October 2009 archives

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October 31, 2009

happy halloween from scarlet star studios!

by sven at 5:38 pm

posted by sven | permalink | categories: miscellany

October 27, 2009

armatures: the step-block joint

by sven at 4:26 pm

step-block joint

The step-block joint is the foundation of professional armature making.

When someone decides to try making armatures, usually the first joints they make are open-hole sandwich plates. You can do a lot with sandwich plates -- but by their nature, each set of plates captures two balls and gives you two pivot points. To avoid double-jointed knees and elbows, often you have to freeze one ball in place. A step-block joint, by having just one pivot point, gives you more control and precision as you design an armature.

Another virtue: Whereas a hinge or swivel joint only offers one axis of rotation, step-blocks offer two… And by adding a swivel in the step-block's butt, you approximate three. (That is, so long as the incoming rods are at roughly 90 degree angles. When the rods straighten out, you're left with just two axes again.)

Step-blocks are very modular, and lend themselves to being produced in batches. Stopmo studios tend to outsource the making of these parts to machine shops that employ CNC machines the size of a small trucks. Inside the studio, then, armature-building revolves around using these pre-made bits.

So, given how central step-blocks are to the life of an armaturist, I've been spending a great deal of time during the past few months refining my own designs.

sizes L, XL, & XXL

I'm aiming at being able to produce six sizes of step-block joints in my home studio. For simplicity's sake, I'm labeling them like T-shirts: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL. These sizes are, respectively, 1/8", 5/32", 3/16", 1/4", 5/16", and 3/8" -- where the joints are defined by the diameter of the ball they use.

I've drawn up blueprints for all six sizes, but have only manufactured L, XL, and XXL joints so far. While step-block joints are generally very forgiving of slop in their manufacture, making the XS, S, and M sizes still requires being able to keep tolerances around the .0020" range (the thickness of a piece of paper) -- a skill I'm still developing.

For my own sake, I've also typed up a 10+ page document that lays out the logic of why certain ratios need to be so, which matches up available sizes of raw metal to parts, selects screw sizes, and so on.

I've written previously about why 1/8" balls represent a certain lower limit for miniaturization. As for upper limits, my Sherline mill can only accommodate cutters with shanks up to 3/8". I have 1/2" balls on hand -- but no means at present for milling ball cups for them to sit in.

ball-rod tester set

While working on step-blocks, it became apparent that I should have a set of balls brazed to rods on hand, for testing completed joints. I went ahead and made such a set, and then made a nice little wooden holder for it. I'm really pleased with it aesthetically, and it's proven to be extremely useful.

spacers for the milling vise

In order to take raw metal stock and machine it into a step-block joint, you need to be able to precisely position your work in a milling vise. Above you see the set of spacers I created for the job of making 1/4" joints.

Each size of joint requires different sizes of spacers. I've been adding to my collection of spacers haphazardly with each new size of joint that I work on. However, I've drawn up plans for a master set of spacers that can be adjusted to accommodate many different projects. It's sort of like the spacers that letterpress printers use, which they call "furniture." I'm looking forward to reporting more about that project in a future post.

(Oh -- in case you think all this research and development is purely academic… Let me remind you what you're not seeing in the photos: armatures that I'm constructing for the H.P.Lovecraft Historical Society's production of The Whisperer in Darkness! …Check out their blog!)

posted by sven | permalink | categories: stopmo

October 26, 2009

november events

by gl. at 3:48 pm

November Events

My mind and body are finally back together in the Pacific Daylight Time zone after a 3-week trip to Morocco. I'm delighted to announce 23 Sandy Gallery will be hosting a photo review/slideshow of some of the photos I took! Please stop by November 9 from 7-8:30 p.m. to hear about the the trip: there will be photos & poetry as well as candy and ephemera from Morocco you can take home with you.

Vibrant and generous Bridget Benton from Eyes Aflame will be teaching two quick, fun classes here at the studio in November:

Spiral Notebook Necklace
Wednesday, November 4, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
$35 includes all materials!
http://www.eyesaflame.com/notebooknecklace.html In one quick and easy class, you’ll learn to make a tiny spiral notebook with sturdy acrylic covers. Fill the interior with blank pages, favorite images, tiny text, or decorative papers, and hang it from a simple chain or cord. You’ll end up with a lovely, wearable, and yes, even useable, 1.25" x1.25" spiral notebook necklace. Very beginner friendly. You can make a tiny storybook, love letter, travel journal, memory book . . . yes, even holiday ornaments! I’ll bring the handouts and teach you the techniques – you bring your own creative ideas! All materials will be provided, though if you have your own hand or electric drill with a 1/16” (or smaller) drill bit, feel free to bring it along! You may also want to bring tiny images or favorite decorative papers for the inside, or a special stamp to decorate the outside. Makes a great gift!

Guardian Night Light
Wednesdays, November 11 & 18, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
$52 includes all materials!
http://www.eyesaflame.com/GuardianNightLight.html We can all use a little watching out for, and these wonderful Guardian Night Lights are designed to do exactly that. We start out by creating an 8"x10" guardian collage during the first class. Then, during the second class, we scan the guardian image, transfer it to a durable plastic material, shape it, shrink it, adorn it with beads, and attach it to the night light! Not only will you take home an amazingly personal guardian light for yourself or a friend, you’ll walk away with all the skills and resources you need to make more, including the digital files! All materials will be provided. However, if you have images you would like to use, please bring them. Also, if you have a flash drive that you'd like to save the file to as opposed to taking home a CD, please bring it.


If you're looking to teach a class or host an event, we're now renting the studio for a variety of art activities. At just $25/hour, you won't find a more welcoming or inspiring environment with abundant supplies and creature comforts. Whether it's an art class, party, celebration or retreat, please contact us if you'd like to arrange for your special event in our space.

Last but not least, please support Trillium Artisans! Trillium is a 3-year program designed to support people creating green & crafty businesses. Services included things like small business counseling, product review, classes, photography services, retail and wholesale opportunities, piecework, contract work, peer networking, referrals to city services, and more. Though I'm no longer on the Board of Trillium, so if you donate $10 or more I'll match your donation!

warmest wishes for a fortunate Fall,

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: newsletter

October 20, 2009

birthday card: salix bell

by sven at 7:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is Salix's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Salix!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

October 14, 2009

birthday card: dayna collins

by sven at 8:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is Dayna's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Dayna!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

in memory: elena raymond

by sven at 7:00 am

In memory of Lane


posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

October 13, 2009

birthday card: shel wagner rasch

by sven at 7:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is Shel's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Shel!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

October 11, 2009

birthday card: leeann heringer

by sven at 7:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is LeeAnn's birthday...

And she's in Morocco to celebrate it!

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday LeeAnn!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

October 9, 2009

birthday card: grannie follett

by sven at 11:59 pm

hand-painted card

Today is my grandmother's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Grannie!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting