Monday, March 30, 2009

SKETCHBOOK - "Lunch Faces"

Sometimes, during lunch, I go sketching with a couple of my artist friends. These are some of the folks I saw at a food court across the street where I work. Part of the fun is seeing if we can get the drawings done without being seen by the "models".

The gentleman below I call "Mr. Goldtooth". He was writing in a little book...he'd stop and just stare with a big grin on his face, then go back to writing again. I decided to do a quick color study afterward to show the real shiny gold suit he was wearing. I'd love to know what he was thinking about!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

AUTOMATA - "Mr. Shorty"

I thought it appropriate to show one of my earliest toys that I made for my Dad, who just passed away this week. I gave this to him Christmas 2004. He loved to cut firewood with his chainsaw. Whenever there was a storm, he was one of the first guys to run over and help folks get the big limbs out of their yards. At his funeral, one of the stories about my Dad involved him helping a new neighbor go get firewood in the middle of the hot summer ("That's the time to gather it...not in the winter when you NEED it!).

When you turn the crank, "Mr. Shorty" stands up, then pushes down into the log with his saw. I don't know if Dad knew, but I made him saw the log in that way as an inside joke...he always used to laugh at guys that pushed and pulled on the saw like you would a normal handsaw. ("Just hold it steady...the saw will do all the work for you.")

Thanks again to all who offered prayers and kind thoughts for our family as we said goodbye to a truly wonderful, one-of-a-kind, genuine friend and father...James "Shorty" Ludwig. We'll miss him dearly.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sad News

Just wanted to let you know that my Father passed away last night. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers on my family's behalf.

Monday, March 23, 2009

SCULPTURE: "Leaf Lion"

This is a piece I created during my "Concrete Phase". I wanted to try and see if I could sculpt a bas-relief wall hanging and do some mold-making as well. I meant for the "mane" to look like leaves, but I'm not sure it really comes off like I intended.

To create the sculpture, I used brown plasticine clay you can get at any hobby shop (it doesn't harden or dry out). The image above left has been "colorized" to look like the original piece did, since the final sculpt is usually destroyed when pulled out of the mold. On the right side, you can see the latex rubber mold I made. It took several days to build up enough layers of liquid latex rubber (again, bought at a hobby shop). Each time I painted on a new coating of latex, I layered cut up strips of used fabric softener sheets from the dryer, to add strength to the mold.

When the rubber mold is about 1/8" thick, I then made a little box around the latex covered lion. I filled the box with cement to make the "mother mold" which will be the support for the latex mold. Above shows the mold after the brown clay sculpt has been removed. On the right, the mold is filled with cement. Notice the little hole I made on the back to hang the piece.

After a couple of days, the final casting has set up enough to pull off the latex mold. The image on the right shows the one that hangs on my back porch!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I love drawing "Bots"...I have lots of them in my sketchbooks. Here's one I drew while on a lengthy airline flight. I don't really plan what these robots will look like...I just start drawing, and they just start filling up the page.

Here's a quick "digital painting" of that sketch with a little color thrown in.

Lots more Bots to come!


Every so often I'll be posting some random images from my sketchbooks. This is one that I did while waiting for my wife to finish with a silver-smithing class she was taking. In this case, I just let my hand start drawing, without knowing where things would end up.

Just for fun, I thought I'd try a color study by "painting" on it in Photoshop.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AUTOMATA: "Uncle Icarus"

Here's another "toy" I made for myself. It's loosely based on the Greek myth about a guy who tried to escape Crete by making wings...and then unfortunately flew too close to the sun. I decided he would be an eccentric uncle who was constantly making weird inventions...I suppose it's a bit of a self-portrait, now that I think about it.

Originally, this piece was going to be a polymer clay sculpture, and not automata. The sketch in the upper left corner below shows "Icarus" jumping off the edge of a barn. I'm not really sure why I changed it into a crank-toy. As always, it went through several variations in sketch phase.

Here's an early stage of the figure. I used Super Sculpy to model the head and hands...carving the level of detail I wanted into the wood became too difficult. You can see that the legs are still very simple. I was able to use my dremel tool to grind out the shapes. I also redesigned the skinny arms into something more substantial.

When you crank the handle, the wings go up and down, his legs tilt down as his rear goes up.

Here are a few more detail views. I wanted the wings to look like they were made from pieces of lumber. I also chose to paint this toy in somewhat of an "antique" feels like an "old fashioned toy"...and it also covers up a lot of imperfections in my craftsmanship!

That's it for today...

PAINTINGS: "Neptune"

Another of my activities is "plein air" painting. My wife, Cat, and I enjoy "Art Days" together whenever we can arrange it. She's a photographer and we like to go to The Plaza in Kansas City to find interesting things. One of my favorite fountains is "King Neptune". I appreciate how His Highness always sits still for me while I paint!

