Odd Beauty at Southampton Arts Center

I’m flattered to have been asked to submit some work for Art Donovan’s new steampunk art exhibit in Southampton NY.

Art was the man behind the original Steampunk exhibit at the The Museum of the History of Science, Oxford back in 2010. That was the show that really put steampunk on the map in the art world. The artists who exhibited in that show as well as Art’s own works have been an inspiration to me ever since. It’s an honor to exhibit a piece now with some of those original artists, as well as a whole new crew of artists that I’ve been following and admiring over the years for their fantastic talent and vision in this crazy genre.

I’m not exactly the most prolific artist in the world to begin with, and it’s been a chaotic couple of years since moving back to the states from the V.I. (thank god I did, though), so I haven’t had much time to create anything new. The only piece I had sitting around was the DeuxAmp stereo system, which of course is huge. I waffled about sending it, just because the price of building crates and shipping that thing was not a small investment. But in the end, I decided it was well worth it, and began building crates. Of course, as fate would have it, Hurricane Irma hit the week I had to ship them out, so there was a bit of stress and drama trying to get all of that sorted. Perseverance paid off and the pieces are snug in their place at the museum as I type this.

One of the highlights of the show for me is that on October 15th Thomas Dolby will be there giving a speech and playing music!! How exciting!

If you get a chance to get to Southampton, I highly recommend you check it out!

Here’s the details:

September 23 through November 12
Southampton Arts Center
25 Jobs Ln, Southampton, NY 11968

Contributing artists:

Tom Banwell, David Barnett, Ian Crichton, Art Donovan, Dave Duros, Steve Erenberg, Cameron Forrest, Paige Gardner, Eric Freitas, Vianney Halter, Steve La Riccia, Vincent Mattina, Sam van Olffen, Clayton Orehek, Daniel Proulx, Saxon Reynolds, Filip Sawczuk, Todd Sloane, and Stephan J. Smith.

Special events include:

Saturday, October 7
“A Day with Paige Gardner, Steampunk Costume Maker Extraordinaire” from noon to 5 p.m. in the galleries with a 5 p.m. talk.

Sunday, October 8
Art Donovan offers a gallery tour of the exhibit at 1 p.m.

Friday, October 13, at 7 p.m.
SAC will screen the film “Tower to the People – Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues”

Sunday, October 15, at 6 p.m.
Thomas Dolby appears live for “She Blinded Me with Science: Talk and Live Musical Performance.” Tickets are $25.

The Boiler Wall Sconces

This is a piece I designed some time ago, and just recently got around to building for a client in Canada. He contacted me and wanted three of them for a house he was doing interior design for. I actually started building four of them because I wanted one for myself, but wound up running short on time because I was trying to meet a deadline on the three he needed. The fourth one sits unfinished so far as of this writing.

The wooden ring is made out of Hickory and stained with a coffee gel stain. The three I sent off to Canada were dowelled together as seen in the first photo, the fourth one has walnut biscuits so you can see a darker wood key at the seams around the edges. I liked that look much better, and it was infinitely easier to build. Of course I figured that out after I had built the first three.

The ball is an 8″ diameter copper hemisphere with a 1o” diameter by 1/8″ brass ring soldered at the base, and a 5″ brass ring soldered to the front to hold the glass fresnel lens. Brass screws and bolts finish it all off.

I’d originally designed these for LED lighting, so heat wasn’t and issue. The client wanted them to be incandescent however, so these three have spacers between the metal ball and the wooden ring so they can breathe when hanging on the wall. The bulb is 35 watts.

All in all a very fun little project! I’ll post some nice photos in the gallery when I get the last one finished up and photographed.



Building the BoilerBall Speakers!

This was a pretty challenging build for me. I had designed these speakers to go along with the SteamAmp II, and I was fairly certain I could pull it off, but there were a bunch of things I was doing for the first time, and I was a bit nervous. In the end, persistence and patience paid off and they came out better than I could have hoped. The sound really good too, honestly better than I’d expected them to. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, they were designed using bass box pro to be the correct enclosure and port size for the drivers, but as I’ve found before, what looks good in the speaker modeling software, doesn’t always result in great sounding speakers.


