When I was in 3rd grade, I received a copy of National Geographic’s “Our Universe” for Christmas which featured a couple of future scenarios painted by the artist Syd Mead. Certain things get embedded in your mind at that age, and from the moment I saw his artwork I was hooked. Syd Mead’s work (for the uninitiated) started off on the tale end of the 50’s rocketship fin forward future and evolved into the genre defining vision of 21st century tech utopia. He was the key visual designer behind Tron, Blade Runner, and Time Cop, among-st many other great and terrible films. Mead definitely has a style, his technique is the perfect discipline of a mid century professional design illustrator who fell in love with the machine and learned to paint it, the way other’s would paint a figure. The machine always is at the center and everything else including the environments and people are really there to set off an obsession with machinery. His work has a feeling and color pallete (something that feels right on the other edge of dusk) and certainly a nostalgia for what the the future made from fiberglass and microchips wanted to feel like. He is a tremendous designer and apart from the lush illustrations, he (especially at his peak) developed a set of forms that gloried in a world made out of buttons and servos. Everything in his work looks fast, but also has an approachable candy like essence. His designs are inviting, maybe comfortable even as they are surrounded by aggressive super forms and monoliths creating a hazy metropolis backdrop to a night on the town, or a construction review meeting. He did a lot of speculative design for the greats of American Industry as it was reaching the apex of it’s curve. His work was at it’s peak right before our notion of high technology evolved from machinery into information. Everything he designs, draws, and paints feels kind of like the movie Tron. From the everyday components that make up a city, it’s doors, telephone buttons, coffee machines, and massive skyscrapers, to asteroid mining megaships possibly in the middle of a distress call but looking technologically fashionable even as disaster looms. All of his designs have an ellipse and line combination that feels inspired by a mix of circuit boards, calligraphy, and offset with a sweeping curve, and they all revel in the movement of light off of formed and curved surfaces. It feels like what the neon bubbled 80’s wanted to become if they didn’t have to move into the plaid pouting 90’s. If you haven’t seen his work then look it up. Here’s a link to the painting I saw in the National Geographic, but just look up Syd Mead and Blade Runner and you’ll get the picture.
The machine I painted today (A Sard D100 made in Italy) is a perfect example of the styling I’m talking about. I don’t know who designed this, but I promise you that they had a couple of Syd Mead books in the library. The big curved glass canopy with the dark rail detailing takes the cake, but the other elements such as the angled body, the curved bumpers, and especially the inset grey wheels are all Syd Meadisms as well.
The machine itself is apparently the only one of it’s kind in the country. I found it at Specialty Building Systems in Seattle which is a granite, marble, and tile shop. It’s function is to be able to grab slabs of stone and move them around. The long arm allows it to reach all the way into a container crate and lift stone from the back. I’d never thought of this, but it’s pretty clever. If you have a heavy object like a big tall piece of stone and it’s in a crate then it could be very challenging to remove it. you’d have to pull it out, put it on a cart, do something. This arm is thin enough that it can pick it right up, and because the whole things is back weighted, it has a huge lifting capacity without becoming front heavy. While I was painting this a man came up and said it looked like a scorpion. Yes it does, but it looks more like a Syd Mead painting which is even cooler.
I have a show going up from Sep 8-Oct 11 at Annie’s Art and Frame in Ballard. 2212 NW Market St, Seattle WA 98107. It will be all watercolors and prints of machine’s that I have painted over the past year. Opening reception is Sat Sep 8 6-9. Come check it out!
I used to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with it’s grainy footage of cheetah’s chasing antelope, hippos roaring their maws from muddy banks, and elephant stampedes. The fact is however, that I have always been more fascinated by the mechanized creatures that inhabit the urban environment. These machines are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take them for granted, but consider this: much like an animal, machines are a picture of efficiency and purpose when applied to the proper task. They excel at doing what they were built for and fit into an interrelated ecosystem of mechanically enhanced labor. Like the house cat is a relative of the lion, the common garden shovel is a distant cousin to a 20 ton excavator.
