Sunday, August 29, 2010

Money: The Wound That Never Heals. *

Yes, it's true. I can build a walking robot.....

But I cannot seem to figure out how to earn an income in Taos.

As I go through my mental inventory of art projects and sculptures that I have wanted to build in the last few years, one thing becomes clear..... Which is that the most significant thing stopping me from actually building these ideas is a lack of funds. From a certain philosophical point of view, it seems a damn shame that projects such as these, which I think are interesting and worth building, should be arrested at the idea phase because they are too expensive to build.

I had a pretty good balance going on when I lived in LA. The movie industry afforded the possibility of a lifestyle in which I could work for a few months here and there, for anywhere between $40 and $50 an hour, and make enough money to not only pay my bills for the next few months, but actually build some art. I do not remember ever encountering a situation in LA in which I wanted to build a piece of art, but was unable to do so because of lack of funds.

And now I am in New Mexico, where I have a wonderful shop, and the time and space to build things, but no money. And what's worse than no money is no prospects (currently) for making any money. At some point in the last year or so I was faced with a situation where I needed to earn a few hundred dollars, and I realized that I have no idea how to make a few hundred dollars in Taos.

I could stage a robot show.... but that doesn't really make money, even in a city. I could run off to LA for a while, and do some effects work.... but that is really very inconvenient, especially now with a baby on the way. I could try to get a job in town, but with the wages that they pay in New Mexico, that is a very poor approach to making an income. I could try to book the Hand of Man somewhere... but that would not be in Taos, and that is a pretty poor way to make money too.

If I am smart enough to build a robot, I should probably be smart enough to come up with a way to make a living. But I do not want to run a business.... at least not the kind of business that takes over your life. From what I have seen, businesses become so demanding of people's time that they have no time for anything else. That would really defeat the purpose, which is to use up as little time as possible to make enough money to fund the building of art and the paying of the bills, thereby leaving time to actually make the art.

I have an excellent shop, and excellent skills, and no idea what to do with them.

Building art for sale increasingly looks like a dead end. I have not given up on it, and I would absolutely love to be proved wrong. But my god, I have shown my sculptures so many times, for sale at prices that barely cover my time and materials, and they don't sell. Maybe my sculpture is ahead of its time. Or maybe its just bad. Either way, trying to fund the making of art by selling art seems like a no-win situation, for me at least. A gallerist or agent who believed in me might help.

Yes, there is a movie industry here in New Mexico. And yes, I did join the union, as required, so that I could work here. But those two months working on Thor were filled with the most demeaning, mind-numbing work I have performed since I worked for Disney twelve years ago. I quit Disney after six days. I should have quit Thor but I couldn't afford to. I will go back to work in the New Mexico movie union if I have to, but only as a last resort. And by the way, that work is not in Taos. Spending weeks at a time in Santa Fe, away from my family, is really not all that different from spending weeks at a time in LA.

•I could convert people's old vehicles to electric. Maybe there's a market for that.
•I could come up with some kind of little product that people need, and sell it on the internet. Generally speaking, this seems like a good direction to go in, but... I need to figure out what that product is.
•I could make little art-things and try to sell them on Etsy.
•I could learn Solidworks and try to become a mechanical designer for hire... but that would almost certainly not be in Taos.
•I could try to sell the Hand of Man on eBay for $100,000. That money would go a long way, and to some readers that might sound like a lot of money to ask for such a sculpture... But you can bet that if I had an art agent or gallerist on my side, the Hand would be on the market for several times that price (and would be more likely to sell!)

When I moved here, I thought the money thing would just work out. It's always worked out for me before.... But I failed to take into account the facts that there was demand for my skills in California which does not exist here, and there is money in California too.

I have to apply my brain to this problem of making money. I have to solve this problem.

*The title of this post was also the title of a robot show I performed in LA many years ago.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I guess it's official.... I'm a bit scattered.

Christina called it first. I'm having a hard time knowing where to really put my energies, and meantime, I am putting them all over the place.

But in my defense, there are so many things to do! And I certainly am not slowing down these days.

Let's see....
Hot tub: fixed.
Motorcycle: fixed (and ridden for the first time in a while..... fun!)
Christina's project: fixed, adjusted, and out the door.
Friend's playa bicycle: fixed.
Hand of Man: Improvements for El Paso begun.
Website: Process of total re-vamp finally begun.
CNC Mill: Several hours put in, but frustrating lack of improvement.
Baby room: Almost done... This is what has been eating up MOST of my time... but it should be totally done within a few days. I promise I will post a picture. It looks awesome.

