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.

Cheers!
Mike

Halloween is Nigh!

Halloween-2015

Fall. there’s really nothing like it. The air turns colder, the nights get longer. Halloween looms in the distance, and I start getting itchy.

To say that I have an obsession with Halloween would be a gross understatement. Typically October at my house is filled with painting, decorating, building sets and props, cleaning out fog machines, and checking the blacklight fixtures for shorts and broken tubes.

Before leaving Orlando for key West in 2009, I had a yearly Halloween party with attendance upwards of 150 people or more. I had a committee of sponsors, and we’d get together early every October to start scheming. We pooled our money to buy black visqueen, fluorescent paint, blacklight tubes, and fog machines to turn the back yard into a macabre horror show. The last year that I hosted it at my house, we had so many fog machines the entire neighborhood was under a cloud for the entire night. After that we moved the party to a downtown night club because it was getting too big and unwieldy.

When I moved to Key West I unloaded most of my party supplies that I’d always kept in storage. Some of my friends now have pretty intense yard decorations on Halloween night! I was so bereft in Key West for lack of something to do on Halloween, that I began volunteering for the Haunting of Fort Taylor, a yearly haunted-house held in the historic fort down there. It was a blast, and it was almost as good as having my own party. We left Key West after four years and spent an addional two years in the Virgin Islands.  They have NO halloween down there. They think it’s satanic. *Snort* I was devastated. But now I’m back…

And I’m feeling itchy again.

Which probably accounts for the new color scheme on the site right now haha.

On that note, I’ve been slowly but surely getting the Lab put back together, and I’m gearing up to start some builds, so I’m showing the site some much needed love. I really have been ignoring this poor blog for too long in favor of quick posts on FaceBook. Which I hate. I hate FaceBook. There, I said it. But I digress.

Anyway, I have some new material to post up here soon, so stay tuned!

Cheers!
Mike

The Long Journey Home

West-Indies-Map

 

The West Indies are an interesting place. The natural surroundings are undeniably beautiful.  The water is so clear and blue, you can see everything underneath you for 50 feet or more. It’s like swimming in the world’s largest swimming pool. The beaches are serene, the wind rustling through palm trees elicit a level of calm that’s hard to reach on the mainland, and if you are lucky enough (as I was) to live on a mostly undeveloped residential island, it can be truly, almost heaven. Almost.

The journey started back in 2008 when my wife (GF at the time) and I decided it would be fun to disappear into the caribbean for a spell while the economy played out it’s grand guignol. We had our minds set on a small island next to St. Thomas called Water Island. Knowing that it would be a huge adjustment to just up and move there from the relative reality of Orlando, we took a halfway-step and moved to Key West. We lived there for four years, then made the move to the VI.

During our time in Key West I really got some traction with this CopperSteam stuff.. I think I really made some progress on the direction and feel of what I was trying to accomplish with it. I’m still honing in on it now, and don’t expect to ever really stop changing directions, but those four years were really the foundation of the thing.

When we moved to St. Thomas, I kind of hit a logistical wall.. shipping anything to the VI is expensive and slow, and they have virtually NO local options for buying any kind of supplies but for the Home Depot up on the mountain, and even they have a limited cross-section as far as Home Depot’s go. My tools all rusted immediately because of the salt content in the air (We did live on a cliff overlooking the Ocean, so I guess I should have seen that one coming), and polishing copper and brass was a tremendous exercise in futility, as it would begin to tarnish immediately. Needless to say.. not the best environment to construct an evil scientist’s lab.

Despite all the difficulties, I was able to construct one of my favorite pieces to date.. the SteamAmp II, a commissioned piece for a gent in Connecticut. It cost a fortune to get the materials shipped, and I had to re-do every piece I finished at least once, but perseverance paid off and it came out great. I vowed to never again attempt another physical artwork while I was living there.

Apart from the difficulty of trying to build stuff there, life was pretty much a waking dream. I drove around in my golf cart, floated in the pristine waters on our little beach, drove to work in a dinghy… and dreamed of fresh fruits and veggies and cheap and plentiful meat and dairy. You see, while liquor (especially Rum) was a fraction of the cost on the island, the food-supply chain to the VI is slow and expensive, and getting good groceries was really quite a challenge. A small price to pay I suppose, for living literally a two minute drunken golf cart ride to one of the best beaches ever. Water island was a balancing game.. the sooner you just learned to go with the flow, the more you could just relax and enjoy the beauty of it all.

