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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Steampunk has come to embrace so many varied arts, well beyond just fiction. I’d like to introduce you to a couple of the artisans who make the stuff that makes us all look so good.

 ***

 Shoptroll: (aka Peter Vanslyke)

 

Where can shoppers find your products online?

www.shoptroll.net (but realistically I update the Shoptroll Facebook page way more regularly.)

 

What do you make? 

Riveted seam (no sewing) leather clothing. Mostly skirts, kilts, and pocket-belts.

(Note from Cindy: he also makes bodices, bracelets, gloves, shelves, benches, and just about everything you can make with wood, nails, rivets and soft leather. That’s me and the spouse in SP invasion of RFall our Shoptroll finery.)

 

Do you do this full time or is it a side job? 

Full time. 24-7.

 

How did you get into steampunk, personally and as an artisan?

I think, for me, the two’re inseparably linked. I love non-traditional construction methods (example: to make a skirt, I use rivets instead of thread). I see a great deal of the above in the overall steampunk aesthetic. Descriptions and images of things that at the first seem over-built, stylized, or overly ornamental can too be taken as, say, a plumber’s take on a message-delivery system. Using your knowledge or trade to solve situations that they may not at first seem applicable to…I love seeing that.

 

What’s the hardest thing about being a steampunk vendor?

Not going to panels when you’re at a con.

 

What is your very favorite thing about steampunk and the people involved?

If there is a defining aspect of steampunk, I’d call it creativity. No, really, bear with me as I “define” steampunk here. Every single steamo out there brings something to the table. Every. Single. One. At a comic or sci-fi convention, you have some great artists, writers, actors, cosplayers, etc., but for every one of those folk, there are at least a dozen fans or collectors. (Which, by the way, is great.) In steampunk, that ratio is reversed. Participants create their own character, or their own costume. They all add to the ambiance. most of us have *some* project or other we are working on, be it a light-up Nerf mod, a hover pack , a moving picture, a moving piece of poetry, an airship crew, a presentation, a new novel, knitting, we are all working on things, and most of us will happily enthuse, and share ideas to inspire and encourage one another. That, the building of this thing that we all enjoy together, that is probably my favorite aspect of steampunk.

 ***

 Matt Sabins, of Sabins Gadgeteering Lab, LLC

 matt

Where can shoppers find your products online?

www.sabinsgadgeteeringlab.com

What do you make?

Custom costume props, accessories, and jewelry. My style tends towards Tesla-tech, usually with small glowing light effects to simulate strange energies of the Aether.

(note from Cindy: His wristbands and firefly necklaces are out of this world!)

 

Do you do this full timIMG_3955e or is it a side job?

Full-Time, my own business. I’ve tried pursuing conventional means of employment; it never really worked out for me.

 

How did you get into steampunk, personally and as an artisan?

My first exposure to steampunk was the tabletop role-playing game, “Mage: The Ascension” by White Wo Studios. There’s a Tradition of mages called the Sons of Ether whose mad devices and eccentric style were steampunk even before the term had really caught on, and they were my fast favorite. I really love the strange mélange of mysticism and technology that they represent, and I began to try making Etheric devices of my own to use as props. That was more than 10 years ago, and I’ve been refining my methods with what I could afford ever since.IMG_3667

 

What’s the hardest thing about being a steampunk vendor?

The hardest thing about being a vendor is coming up with product ideas that are original enough not to infringe on other copyrights, but that have sufficiently recognizable value to customers who migIMG_2985ht want to buy them. I often have to restrain myself from exuberant creativity and focus on making everyday stuff with a just a hint of mad science in them.

 

What is your very favorite thing about steampunk and the people involved? 

My favorite thing about steampunk is that it is primarily fan-driven. There isn’t a lot of popular source material in films and television with steampunk as the main focus. There’s plenty of room to get in on the ground floor as it picks up steam, so to speak. As for the people involved, I’ve found most are quite friendly and well-mannered, and they seem to really like my creations.

