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On the spot machines

I’ve been out and about looking for good machines to draw and paint. It turns out that although construction machines are just about everywhere, finding one suitable to draw can be quite tricky. I will drive for miles and miles (excessive distances really) just to get the right machine at the correct vantage point. Right now with the weather as it is, the correct vantage point means some where I don’t have to get out of my car to create the image. That means I need to find a place I can park with a relatively unobstructed view out my front windshield, and somewhere where I am not in the way of actual construction (Like the other day, where I killed my battery, right in the middle of a construction site between two berms of earth with machines driving around. Good times.). What that really means is that I will find a machine that might meet my criteria and if the view is right I’ll drive around in circles, until I find a good spot, then I’ll pull a 20 point turn nudging my car into a picture perfect position. It’s like a dog bedding down for the night. Countless circles walking on their beds until it’s just right (and what is it that they are actually doing to make it just right?). That I think is the question I ask myself. What am I looking for, a good 3/4 view of the machine, with just a hint of the far side tires showing underneath? A particularly interesting mechanism? Maybe the correct lighting? Who knows. Once I’ve started however, I try and stick with it. With all of the time invested looking for the drawing, the actual creation is relatively straight forward, except for the part with every image I do where I am sorely tempted to crumple it up and throw it away. That’s for another post.

Vectored Thrust

About a month ago I was at the Seattle Museum of Flight and drew this Harrier. Years ago my uncle Alan worked on some of the electronic components the aircraft. I remember the day that my family was invited to the Oregon Air National Guard base in Portland and along with a few other families viewed a demonstration of a hovering Harrier. I don’t remember if this was a demonstration for us or if there was a Harrier that was taking off at a specific time, but it was a lot of fun and made a lasting impact. My uncle worked on or around aircraft for much of his career and as a kid, I used to ask him a lot of questions about planes. I think as much as anyone his influence on my artistic and mechanical artistic interests was very significant. If I had built a Lego airplane and placed the engines in a structurally unsound, or inefficient location, he would let me know. Although I don’t consider myself by any means an engineer, I do strive in my work to visualize mechanically sound machinery, even if it is for a fanciful project. One year for my birthday Uncle Alan game me a large-scale Harrier model kit as a gift. I’m sure it was his intention that I build it, paint it, and then display it. The fact is I never did built “it” as it was intended. Instead I used the pieces to create my own flights of fancy. I still have the kit actually and scavenge it for plastic parts when I get the itch to build something. The best part of this kit is the engine. A better way to say this is that the coolest part of the Harrier is the Rolls Royce Pegasus engine which is designed to output thrust to nozzles on the side of the aircraft that allow it to hover like a helicopter. I’ve drawn a sketch of one of the nozzles in the upper left of the image. In the kit, the actual engine body was shaped something like a cylinder with two smaller cylinders on each side. I would often stare at this piece and use it to match different shapes and forms as I decided on what I would make. I don’t think I ever actually built this piece into any model because I could never find the right place for it. The nozzles however have found their way onto some of my models. One of those is here.
You can see the front cowling that holds the wheel in place on this vehicle is actually this same nozzle repurposed for my futurist monowheeled F-1 car.
I’ve always hoped my Uncle was not disappointed that I never built the kit from its original instructions. He passed away a number of years ago, and I’m sure the last thing on his mind was why I never finished it, but to me it was kind of the central point of our relationship. I deeply appreciate those odds and ends of plastic parts as a distinct memory of a man who inspired me early on, and this drawing is dedicated to that memory.

Watercolors this week

Here are few more watercolors this week. The first one is from a photo of Morocco out of the book Tan Tan, the second is a sketch copy of a painting by John Newberry that I did in class. I enjoy this medium a lot

Robot the Robot

Some days you just get to see things that are truly mindblowing. I had the pleasure of meeting Darrell Toland’s masterpiece recreation of “Robot” from the old T.V. show Lost In Space. Lost In Space aired well before my time (1965-68), but it was long in reruns during Junior High and I’ve probably seen every episode. It came on about 10 in the morning, and during the summers I managed to extend pre-afternoon laziness one extra hour just to watch the misadventures of the Robinson family as they tried in vain to escape their marooned extra planetary prison. Robot (as far as I know this was it’s only name) was the preeminent concept of the snarky mechanical companion, that would be honed with R2-D2 and C3P0 in Starwars, and even expanded on with HAL 9000 from 2001 space Odyssey. In essence if you disassembled his personality and reestablished it’s core components into separate entities, you’d get these three characters. Helpful, loyal, arrogant, flawed, capable of both emotional and programmable manipulation, Robot was the perfect inversion of humanity.
Darrell has rebuilt Robot to it’s original specs and beyond. It would be enough if this were simply a static sculpture, awe inspiring in it’s attention to detail, but it goes way beyond that. Robot is alive. Fully articulate, mobile though both radio-control and autonomous action (thanks to some spliced parts borrowed from a Roomba). Movable and retractable arms, claws that open and close, whirring motors that spin it’s mechanical brain and ears, custom built neon chest plate, and display board. And yes Robot has voice and face recognition. He knows 300 lines, some of them from the original show and many of them new lines rerecorded by the original voice actor Bob May. Robot can tell jokes, sing Paul Newman’s famous banjo song from Cool Hand Luke, imitate Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons and in his all too fallible way let you know just how much his joints are aching today. He can even address Darrell’s kid’s by name and tell them to obey their father.
Darrell spent 6 years on this project, and the few parts he didn’t build were either from high detail recreations like the acrylic head piece, or were built to order like the corrugated rubber legs. Consumer robotics have come a long way and no doubt in the next few years we will find more and more of them in our lives and homes. I can attest to practical qualities of the Roomba and also to it’s creepy removed sense of being, a purposeful machine with no heart, soul, or ambition (but still fallible nonetheless). Honda and a myriad of other companies are producing functional walking robots, and human like nuances are edging ever closer to reality. All this said, I believe it will be a long time before we regain the youthful excitement for the future that was displayed in mid century fantasy machines like Robot. I think that is why Darrell’s Robot is so perfect. It is as close to any personal robot of the future as I’ve ever experienced, yet it maintains a presence from a different era. You can visit Darrell’s online web comic Stix and Bones here to see some of his other talents. Awesome work!

