This is a little bit cheerier than my post from this morning: there's a story about my sculptures on the Good Morning America website. Enjoy!
My early July post about my Tyrannosaurus sculpture is one of the more popular things I've written recently, mostly because of interest from Columbia residents. The buzz attracted the attention of Mary Sturgill of WLTX 19, our local CBS affiliate. Sturgill visited me last week and interviewed me about the sculptures. The story ran on last night's 11 O'Clock News (you can see the piece here).
I'm not used to being on television and, like much of the rest of population in my age bracket, it makes me nervous to watch myself speak. It also makes me nervous to give up executive control of my message and trust someone else to do the editing. That's why this tweet last night was somewhat terrifying:
I watched the piece this morning and was relieved to find seeing myself on TV to be a survivable experience. I think Mary did a nice job, and I thank her for taking the time and interest to hang out in my backyard and work around the noisy kid that was home with me that day.
There's also a story by Chris Horn about my sculptures in today's USC Today, a daily electronic publication that highlights stories related to the University of South Carolina. I like the piece that Chris wrote, and I like the picture of myself with the Tyrannosaurus. I also appreciate that he knew much more about the plants in my backyard than I do and he pointed me toward a local source of wholesale scrap metal. Thanks, Chris!
I'll be on the road all day today. I'm leaving the Cape Fear region and heading toward Charlotte. My souvenirs of this part of my trip include a Ziploc bag of tiny shark teeth, a book about Operation Bumblebee, and a minor sunburn on the tops of my feet. My best memento, though, is this broken steel chair that I yanked from some Topsail resident's garbage pile as I was leaving the island:
I've been working on my Tyrannosaurus rex sculpture as I've had opportunities over the last couple of months. I keep thinking "hey, it's almost done." And then I work on it for a few more hours and it still doesn't seem "done." Eventually I'll reach some threshold and just call it good and move on. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm getting pretty close.
Here are some photos from today:
In case you can't tell, I'm pretty happy with the way this is turning out. And I wanted to say "thank you," Columbia, for putting so much usable scrap metal out on the curb.
Although I brought a lot of the scrap I used to make this thing with me from Michigan (I've been in town for less than a year), I couldn't have built my Tyrannosaurus rex without your discarded bed frames, lawn furniture, weed trimmers, cooling racks, bicycles, lamps, pots and pans, candle holders, and plant stands. I had to buy some rebar (for the base) and a few other odds and ends, but mostly Columbia provided the materials.
As this sculpture nears completion, I'm thinking about my next project. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to most of things I've made so far, and I have yet to make anything to sell. This was a big project, though, and a lot of my "sentimental scrap" (yes, there is such a thing) is gone. As my collection of materials becomes more and more the result of scavenging from Columbia's bountiful curb piles, I think it will be easier and easier to contemplate making something to sell. Anyone out there in the Columbia area interested in a T rex for the garden? Or a giant rooster? Let me know and we'll see what we can do.
I'm not sure how I would price something like this: although most of the materials were free, I did put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (literally) and a significant amount of time. And there are costs associated with expendable supplies (welding wire, metal cutting disks, drill bits, etc.). This one's not for sale, anyway, but maybe the next one will be.
Yes, I know I've promised more content on the Kensington Rune Stone, giants, the Kirk Project, Swordgate, sea turtles, and Gigantopithecus, but it's summer and I finally have the magical combination of means, space, and discretionary time to devote some energy to my hobby. So I'm taking it. And I'm blogging about it. Because I can.
I finally got the head attached to the body of the Tyrannosaurus yesterday. Getting the teeth the way I wanted them took some time, as I had to create a frame that would fit on the base of the upper jaw, cut and weld on sections of coil springs, and then grind those sections down to make them somewhat pointed. Then I could attach the teeth and the mandible to the head and get it all secured to the body. And then it starts to get more fun: once the main structure is all together, the "fleshing out" moves along quickly and I feel like I'm doing art rather than engineering.
It's hard to get a good photo in my garage because I can't get far enough back. As you can see from the picture, I'm back to supporting thing with a brace from the side: it's starting to lean as it gets heavier and I don't want to make the feet and ankles absorb all that strain.
I've mostly been working on the side you see in the photo (I'll push the thing out of the garage, turn it, and push it back in to work on the other side). It isn't done but it's getting there. I'm on my third iteration with the eye -- it's getting close but I'm still not satisfied.
It's a nice feeling when you reach the point in a project where a lot of the hard (i.e., less fun) parts are done and you know you're going to enjoy the rest of the work and have an outcome that you're happy with. The air here right is so wet it's almost drinkable, but I'd spend all day outside working on this thing if I could. The only reason I stopped a little early today was because I ran out of welding wire.