I have been thinking about Man Amplifiers, or ExoSuits, again these days. If you don't know what I am talking about, they are essentially "wearable robots." The first real one was called Hardiman, built by GE, but never functional. The coolest one these days is probably the Sarcos XOS exoskeleton... but it is not self-contained. And of course the one that most people know is the cargo-loader suit from Aliens:

I have wanted to build one of these since I was in college.... since before they were cool! (I actually have what I think is a pretty good business idea which centers around these types of suits, but I think I would need a million-dollar investment to get it off the ground!)

Some number of years ago (during the Borg2 experiment) I proposed building a somewhat simplified version of such a thing for Burning Man, but once again, I was denied funding. Here is the drawing that I included with that grant proposal:

And HERE is the proposal itself.

Looking back on it over five years later, it really seems like a pretty good proposal. As is the case with the Hand of Man, the idea of making this device available to anyone who wanted to use it was central to the concept, and is, I think, the main thing differentiating it from the man-amplifier / exosuits being made today. A wearable robot for the masses!

Anyway, I actually still want to build one. I've done some designs of some leg mechanisms which I think could actually work. Legs are way cooler than tires, and cooler even than tracks. Sometimes I think I should just get to work on it, and stop pussyfooting around. One hurdle standing in my way is successful and low-cost implementation of servo hydraulics, but with some help from a friend of mine, I might be close to overcoming that problem soon. I think I would go with an ultralight aircraft two-stroke engine powering a hydraulic system.

I have not yet done any drawings of the overall conception of my latest (walking) concept, just drawings of the legs.

And, in unrelated news, I really want a Scamp or, better yet, a Trillium trailer. They are so goddamn cool! But yikes, are they expensive!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oh, and add "Learn Solidworks" to that list. Possibly income-generating.
So yeah, it sort of never ends....

Back from Denver and things have slowed down a little, but only a little.

On my plate now: (some of which I will certainly get done before KB arrives [KB is our baby's initials] and some of which I almost certainly will not)
•Finish the baby room..... I have gotten a lot done on it in the last two days and it's looking great, but there is still plenty to do. I will post a picture tomorrow, or sometime soon. (I'm insomniac blogging now so I can't snap a pic!)
•Make a few repairs to one of the jets and some improvements to a few of the commutators on Christina's Burning Man project. The project leaves for the playa on Tuesday, so this project won't wait. Here is one of the commutators, incomplete: (Gotta have at lease one pic in every post, right?)

•Repair a friends playa bicycle. Also urgent.
•Make about seven stainless steel frames for my friend, the talented artist Robert Drummond. (That is one of my frames holding the glass piece in the picture at that link.) Seven or eight months ago, when my cash flow was even worse than it is now (which is saying something!) Robert advanced me the fee for building these. Now, with KB on the way, I better build them soon, or I never will!
•Get my hot tub running again. Goddamn that fucking hot tub, and goddamn how I miss it! That thing is so high maintenance... I could do a whole blog post on the history of how many different ways it has broken... but I fuckin' love to sit in it! Although it might seem frivolous, it is near the top of my list.
•Make a slew of improvements and repairs to the Hand Of Man before it appears in El Paso in October. A certain percentage of these repairs/improvements are necessary.... we'll see if I do anything more than the bare necessitites.
•Get my ancient CNC milling machine running! HA! It's only taken me seven years to not even get close with this thing.... getting it going before KB arrives should be no problem!! But hey, the damn thing is supposedly a good machine, it has a 22 position tool changer, and I have recently made a connection through an online forum with a guy who has been running this SAME machine for 30 years, and he thinks he can help...
•Re-install the radiator in my semi-truck. I want to do this before winter, at least...
•Re-build the boom extend hydraulic cylinder in Hermans crane... Again! Is there anything more fun than repairing something twice, because you didn't get it right the first time? I don't think so.
•Get my website completely re-done. Yeah, that's gonna happen soon.
•And, start to compile a list of business ideas / income generating ideas. You may notice that none of the aforementioned tasks will actually generate any income. I grew up with money, and so I have no idea how to make it. It's really a skill that I lack. However, I have finally come to the point in my life where I am going to at least TRY to LEARN the skill of THINKING in terms of income. For the most part, right now, I just think in terms of art. But hey, I ain't rich, and I am not being bankrolled by the Medicis, so something has got to give... Maybe a new website, or a list, will help!

At least there's no time to be bored. Being bored is the worst. When you're bored, you're boring.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Denver went great.

Click over to the Hand Blog for more details.....

Now it is back to building the baby room!

It's crazy to think, but Christina and I will have another little person with us, 24/7, starting in 5 to 7 weeks! Scary!

I find myself wanting to get all kinds of things done before then, knowing that there won't be much time for a while afterwards..... But I am sure that I will get only a small percentage of all that done... For now I just sing to the baby in the morning and get to work!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wow, the last few days have pretty much been: "Work on the Hand until unable to continue, shower, eat, sleep, repeat."

