Original Cartoons, Art School projects, Plus other entertaining Odds & Ends. All content & imagery copyright 2010-2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Water Works"

Project #1 Senior Semester-2

While researching sound artists such as Liz Philips, a pioneer in the early days of Sound Art, I came across a large-scale installation of floating crystal bowls by Celeste Bousier-Mougenot. It was her piece that became the inspiration for my project. Genuine crystal "singing bowls" are very expensive, and were not in the budget for this project. So I spent some time at a Bed, Bath & Beyond, tapping and clinking different ceramic bowls together until I found some that I liked.

I put a condenser microphone on the side of the metal tub, and processed the sound using reverb and chorus guitar effect pedals.  This device turned out to be one of the most popular and well received projects I have ever made. This project was one of four projects that I presented at the Senior Sculpture Art Show. This brief video is a part of the documentation required by my professors.  

The only critique on this project related to my use of 2x4's to raise the platform high enough so the amp would fit underneath. It was strongly suggested that if I had to include them, that they should have been painted black. But, for the Senior Sculpture Show I eliminated the boards entirely by merely using a much smaller guitar amp.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Two Ukes, a Kalimba, and a Can-Jo, Walked Into a Bar...

The following are all cigar-box guitar style builds for my girlfriend who is a music educator in South China, where she teaches music theory and performance to children. All the instruments were built using basic kit parts available at C.B. Gitty. The kits are quite flexible and the builds were all  modified as I went along in order to make them more interesting in sound and appearance.

   The original can that came with the Can-Jo kit was replaced with
a child's lunchbox.

The Kalimba (Thumb Piano) made with a cigar box.
Large, deep, cookie-tins were used for the Uke bodies.

I was concerned that the string tension might collapse the uke body so I built 
an internal brace for attaching the neck. 


Friday, August 26, 2016

"It Could Get Loud" - Final Project Senior Semester-1

Mineral Oil does not conduct electricity. This little factoid came up during a conversation with a friend, and it became the inspiration for my Final Project for the Fall '15 semester. Apparently, mineral oil lacks the necessary electrons to conduct electricity, which makes it possible to put any electrical device into a bath of mineral oil, and that device will continue to function perfectly. Mineral oil is used as a coolant in large computer systems and has many other industrial applications. 

After doing some research and networking I got exceedingly lucky and was able to obtain 20 gallons of Food-Grade mineral oil for free! Food-Grade means that it is completely non-toxic, harmless stuff, and is safe for human consumption. Normally the oil sells for $50-90 per gal. depending upon the source and grade of the oil. The particular oil that I got is used as hydraulic fluid in machines and vehicles that operate in environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands.

The original prototype with a small electric fan to circulate the oil.

This project was very exciting for me. It is counter-intuitive to see an electrical appliance in a liquid medium, and a working one at that! And, what kind of bizarre sound will be generated by all of this? I was advised by an instructor to be aware of aesthetics, and make my piece look more music-oriented and less like a science project. He suggested that I play up the "absurdity" of my idea by making a large speaker-box façade to encase the amplifier.

A heavy plastic cart was purchased and assembled. The cart would provide a structure around which to to attach the speaker box façade. The build needed to be very sturdy to support the combined weight of the fish tank with 15-20 gallons of oil (approx. 160 lbs.) and the bass amplifier (35-40 lbs.). After the box was completed, it was moved from the wood shop into my private studio for sound experimentation and final assembly. Generally I like to work in private and will not discuss or show too much to the other students of what I'm currently working on.  I also like to include some small thing or aspect that even my professors don't know about. This makes for a more spontaneous and genuine reaction from everyone at critique time, and sets up the "Oh Wow" moment rather nicely. 

Almost all of my time and effort on this project went into sourcing the materials and building the speaker-box façade. Fortunately, I'm very familiar with the proper "language" and materials that go into making sound reinforcement equipment. I had to build the façade as if it were the real thing using: heavy plywood, black carpet, a speaker grill, large casters/wheels, plastic porting tubes, and metal corner protectors.