***

 So now that you’ve met these two awesome creators, don’t forget to check out their work! Hopefully, these interviews will be a recurring feature, so if you’re an artisan, or know one who ought to be interviewed, send me an email at cindy@cindyspencerpape.com.

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I shake John Carney and then Christine Carney’s hands. “Happy New Year and welcome aboard Airship Steamed. Watch your step,” I call as I stretch my short legs in a leap across the wide gap between the dock and the airship. John and Christine, the owners of Thick and Thin Designs, follow me into the parlor.

I gesture towards the crimson settee, which features curvy lion head legs and claw feet. John and Christine take a seat there. I sink into the large armchair across from them. I raise my voice to speak over the clang and grind of the airship as we take off. “Cupcake toppers are wonderful and they take a cupcake to a whole other level. What drew you to the fascinating art and business of creating decorative acrylic cupcake toppers, jewelry and ornaments?”

Christine glances at the blue willow teacups, shaking and rattling on the tea table between us. “John’s an MFA student at the University of Maine and had been working as a tech in the new Innovation, Marketing, Research and Commercialization Center (IMRC) on campus and fell in love with the laser cutter. We knew that machine would allow us to produce what previously only existed in our wildest dreams. One night while I was cooking dinner, we envisioned a massive zombie horde placed upon dozens of cupcakes and the idea to produce unique, quirky cupcake toppers was born. We always knew that we wanted to be in business together and this was our opportunity.”

“How can you not love any business inspired by the vision of a zombie horde on cupcakes.” The dainty china cups cease rattling on the tea table as our airship glides smoothly pass the clouds. “Several of your Thick & Thin creations have a Steampunk appeal:  gears, mustaches, tentacles and hot air balloons. Do you have an interest in Steampunk?” I pick up the teapot and pour my guests a cup of Earl Grey.

John and Chrisitne pick up their teacups. “We love the Steampunk genre! We love the combination of beautiful clothing, dirty industrialization and the whimsical nature that threads through it all. Steampunk and those who love it are always an inspiration for us when we’re creating new designs because we know that there are great number of people out there who love it and not many products to support it.” Tendrils of steam rise from their teacups as they each take a sip.

I pour myself a cup of tea. “How do you get your inspiration for your creations?” Lifting and tilting my teacup to my lips, I take a long sip.

John reaches for the sugar bowl, picks up a white cube and plunks it into his tea. “We’ve always been fans of the obscure, geeky and cute so we often find inspiration in our hobbies. When we’re deciding what to put on our shop we think of things that we would want and can’t find anywhere else. We have a very diverse group of friends, sometimes thinking about what they might want can lead to innovative designs that we wouldn’t necessarily think of for ourselves. The tentacles for instance were created specifically for one of our Cthulhu loving friends who had just moved to the US from Spain. Obviously they had to be shared with the world, and now they are one of our top sellers.” He dips a silver teaspoon into his cup and swishes it gently from side to side.

Reaching for the dish on the table, I pinch a slice of lemon and inhale the invigorating citrus fragrance as I squeeze a few drops into my teacup. “Since this is Steamed, I have to ask do you like Steampunk fiction?  If so, what are some of your favorite Steampunk books or authors?”

iChrisitne leans back in the setee and takes another sip of tea. “I’m a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft and have loved the His Dark Materials trilogy by Pullman since it was first published. I love science and enjoy Steampunk fiction especially because of its, often positive, view of mechanics and its favorable portrayal of women in the field. It’s inspiring to women young and old to not let anything stop you from doing what you love, especially public opinion.”

I bring my teacup to my lips. As the steam from the cup blows warm on my face I finish the last of my tea and set the cup down. “As a husband and wife team, do you both design the cupcake toppers? If so, are some of the designs collaborations?”

