Creative imbalance and making the most of what you’ve got.

Small, but with lots of potential.

Small, but with lots of potential.

It is the only word I’ve managed to come up with in trying to describe what’s been going on of late, imbalance. I’ve got a fair idea about where it’s come from and it has taken me a while to get to grips with it.

Rather than castigate myself for allowing it to happen, it has been much easier to recognise it for what it is and deal with it through action and a little reasoning. This imbalance stems from a shift in my working life over the last few months, and hence my creative output, which I’d not accounted for. Although my role is only part time, it has involved a lot of idea generation and thus a massive amount of drawing and sketching. Big projects, which require a lot of this kind of thing in their early stages, need sustained creative input and masses of ideas. It’s exhausting, creatively and physically. Where I went wrong is not remembering this to be the case and failing to keep any creative energy in reserve for my own stuff once I returned home. So it’s been difficult to draw, but more to the point, it’s been hard to generate ideas.


I’m showing you a couple of pictures of my garden shed, here in my back yard, as it has proved to be the answer to coping with this imbalance. Rather than spend any more time staring at blank sheets of paper the solution lay in getting out there and making something, turning raw materials into something else, using some tools and getting my hands dirty.


There had been a plan in the back of my mind for a while to refresh the little 250cc motorcycle that I’d modified some years ago when I started this blog. Over the years, as the miles have racked up, it has suffered the usual knocks and scrapes that these things are victim to, and overall the finish was starting to look very tired. I wanted to give it a freshen up, and make some changes to the overall design that I’d not got right first time around. So what to do for a making project was all ready and waiting, I just had to start. Before now I have relied on using workshop space owned by other people, this time around I didn’t have that option so my little shed was going to need to be the work space that I could use. As you can see it’s a small building with very limited floor area, but it does have an electricity supply, a big light on the rafters  and a work bench across one end. It houses all of my various tools, materials and other useful stuff accumulated over years of working as a prototype builder and modelmaker. Being of a sturdy design and construction it allows all manner of things to be hung from the walls, freeing up floor area and permitting at least a modicum of organisation. I don’t own any large machine tools, I’d need a bigger shed if I did, so most of the work would be done with hand and power tools with my trusty old Black and Decker Workmate acting as a secondary work bench. The only thing I can’t, and likely won’t do in there is spray paint, that will have to happen elsewhere. The shed was here in the garden when we moved into the house and I’ve always wanted to use it as a making space. now was my chance to put that thought into practice.

It just about fits in.

It just about fits in.

The third shot shows the bike pretty much in the shed. I didn’t need it completely inside, just enough to get some soldering done on the electrical loom, but it meant that I could work on it in there if the weather took a turn for the worse. By being methodical and tidying up as I went it was utterly surprising what I managed to do in this small space. Most of us work in some kind of organised chaos. Some cope well the more chaotic things are, others less, and over the years my natural inclination has veered toward the organised rather than the chaotic and this is a boon when working in a confined space. Having everything to hand helps too but, the order one maintains around oneself really is reflected in how one deals mentally with the making process.

The fruits of my labours are in the next post.


The 3D Pantograph Club, Part 1- Ed’s Machine.

Ed Barton Pantograph on Soulcraftcandy.

Ed and his 3D Scaling Pantograph.

It is an inescapable truth of freelance working for creative companies that you are rarely in a position to show or talk about the work you are engaged in, or have just completed. Issues of client confidentiality, and the fact that much of the work is usually a long way from entering the public domain mean you can’t show anyone what you’ve been making for quite a long time after the event. Hence the lack of “making” content on the blog for a long while.

Prompted by a recent visit to the studio of a sculptor friend, this is about to change however, as it has nudged me into digging a project out of the archive in readiness to post about it.

I first met Ed up at the Ace Cafe, a favoured north London haunt of motorcyclists, where I got talking to him about his fabulous Moto Guzzi. When we discovered what each of us did for a living, and dug a little deeper, it became clear we had more in common that purely an appreciation of personally customised motorbikes. Ed mentioned that he was interested in building a 3D Pantograph, and I had completed the construction of such a device not that long previously. Needless to say he was interested in understanding what my project had revealed regarding these rather esoteric bits of equipment and a good many knowledge sharing conversations ensued.

Before going any further though, it is probably best to try explain what a 3D pantograph is exactly. I will try and be brief. A pantograph is essentially a scaling machine that allows the operator to enlarge, and in some cases reduce, the size of an image or object. They are more commonly found in the 2-dimensional realm where they are used to trace lettering or pictures for engraving and such like. Being utterly analogue in their function they have now been generally superseded in most applications by digital technology, so they are rare things to come across. Working from a fixed pivot point, two pointers, connected by a series of pivoting arms allow the operator to follow an image with one pointer whilst the other creates a replica of that image on another surface at a greater scale, like 2:1 say. In 3 dimensions the principle is the same though in this case the first pointer follows the surface of an object, positioned on a turntable, while the second allows the operator to create a scaled up or reduced version of that point in space on a second turntable nearby. If this doesn’t make sense, then I hope that seeing some images and a short film will help to make things clearer.

