of time to complete one page but I’ve been surprised more than once, this stuff takes time.

If you are in the L.A area I would encourage you to go. The venue is the legendary Meltdown Comics and it is a fun way to meet other artists and share some of your work. Find more info on the Melt-thology facebook page or Instagram.

My melt-thology zine collection so far.

I feel like my submissions have been a mixed bag. Sometimes I try to do a mini-comic and sometimes I go for a simple illustration. I like the two hour restriction because it forces me to finish something quick, so I concentrate more on the overall effect rather than getting caught in the details. Here is a collection of all the ones I’ve submitted so far in order of appearance, also notice I got to do the cover for #19.

melt-thology #13
melt-thology #16
melt-thology #17
melt-thology #18
melt-thology #19
melt-thology #20
melt-thology #21
melt-thology #22
melt-thology #23
melt-thology #24
melt-thology #25
melt-thology #26
melt-thology #27
melt-thology #29

Warm Heart Automata

A little story about how not to steal like an artist first. Sometimes I seek inspiration in social media. One day I found this awesome illustration by Instagram user @you_just_illusion and decided to use it as the base for this drawing. I sincerely though I had made it different enough and imbued it with my own style but that’s not how he felt and he let me know in a polite direct message. I apologized and we agreed that a shout out to his work would be enough atonement.

I think sometimes there is a fine line between inspiration and copying and it seems like I crossed the line in this case. I wasn’t trying to be malicious but sometimes this happens. Originality is not very important to me. I subscribe to the “Everything is a remix” idea. And almost everything I do came out from somewhere else. Sometimes the influences get lost, mixed with the others. And sometimes you make the wrong judgement about how far you actually mixed something. In this case no one got seriously hurt and we had a good interaction. And I’m also satisfied with how this piece turned out.

The first version I drew was for a zine project I was working on, which you can see in the background here:

warm_hear_start_wolfcatworkshop

I’m on a quest to unite my visual output with my maker spirit. Making drawings that move seems like a great way to do that. I started by cutting the outlines out of 1/4 in plywood and attaching the flames to a couple of dowels.

My initial idea was a simple crank and some wavy motion but I wasn’t entirely sure about how the mechanism was going to work, so I made a prototype out of scrap wood and wire:

And here is what the final version looks like with the two cranks:

After I had the mechanism figured out I moved onto painting. I started with a few coats of white acrylic ink. I sanded that with 600 grit sandpaper to get a nice even surface and applied a coat of workable fixative. The fixative helps with bleeding. I applied the black ink with a brush and and quill for the fine details.

warm_heart_progressI like how you can still see the grain of the wood on the white areas.

Before the final assembly I coated the main surface of the box with superglue. It acts as a hard clean finish. The other parts were coated with a matte finish. The moving sections were lubricated with bee’s wax. I made the handle out of some ebony scavenged from the keys of and old piano a friend found in the street.

One final detail is the wall mount. This system with two matching pieces of wood cut at a 45 degree angle is called a “french cleat”. The screw on the side is for added stability when using the crank.

 

Artist Trading Cards for Reddit

I signed up for an artist trading card exchange on Reddit (at /r/ArtistSpeakEasy if you are curious). I like artist trading cards (ATC’s) because you can finish them fast and move on. Little 2.5″ by 3.5″ experiments. I’ve never actually traded them but I still like the idea.

For this batch I made a little card holder which you can see in action here.

I love receiving things on the mail and I wanted to create a nice experience for those who got one of these cards.

green with sadness

{green with sadness}
I was sad and worried because our cat was sick. This is what came out.


This was the second piece I made on a block of wood using the CNC to create the pockets and frame outline (the process is documented with more detail with the red cat series). It is also a character I drew first in 2012. Somehow I use it to process sadness.

 

garden gnome

This was my submission for the Doodlers Anonymous showcase sponsored by Tom Bihn.  Go over there and vote for it, the garden gnome will be most grateful.

The story behind it:

“I have been reading a Hundertwasser text called the garden gnome where he says the garden gnome is a reminder of how we used to talk to the grass and the birds and we no longer know how. The travel theme made me think about the film Amelie and how she convinces her father to travel the world by stealing his garden gnome and having a friend send postcards with the gnome around the world. I dream of traveling around speaking to the birds and the grass and the people and I’d love to send my friends postcards with a funny -yet deep- character that goes around clothed with whatever he finds in his journey.“