Every week I drive around Seattle looking for new machines in the wild. I do my best to channel Wild Kingdom’s host Marlin Perkins, reporting back in vivid technicolor the wonders of the construction site. Where he had a helicopter, I have my Honda Element. I roam SODO instead of a Sub-Saharan savanna, and being stuck on Mercer during it’s endless overhaul is actually kind of a treat as dozers, graters, and haulers push around piles of dirt and concrete. Machine Safari is drawn and painted one machine at a time – almost always on site. Next time you drive by a machine, or even open your tool-shed, take a closer look and imagine the world you already live in.
I like being down in SODO Seattle; I’m sure I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating. You can meet great folks working on good machinery down there. About a year ago I painted a large Cat D-8 bulldozer at Evergreen Tractor. I frequently find myself driving down in the area looking for equipment and by far the most impressive machines are always at Evergreen. They are a family run business that rents and repairs the big stuff that’s hard to stumble upon outside of large scale construction. On Tuesday I painted a mid size excavator that I’ll post at a future date, so I decided to head back the next day to paint some of the attachments for that machine.
Being around the equipment for me is always a treat because I love the purity of function with these tools. Painting a truck sometimes can still focus on the glamour of the vehicle, but when you get into observing a bucket, you find the form stripped away of anything superfluous beyond it’s intention and function. I get an opportunity through my south Seattle adventures to talk with people working in the job shops and industrial facilities. Most people I meet really like what they do and understand that they are kind of a dying breed in a city and society that is focusing almost exclusively on attracting a generation of people (myself included) that work in the realm of software and service.
To paraphrase a friend this week, “Seattle is a city that is quickly filling in all of it’s interesting and unpolished gaps and crevices with condos and crepe shops”. It is not the developed facade of high rent condos that make for a fascinating city. That is just glamour, and we need glamour I suppose as an image of cleanliness and success. But what really is the delivery on an image? Success for the few who can afford it? Success as long as the gardener and painter can be held on retainer to pull the weeds and Spackle the blemishes? It’s the down and dirty, surprising, worn, hard working, practical, rough, rocky, cracks in the pavement that expose the backbone of a metropolis. I really hope this city can keep supporting industry, manufacturing, fabrication, and work spaces that actually do work. As we become more of a service and knowledge based society we seem to be pushing aside and forgetting the essential value in building and fixing the physical tools and facilities that are all around us. I’ll be painting more down there this year, hopefully getting into more shops to document some of the machinery and processes that happen inside. I recommend travelling south on Marginal way and just observing the way things work down there. It’s dusty yes, loud, dirty, all the above. But it’s also elegantly functional and productive, stripped of glamour and all the more valuable for it.
Much thanks to the guys at Evergreen for showing me around. I’ll be back!
On Saturday I gave a talk at the IDSA (Industrial Designer Society of America) Western Conference with the intention of adding some levity and honesty to the expectations of what a career should be. I am thankful for the positive response I received. I really enjoyed myself and met a ton of great people. My plan is to do more of this. (At least enjoying myself and meeting great people, but also hopefully more public speaking.)
The conference was at Bell Harbor slightly north of Pier 66 in Seattle. I decided on Sunday to return to the venue to draw one of the Grove Cranes that were sitting on the pier. It’s rare that I find a good vantage point above a crane since I’m usually at street level. At Bell Harbor there were a number of them on the pier and from the 3rd floor conference space I could sit out on the balcony on a sunny day and draw to my hearts content.
There is an interesting dimension to event spaces. They are by definition places that exist for the gathering of different organizations, groups, and individuals. The IDSA conference was made up of a mix of design students and professionals networking, seeking work, and communicating about the design profession. Conversations naturally turn towards the topic of design and design work and are informed by a particular thought process if not personality type. In marked contrast to this is the group of individuals that were attending the Seattle Chocolate Salon convention that held the space on Sunday. Drawing in public requires a high degree of active observation and by proxy an equally high degree of passive listening. I never try to hide the fact I’m drawing or disappear into a space, but I can sit quietly for hours as groups of people come an go around me bringing and taking their ideas and conversations. It turns out that a Chocolate convention draws a diverse crowd. Between the table of aging sorority sisters who placated their bleach blonde leader’s relentless tales of beer keg tribulations, and the conversation of an aspiring geek writer who’s fantasy novel focused on the intrigue and innuendo of a society that he referred to as Darwin’s Fist, I was never bored. In all truth I can only sit passively for a short time and I did turn to the writer to reward him with the complement that he had the most interesting idea of the afternoon. He was wearing a camouflage surplus outfit and smiled at the acknowledgment of his genius and then thanked me by offering a formal hand to forehead salute.