I went out drawing yesterday with my friend Tim to Fisherman’s Terminal in Ballard. The trip actually was more like two circuits around the Ballard/Fremont/Nickerson St neighborhoods checking out a lot of the hidden industrial gems, before settling on Fisherman’s Terminal. Once we got to the dock we walked around for a few minutes until we found a good spot that felt more focusable (I like to make up these words). This is a great place to stop and take stock of just how much purposeful clutter can exist in one place. Each of these ships seems to be a repository for countless objects, cables, mechanical parts, cable spools, buckets, nets, chains, floats…I believe the term is Flotsam. This ideal spot, also meant sitting in the cold at the end of a pier which was as much of a motivator as anything to get the drawing done, rather than linger. The whole scene merits a lot more time, but it’s fun to see what can be captured in finite period, it forces the drawer/renderer/observer to pick some focal point and go with it. The other option is to get lost in the detail, which will be more appealing when the temperature raises another 20 degrees. Stay tuned.

View Point At the Port of Tacoma

I drove down to Tacoma today with the intention of drawing a couple of images around the harbor. Of the three I drew, this is the only one I’ll post. It’s not that I wouldn’t show the other drawings, but let’s just say that I “experimented” with a technique on one of them and the experiment did not yield the proper results. The other drawing was a quick sketch of a Sounder train that had an unfortunate encounter with a drooling Great Dane.
As to what you see, it was drawn from the official Port of Tacoma Administration Building parking lot which actually has a dedicated structure set up to view the port. I should have drawn the parking lot and the open staircase that led up to the viewing platform because if you are in the mindset to drive around the more industrial parts of Tacoma, there really aren’t a lot of sanctioned tourist areas. If you want to go down there for a picnic, photo shoot, or simply a nice romantic evening on an industrial waterway, the address is 1 Sitcum Way Tacoma, WA 98447. I take no responsibility for your date’s reaction.


Post It was Sunday afternoon. On our way back from Costco; we were hungry but didn’t know it. Thinking that all we wanted was a cup of coffee, Karen suggested this spot, Hudson on East Marginal Way, a relatively new joint that was supposed to serve up a good cup of Joe. We walked in and looked to our right, a table of Georgetown motorheads drinking Bloody Mary’s an Beermosa’s, to our left a horseshoe shaped bar with a couple of empty seats. The place looked like it had been around for 30 years, but all the surfaces were new. We sat at the bar and decided upon opening the menu that maybe we were hungry for eggs at three in the afternoon. Nothing jumped out at me. Passively I considered the pulled pork omelette, but then the woman next to me got her food, a blackened salmon sandwich with hashbrowns. Hashbrowns with a sandwich, that was the key that opened the pit of my stomach. I looked at the food and simply said “hashbrowns, mmmm good”. I moved from hungry to famished then I turned to Karen and said, “I know my order”.
Somewhere between the time I ordered and the time my food arrived 15 minutes later, the woman next to me finished hers; she ate fast. I knew that just as I would shortly experience my first bite, I would also with experience my last. I wondered if she was satisfied, if she would recommend ordering more. There was no reason to dwell on it. My time would come and I would know. When my sandwich arrived, I experience a spark of joyous appetitic expression as I saw the giant chunks of salmon barely contained inside a kaiser roll bun, sitting monumental on the edge of a sea of browns. I was about to dig in but saw the Louisiana Crystal Sauce on the counter. I grabbed it, and poured it over the potatoes. My fork always goes for the hashbrowns first. The first bite made me even hungrier. I took another and then grabbed for my sandwhich. Knife in hand, I cut it in two. A 4 cubic inch volumetric mass of salmon fell out and onto the browns. I stuffed it back in the sandwich, finished my cut and then took my first bite. Perfect. Perfect salmon on a bun, covered in remoulade sauce. It couldn’t have been better, but I still pushed my luck to the limit and applied another dousing of the Louisiana Crystal. Even better. The entire meal probably took me 25-30 bites plus the intermittent chewing. I don’t know really, I didn’t count, it’s a guess. When it was time to finish I was 99% satisfied, not really hungry, but simply a lingering desire for more consumption. I knew that the moment had come to cherish the last bite, and as I did, I stared at the crumbs and remnant onion slices with a finality mixed with hope that I would experience this again. Across the bar a man ate a burger and next to him a couple ordering something for themselves. I looked at them as a mirror of my own recent history, and with a slight envy of their present and future meals drew what you see here.

Ness Cranes

A whole nesting ground for Ness cranes. Beautiful yellow 5 axle all terrain cranes. I had a LEGO version of one of these when I was a kid, one of my favorite sets of all time. These are the big job site cranes that take up about 50 feet of space with the massive feet that swing out for support. This Saturday I stumbled upon a whole flock at their home base, off of 52nd street in Ballard.

King Street Station Construction

Seattle’s King Street Station (the red brick tower south of Pioneer Square and North of the Qwest Field) is undergoing renovation, inside and out. This is a view on the lower level looking south east at the plaza and baggage claim facility. There is nothing quite like a train station. Light plays differently in train terminals than it does elsewhere, think of those images of Grand Central, or the Parisian Stations, with their massive windows. Today felt like that a little and offered a worthwhile moment to capture the once and future progress that is rail travel.