Christine sets her teacup on its saucer on the table as John  does the same. “All of our pieces are collaborations. We will bounce ideas back and forth off of one another during the initial phases of a design. I will often check for scientific accuracy while my husband checks to make sure the piece will be interpreted visually. After the first rendition is finished in Illustrator, we’ll print a few test prints off and discuss how we feel about the piece and whether it’s successful before putting it up on the store. When looking at our shop line-up any design that is animal related or cute can be attributed to me and anything mechanical or figurative can be attributed to John.”

Hearing rattling and clinking, I glance at the tea table, the cups and saucers are shaking.”I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for one final question. What is your favorite cake or cupcake topper?”

Christine grasps hold of the arm of the settee, bracing for the landing “My favorite toppers are the tentacles! They were a blast to design and always go over well at a party! John’s partial to the ninja toppers, it was one of his first designs. He’s always thought that they perfectly represent our style and aesthetic, while showcasing the fine detail we are capable of in our pieces.”

The airship steamed has  landed and John and Christine Carney must get started on making cupcake toppers for all the parties in 2014, but they left their left calling cards for us.

Website, Online StoreFacebook

~      ~      ~

Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 19 published books. Her latest Steampunk/Romance is Conquistadors In Outer Space. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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Kat and Tentacle Kitty

Kat and Tentacle Kitty

“Welcome, to airship Steamed.” I shake the president and creative director of Tentacle Kitty, John Merritt’s hand. “Welcome aboard Airship Steamed.” I reach over to Tentacle Kitty, who he’s holding in the crook of his other arm, and shake one of her pink tentacles. “Watch your step,” I call as I stretch my short legs in a leap across the wide gap between the dock and the airship. John Merritt, with Tentacle Kitty in hand, follows me into the parlor.

I gesture towards the crimson settee, which features curvy lion head legs and claw feet, hoping John’s kitty is not offended that they’re not tentacles instead. He sits on the cushioned seat and places Tentacle Kitty beside him.

“Tentacle Kitty is so cute.” I plop down onto the chenille cushioned armchair across from them.  “I just love her.” I reach forward to pet her fluffy head. “How long did it take you to come up with the design?”

“About an hour. I was in a Sharies, similar to Denny’s, waiting for my wife, then fiancé, to get out of work across the street. I wanted to make her something cute that combined my love of cats, and her love of tentacles: octopus, cuddlefish, HP Lovecraft.” He glances at the blue willow teacups, shaking and rattling on the tea table between us.

“Any piece of art that springs from a love of cats, cuddlefish and HP Lovecraft is alright by me.” I have to raise my voice to speak over the clang and grind of the airship as we take off. “How many prototypes did it take to purrfect Tentacle Kitty?”

“Twelve or thirteen total.” Mr. Merritt grabs the settee with one hand as the airship lifts off. “The whole process took about a year.”

“How did you first get involved in the art and design of stuffed toys?” Since the china cups cease rattling, I pick up the tea pot and pour my guest a cup of Earl Grey.

“Well TK started with the character. After our friends wanted us to post her online, her fans grew and they begged us for plushies. So we obliged.” He picks up the teacup with tendrils of steam rising from it.

I lift the creamer and pour a bit onto a saucer. I place it on the settee beside Tentacle Kitty, in case she wants a drink as well. “Speaking of it starting with the character, how did the character itself begin?”

“She was originally created with Vector Graphics rather than using pen and paper or photoshop.” Picking up a sugar cube, Mr. Merritt plunks it into his tea.

“What about an artist notebook, do you keep one to jot down ideas like Tentacle Kitty that may come to you, day or night?” I lift the teapot and as I fill my own cup, I breathe in the subtle, aromatic scent of the tea.

“Not usually, but when things do come to mind, I have a tablet phone with a drawing pen, I can sketch up my ideas quickly.” John Merrett picks up a polished silver spoon and stirs his tea, creating a tiny maelstrom in the cup.

“What are some of the challenges of creating stuffed toys?” I take a sip of my earl grey.

“Everything. Learning the ins and outs of creating plush toys is very difficult. Everything from the design, finding a manufacturer that is high quality and honest, to learning to ship from overseas and complying with all of the legalities and certificates needed to sell in the US.”