The two big uncertainties were the brass ring the speakers mount to, which itself mounts to the copper ball, and the copper ball itself. On a side note, I didn’t build the copper balls, I bought them online from the place where all things copper ball related come from: New England Copperworks. If you’re ever in need, they are super friendly, and their work is the highest quality.

The Base

The base was made from 1×2 inch walnut cut in sequence so the grain wraps around the bases. This was a fun exercise in mitre-saw calibration, as any small variation in the accuracy of the angle compounds by every joint. It took a little doing, but eventually I got it all squared away.

I glued the walnut pieces together with a jerry-rigged jig-thingy (technical term) since I don’t have the proper strap-clamps to do stuff like this, then glued bracing around the inside to attach the brass plate. The Ball Stand for lack of a better word is made up of a 3″ copper pipe cap and a 1″ copper port running through the base to a walnut port flair underneath. The port allows the enclosure to be tuned to a much lower resonant frequency than would be allowed with just a sealed box, resulting in a much larger sound.

The flares were made with a plunge router out of solid walnut. Nothing terribly challenging going on for this part of the build, it just took a lot of time and patience. The salt air from the ocean under my balcony made working with the copper tough, but I learned pretty quick to keep everything covered when I wasn’t working on it.


The Ring

Unless I was going to shell out huge bucks for a couple cnc-machined solid brass rings (something I didn’t have the budget for), I was going to have to come up with something a bit more economical. I decided to use cold-cast brass, which is finely ground brass powder mixed in a resin, like epoxy or polyester. I used West Marine epoxy because it’s rock hard and very easy to work with to get consistent results (plus I had some left over from a previous, hellish project repairing my boat).

First I cut the blank from a piece of poplar with my plunge router. I primed and sanded it until it was perfectly smooth and then made a mold of it using silicone rubber with a fiberglass outer mold. When the mold was all set up, it was dusted inside with brass power then filled up with a mixture of brass power and epoxy resin. I put a layer of chopped-strand mat fiberglass cloth in there for good measure; I didn’t want the thing cracking, although I doubt it would have. When the epoxy set up, the ring was de-molded and sanded, then lightly buffed with steel wool and coated with protecta-clear to keep it from tarnishing.

They came out really well, I was very happy with the results from the cold-cast brass. It doesn’t look exactly like solid polished brass, but it was darned close. I think if I build another pair of these in the future I will cast the rings out of resin and then electro-plate them.


The Balls

Yep. I said it.

This was all made up as I went along. I needed to have a hole with a flat surface really well attached to the ball so I could bolt the ring and then the speaker to the thing. These little speaker drivers were really heavy, and the weight of them combined with the vibration they would have to put up with made for a tricky design. I originally thought I would solder a thick copper plate to the opening, but the balls were made up of two hemispheres soldered together themselves, and if the heat of soldering the face plate to the ball decoupled the sphere halves I’d be screwed. So I decided to use fiberglass – the cure-all.

I started by making a double ply buildup of biaxial fiberglass matt and epoxy resin. I laid the matt down between two sheets of wax paper and pressed that between two flat boards while the resin set up. Then I cut my round shapes out, and affixed them to the balls from the inside with more fiberglass cloth and resin. Then I coated the entire inside surface of the ball with resin and cloth. These things are rock-solid at this point, very heavy and strong. The copper ball itself isn’t even really structural anymore, it’s just a covering for the fiberglass inside it.

Once that was done, the balls were polished and coated, the rings attached, and the whole thing was bolted to the base with 1/4″ nuts and bolts. I wired up the drivers, bolted the speakers in, and bobs’s yer uncle!


All in all this project, like most of my undertakings was a colossal pain in the arse! That being said, I’m very glad that I did it because the results were out of this world. Unfortunately, these were a commission job, so I don’t get to enjoy them, but I’m determined to build myself a pair when I have the time. They’d look great on my computer desk!