The pantograph pivot and counterweight assembly.

The pantograph pivot and counterweight assembly.

Last weeks visit to Ed’s studio in Camberwell, South London was to finally see the pantograph he had built. It was impressive. Through our earlier discussions we had figured out that these machines could take many forms, it is the core geometry which provides the link between different designs. So not surprisingly Ed’s machine is a very different looking beast to the one I built, and amply demonstrates how a different “brief”, ie what you want to make with it,  effects the final design and layout of the machine. Here’s a link to the studio website where you will find a great stop frame film of the guys building their machine and then using it to cut complex forms out of large blocks of expanded polystyrene with a hot wire, and other images. When I visited the studio last week the hot wire had been replaced by a high speed cutting head which the guys had used to carve even more complex forms from similar blocks. You will also see that the machine consists of the two main elements required for the pantograph to work, a pivoting arm that holds the “pointers” and a pair of connected turntables supporting the final piece and the model from which it is being traced.

Ed Barton pantograph at Soulcraftcandy

The business end, a high speed cutting head.

In the next post I’ll reveal the details of the machine I put together for an artist, and expand a bit more on how these things work.

Let’s get naked.

There is nothing like the appearance of a large assembly of parts to give a project a real spur. I’m sure every project bike builder who’s spent months or even years waiting for the commencement of a new undertaking has felt oddly in limbo until that first day when bits of metal are actually there for you to pick up, touch, feel and smell. In a way it’s the same as with a design project where for so long things exist only on paper or in the rarified atmosphere of the computer screen as a photorealistic rendering. There is a palpable sense of things actually happening when that first model is made or the first prototype arrives for testing. So with the bike acquired and the workshop ready it was time to take those first tentative steps.

In the best traditions of passionate and lustful young relationships, there was an almost unbearable urge to get the old girls clothes off and see what lay beneath. To find what mysteries, if any, she concealed under those heavy swathes of chromed steel and whether her heart really was as true as she’d intimated on that first journey home. Like an expectant youth on that first night when his parents are finally out for the evening, I plumped the cushions on my metaphorical sofa by constructing a low workbench out of scrap wood and board. I made sure everything I needed was to hand by laying all my tools out nearby and, even in readiness for any severe grappling made sure I had the appropriate protection to hand in the form of a fresh box of vinyl rubber gloves.

The correctness of my choice of machine was apparent immediately in the ease with which I was able to remove parts. It wasn’t long before I’d started to build a substantial pile of bits of motorcycle on one side of the work space. It was also a sign of how well looked after the bike had been that all fasteners were easy to undo, no rusted up nuts and corroded bolts. If I’d been blessed with a set of air tools it would have taken even less time to take it apart. Within an hour I’d got it back to a state where I could see clearly what I needed to do. Over a cup of coffee I made a note to weigh all the parts that had been removed never to be put back on. It amazes me how much metal even these small bikes have to cart around, without the added mass of a human being on board. No wonder they are generally so slow. The seat alone weighed a ton and, so did the rear rack, and that was what someone had added. No matter it was off now.

Serious diet required.

As I stripped bits off I got busy with a pile of rags and some WD40 and cleaned everything of all the accumulated road dirt and general crud which manages to occupy every crevice of a bike no matter how fastidious you are at keeping them clean in use. Thus duly cleansed I could prod about to my hearts content without getting covered in muck. I revisited my pile of bits and separated those I knew I wanted to keep from those I knew would be sold or chucked. When it came to the time to disconnect all electrical components I took out my handy little bag of tie-on labels and attached one to each wire or connector block. I’ve never had much of a clue about bike electrics so labeling everything was the only way I was going to remember what connected to what when it was time to put it all back together.

Briefly going back to my point about weight. It’s only when you take a part off a bike do you realise the amount of material contained in it. And all that metal must have a detrimental effect on performance. The headlamp brackets weighed about three pounds and the front mudguard about a further ten. I knew I couldn’t do much about the engine at this time but, I resolved to keep the weight down as much as possible in a bid to minimise the mass that the little engine would have to push along.

In the days before I got to the workshop I’d made a list of all the parts that I knew I wanted to buy and had ordered those which were easy to source such as handlebars, rear shocks, headlight brackets and a bit pot of mixed stainless steel fasteners. I’d rather optimistically thought that I might be able to modify the seat unit by basically chopping it in half but now that it was off I could see it was a flawed concept and, would have been pig ugly to boot. I knew I didn’t have time to make one from scratch. Time for a bit of a re-think.