So, as fate would have it, just as I decided to kick back and only work on conceptual design stuff, and play out my days in a dark rum-fueled version of some Hunter S. Thompson novella, Christina got a job offer she couldn’t pass up back on the mainland. After no small amount of deliberation, we decided to come back early.

And so it comes to pass, I am back in Florida, three weeks from moving back into our house that we’ve had renters in for 6 years, and planning my grande return to the original Ævil Laboratory… and oh the fun we will have then!

So stay tuned kiddies, I’m dusting off the workbench!

The Secret Island Lair, New Concept Art, and Rum.

Hey There! It’s Been a While!

It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve posted here. I’ve been busy getting my life settled here on our Secret Island in the V.I. Well, I suppose it’s not really very secret, but there aren’t many people here, so that makes it feel pretty secret!

Back in July (of 2013) we uprooted our home in Key West to make the final leg of our “10-year-plan” to run away to the Caribbean. This involved selling even more of our stuff, purchasing a bright yellow Jeep, a road trip to New York to see my son graduate high school and drop off our old Toyota 4-Runner for him to drive, camping in the Smoky Mountains, more road tripping to Traverse City, Michigan to visit with the extended family, a scary trip through blighted neighborhoods in Detroit, a flight back to Orlando, a trip to Jacksonville to drop the Jeep at the freight docks, and finally, a flight to St Thomas. It was a long, arduous, and immensely fun road trip that took a few weeks, and ended with us transplanted on our new rock… Water Island.

Honeymoon-BeachPossibly the happiest photo on the whole site…

Water Island is a small little island just south of St. Thomas. It’s about 490 acres, and has no stop lights, no convenience stores, no grocery stores, and very few people. There is however, a world-class beach with a beach bar, an old abandoned government fort tunneled through the mountain, lots of turtles, and very little traffic. I love it. The yellow Jeep lives on St. Thomas, and we drive our golf cart on Water Island. Our dinghy gets us between the islands for food and booze runs, and gets Christina to Charlotte Amalie for work. I work on Water Island, so I don’t leave very often, and that suits me just fine.

Another thing that suits me fine is the price of rum here.. apparently the government subsidizes the production of rum in the VI, so the prices are silly-cheap. It’s half what it costs anywhere else in the US. Not that I drink or anything. Much.

So Anyway…

Uprooting things like we did, I had to dismantle my tiny shop in Key West and put most of my tools in boxes to wait for shipment at a later date. The large things like table saws, mitre saws, drill presses, etc. had to stay, and they are being harbored by a friend in Orlando so whenever I decide to go back to the real world, I’ll have them there.

I’ve been slowly trying to get things back together, not really worrying too much about it until recently when I was contacted by a gentleman in Connecticut who wanted to commission a Steam Amp. Well, never one to back down from a challenge, I told him I was game if he wasn’t in too much of a hurry, and we agreed on a design and price, and off I go!

The Steam Amp II is somewhat similar to the original; same circuitry under the hood, but with much upgraded drivers, more inputs, a bluetooth receiver, and some cool-as-shit spherical speaker cans. I’ll be posting construction shots of this project along the way, so I’m not gonna go into any details now. I’m going to build 5 of these as a limited-edition run. That means there will be 4 more available, so if you want one.. drop me a line.

Another concept I worked on was the Æther Lamp. It shares a lot of the same aesthetics as the Steam Amp II, and would probably look great sitting on the same shelf. It’s built around an old 10″ glass fresnel lens I picked up on eBay a few years ago. I’d like to build a couple of these, and sell them as a pair.

I can’t wait to get started on these projects… stay tuned for updates.

Images modeled and rendered in Maya.

Stay Ævil..

Mike

What’s Been Happening on My Island

It’s not as Grymm as it Sounds

A few months ago I had one of those experiences that really made my day. You know the ones.. a totally unexpected cool thing happens, and it leaves you floating around giddy like a school girl.

I was reading through my email from coppersteam.com, which I must sadly report is typically 99% penis-enlargement pill ads and other junk like that, when I noticed I had an email from the desk of Dr. Grymm. Now, I knew the name because I’d often been to his web site while searching inspiration for my own work, I even have a link to his site from this one, but why would he be contacting me? A thought briefly passed through my head… that he’d seen the link on my site and wanted me to kindly delete it. But as it turned out, he was interested in perhaps putting some of my work in an upcoming show he curates annually up in Connecticut called the Steampunk Bizzare, and would I call him at my earliest convenience. I read this email a few times trying to figure out if it was some joke or perhaps he’d sent it to the wrong address. Then it sunk in and I had one of those moments of pure joy.. my brain was doing the happy dance! Someone actually found my site and liked my stuff! And on top of that it was one of the people I looked up to for inspiration! How cool is that.

