Sunday 29 May 2016

Project Alice: One Last Time in Rydal...

So for the Bank Holiday it was one last go to Rydal Hall, partly to see the rest of the work by the artists from the Lakes Collective (as we'd been so busy installing our own sculptures we didn't have time to properly look around), partly to see how the work was faring, mainly to allow the wider family to see the works.

Of course, we'd forgotten that the Am-Drams were taking over the gardens for their interactive Alice in Wonderland performances, but having driven en-masse all the way from West Yorkshire with two family members who'd driven from the Midlands, and with no time to do the proper tour with the minimum time we'd had change for the parking for, we decided not to take no for an answer.  And so we talked our way past the sexy pink female Cheshire Cat who was rolling voluptuously round the formal gardens (no, really, it was that sort of day...) and did a whistle-stop tour of Wonderland. 

So rushed was the grand tour that I didn't get time to get details of who had done what, so just revel in the work.

Love these in particular, very nicely done.

This is probably my favourite piece, the craftsmanship was very impressive.

So that's the outside pieces- apologies for not getting details and probably missing a few pieces of work, sufficed to say that the quality of work done by the Lakes Collective was excellent and a nice show was produced.

Back indoors, in the Bishop Bully Barn (interesting name, or possibly a job description?) where more artists were showing work of a craft/fine art nature.

Trying for some arty reflection-shots in some lovely mirrors.

Nice wooden pieces- love that chess board.

As mentioned previously, a selection of the exhaustive prep-work for Jabberwock was on show in there, arranged very tastefully by Clare and friends.

A quick trip back outside and a couple of shots of the river- mainly to see how the new camera was coping.  Yes, new camera- after much saving, we've finally upgraded a bit.

And finally a shot of the Jabberwock, again, with one of the nice tiles which someone has produced with quotes from the books, an excellent finishing touch that I wish I'd thought of.

So there we have it- the next trip to Rydal will be to collect work back, but whilst a home can be found for most of it, no idea where the Jabberwock will be going...

...that's a problem for Future Ben and Amy :)

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Project Alice: And Hast Thou Built The Jabberwock?

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Back when Clare (of The Lakes Collective) mentioned the project to us, she suggested that I (Ben) might like to build the Jabberwock, and being as it wasn't that long since I'd done some Steampunk-based work, she suggested a Steampunk Jabberwock.

(2 things- the poem, in "Looking Glass" is called Jabberwocky, the monster itself is called the Jabberwock.  Secondly, for those who might not know, Steampunk is a genre of Victorian Science Fiction, lots of what-if work based on things like advanced, steam powered technology and lots of blokes with military uniforms and award-winning moustaches, and girls with top hats, bodices, and jewelry made from clock-parts.  That's a slight generalisation, and I am a sort-of fan of the genre, but it would take a whole blog post to really explain it, so look it up.  The "Brass Goggles" forum is a good place to start).

So having agreed to the project, I then had a slight panic about what to build and how, before visiting every steam railway and industrial museum that the Tories hadn't closed down yet, for inspiration.  There then followed a slightly over-long experimental phase of producing masses of drawings and then concept models, which is slightly more in my personal comfort-zone than building a sculpture which would be the end result of the project.

Models were made exploring various different ideas- but the basis of all of them was the idea that a piece of machinery had ended up somehow in Wonderland and had been disguised as a monster by some other creatures.  I briefly toyed with the idea of a self-aware monster made of metal, but that was clashing with the logical approach I was taking with designing it. 

Its not that far-fetched though, as Alice travels by train over the chess board in an early chapter of the "Looking Glass", so machinery exists there.  I explored lots of ideas, like the train as a monster (filtering bits of the pastoral, Victorian machinery-versus-nature debate and Luddite revolts).  I was drawn to the idea though of an advanced, self-propelled crane which already happened to look a bit monster like (after seeing a railway breakdown crane with a long neck and dinosaur-like, rearing head at Ingrow station).  By some way it had tumbled into Wonderland and some poor downtrodden creatures in the woods had found and commandeered it, making it look enough like a monster to scare everything else away from the woods.