I should give it a rest and go into the office tomorrow. Or not. I'll think about it.
And for those of you who consider me an enemy and want me fired, don't get too excited that I haven't been going into the office: I'm on a 9 month appointment so I don't get paid to do anything over the summer.
I've written about Betty before: once here and once here. I was never in love with Betty, and tried to sell her a couple of times. The sales never worked out, and I ended up giving her to Alec Lindsay and Kate Teeter, family friends who live in Marquette, Michigan. Alec came down with a trailer and carted Betty all the way to the Upper Peninsula, where (as far as I know) she lives to this day.
Betty started with this axle unit from a self-propelled lawnmower (May 2011). I wanted to use it for something. My original idea was some kind of wind-powered phonograph. I was envisioning a frame of some kind with a turntable that would be hooked up via bicycle chains and sprockets to a windmill wheel. This axle piece would let me change the direction of rotation 90 degrees. Notice the monkey head pencil holder on the table. I've had it since I was in college. It is ugly.
I mounted part of the pedal assembly from an old bike I got from someone on Freecycle to the front fork and rigged up a bracket to hold the lawnmower axle. I welded the sprocket on but I didn't get it on straight, which was a bummer. The experience of trying to get these parts to line up so that the sprockets would turn smoothly convinced me that I didn't yet have the shop skills to make something wind-powered. The green parts are a chair I picked up off the curb (May 2011).
At this point I had decided to build a creature of some kind, but I wasn't sure what. I knew this was going to be the torso and that I wanted some moving parts. In this photo, I was trying to figure out how to add another bicycle sprocket assembly (purple) from one of my daughter's old bicycles. I have welded on part of a hand truck (green) that also contributed parts to Eileen (May 2011).
The outlines of the torso taking shape (May 2011). Most of the rest of blue Schwinn is stuck in there, as are some motorcycle parts and pieces of bed frame. By this point I knew I was making a brachiosaurus.
I used the crane to position the torso frame so I could start working on the legs (June 2011). I wanted Betty to look as if she was in motion, not posed with all four feet on the ground. I also wanted to try to capture the right posture - longer front limbs than back limbs with a sloping back. The upper segments of the front limbs are made from bed frame parts (curb acquisition). Here I'm using a hubcap and some pan lids to stand in for the feet. At this point I had planned on making the feet out of concrete. I knew I needed to have a lot weight down low on this one because of the total height of the creature.
My wife took me to Haggerty Metal scrapyard in Plymouth for some birthday foraging (June 2011). She said "get however much of whatever you want." It was great.
We got 208 pounds of hand-picked scrap for 60 bucks. I found four brake rotors to use as bases for the feet. The curving black parts are table legs that I used for the neck. Some of these parts went into both the body and base of the dragonfly. I also got some exhaust headers and some other things that will become part of something someday (June 2011).
This photo shows the feet and legs roughed in and some pieces in place for the neck (June 2011). The lower segments of all four limbs are pieces of MacPherson struts that I got from the scrap pile that accumulates every day behind the Midas shop. The lower segments bolt onto the upper segments: my thought was that it might be difficult to move this thing if I made the feet very heavy. Unlike during construction of the dragonfly and Eileen, I knew enough to: (1) not cut coil springs without compressing them; (2) drill a hole to drain the fluid before welding to prevent (3) explosive plumes of burning liquid from spraying on me.
Front feet, legs, and shoulders in progress (June 2011). The right foot is tilted up using an old axe head that I've been hauling around for years. I've also incorporated a piece of suspension removed during a repair to my old car.
This photo from July 2011 shows the body after quite a bit of "filling out" work. I used a lot of bicyle parts, especially rims twisted and torqued to create sinuous lines. I used pieces of a steel arch that I bought for $7 from the ReUse Center to create parts of the back legs and part of the neck.
Betty had to move out of the garage to make room for (of all things) a car during the winter (October 2011). I had originally planned on getting a wire feed welder so that I could work on her outside, but the money I was going to use for that (from selling my car) got sucked into other things. So either Betty has to move back inside to get finished in the Spring, or a wire feed welder has to fall from the sky. I think she is close to being done and I think I've got most of the pieces I want to use.
Betty is done, at least for now (May 2012). She has moved out onto the patio. Now when I look at her I see things I like (the neck) and things I don't like (the tail). So she may not really be done.
Betty in the yard in Ann Arbor (April 2015).
Taking her apart to be moved up north as we were preparing to move south (May 2015). The kids did not want to see the big dinosaur go.
I don't who these people are, but they were having a good look while was Betty was parked somewhere in Michigan (May 2015).
Betty crossing the Mighty Mac (May 2015).