I received some much needed help from my grad student mentor who had done upholstery work  before. She was able to teach me some methods and techniques that made the work go quickly.

The fun and easy part would come last; finding out what kind of sound would be produced and then doing additional sound processing if need be. I honestly had no idea what to expect sound-wise once everything was plugged in and turned on.


A bass guitar was hooked up to the amp and placed into the oil bath; and a small electric fan submerged along with it. The fan was turned on and running but was not strong enough to circulate the oil properly. I really wanted a strong current to push across and against the bass strings. Next, I tried a small hair dryer a got similarly disappointing results. So I finally wised up and bought a heavy duty aquarium pump. The pump worked great, but the strings still did not vibrate as much as I was hoping for due to the viscosity (density) of the oil. The sound that was produced was a deep humming drone caused primarily by the electric motor in the pump creating interference with the electro-magnetic pick-ups on the bass. Ok, the deep droning sound was not quite what I was expecting but I had to work with what I got, for there was only one more day working day left before the critique. 

I then experimented with a variety of guitar effect pedals to enhance the basic sound. After some trial and error the winning combination was an inexpensive Flanger and an Electro-Harmonix B-9 Organ Emulator.
Turn up the volume of your speakers or better yet use headphones or earbuds for the best aural experience while watching the video.


To really appreciate the full effect one must actually be in the room where the sound can be heard and felt. When my critique group first heard the sound they stood very still, as if mesmerized, and rooted to the spot. My audience said that the sound was very compelling and yet somewhat disorienting at the same time. Some people said they felt themselves getting lost within the sound. Soon after that, everyone wanted to put their hands on the tank and feel the vibrations.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

"Nut Job"

Since the early days of the the University of Houston some eighty plus years ago, there has been a very large and well established squirrel population. Generation upon generation of squirrels living in very close proximity to the humans on campus has made the squirrels quite tame. Students are not supposed to be feeding the squirrels but people find it hard not to interact with them.They are very cute and entertaining after all. Unfortunately most people hand-feed the squirrels junk food. This has made the squirrels into fat little beggars. In some cases the squirrels feel a sense of entitlement and become rather daring and aggressive to the point of stealing food off the plates of students as they eat outdoors.

I made this piece to honor the relationship we have with these creatures and to encourage the students to feed the squirrels healthier stuff.  Nut Job is carved Styrofoam covered with sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and corn.

I obtained permission to place Nut Job in the courtyard of the Fine Arts building. Lots of people and squirrels cross paths there. My hope was to document the squirrels consuming the sculpture's surface  and create a time-based piece in the process. No luck. Too many people and not enough squirrels. After graduation I might put Nut Job out in a park somewhere and finally be able to witness it's slow demise.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Domestic Situation" - Senior 1 Semester

Domestic Situation was inspired by Trouble Chair which was one of the 13 Sculptures from my Junior semester.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Wire Play #2" - Final Project Spring 2015

The Final Project for the semester began with the intention to create a 3D sculptural version of a Joan Miro painting.

Miro was a Spanish Abstract Surrealist painter whose playful imagery I find very appealing. A Miro inspired work was just a starting point; and as always my profs encouraged me to push the idea further. That is the mantra that I will continue to hear until I am able to do it all on my own. I ended up making use of the many, small, found objects that I have acquired over the last four years. The title "Wire Play"" references one of the sculptures made for the  13 Sculptures project.

Most of these found objects were picked up off the street while walking from my home to the grocery store. Its a two mile round trip and there is a particular side street that is what I call a "target rich environment" for found objects. Any time I walk down that road I'll find two or three interesting items. The copper wire came from a classmate who was cleaning up her studio space and giving away odds and ends.  Even though we had three weeks for completion I had to work out conceptually what I wanted to do, and then assemble it. I spent a few days just experimenting with different objects in various combinations, knowing that I would eventually hit upon the "right thing" to do for this project. This took longer than expected, and I felt pressed for time. It seems that there is always one project each semester where I get hung up a bit. I have to continue working on how to "get out of my own way".

During the critique my classmates commented that the piece referenced things that were: "botanical" or "robotic". Some said, "satellites" and even "UFOs".

