I don't tend to share a lot of what I (Dug North) do in my own workshop on this blog. When I started The Automaton / Automaton Blog in 2006, I just posted about things that fascinated me: antique automata, contemporary automata, mechanical toys, kinetic sculpture, books, and tools. After a while, it felt strange to post about my own projects.
I guess the time has come to start to include more of my own work on the blog now and then. Writing about yourself and what you are up to is sort of what blogs are all about. That's what I've been told, anyway. And so, this is my first tentative step in that direction. Here we go...
While working on a new automaton this year, I got stuck. Very badly stuck. This was a new and frustrating experience for me. When it comes to creative projects, I generally know what I want to do and then do it. Sure, I make changes along the way, but I've never really hit a dead end. This project was different. The situation became so bad that I found myself avoiding the workshop more and more. Not good.
I struggled to think of a way to break out of the vicious cycle I found myself in. But, the more I thought, the worse things became. Thinking hard about something -- historically something I've used to my advantage -- became a big part of the problem. I needed to use my hands again. Get out of my own head. Make something.
I once heard that writers with writer's block should just sit down and force themselves to write. Write anything at all. Just keep writing. No editing, no planning, no rereading what was written, just write until the block is cleared. This process may take minutes, hours, days, or weeks. Maybe even longer.
I wondered if I could apply a similar technique. Making a stream-of-consciousness automaton (while perhaps possible for some) seemed far too daunting. So, I resolved to make little wooden monster heads. Does that sound odd? Well, I like monsters -- at least small wooden ones. I figured that the task would get me to use my hands and tools again. I chose carving because, for me, it is the most right-brained aspect of making an automaton. I can lose all track of time while doing it. Perhaps I would come up with a few characters that I could use in a future automaton.
I chose as my starting point either a 1 inch wooden sphere or a 1 inch wooden cube. The idea was to go into the workshop and just start carving until something happened. No sketches, no pictures, no modeling clay. Gluing things on, I decided, was permissible. My task was to add and remove wood until a little monster head was formed. I'd come out of the workshop when it was done.
So, how did it go? While it certainly wasn't the answer to all of life's problems, the technique worked to a large extent. Over the course of a few weeks, I started to enjoy the process. I never knew exactly what would come of each session. I like some of the monsters better others, but I've come to appreciate them all for helping me to get unstuck. Without further ado, let me introduce you to Monster Head Study No. 1:
|Dug North's Monster Head Study No. 1, 2011|
The head is basswood, carved with hand tools and a Dremel. The horns are made of 1/8 inch thick Baltic birch plywood that I stained with a wood-stain marker. I drilled holes for the eyes and did a tiny bit of wood-burning to define the eyebrows and nostrils. I don't recall how long this took me to make, but it was less than an hour. This creature doesn't have a name (in fact, none of them do), but I am open to suggestions! I'll share more of these in the weeks to come.
----UPDATE: April 27, 2011 - Reader Les submitted this digitally enhanced version of Monster Head Study No. 1 (below). Check out the red cat eyes! Thanks Les!
|Dug North's Monster Head Study No. 1 with red cat eyes|