Tag Archives: ballard

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.

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!

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.

Happy Tail Syndrome

I was wandering around on Sunday morning and found my way to the gray side of Ballard, that strip of road below Market St. that leads down to shipping industry, winds under the bridge, and was really only designed to get trucks from somewhere to somewhere else. Lately it’s been shared by cyclists and runners who find the safe and secluded Burke Gillman trail suddenly comes to an end and spits them out under the Ballard bridge to fend for themselves against Manic Semis, Hungry Trader Joes Shoppers, and highly coiffed Mars Hill Church goers emerging from morning services. I always like this section because The pretty stuff is up a couple of blocks and not nearly as interesting even if it is encroaching fast. I saw this truck, a sewage pump truck, and next to it a late model RV. Behind all of this was a business closed off with barbed wire, housing dozens more plumbing and sewage vehicles, a couple of warehouse, a shipping crate with a mobile home on top, thousands of piled up tools and parts and a vicious sounding dog that would let anybody who passed know to stand clear. It was like a beacon. It was Jim Dandy’s Plumbing and Sewage.

When you are drawing a place for a sustained period of time, you’ll get to overhear plenty of conversations of passerby’s. Most people (myself included) will just fly past a place like this getting to their destination, but today I noticed a few people who would stop and look at the elevated mobile home, or they would attempt to talk to the dog (who for all his barking still wagged his tail), or they would make a second glance and wrinkle their noses at the sewage equipment. It’s all pretty entertaining to watch.

After I had finished, I had the opportunity to talk with Mel who works here. The short history is that this is the oldest plumbing and sewage business in the city. Mel moved out a few years ago from Michigan and we talked about life in Detroit, his family, plumbing, motorcycles, and art. The dog Tucker, turned out to be a friendly chap once you got to know him and apparently has Happy Tail Syndrome, which means he can’t stop wagging his tail ever. Look it up.

You can view the Google Maps location for Jim Dandy’s here.

Moored ships in morning

I’ve been spending more time down in Interbay between Magnolia and Ballard (though technically I think it would be considered Magnolia, I’ve never heard a proper definition.) There is so much great industry surrounding between the train yards and the fishing terminal. The amount of detail to choose from down there is really fun and I recommend anyone with an interest in ships to wake up early some morning and take a weekend day to check out the variety of boats and equipment.
I decided to use an ink wash instead of rendering in with a marker. I think I’ll keep doing this; it’s nice to work with the brush.

Click here for a link to the Map view of the scene.