Seeing that I was at a chocolate convention it would have been highly inappropriate for me to have not sampled the goods. I did just that and have three favorites.
Pacari Chocolates out of Ecuador. I meant to buy their Raw 70% Cacao bar which was so smooth I almost slipped into a chocolatey coma but I accidentally bought their Raw 70% Sea Salt chocolate bar. Also very tasty, I was still slightly disappointed that I came home with the wrong treat. Worth the checking out.
Intrigue Chocolates from Seattle. They had a Saint Basil Chocolate Truffle that I thought was just about perfect. I would have purchased this as well but I’d already spent my allotted weekly chocolate budget on the Pacari bar.
Monterey Chocolate Company. Olallieberry Chocolate bar. What’s an Olallieberry? I don’t know, but it’s a tasty treat when mixed with dark chocolate.
So there you have it, Dynamic Cranes, Public Speaking, Decaying Sororities Sisters, and the Power of Chocolate. A good weekend indeed and LONG LIVE DARWIN’S FIST!
Posted in location drawing, Seattle, urban sketch
Tagged bell harbor, construction machines, cranes, darwin's fist, grove cranes, idsa, industrial design, intrigue chocolate, monterey chocolate, Olallieberry, pacari chocolate, painting, public speaking, seattle, sketching, urban sketch, watercolor
It’s the New Year, a full week and a half into it even. Time to start up the pencil and brush again. I think about the sketches I posted last year at this time, some marker images of the Tukwilla light rail station, and how my intention was to post once a week for the entire year. It didn’t quite work out like that, but I have to say I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made in one year. There were three significant artistic high points.
1. Watercolor class with Tom Hoffman at Gage Academy. This class really opened a big door for me, with new tools to render my images in color on site in a medium that I enjoyed and respected. Previously for color I had been using either markers or digital tools such as Photoshop, but both of these mediums had limitations (or unlimitations) that I wasn’t happy with for the purposes of observational sketching and rendering. Taking the class for me was much like buying my first laptop, or finally upgrading from my well worn flip phone to an Iphone. I see all of these as keys to mobility and each of them has allowed me some considerable degrees of freedom that I didn’t previously have. Before watercolor I felt like I really didn’t have an effective tool for recording the world in a manner that I could feel…was accurate to how I viewed it.
2. Trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Wow, a life changing trip, and so completely inspiring every day that I was constantly compelled to sketch and paint my experiences. I had taken the watercolor class with the intention of utilizing the paints as a travel tool. The two were somewhat entwined in my mind, and maybe even necessary to coexist. I might have taken the painting class if I hadn’t planned on travelling the following month, and I might have actually gotten off my rear end to go travel had I not been learning watercolor, but somehow I needed both of them together for me to move forward. The watercolor and drawings were as much used to express what I was seeing as they were to communicate with people I met. They undoubtedly opened doors to conversations and interactions I would have never had otherwise. I think on this trip I viewed art for the first time as a true tool for making connection, and that really changes how I value it and look forward to what I can do with it.
3. Show at Cafe Lulu. Karen had been pushing me for sometime (years) to have a show at her coffee shop. It was always my intention to do this, but I had never felt like I had the combination of images that was worth putting up. I wanted to showcase some of my pen sketches but I also really wanted to have a lot of color up as well, which was now possible with the watercolor work. It’s possible that without some really assertive prodding I never would have put a show up no matter what I created, but I’m very happy that I did. It was a great experience to be able to share my work with people and to see how different pieces were received. I got some really good feedback, and it was intriguing for me to see what people were drawn to. For me trucks are still my go to subject, and I was thrilled that people were able to enjoy the same subject matter. When someone else also responds by really liking say…a cement mixer, I’m like “Yah! Cement Mixers! The’re sweet! And they chew on rocks all day!” Joy.