I am exhausted.

But the revamp of the Hand is actually pretty much done, and appears to be very successful. (Of course this weekend's show in Denver will be the real acid test....)

Tomorrow: Load onto truck.
Thursday: Drive.
Friday: Set up in Denver.
Saturday and Sunday: Play with Hand, try to ignore high-decibel mainstream hippie/country music.
Monday: tear-down.
Tuesday: Drive home, collapse.

My mom came out to Taos and co-threw a baby shower for us on Sunday (thanks Mom!). It was actually a lot of fun. We got a ton of black baby clothes, and lots of stuff with skulls on it! HAHA! Our kid will probably end up liking pink, and being an investment banker!!! HA!
Our friend Sam Lambie took some great pictures, which can be seen here.

I think this is my favorite one, with Christina holding up the "Question Authority" onesie!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Things are so busy these days for Christina and me.... I just haven't had time to blog in the last few days. I have been working non-stop on the Hand refurbish, and Christina has been working non-stop on her Burning Man project, Caged Pulse Jets. I am also helping on her project, working on my trucks, and working on the baby room, as well as preparing for a baby shower this weekend and tracking down a king-sized mattress (baby demands it!), and Christina steps away from her project only attend to the demands of growing our baby (which appears to be quite a lot of work!)

Anyway, like I said.... BUSY.

A little over a week ago, we took down our big two-person sculpture show at the Taos Center for the Arts. As promised, here are a few pix of the show while it was up...

Here we see my "gallery-robot", HD6LAW, in the foreground, along with some of my smaller sculptures, including the new "Smashy Von Hammersmark", at right. The tree-like piece at far left is Christina's.

Here we see two more of Christina's kinetic pieces, "9 Beating Hearts" and "Venus Flytrap."

Here is my recent self-portrait, "Temporary Blindness."

And here are three pieces of automotive bodywork, crumpled and disfigured by the Hand of Man, and contextualized by large printed images of the Hand at work.

As I mentioned earlier, the show was well-received and the opening was great, although nothing sold. At some point in the near future I intend to put these images (and a few more), along with copies of the very favorable local press coverage we received, into a little "package" and send it out to a few more galleries and see if we can get the work seen a little more widely.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Well I woke up this morning feeling physically damaged and emotionally defeated by yesterday's significant challenges.

But you know, there is a lesson here. It's a lesson that I have "learned" many times before, and yet have apparently not learned yet. Two clich├ęs come to mind: 1) "Work smarter, not harder", and 2) "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting the outcome to be different". Yes, it's true... I have spent many days single-mindedly focused on a demanding task, only to be frustrated and physically spent (or worse) at the end of the day and the next day. So why should I expect anything different?

There are several relevant aspects to this situation, (one of which is "why am I so compelled to work on such a large scale?) but ultimately this is a question of attitude. Let me share a little of my (not so mature) thought process yesterday... I was thinking things like: "I don't have the money for new tires", "I don't have the money to buy the right tool to do this job" (buying the right tool would be an example of "working smarter, not harder), and "there's no one here to help me with this, so I have to keep beating myself up doing it alone."

But what is all that, if not a bunch of feeling sorry for myself, and complaining? And is there really a difference between feeling sorry for oneself and complaining? If we look at every difficult situation with the goal of "how can I best ameliorate these challenging circumstances?", is there ever a scenario when complaining is the best course of action? Uhh, no. And yet so many of us do it. I know I do. For some reason, likely psychological and likely stemming from childhood, it is comfortable to feel sorry for oneself. It is easier than getting up off your ass and doing something proactive to better your situation.

Earlier on this blog, I complained about not having access to someone with electronics skills. But right around that same time, I contacted a friend, Mikey Sklar, who lives about five hours south of Taos, and began a conversation about some of my electronics needs. For some reason it took me a few years to do that. It was more comfortable to complain about it. I could have put up signs in town, too, asking for electronics help, but I did not. It woud be interesting to see where that would have gotten me.....

Oh, and also, I went online today and bought the right tool to finish up the tire job!

Anyway, feeling sorry for oneself is a dead-end proposition. I'd like to excise it from my life. Maybe writing about it here will help.

My struggles yesterday did give rise, however, to an idea for a piece of art.... Imagine a lone figure, small and in the lower corner of the frame, holding a wrench, and looking up at an enormous and incomprehensible agglomeration of machinery which is somehow not working... springs shooting out and oil dripping everywhere... It's kind of a cool image, especially if the machinery were rendered in a sort of menacing way. Given my thoughts over the course of the day (encapsulated above) I am not certain it's sending the right psychological or philosophical message... but it's open to a lot of different interpretations.

So there!