Betty enjoying a beer with her new friends in the Upper Peninsula (August 2015).
Some of my favorite dinosaurs are Ceratopsians. This post describes the creation of my triceratops sculpture. It was my first attempt at something large, and still has great sentimental value to me even though I would now do it much differently. It mad the trip to Columbia and is currently in my backyard.
I started in November of 2010 with a few pieces of the frame from a treadmill. In this picture (December 2010), I've added some pieces of a furniture dolly (green), a piece of exhaust pipe, part of a lawnmower engine, the handle bars from my daughter's first bicycle (pink), and some braces or something from an outdoor playset. I used a piece of steel rod to form the arch of the back.
The rough front feet/forelegs (December 2010). The bottoms of the feet are made from stove burner grates (purchased at the Ann Arbor ReUse Center for a few dollars). The foreleg segments are pieces of exhaust pipe braced with bars from a fireplace grate. The pink pieces are more bicycle parts with some kind of auto steering parts (?) stuck in them. Also - brake shoes.
I supported the body with jackstands so I could attach the front legs and start to figure out what I was going to do for the back legs (December 2010). I used a pair of brake rotors for the front "shoulders", and pieced together the basic shape of the back legs with some pieces of treadmill frame, a pair of MacPherson struts, and some other odds and ends. This photo also shows some pipes and other things added to the body to start filling it out. I added some chain to the "backbone" because I thought I would like the texture it added. I was wrong. I removed it later.
I braced the legs with a bunch of pieces of rod I cut from an old farm gate (December 2010). After I convinced myself that it wouldn't collapse, I removed the jackstands and started fleshing out the body. Work slowed to a trickle during January and February: it was too cold in the garage and I had other things to do.
The first part of the head was formed from this H-shaped piece of exhaust pipe and the handle from a lawnmower (March 2011). I made the head detachable so I could work on it more easily, and so I could take it with me if I had to sudently flee.
I found some kind of old Dremel saw in someone's "free" pile following a yard sale (March 2011). I cut it apart and used it to form the maxilla and mandible of the head. This photo shows the attaching of a piece of steel rod to form the edge of the frill.
This photo shows the artist standing with the foundation of the head (March 2011). Those are chair legs standing in for the horns.
The head in progress (April 2011). The frill is being filled in with odd pieces of sheet metal. The red pieces are from the cover of a charcoal grill that I dragged out of the woods behind the high school. This photo also shows the mandible moved back - I was trying to get the characteristic triceratops overbite.
The head: finished (May 2011). I was pretty happy with this.
One of the last things I did was attach this bottle opener. It was a keychain that came with the AC/DC "Bonfire" box set that a friend got me for Christmas one year. I like that it turned an otherwise useless sculpture into a tool (May 2011).
The triceratops finally moves out of the garage (May 2011).
The triceratops at her post, guarding the iris (May 2011). The gray pipe on the right rear leg is a piece of a satellite dish I found on the railroad tracks.
Eating a dandelion (May 2011).
Right side (May 2011).
Left side (May 2011). The tail is also detachable.
I spent the day working on my Tyrannosaurus rex sculpture. I'm sorry if you're waiting on me to do something or answer something or read something: I needed a day off, and it's summer, and there's an unfinished T. rex in my garage.
I've still got a lot of work to do on the body, but I spent most of the day working on the head. The head has been hard to get going on for a couple of reasons: (1) it's an important part and I want to end up with something I'm really happy with; (2) I'm using an aluminum gas tank (from an outboard motor) as the "base" to build from. I can only weld ferrous metals, so I've had to devise ways to anchor some steel parts to the aluminum in order to start working toward the shape and look I want. I chose to use the gas tank because it is about the right shape and size and it's a momento of a day trip I took to Bay City, Michigan, with my daughter a long time ago. And it's light, which is important because I need to keep the weight of the sculpture down at the extremes since it will be standing on two legs.
Anyway, I finally got around to forming the basic shape of the head with steel rods (mostly scraps from old cooling racks) and some pieces of sheet metal and other odds and ends. I've got the protruding teeth roughed out (the mouth will be closed) and I've got a framework for the mandible. The mandible isn't attached to the head yet and the head isn't attached to the body because it's still easier to work on them with the ability to turn them upside down, etc.
I'm pretty happy with the way this is turning out. I've got plenty of bendable steel rod to form the rest of the contours, but I'm starting to run short on interesting sheet metal. Tomorrow is a "machine comes along and scrapes up everyone's curb trash piles" day in Columbia, though, so I may spend the morning scouting around for some interesting scrap so I can finish this thing soon.