I called and spoke with him, and got the skinny on the show. It sounds very cool, and I can’t wait to be involved in it! Turns out that It was too late to get into the 2010 show because it was imminent, but he was collecting work for the 2011 show, which is perfect for me since at the time I’d not even finished the Aether Reactor. Now I have a year to put together a couple more pieces, and a deadline to look forward to! I always work better with deadlines.

Dr Grymm Strikes Again

I had another of these moments just recently when Dr. Grymm began collecting photos of Steampunk Art for a coffee table book called “1000 A Steampunk Collection” and I recieved another email from the desk of Dr. Grymm.

Well, this email was actually from one of his loyal minions, but still… he was looking for submissions and if I was interested could I please send in a few shots for his perusal. Well, heck yeah! So I submitted a few photos, and a couple days later got a response that they would like to include my work in the book. SWEET!

So I had to get off my arse and photograph the Aether reactor post haste. I’d had my artist/photographer friend Jeff League shoot my previous work, but he’s in Orlando and I’m in Key West.. too long a trip for some photographs! It was time to step up to the plate and dust off my photography skills. I ordered a paper background from B&H and got to work. I managed to do an OK job, and the shots look close enough to Jeff’s work to give all the pieces a cohesive look. I guess at this point beggars can’t be choosers, so I’m going with what I got!

At any rate, exciting things are afoot! It’s cooler than I can say to be considered for any type of public display.. show or book. It still feels a little surreal, like it’s not really happening. I mean, I just started doing this stuff.. I haven’t even done my best work yet! But I’m certainly not one to look a steam horse in the mouth, I’m delighted and energized to continue steaming along!

Ever Have One of THOSE Days?


Well I did.
Typically Fridays are my “lab” days. My only day out of the week when I have the entire day to myself to work on my projects and just bury myself in my own little world of evil genius-ness. Some days I get more accomplished than others, but typically I don’t walk away feeling completely frustrated like I did at the end of the day yesterday. Everything I did wound up in the shit-can. I guess I can look at all of it as a learning experience however. I learned a lot about what NOT to do… let me expand..

To Glow or Not to Glow?

For my Vector Amp project I had decided to not waste money building an actual tube amplifier due to the cost of building an amp that had sufficiently cool-looking tubes. I decided I’d just get some cool looking large tubes and hook up the heaters to get that cheery tube glow without dropping bank on huge transformers to build an actual circuit. So I bought myself a KT-88 power tube and a matching socket from Parts Express. This is a cool looking tube. There are cooler and larger ones out there, but the KT-88 runs about 25 to 30 bucks, so it was in my price range for experimentation.

I’d had an idea to build a small polished wooden box with a copper plate on top holding a glowing vacuum tube. I thought it might be a cool little desk accessory for those who dig vacuum tubes and steampunk stuff.. nothing too complex, just a cool little amusement. I figured this was a great chance to try out my construction ideas for the vector amp on a smaller scale before pulling the trigger. I just needed a few things from the Depot and Radio Crack. A 1-1/8″ hole saw, some wood, and a transformer. Most of the other things I had.

So Friday morning I hopped on my trusty steed (my bicycle) and rode up into new town to make my weekly sojourn to Home Depot. It’s a nice leisurely 2 or so mile ride, and it makes for a nice start to the day.

I picked up some brass nuts and bolts, a hole saw, and a small piece of 1/2″ Oak for the base. Across US-1 from Home Depot is the local Radio Shack, so I popped over there to buy a transformer to power my tube. The guy behind the counter looked at me like I was speaking swahili when I asked for a center-tapped transformer. He then led me to the phone chargers. No, I explained.. a bare transformer. OH he says, I have to go in back to find those.

After about 10 minutes he returned carrying a cardboard box with about 20 transformers dumped in it. He apologized for the state of the stock system and helped me dig for the one I was looking for. After a bit we located the 12V (6-0-6) transformer. I needed 1.6 amps, but they only had 1.2 and 3 amp versions.. I opted for the smaller one just because I didn’t think it would matter terribly since I wasn’t trying to actually make something to spec.

Back on my bike, I pedaled my way home. I walked in the door at 5 minutes to noon.. what timing! Noon in Key West is a pivotal time in the day.. time for a bloody mary.

Drink in hand I made my way back to the lab (a workbench in the corner of the bedroom) and began to put my evil plan into play.

