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!
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.
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
After a couple of days out on Halong Bay, my brother and I made it down to Hoi An. Hoi An is a town with a couple hundred tailors and a bit of a destination for getting clothes made. Apart from this it’s on the coast and one of the most beautiful environments yet in this trip.
We did see some of the beauty this morning on a 5a.m. Tour of My Son, an ancient temple complex used by the Cham people many hundreds of years ago. During the war My Son was a hiding place for the Viet Cong and was subsequently damaged significantly during American bombing. After the war quite a bit was rebuilt though the newer structures are faring far worse than their ancient counterparts. I’ll be heading to Angkor Wat in Cambodia next week and even though this is a much smaller set of structures it was beautiful nonetheless.
However as I mentioned there were clothes to be made in this town. An admission, I can’t stand shopping for clothes, it brings me little joy and much stress. Getting clothes custom made is even more anxiety, so many choices and so many fabrics. The result in the end however is worth it, standing in a sharply fitted suit and shirt while three comely women hem and haw at the seams. The deal is you can get whatever you want and the price is reasonable to say the least. As Vietnam develops more and more the costs will increase also. We went to Phuoc An Silk (reccomended by lonely planet). I think the prices were in the mid range of what you could pat.Time will tell if the quality is there in the clothes we had made, but I can tell you they look great and fit great even an the staff helped us through 3 or 4 refittings to get it right. They worked very hard and were very quick. If I did have to miss some more sites to get it done. A more than fair trade.
One final thing, we stayed at the hotel Nhi Nhi, also recommended by LP. The staff has been the best in the country. I’ve spent a lot of time with them learning Vietnamese words and every time I go downstairs they have a new list of phrases for me to learn. With every place we’ve been, all the food we’ve eaten, all the time spent sketching on the streets and in boats and buses, I can without hesitation say that my time spent talking with people here and learning bits of the language have been the highlight of the trip. Language opens doors that sometimes lead to friendship, sometimes learning, and sometimes lead to a piece of shared mango with a few great people. The fit is great.
I’ve spent a lot of time walking through the neighborhoods and not only drawing but spending time with people. There are so many different ways people go about work here than in the states. What I mean by that is not that the tasks are different (though in some cases they are), but the intermixing of work, community, the physical proximity to the street, and family life is totally combined. There is also a complete mixing of generations. People of all ages are socially connected. Just like in the states, people of different generations will congregate together such as the 1000,s of teens-20 something’s that hang out at night eating ice cream and cruising on motorbikes, but in that group you’ll see families with young children and older people comfortably sharing space and conversations. I also want to keep noting how kind people are and how genuine there smiles are. I’ll be away from any Internet for three days so wanted to share a few images, but I have more with specific stories I will post later.
Two more things from Hanoi area, a great local beer and a gorgeous river tour/sales extravaganza. Let me start with the beer, or maybe I should finish with the beer. Last night I walked by a corner restaurant with about 50 people hanging out the garage doors and opened windows drinking beer. The beer which is a local brew is called Bia Hoi. It sells for next to nothing and most certainly will be imported to the States with a Stella Artois inspired marketing blitz raising the price up 20 fold. For now it’s good and cheap, and it goes well with grilled buffalo and garlic. This was a great night for me as I was able to hang out with most of the restaurant staff as they roamed in and out of the painting. The guy with the red shirt on the middle left of the picture wanted to make sure he was in it, and then his girlfriend/coworker felt left out, so I added her yellow shirt towards the middle. The couple on the left hand side were from the UK, Simon and Gail on a year long trip round the world. There are moments I wish I was traveling for that long and then their are moments like today as we traveled up to Ninh Binh to take a tour of the Tam Coc portion of the Ngo Dong river. Few sites I have seen are as epic as this river, which is surrounded by rice paddies, small villages and massive rock outcroppings. But alas the world beating views are tempered by placards, billboards, a severely devastated environment and roadway leading up to the site and an endless selling of wares up and down the river. The people who row the boats work very hard, I don’t know how many times they do this trip a day, but I was told 10. The rowers (two per boat) each take 2-4 people per trip. The river is packed with boats, like a water ride at Disneyland. Half of the boats are support sales that come up along side and offer to photograph you, or offer items. At the turn around point, a truly beautiful village that opens up out of a cave (again the reference to Disneyland is hard to ignore), sit another 20 or so boats ready to make a one on one plea for money and or tips. The plea does include a fair degree of guilt as each of us is asked to look at the rowers who have worked hard (and without a doubt they do!) and then we are presented with a photobook of their families to drive home the point. What I found most compelling was this. As we were being rowed there was a long setup for the sales pitch. Initial basic conversation lead to small comments about the difficulty of the task. These were interspersed with moments of very upbeat dialogue between the two local rowers, and then generally congenial silence. Which left room for the following flotilla to make their moves. Each cycle brought an increasingly desperate plea. At the start I engaged with the conversation, but felt myself brushing off interaction as the sell became harder. By the end I was being offered brightly colored textiles depicting my journey even as I painted an identical scene to what would have been a lovely table cloth or scarf. I’m not sure what to make of this. On one hand yes I would like to support the local economy, but on the other I have to assume that (based on the logic and the familiar interactions of our guide and the rowing community) that some of the money I paid for the trip was transferred back to the rowers and their town. I finished the tour without purchasing a single item so I won’t be bringing back the brightly colored napkin set (or strangely from an earlier sales stop/bathroom break from the bus ride, I won’t be bringing back the 3 foot long wooden replicas of the Pinta, Nina, or Santa Maria whose contributions to Vietnamese culture I wasn’t previously aware of). If you come to Vietnam, I would recommend the river tour; although I would not recommend staying overnight in the town of Ninh Binh if you are considering that option. Beautiful and exhausting and a good primer for another beer. That is a good way to end this post, but possibly trite. Again a better summary would be that there are sites and people here that open my mind up like few things have, and every moment is shared with a very visible pollution , environmental constriction, and need for everyday survival. As a tourist I support both the economy and the the mindset that this is the profitable way to go about things. If there is a deep question here for me it’s this. Can I as an outsider come in to appreciate a culture and admittedly benefit from a favorably exchange and simultaneously wish for a pre-tourist economy. I don’t think I like the answer to this. But I will keep pondering.