This piece is 8"x6", oil on board.

This is 10"x8", oil on board.

On the day this photo was taken, a security guard came by to make sure I wasn't selling my wares without a permit! I assured him that I was just painting, and would be soon on my way. Nice to know our fair city is in such safe hands!

Sometimes, I'll just take my sketchbook instead of setting up all of my paint gear. I like to use brown paper with sepia pencils or a brush pen, then hit the highlights with a white Prismacolor pencil.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

By Request - My TREBUCHET

Okay...this one made me friend Mark asked me to post this. I had to dig around in the old archives to find these photos from 2003. The photo of the beautiful sky was taken by my wife, Cat, late one evening. This view is now long gone...a brand new school occupies the hillside...but I digress.

A friend at work and I got interested in trying to build a mini-trebuchet (that's a French variation on catapults). We each made our own desk-top-sized treb, and tossed erasers at each other. I had to up the ante, and built the one you see here.

As this image points out, the throwing distance left much to be desired in the beginning. But I tweeked a few things, and ended up being able to lob water balloons about 50 feet at my young nephews. ("Hey, guys...see if you can catch these!")

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SCULPTURE: "SamuRhino"

Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved sculpture. I grew up watching all the wonderful movies featuring stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen...fantastical creatures brought "magically" to life. I also enjoy looking at plastic model of my favorite childhood memories was of assembling and painting a model of Superman smashing his fist through a brick wall. As an adult, I've become a big fan of artists who create limited edition sculptures for collectors and for the toy industry. I also love to see all the "pre-production" sculpts done for science-fiction movies, where characters are developed for animation..."maquettes" that are scanned into computers to be turned into a CGI model.

So "for fun" I decided a few years ago to start playing around with sculpting my own "action figure". I had read up on the process of using wire-frame armatures, with aluminum foil added to build up some of the bulk of the creature. After sculpting the figure with polymer clay (specifically "Super Sculpy") which could be baked in a kitchen oven, the piece could be painted with acrylic paints.

"SamuRhino" is one of my first attempts. It stands about 9 inches tall.

I am currently working on a series of 3 sculpted pieces that should be finished soon. I've taken lots of photos to show the "step-by-step" process. More to come...

Monday, March 16, 2009


This little guy is one of my very first attempts at "automata". He was inspired by the blue crabs that we have fun catching when visiting family in Maryland, near the Chesapeake Bay.

Part of the process of building these "toys" often involves prototyping. I wasn't really sure how I'd get the legs to move, so I made this "leg box" to see if a crankshaft approach would work.

As usual, I drew up lots and lots of sketches to see how elaborate this final version would be. To help me figure things out, I did a good bit of research on the web, and checked out books from the library about basic machines, woodworking, toymaking....there are so many talented folks out there doing incredible things!! I repeat...I am NOT an engineer...but part of the fun is in trying to figure it all out. Since then, I've started to collect my own books so I can refer to them often at home.

The mechanism I ended up with was about as simple as I could make it...sort of like piano keys. As you press each lever, a string pulls a pair of legs upward. You can make the crab "dance" by "typing" quickly. One lever makes the claws go up in a "defensive pose"...just like the real ones do, just before they pinch the crud out of my fingers when I try to pick them up!

Til next time...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

AUTOMATA: "Walk the Dog Bot"

About 5 years ago, I became interested in the art of "automata" (aw-TOM'-a-tah). These are sometimes referred to as "mechanical toys" or "kinetic art". Most of the ones I've made have been for family and friends as gifts. I'll be showing you some of the earliest attempts on another post. But this little guy I made just for myself..."Walk The Dog Bot".

If you click on the photo, you can see a larger version...then hit your "back" button in your browser window to return to this page.

The idea for this piece came from a little sketch I had done on the back of a business card. It seemed like a fun character to animate, since he was mechanical to begin with. But as these images from my sketchbook show, it was trickier than I thought to figure out how to make it work. In the end, I had to compromise the design a bit, but I was happy with the results. And as I often learn when I construct these...the real-time engineering rarely functions like I thought it would.

When the crank handle is turned, the Saucer-Dog moves up and down, pulling the robot's hand up that holds the chain. The robot's legs move forward and back, while one arm swings back.

Most of the components were hand-made in my little woodshop in the corner of my basement. There are a few bits that were "found objects" like the dog's saucer (a wooden door knob for cabinets).

That's it for now...more to come.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Welcome to my NEW BLOG!

After encouragement from friends, I decided to create this site so I could share some of the things I've been working on in my "spare time". This blog will, for the most part, feature my "non-professional" work. For many of the pieces, I'll try to show the "making of " process I went through. I'll also be including images from my sketchbooks, some paintings I've done...pretty much anything that is "creative renewal" for me.

This site is currently under construction, so bookmark it, and come back later...I hope to have some "stuff" to show you soon!