I did lots of different designs combing parts from old models, designs from my own previous Steampunk project, via crane-tank locomotives, harbour cranes, 'Landship' type early tanks, traction engines, and so on.

There then followed a long, long winter of building the final design, which would be a caterpillar-tracked self-propelled crane.  It needed to look machine-like, then as if it had been modified to look like a dragon (taking the lead from the original book illustration and prose).

Just to complicate matters, I set myself for budgetary reasons the requirement to upcycle materials for it, and because I don't own my own Hercules and landing strip to transport it, the need to build the finished sculpture so it could dismantle for transport in a normal-sized people carrier.

The ups and downs of the construction will shortly be recounted in nauseating detail on my personal blog  so sufficed to say that I ended up building it, pretty much to my original design and concept model, and managed to get it transported to the show and set up in the grounds.  The original planned location was unavailable, but a better spot amongst the trees was found.

Fully assembled, the monster is about 8 ft tall off the ground, and is primarily made from wood from recycled furniture and model railway baseboards, with some scrap from work. The eyes for instance are modelled on railway locomotive lamps, and are each made from scrap wooden boxes, a bit of extra ply, broken kitchen funnels, and the handles off catering-sized soup buckets.

A couple of the spare Rocking Horse Fly sculptures were included nearby...

...and one of the acrylic test models from that build was included as a 'mascot' on the monster, among the weapons and souvenirs looted from the woods by whoever, or whatever, had commandeered the machine.

A slightly victims-eye view of the monster.

I was quite happy with how it turned out in the end, but by God it was a slog getting it built.  As I mentioned above, I will be going into a great deal of detail about all the concept models, the design, the build etc. with many photos and sarcastic cartoons, over on the model making blog, hopefully starting next week.

In the meantime, we've nipped back to Rydal and the battleship-standard construction of the monster has meant it has survived blistering heat, frost, rain, snow, and gales, reasonably well so far.  We're back in a few days so we'll post some more photos of the show (including other work by other artists too) over the weekend.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Project Alice: Models on show

Just a quick post today.  As part of Project:Alice, and specifically the building of the Jabberwock, an awful lot of concept art and models were built along the way to try and determine the final 'look' of the Jabberwock design.

As part of the Lakes Collective activities at Rydal Hall, there's an exhibition on (starting on Monday the 23rd May) and I was invited to show some of the behind-the-scenes aspect of producing the work.  Normally with these projects the concept art only ever stays in sketchbooks, and the models get stored or cannibalised for other shoots, so it's nice to have a chance to show them for a bit.

The set of shelves are from work; rescued from a skip in flat-packed form (shelves home made by one of my predecessors) they are destined for our shipping container behind the workshop, but for this week they're doing sterling service for this show.  I built them up again at home in order to see how easy they were to dismantle, move, and rebuild.  Only a small selection of the models and some scans of the sketches will be shown, as I need the sketchbooks for a freelance-application.

After driving through some incredibly foul weather, along roads clogged with caravans, we arrived at a surprisingly sunny Rydal Hall.

Now the problem is that the show isn't until Monday, and I don't think work will be terribly happy with me skiving off to put the show up, but happily our friend Clare, of the Lakes Collective, is putting the work up for me on Monday.

And so a few minutes with a powered screwdriver and the shelves, display boards, and models are happily cluttering up somebody else's workshop.

After a little walk around Rydal to see what condition the sculpture pieces were in -pretty good given the wildly varying weather- we headed into Ambleside itself.

Got a bit distracted by this lovely slate stairwell, with its encroaching undergrowth.

Ambleside was as nice as ever, and from the tastefully-stocked Oxfam shop I acquired two very nice books on design for the growing library.

Final stop and back to Clare's house, with a new entry on the Picture Wall in the basement...

The bit of the show with the models will run from 23rd May up to the end of the bank hol weekend, the Alice show continues until the end of June.

Next update, a post about the Jabberwock sculpture...

Thursday 19 May 2016

Project Alice: Rocking Horse Fly...