Fail number One.

The tube wouldn’t glow. It got warm, so I knew the heater was working, but it certainly wasn’t glowing like I know tubes do. I had a couple small tubes lying around, and they glowed fine when I hooked them up to the transformer. Dejected, I decided that my transformer pumping out 1.2 amps wasn’t sufficient to fire up a tube that needed 1.6 amps. OK. Fine. I decided to move on to constructing my base.

Fail Number Two.

The hole saw I’d bought had a different size shank mounting hole than the shank I had. Sigh. Enter the memory that the set of hole saws I had was bought at Lowes in Orlando, and were a different brand than the one I just bought at Home Depot, despite being the same color. Since the closest Lowes to Key West is at the very least much farther than I’m willing to travel on my bike, I decided I’d just buy a new shank and get it over with next time I was at Home Depot (Which as it turns out was much sooner than I expected).

I decided to just build the wood part of the base and deal with the rest of the stuff later. Except when I started trying to decide on the size of it all, I realized that if I needed a new, more powerful transformer, it was likely to be larger than the one I had in my grubby little hands. God DAMNIT!

Back to the trusty steed for another delightful 1-hour round trip to Home Depot and Radio Shack. Except this time I mixed myself a vodka tonic and stuffed that puppy in the drink-holder on the handlebars. That made the trip less tiresome. Luckily the weather was absolutely delightful, but then it usually is here.

Fail Number Three.

Back at home after the second trip to new town, I pulled out my newly-acquired, amped-up transformer and hooked the tube to it. Nothing. I could see the bottom of the heater filament glowing, but nothing impressive at all. All my plans for the vector amp began dissolving in front of my eyes at this point. I posited that tubes must need to be in a full-on circuit and under load to really put off a nice rosy glow, and that just hooking the heaters up didn’t cut it at all. Fuck Fuck Fuck.

OK, breathe…

I put all that failure behind me and decided to go back to working on the base now that I had the proper hole-saw shank. I got out my 3/16″ sheet of copper plate that I had lying around and scribed out a 3″ square for my top plate. Now last time I had to cut this stuff I had a radial-arm saw and a metal saw blade. I left all that stuff back up in Orlando though, so I decided to try my hand at cutting it with a jig-saw.

I clamped a piece of wood to the sheet for a straight-edge and began cutting. After about 20 minutes I had gotten through about 4 inches. This was going to take all day! Then I remembered something. I had taken shop class back in High School and I remembered something about using oil to help while cutting metal.. Hmm. Enter a can of WD-40. Woah! I zipped through the rest of the 12″ of that plate in about 5 minutes.. definitely faster!

All in all it was a pretty straight cut.. which actually surprised me. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the cuts I’d gotten with my radial arm saw, but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose, and with a decent amount of file-work, the edge could be made to be nice.

On to the drill press!

Springing back after successfully cutting through the copper sheet, I decided to go for the gusto and drill my tube-socket hole. I wanted a ring of 1/4″ holes around the socket hole to allow air to flow up through the base and help keep the tube cool. In addition to being functional, this looks really cool in all the home made tube amps I’ve seen out there. So I scribed out my lines, and used a punch to dimple the surface where the holes would go.

Fail Number Four.

I clamped the metal down on a scrap of wood and started drilling. Right away I knew I was in for a long, tedious, and possibly ruinous process. I used a ton of wd-40 to lube it up while cutting and still it took the better part of 20 minutes to get through the plate. I was using a 1-1/8″ bi-metal hole saw, and it worked.. to a point. The hole turned out being about 1-1/4″ due to the wobbling of the tall saw. Definitely NOT aerospace quality construction, but at least it worked.. the hole was round and straight. Unfortunately however, the increased diameter of the hole meant my tube socket plowed right through the hole instead of butting up to the underside. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

This was most definitely not a process I want to repeat, and I have decided that for future projects I am buying sheet metal hole punches for making holes. Screw trying to get through sheet metal with a hole saw. The noise and vibration alone are enough to turn me off of the technique, but combine those with the inaccuracy of the hole size, and it’s a deal killer. Hole punches only work up to about 10 guage metal however, so I won’t be able to use the 3/16″ plate I have, but I can get 1/8″ copper sheet readily (if not cheaply) on the internet.

So in Closing Let Me Just Say This…

AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

There was some drinking going on after this day to be sure. One step forward and two steps back seems to be the lesson learned. I’m not giving up though. I guess I’m going to have to break down and actually build that tube amp for the Vector Amp project after all. Hey, it’s only money right?

M