Picking up a slice of lemon, I breathe in the sunny, citrus scent as I squeeze a drop of its juice into my cup. “Does Tentacle Kitty have her own character back-story of the world she lives on?” I slip the yellow slice into the light brown tea. “Does she live in the sea and breathe underwater?”

“She in fact comes from another dimension! She lives in a forested area and doesn’t care for the water much at all. We have a comic coming out soon that will show a lot about her world.”

“That makes a lot more sense, cats don’t like water. The tentacles confused me.” I lift the teacup  to my lips and draw in a long sip. “A Tentacle Kitty Comic sounds wonderful. She’s obviously a very special tentacle feline, does she have any super powers?“

“There are a couple different abilities she has that people do not know about yet, but keep an eye on the comic and you will see!”

“How and why did you settle on the color pink for Tentacle Kitty’s fur?”

“While all other colors are perfectly acceptable, Pink was the least likely to invoke fear and instead promote her cuteness. And it helps, sometimes, to indicate she is in fact a girl.” Mr. Merrett takes a few more sips of steamy tea.

“She is the cutest. If I had to guess I’d day you are a cat lover, is that right? What are the names of your own kitties and cats?”

“I am.” He sets his teacup on its saucer on the table with a soft clink. “Though I have had many cats in the past, I have none at the moment. My last cat’s name was “Tali Vas Banana” After Mass Effect… and Harry Belafonte.”

“What a unique name.” I down the last of my earl grey. “Since this is Steamed, I have to ask, do you like Steampunk literature?” I set my empty china cup on the tea table.

“I love the steampunk culture, and though I have yet to read alot of books related to the subject, one of my favorites, that to my understanding is steampunk-y, is The Time Machine. And naturally Cthulhu mythos.” He places the untouched saucer of cream on the table.

Upon hearing rattling and clinking, I glance at the tea table and see the cups and saucers shaking. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for three quick questions. “What advice would you give to any artists interested in creating their own stuffed toys?”

“Unless you have a fan base, and investors, family and friends if need be, it can be a very dark and costly road.” Mr. Merrett clutches one arm of the settee as the airship clangs and rattles.

“Is there anything you or Tentacle Kitty would like to say to your fans?” I hold on to the armrest of my chair as we dock.

“No matter what people say, keep being you.

and

Never judge a monster by her tentacles.”

“What wonderful advise and so true. You can be warm and fuzzy and still have tentacles, especially if you are from another dimension.” The airship has landed but before I bid John Merrett and Tentecle Kitty farewell, I squeeze in that last question.  “What workshops, convention appearances or shows do you have coming up? What are the dates, places, times, and websites? And for all those wanting to give a Tentacle Kitty a good home, where is she available?”

“There are several conventions that we are planning to go to this next year, but right now none are official. Keep track of us on Facebook for all of our conventions and events.

You can find Tentacle Kitty in many places. The best places to find her is at http://www.tentaclekitty.com/shop/ and Thinkgeek at http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/ef4f/

~   ~   ~

Maeve Alpin, who also write as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 18 published romances. Her latest Steampunk/Romance is Conquistadors In Outer Space. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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Toy Maker Workshop

Toy Maker Workshop

Even though the airship has just docked, I feel like I’m floating, so excited to be on the airship when it has flown across the pond. We’ve just arrived in England. I wave my hand enthusiastically, to artist, Doktor A. “Welcome aboard the airship.” I hike up my skirt and stretch my short legs in a leap across the wide gap between the dock and the airship. “Watch your step,” I call to Doktor A as he follows me into the parlor. I gesture towards the chenille armchair with claw feet. Doktor A sinks into the large cushioned chair.

Then I plop down onto the crimson settee across from him. Enthused, my heart’s racing like a toddler ready for her favorite story at bedtime as I plead, “Please tell us the story of

your Mechtorians.”

