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.
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
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
This was drawn at Touch-a-Truck, an event where about 15 machines were on display for the public to interact with at Magnussen Park. The event was big draw for families; (an estimated 2500 people showed up throughout the day). And why wouldn’t you go. If you are kid you could climb on a fire truck, a bulldozer, or get into an excavator, and honk the horn (over and over) while pretending to dig up pavement. For me it was perfect opportunity to capture another truck for my collection, the Concrete Pumper, which in the wild is unlikely to stay in this position for an hour and a half. This one is owned and operated by Ralph’s Concrete, and I must say thank you to Josh who very patiently waited for me to draw and paint this machine even long after most of the other vehicles had been loaded up and hauled out.
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.
Wales, painted from a photo from my friend Sue Gosellin who will be moving to this house!
I was just watching an old documentary about Apple computers. In it John Sculley who was CEO from 1983-1993 talked about being hired by Steve Jobs. Sculley had previously been CEO of Pepsico and Jobs felt that he would be a good fit for Apple. Sculley was skeptical about the position. Why would he want to move from being CEO of the biggest brand in the world (this was 1980’s Pepsi remember) to head up a fledgling company making…computers? Jobs said to Sculley. “(Would you rather) sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” The answer was obvious, Sculley took the position, shortly thereafter ousted Steve Jobs from the company and with his carbonated pop culture vision effectively spent the next 10 steering Apple in the wrong direction before he was forced out to make way for Job’s return. I’m sure I have some of my facts wrong, BUT the truth is, had Sculley had been painting with watercolor rather than making money off of sugarwater he would have never left for Apple, because watercolor is so satisfyingly undigital. One almost forgets what the world of computation feels like. I’m taking a class from Tom Hoffman (website http://www.hoffmannwatercolors.com/
) at the Gage Academy. He’s a great instructor and has a definite philosophy of looking at the world that I am not only appreciating, but absorbing. He teaches a way of reducing information, of honing observation to the essentials, and a decidedly strategic approach to fluid imprecision. There is a lot I could say, but I’m still learning and will just paint instead. Here are some images from the last few weeks.
Looking west towards the Cruise Ship Terminal on Elliot Bay
Tuscany, Painted from the book Earth From Above 365 Days