With all that said I plan on continuing this year with more work that depicts the places I appreciate and travel to, and also pieces that showcase just trucks with nothing else to distract from their purposeful and utility driven aesthetic. I won’t promise myself that I’ll get up a new piece every week, instead I promise 3 pieces a week…ok, that’s a lie.
Waaaaaay back in October, (back when the sun still had the decency to grace us with it’s light past 6pm, remember those days?) I traveled to Bend Oregon for the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show. This is the third year I’ve attended, but I believe the first year that the event has been held outside of Portland. I recall back on that mid fall day that the weather was superb; it was sunny, and the Oregon high desert environment was in peak form. At least that’s what I was told, because I spent the entire day inside at the Goodlife Brewing Company building forsaking sun and snowcapped mountains to look at the mobile artistry that is bicycle frame building. My guess is that 20-30 framebuilders and associated artisans showed up. I talked to many of them and came away even more intrigued by the craft. It’s true that on the surface most bicycle frames are fairly similar, at least in terms of basic function and geometry. A dominant form has emerged that works great, and this was on display at the event. Since most of the these bikes were made of steel, a few key techniques are employed, either brazing or welding. A honed handcrafted bike is not about the surface however; it’s about a builders specific intention, technique, artistry, and unique voice that comes through. It’s also often about the customer and their specific needs. From custom geometry, to ornate racks, filigree cut lugs, and lustrous paint, the world of custom bike building is akin to the world of high end jewelry. You could buy at Fred Meyers, or you could hire a trained jeweler. At a glance not many could tell the difference, but it’s not about the glance. Its about everything else. As always, it was my intention to draw and paint a lot of the event, but in this case I found myself enjoying the conversations I had with many different craftspeople. The one bike I did draw was this unique machine by Rob Tsunehiro collaborating with industrial designer Silas Beebe.(www.tsunehirocycles.com). This was their entry into the annual Oregon Manifest Competition (www.oregonmanifest.com), which is fast becoming a major national event in mixing the best of engineering/design/and transportation. Rob’s bike is a city bike with a lot of very unique features such as a built in (hand stitched) second saddle over the rear wheel, reflective paint, and an integrated cargo net. Below are some links to the other builders I had the pleasure of talking with. If you like cycling, craftsmanship, or Oregon I highly recommend going next year!
Belladonna Cycles www.belladonnacycles.com/
Straight forward, clean, and traditional, with an emphasis on women’s bikes.
Vendetta Cycles. www.vendettacycles.com. Two engineers building bicycles on the side. Very high end craftsmanship with beautiful lugs and paint
DiNuncia Cycles. www.dinuccicycles.blogspot.com A long time builder with some of the trickest dropouts around (did I say trickest? Yep!)
Blaze Bicycles www.blazebicycles.com
A fairly new builder out of Utah. Had a good talk about transitioning from the digital world to the handcrafted world.
Ahearne Cycles. www.ahearnecycles.com
One of the best down in Portland. Unique utility bikes. Very impressive features and details worth seeing in person
Littleford Bicycles. www.littlefordbicycles.com
Neat paint jobs and a unique focus on rack integration.
I’ve never been terribly fond of yardwork. Raking leaves in particular seems like an endless task in futility. They are just going to keep falling, thousands more every day, getting wet and grimy from rain and road grit. After they’re all picked up, a year later, they’ll come down again. As I consider it, maybe the problem with raking isn’t the punitive task of repeatedly trying to coax nature into a more presentable state, maybe the problem is that I don’t have the right rake. I’m always having to pull the leaves out of the flimsy weakly springy tines. They are always getting bent as I drag them across the sidewalk, offering up a pathetic scratchy cry with every sweep of foliage. The plastic ones aren’t much better, it feels like I’m pulling a spatula across the lawn. I want something with strength, power, with true purpose, something that will teach those leaves and the ground they fall on a good lesson. I need a Caterpillar D-8 with a handy garden rake attachement like the one I drew here. I would never complain about raking again, and I’ll bet the leaves would never dare to fall down on the lawn again.