“All right” said the Gnat.  “Half way up that bush, you’ll see a Rocking-horse-fly, if you look.  It’s made entirely of wood, and gets about by swinging itself from branch to branch.”

“What does it live on?” Alice asked, with great curiosity.

   “Sap and sawdust,” said the Gnat.  

Another of my (Ben's) contributions tonight, and the Rocking Horse Fly design.  Whilst I was mainly doing the Jabberwock sculpture for this show, I knew I'd have evenings away from the cellar where it was being built, and wanted to do something smaller to offset that build.  I was quite taken with the idea of the Rocking Horse Fly anyway, so thought about doing something which could be strung up in a tree somewhere.

Looking at the designs, I first went back to a sculpture I made way back in 2003, loosely inspired by a statue in the West Midlands depicting Sliepnir, the legendary 8-legged horse ridden by Odin.  I cannot remember why my build ended up as a Pegasus for that project, but the sculpture survived the last decade and a half, mainly as an ornament on my desk.

It looked not too bad after all that time, but a little too 'severe' for this project.  Given the harsh, brutal nature of the Jabberwock as a machine-creature I definitely wanted something 'softer', though not right across the spectrum into My Little Pony territory.

The inspiration came from seeing a suitable Christmas Tree ornament, which started me sketching.

Now at this point I planned on making them out of wood, which meant going back to the angular design, cutting them out from ply with hand tools.  But then by happy coincidence, in late Autumn at work I needed to get in some practise with both 2D Design and our Laser Cutters, so after work one day I stopped behind and after some difficulties, came up with a multi-layer design for the Rocking Horse Fly.

This is the first test-print, done on a scrap of 3mm MDF, and proved both the concept and the fact the design worked on the cutter.

Now I wanted to veer away from the text a bit and the wooden nature of the creatures, and do something a bit unusual, and something weatherproof which meant acrylic (to avoid a ton of varnishing).  As luck would have it, I had a big sheet of clear acrylic in my model-making store of materials, left over from the days of the Britannia Project (acquired cheap from a previous college because it had been cracked).  So another after-work session gave me the above piece, which I absolutely loved.

And then the problem.

This piece, and a smaller test one, used up all of my sheet of acrylic, and so I started investigating prices of buying the material, and got a bit of a shock.  Even if I'd been cheeky and bought through work with a bulk discount, it would have been prohibitively expensive.

The happy solution was that this coincided with a project at work which needed me to cut about a hundred backing-boards for a vacuum-form project.  This meant lots of oddly-shaped dead-spaces on the A1 sheets, which couldn't be recycled easily, but it did mean the component parts of the Rocking Horse Fly could be squeezed into the gaps and holes of the boards.  So gradually over the course of a few months, I built up a stock of parts for them, just filling dead spaces on projects at work.

I then fortuitously found two sheets of similar quality 3mm ply in my own stores at home (again, post-Britannia project) and so stayed another few nights after work had finished, and when nobody needed the cutter, and produced a few more of them.

As a nice by-product, parts of the design have been incorporated into official projects at work too, especially the wings.

Of course, being made of MDF they have their problems; despite soaking them with varnish, the material is susceptible to damp.  And whilst they've been assembled with outdoor-quality wood glue, I reckon they'll gradually fall to bits in the wind.

They were mainly strung up (with fishing wire) near the main steps down from the mansion into the formal gardens...

A slightly Wonderland version of the kitsch '3 ducks flying up the living-room wall'

We also put a couple actually in the trees near the Jabberwock.

So there we go- what started as a test-project to get some experience with the Laser Cutter at work produced a design I am extremely happy with indeed, and which people keep asking about.  It will be nice to retrieve any which survive the show, and put them up somewhere in the garden after the show...

Because there is a good chance someone from work will see this, I'd just like to re-iterate the facts that: All materials used in this project were either scrap material destined for the bin, or purchased by myself (in the case of the acrylic and some of the MDF).  The Laser Cutter was used in the evenings outside of my paid hours, and at points where it was not required by other staff or students.