Shallow Thoughts : tags : welding

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 22 Oct 2016

Los Alamos Artists Studio Tour

[JunkDNA Art at the LA Studio Tour] 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 tour.

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 ...

[JunkDNA Art at the LA Studio Tour]

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 practice, scorpions were much more popular, along with a sea serpent 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.

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[ 20:17 Oct 22, 2016    More art | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 12 Sep 2016

Art on display at the Bandelier Visitor Center

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.

[my art on display at Bandelier]

The Velociraptor on the left and the hummingbird 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 David Trujillo's, and I'm pretty sure the rabbit at far left is from Richard Swenson.

The lemurs just right of center are some of Heather Ward's 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 the tour.

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[ 10:38 Sep 12, 2016    More art | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 27 Feb 2016

Learning to Weld

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 John Dobson 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, David 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.)

[My first metal art piece] 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.

[Metal art: Spoon cobra] 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 paint off.

[Metal art: grease-gun goony bird] 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: Metal art.

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[ 14:02 Feb 27, 2016    More art | permalink to this entry | comments ]