Floor Standing Horn Torch Lamp


It’s pretty safe to say that I have an obsession with high-end audio as well as steampunk design. I especially like some of the more exotic speaker configurations out there like horn drivers. It only stands to reason then, that when I sat down to design a standing lamp, that eventually I’d wind up with something along these lines, only instead of a speaker in the horn, we have a light! The diameter at the top of this thing is 18″, and I’m thinking it stands about 6 feet or so tall. 

The stand will be a wooden tripod with brass hardware, and the top horn will be made from sectioned copper sheets similar to (but much larger than) the copper flares I made for the Æthereal speakers. Should be quite challenging, and god knows I love a good challenge!

I think I may actually start on this piece this week. My living room could definitely use some extra light!



Boiler Wall Sconce Concept

Boiler Wall Sconce

Is your airship a little gloomy? Mine too. Who couldn’t use a little more ambient light in those dark corridors. I’ve got just the thing!

The Boiler Wall Sconce measure in at 11″ diameter overall, and makes use of a 3″ fresnel lens to gently light your way. Can be oriented either up or down. Made from solid brass and copper of course, and the wooden base can be any wood that suits your fancy. Personally, I’m partial to Black Walnut, but hey, that’s just me. Lighting is low-wattage incandescent or LED due to heat issues, higher wattage bulbs would require vent holes, and I’m not sure I want to mar the surface with holes.

This is of course a concept rendering, I haven’t actually built one of these yet, but it’s on the list for the not-so-distant future. You can bet I’ll be hanging a couple of these in my studio. I’m pretty sure the wife won’t allow them in the living room, as I’ve been told it’s getting too geeky in there as it is. Sigh.

I used to have a BIO.

Honeymoon Beach Water Island

If you’re one of the people who actually visit CopperSteam and read the blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been giving the site some much-needed attention over the last couple of weeks. There are a few of reasons for this, but most notably is that I’m excited to be able to start construction on some of my more ambitious designs now that I’m back where I have the work space to pull them off. Island life is fantastic, but it’s really not suited to fabrication. There’s only so far you can go with coconuts and palm fronds… that and it’s hard to focus on work when you live a drunken golf cart ride away from the beach.

You may have noticed I added a store to the site. Now that I’m situated with enough shop space to build pieces comfortably, I plan on building more amplifiers, speakers, lamps, and other miscellaneous gizmos that I think are worth reproducing on a limited scale. It was difficult to build things on a remote island without a proper shop, so I spent quite a bit of time designing, and dreaming, and now it’s time to drag those things into the light.

Among the things I changed on the site was the BIO page. It’s now an ABOUT page. It was a bio page for a long time. I think I put it up there back when I had a bunch of pieces in art shows, and the site was focused on the theme of all of those old works. It was one of those “I’m an artist, let me sing you the song of my people, and share my pain with you” things. Bleh. So corny. It’s so painful writing those things about yourself, but just try to get someone else to write one about you, I promise you it’ll be even more dumb sounding. I always hated it and felt uncomfortable about it, but it’s what artists do, right? Part of the schtick.

Well screw that I thought, and I set out to write a page about CopperSteam the brand. The first version I wrote came out with the same ridiculous “art born out of angst” diatribe, that while it may be true to an extent, is utter cliche. I let it sit overnight, and re-read it in the morning. Crap. Total crap. It was so depressing. So I rewrote it to start with the angst thing and chronicle the journey to happiness and enlightenment through beaches and rum, thinking that if it ends on a high note, then it won’t bring people down. Still crap. This time even my wife told me it was crap, and since she’s usually the one who’s right in our household, I sat down to re-write it again. And then again.

Finally I threw it all out and just wrote the one that’s up there right now. The story of the Lab. It’s funny some times how long it takes as an artist to pull your head out of your own ass and just stop trying to make everything have more meaning than it does. I read so many ABOUT pages and VISION pages on web sites belonging to artists and architects and makers, and they are all so utterly full of their own rhetoric as they bloviate endlessly on and on about this and that. Meh. I don’t know. Maybe it helps people relate to their brand or something.

Personally, I want CopperSteam to be about cool art, dark rum, and building shit. Oh, and sandy Caribbean beaches. I know the beach thing is utterly the elephant-in-the-room when you first look at it in the context of the work on this site, but trust me.. it’s there behind the scenes.