Just a little over a year ago, I wrote this post about trying to convert my hand-made Brachiosaurus sculpture into a computer so I could continue my modeling work. Skimming over that post brings home to me how much things have changed for me professionally over the last year. I still don't have HPC access, but I ended up being employed for the last academic year (in a visiting position at Grand Valley) and will be moving to a new position at the University of South Carolina that begins in the Fall. I still don't have HPC access, but it hasn't mattered much this year as the overwhelming majority of my efforts have gone toward teaching. The position at SCIAA will emphasize research, and I will have the opportunity to get my modeling work going again after I get down there.
The Brachiosaurus remains in the yard. I still have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it - I know I could make it into something that I really love if I had the time and energy to do that, but I can't invest in it anymore. I also don't want to invest in moving it across the country (we're going to have a hard enough time just moving the things we actually need). I've made some tepid attempts to sell it in the past, but for a variety of reasons those never panned out. In the interests of getting it moved and taken care of, I'm now prepared to give it away. I want it have a good home, though, not just a one-way ticket back to Haggerty Metals.
As a bonus, a robin has built a nest inside. So that might complicate an immediate move. But if you're looking for a way to spruce up your garden and attract wildlife, this would be a total win. Do you live in the Ann Arbor area or are you willing to make the trip? Do you have a place for a 92" tall, 87" long Brachiosaurus? The lower legs can be detached for transport, but it is still heavy and requires at least two people and a truck/trailer to move and re-assemble.
I’m a fan of metaphors. A good metaphor can be a tool for clarifying a complicated idea. And I find that the process of finding that good metaphor -- that metaphor that so simply captures and communicates subtleties that get lost in a long explanation -- is also worthwhile. It is a process of distillation: your brain pares away the clutter until only the most important or meaningful elements of an idea remain. Sometimes it’s just as difficult as it is important to get to the essence of an idea. Metaphors help with that.
I’m going to make a renewed effort to sell my brachiosaurus sculpture. Have a look here at how I built it: started without much of plan, completed in fits and starts over about a year. It is sitting in my back yard now, perhaps eight feet (2.5m) tall at the head and who knows how heavy. Weathering is making it look better, I think, taking some of the gleam off the chrome and dampening the brightness of the painted pieces.
My brachiosaurus feels unfinished to me, and I think it probably always will. (The brachiosaurus drawing to the right, which I like, is not by me, but by this person.) I built it to come apart to make it easier to move (both out of the garage and from place to place). I’m still patting myself on the back for recognizing early on that it would either need to come apart or be moved outside horizontally. But the choice to make the legs detachable – to build in some functional flexibility – meant that I couldn’t construct them with the kind of fluidity and fullness that I wanted. And that has always bummed me out a little. The moment of triumph was getting out of the garage. Since then, the personal affection has faded.
So I’m going to try to sell it. I’ve flirted with the idea several times over the last two years, and two times there has been enough expression of interest that I was optimistic that we’d consummate the deal and Betty would find a new home. So far it hasn’t happened. But maybe this is the year – maybe this is the year that someone pulls the trigger and decides that, yes, it is time we had a large metal dinosaur in the garden. Trust me - it's the right call. Buy now and avoid a lifetime of regret. Do it.
Do it for science. I would put the money toward a high performance computer that I could use as a dedicated machine for running computational experiments. Running these experiments is a significant aspect of my work. Some of the models I’m using are not that computationally expensive to run, but some are. Space and population size are the keys. Small populations in non-spatial models, like some of the demographic models I've been working with lately, aren't that bad. But fill an area the size of the Eastern Woodlands with hunter-gatherer populations at a reasonable density and the millions of probabilistic calculations that take place each step slow the action down to sub-glacial speeds. Models like the ones I used in my dissertation – with detailed, spatially-situated representations of birth, death, marriage, mobility, kinship, social networks, and social learning – take a long time to run and use a lot of computer power. I don’t have the resources available to me right now to run those. Thus my research using those high amperage models is on hold until I can find a way to create or tap into the infrastructure I need. There are advantages to not being a graduate student anymore, and then there are disadvantages. This is one of the disadvantages.
There are several “good” metaphors lurking in all of this, but I have yet to sort them out. I know, however, that it’s time to commit and move on. My kids like the metal sculptures (more at this unmaintained website), and they will be sad to see the brachiosaurus go. For them it is a tangible and symbolic thing that makes our backyard different from all the others. I like it for that reason, too. But for me it is also other things. It is a symbol of how you can build something from nothing, how the joy can come from the process rather than the result, how the necessity of compromise can produce lingering dissatisfaction, and, perhaps, how effort in one currency can be used to bootstrap capacities in another. Maybe the “good” metaphor will crystalize when it’s gone.
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