This last photo is my favorite for aesthetic reasons.

A major donor and patron to the sculpture program sat in on our critique and commented that my piece was "interesting" and "cute".  "Interesting" is always good; but "cute" is not! I wish she had come by to visit us when I was presenting "Artifact" a few weeks before. I think that was my most successful piece this semester.

When everyone's final grade for the semester was posted, I got one of the few solid A's. I feel lucky and pleased for my first semester to end on such a high note.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Project #5: "Artifact"

I was in the mood to make something large, using tools and materials that were unfamiliar to me. Styrofoam seem like a good choice. Other students had enjoyed working with it, and there were plenty of free materials laying about the Annex. I chose to create a representational form that would be instantly recognizable. However, the twist would be to present the piece in a way that the viewers would have to puzzle over it just a little.

Seven pieces of Styrofoam board left over from another student's project (partially covered with paint), were cut to size and then bonded together in three layers. Using an electric Saws-All, and then a small hand saw, the basic shape was roughed out. After that, the process of shaping the contours of the object was done using a rotary tool driven by compressed air. It had a variety of interchangeable cutting heads that went thru the Styrofoam like a hot knife through butter. I had to exercise caution so as not to remove too much material.

Styrofoam has a cheap look about it, and I wanted to do some sort of a surface treatment that would substantially change that appearance.  After research and discussion with my professors eventually I settled on a mixture of Plaster of Paris and powdered wood, of the type used in making wood putty. The plaster and wood powder was all mixed and applied by hand in small batches because it dries very quickly. The hardened shell built up over the Styrofoam was anywhere from 1/2" to 2" thick.  Then the entire thing was carefully sanded by hand. This took several days. Upon the recommendation from a professor, an odoriferous coat of Johnson's Floor Wax was applied all over to give the surface a matte finish with a light sheen.

The finished piece had the appearance of bone, limestone, or something fossilized. This was in large part do to the "happy accident" of not having evenly mixed each batch of the wood powder and plaster. There was a lack of consistent coloration and tone which then gave the piece an organic look. It definitely had a "natural history" feel about it, which influenced the title choice of, "Artifact". 

The finished piece was about 4 ft. wide x 3 ft. tall x 18" deep. and probably weighed less than twenty pounds, but it looks much heavier. I had originally planned to present it by leaning it against a wall, but decided it would look better on a stand. This would allow viewers to walk all around it, and get it up off the floor without necessarily using a pedestal.

The stand was designed on the fly. A quick sketch, and then a run to Home Depot for some lumber. I was advised to build the stand in a low key fashion or it could prove to be a distraction. Unless the stand itself is an integral part of the piece, people should not even notice it. One of my profs said, "If people are noticing and discussing the stand; then you know they don't like the piece and can't think of anything to say about it". In other words: A fail. I painted the stand a dark gray color that exactly matched the color of the floors in the Sculpture Annex. This turned out to be a good move and really helped it remain unnoticed.

This piece is a representation of my slightly wonky, left ear. My ear has a low grade birth defect that in no way effects my hearing (But, there have been women in my life who would argue otherwise!). When I was quite young, other kids would tease me about it, so I grew my hair long to cover it up. Later on in adult life, my girlfriends and wives adored it and gave it overly cute nick-names -- which I will not repeat here. I prefer to call it my "squinchy" ear, and leave it at that. You have to admit it is an interesting shape, and presenting my piece rotated 90 degrees had the desired effect of creating a bit of mystery. During the final critique, my classmates enthusiastically debated what this "bio-morphic" shape could actually be. I stood back with my professor (who was the only one who knew for sure what I had made), and allowed everyone a closer look. "Is it a whale bone?", "A fossil?", "Petrified wood?", "A dumpling?" The one that made me and my professor laugh the hardest was when someone proclaimed, "It can't be an ear. Ears don't look like that!"

This piece was chosen by me and my professors to go into the Annual Junior/Senior Art show held each spring at the Blaffer Museum of Art.

Amazing how my squinchy left ear went from being a source of ridicule, to a unique identifier, to a praise worthy art object. Life is good.