The Los Alamos Artists Studio Tour was last weekend. It was a fun and
somewhat successful day.
I was borrowing space in the studio of the fabulous scratchboard
artist Heather Ward,
because we didn't have enough White Rock artists signed up for the
Traffic was sporadic: we'd have long periods when nobody came by (I
was glad I'd brought my laptop, and managed to get some useful
development done on track management in pytopo),
punctuated by bursts where three or four groups would show up all at once.
It was fun talking to the people who came by. They all had questions
about both my metalwork and Heather's scratchboard, and we had a lot
of good conversations. Not many of them were actually buying -- I
heard the same thing afterward from most of the other artists on the
tour, so it wasn't just us. But I still sold enough that I more than
made back the cost of the tour. (I hadn't realized, prior to this,
that artists have to pay to be in shows and tours like this, so
there's a lot of incentive to sell enough at least to break even.) Of
course, I'm nowhere near covering the cost of materials and equipment.
Maybe some day ...
I figured snacks are always appreciated, so I set out my pelican snack
bowl -- one of my first art pieces -- with brownies and cookies in
it, next to the business cards.
It was funny how wrong I was in predicting what people would like.
I thought everyone would want the roadrunners and dragonflies; in
were much more popular, along with a
that had been sitting on my garage shelf for a month while I tried to
figure out how to finish it. (I do like how it eventually came out, though.)
And then after selling both my scorpions on Saturday, I rushed to
make two more on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and of course no
one on Sunday had the slightest interest in scorpions. Dave, who used
to have a foot in the art world, tells me this is typical, and that
artists should never make what they think the market will like; just
go on making what you like yourself, and hope it works out.
Which, fortunately, is mostly what I do at this stage, since I'm mostly
puttering around for fun and learning.
Anyway, it was a good learning experience, though I was a little
stressed getting ready for it and I'm glad it's over.
Next up: a big spider for the front yard, before Halloween.
[ 20:17 Oct 22, 2016
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As part of the advertising for next month's
Los Alamos Artists Studio Tour
(October 15 & 16), the Bandelier Visitor Center in White Rock has a
display case set up, and I have two pieces in it.
on the left and the
at right in front of the sweater are mine. (Sorry about the reflections
in the photo -- the light in the Visitor Center is tricky.)
The turtle at front center is my mentor
and I'm pretty sure the rabbit at far left is from
The lemurs just right of center are some of
fabulous scratchboard work. You may think of scratchboard as
a kids' toy (I know I used to), but Heather turns it into an amazing
medium for wildlife art. I'm lucky enough to get to share her studio
for the art tour: we didn't have a critical mass of artists in
White Rock, just two of us, so we're borrowing space in Los Alamos for
[ 10:38 Sep 12, 2016
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I'm learning to weld metal junk into art!
I've wanted to learn to weld since I was a teen-ager at an LAAS star
party, lusting after somebody's beautiful homebuilt 10" telescope
on a compact metal fork mount.
But building something like that was utterly out of reach for a
high school kid.
(This was before
showed the world how to build excellent alt-azimuth mounts
out of wood and cheap materials ... or at least before Dobsonians
made it to my corner of LA.)
Later the welding bug cropped up again as I worked on modified
suspension designs for my X1/9 autocross car, or fiddled with bicycles,
or built telescopes. But it still seemed out of reach, too expensive
and I had no idea how to get started, so I always found some other way
of doing what I needed.
But recently I had the good fortune to hook up with Los
Alamos's two excellent metal sculptors,
Trujillo and Richard Swenson. Mr. Trujillo was kind enough to
offer to mentor me and let me use his equipment to learn to make
sculptures like his. (Richard has also given me some pointers.)
MIG welding is both easier and harder than I expected.
David Trujillo showed me the basics and got me going welding a little
face out of a gear and chain on my very first day. What a fun start!
In a lot of ways, MIG welding is actually easier than soldering. For
one thing, you don't need three or four hands to hold everything
together while also holding the iron and the solder. On the other
hand, the craft of getting a good weld is something that's going to
require a lot more practice.
Setting up a home workshop
I knew I wanted my own welder, so I could work at home on my own
schedule without needing to pester my long-suffering mentors. I bought
a MIG welder and a bottle of gas (and, of course, safety equipment
like a helmet, leather apron and gloves), plus a small welding table.
But then I found that was only the beginning.
Before you can weld a piece of steel you have to clean it. Rust, dirt,
paint, oil and anti-rust coatings all get in the way of making a good weld.
David and Richard use a sandblasting cabinet, but that requires a big
air compressor, making it as big an investment as the welder itself.
At first I thought I could make do with a wire brush wheel on a drill.
But it turned out to be remarkably difficult to hold the drill firmly
enough while brushing a piece of steel -- that works for small areas
but not for cleaning a large piece or for removing a thick coating
of rust or paint.
A bench grinder worked much better, with a wire brush wheel on one
side for easy cleaning jobs and a regular grinding stone on the other
side for grinding off thick coats of paint or rust. The first bench
grinder I bought at Harbor Freight had a crazy amount of vibration
that made it unusable, and their wire brush wheel didn't center
properly and added to the wobble problem. I returned both, and bought
a Ryobi from Home Depot and a better wire brush wheel from the local
Metzger's Hardware. The Ryobi has a lot of vibration too, but not so
much that I can't use it, and it does a great job of getting rust and
Then I had to find a place to put the equipment. I tried a couple of
different spots before finally settling on the garage. Pro tip:
welding on a south-facing patio doesn't work: sunlight glints off the
metal and makes the auto-darkening helmet flash frenetically, and any
breeze from the south disrupts everything. And it's hard to get
motivated to out outside and weld when it's snowing. The garage is
working well, though it's a little cramped and I have to move the
Miata out whenever I want to weld if I don't want to risk my baby's
nice paint job to welding fumes. I can live with that for now.
All told, it was over a month after I bought the welder before I could
make any progress on welding. But I'm having fun now. Finding good
junk to use as raw materials is turning out to be challenging, but
with the junk I've collected so far I've made some pieces I'm pretty
happy with, I'm learning, and my welds are getting better all the time.
Earlier this week I made a goony bird out of a grease gun.
Yesterday I picked up some chairs, a lawnmower and an old
exercise bike from a friend, and just came in from disassembling them.
I think I see some roadrunner, cow, and triceratops parts in there.
Photos of everything I've made so far:
[ 14:02 Feb 27, 2016
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