I went out Sunday with the Seattle Urban Sketchers group to Kenmore Air in Bothel. Kenmore is a seaplane air harbor, repair, and fabrication facility. Seattle of course is dotted with seaplanes flying overhead, more than likely if you look up, it’s a Kenmore plane. I spent most of the morning in the main hangar drawing a plane that was being refurbished (which is not the plane I’m showing here, although this plane is going through a repair to the pontoon during the drawing). The highlight of the morning was a tour of the shop space in the second hanger where a couple of planes are going through significant upgrades. I was very fortunate to get the tour from one of Kenmore’s pilots and main mechanics – Sam – who is passionate about these aircraft. He loves the industry and is really excited to talk about the construction and technology that went into the design of these machines. There are a number aircraft that Kenmore flies, but primarily they use the Dehavilland Beaver (seen in this image), and the Dehavilland Otter. Both the Beaver and Otter are older model planes that have been the long time standards of float plane travel. The Beaver is a smaller plane with a radial engine making for a squat workhorse look. The Otters are slightly larger with longer turboprop engines which give them a very sleek look. These aircraft are from the 60’s with modern upgrades, but the fact they are from a pre computer era, really means they are quite mechanically straightforward. The see them with their outer skin removed is a fascinating look into a visually complex but ultimately understandable set of mechanical interactions, cables connect directly from the throttle all the way up to the control surfaces on the wings and tail. It’s kind of like a bicycle, pull the cable to move the derailleur, to shift the gear. The magic is both in the elegance and organization. I like seeing things for what they are, and beyond the fascination with flight, I’ve come to realize it’s the purposeful combination of form and functional components wrapped in a package of both aerodynamics and visual complexity that make aircraft so compelling to look at and draw. Expect more in the future.
I guess a lot of construction equipment is painted quite similarly to school buses. I certainly would have rather gone to school in this Motograder. It’s probably air conditioned too which is more than I can say for those old buses.
Some cities have fairs, some have rodeos, some like Seattle have pagan festivals where naked bike riders decorated in bad body paint like to parade themselves around town during the longest day of the year. Fortunately there are other options for community festivities, and in the state of Washington the greatest one is hands down the annual Lind Washington Combine Demolition Derby. For those not in the know, a combine is a large tractor used for harvesting wheat. Over time they get old, and destined for the scrap heap as new models and technologies become standardized. This is not the case in Lind where they are resurrected year after year and then smashed together until they can’t smash any more. Last one moving wins and takes home bushels of glory (if not gold).
Lind is an agricultural community about 3 and a half hours east of Seattle. The landscape is cross between rolling fields and rocky gullies and decidedly beautiful. For me part of the experience is the drive there and the drive back especially during sunset as the fields resolve into a set of cascading shadows and colors. We got there the night before the event and camped at Potholes State Park so that we could make it in time for the pre-derby parade. This is lead by the 20 some combines that will be competing, followed by marching bands, waving county beauty queens, and hot rods (like these amazing low-brow rat-rods (I prefer the term Ratalac) built by Rich from Pascoe.
Rich’s personal ride is diesel Tow Truck named Camel Toe-ing (check out the head badge), and he built the Buck’n Fitch for his sister Peggy. So cool.)
The parade is followed by a community barbecue before everyone heads up the road to the arena for the main event. 5 heats of full mechanical destruction interspersed with pickup truck speed trials and grain truck races. The top finishers from the first three heats make it to the main event, plus the survivors from a deadman’s heat. The amazing thing is that these things are torn up in each heat, axles and wheels ripped apart, bodies mangled, and then in a couple of hours they are rebuilt and ready to go for the final match. Pictured here is Jaws being rebuilt in the pits.
This combine has won the event on multiple occasions, though not this year. From an outside perspective it’s fun and games and mayhem, but two things are true. The guys (and one woman) who drive these vehicles and their crews take it very seriously; they put their all into it and their mechanical prowess is impressive. The other is that the event is really a community effort, from the drivers to the people working the concession carts and ticket booths. There is a lot of pride here and they put on a good show that brings in a lot of support for their town, with about 5000 spectators showing up (Lind’s population is around 400). I will return next year and you should too. It is better than whatever is going on in Seattle that weekend I promise.
Posted in location drawing, Uncategorized, urban sketch
Tagged combine, combine demolition derby, demo derby, demolition derby, eastern washington, harvester, jaws, keystalope, lind, low brow, prison break, rat rod, ratalac, watercolor