Elder

Elder

Doktor A nods his head and begins the tale. “It was during a Cricket match, one balmy afternoon in the summer of 1897, that Professor Maximillian Whistlecraft was informed of England’s forthcoming destruction. His friend and fellow tinkerer at the outer boundaries of science and engineering, one Herbert Wells, had just returned from a brief jaunt into the near future through the use of his Extraordinary Temporal Conveyancer, and had a shocking tale to relate. In only a few short years hence the green and pleasant land of good old Blighty would be overrun by a dastardly Martian invasion force, the likes of which could barely be comprehended. As part of the invasion, Herbert had witnessed the razing of his friend’s own residence near Horsell Common and had hastened at the earliest opportunity to warn the good fellow to the impending danger.” Doktor A raises his voice to speak over the clang and grind of the airship as we take off.

Amnesia

Amnesia

Self Made Man

Self Made Man

“Professor Whistlecraft had several years to make safe his home and family before the interplanetary scourge descended. He considered simply moving house, but could not bare to pass his doom to another poor unsuspecting soul. And from this initial conviction he vowed to save not just himself but the whole of the English populace. He concluded the best way to achieve this was not to engage the wretched invaders in battle but simply move everybody out of their way.” As he continues the story, Doktor A grabs the armrests with both hands, while the airship lifts off.

“Luckily his previous scientific researches and engineering dabblings had uncovered a way to instantaneously move objects and persons from one place to another. He concluded that with a Translation Engine of a suitable size and power he might move everything in England out of harms way. He consulted books, talked with eminent Astronomers, Geologists and Botanists and decided that the best destination would be a small blue green planet circling a star at the edges of the visible galaxy. He was assured this would be a world much like the Earth we know, but with the additional bonus that due to a peculiarity of its orbit it would have two tea-times.

He realized that he could not expect the good people of England to abandon all they knew for some strange new world on the strength of a single man’s word, no matter how honorable the gentleman. So he concluded that a mechanized workforce should be sent ahead to build all that the future inhabitants would expect of a decent English society, in order to ease their transition.

Shutterburg

Shutterburg

To this end he re-fitted a number of his automated servants, built some new ones and gave them all careful instructions on what to do at their destination. He also tutored his mechanical creations in methods to create more like themselves, to fit whatever purpose was required of them. He sent them off on the eve of the new century to build a new Empire among the stars and await his arrival.

He never came.

Two hundred years later they have never known the fate of their creator and his people. But they go on doing what he instructed. Building a bigger and better and more decent society for all Mechtorians and for all those who may, some day, still arrive.”

“I love that.” I have to ask does this

Asphyx Engine

Asphyx Engine

small blue green planet circling a star at the edges of the visible galaxy exist in your head from time to time, do you find yourself thinking about some of the Mechtorians you’ve created, do you wonder about what they’re up to?”

“I never stop thinking about Mechtorians. They are always alive in the back of my head. Their daily going on ticking away moment by moment. Sometimes they interrupt my life in ways that lead to new ideas for artworks.”

The dainty china cups cease rattling on the tea table as our airship glides smoothly pass the clouds. “What happened to Professor Maximillian Whistlecraft? He worked so hard to set up this wonderful world on another planet so all his fellow Englishmen could be saved.” I pick up the teapot and pour my guest a cup of Earl Grey. “Do you have any idea of his fate and that of his fellow countrymen?”

Lilies On Stage

Lilies On Stage

“The Martian invasion was famously unsuccessful so the plan to relocate everyone to a new home became redundant.” Doktor A reaches out to take the cup of tea resting on its saucer. “I suspect the professor may have received a knock to the head at some point during an escape from a Martian war machine or something and this made him forget what he had set in motion…or possibly the transmat machine in his studio was destroyed in the last days of the invasion thus making travel to the new homeward impossible. Good job it wasn’t needed after all.” He takes a sip of steamy tea then sets it and its saucer on the tea table.

“I love the names you’ve given your characters, such as Montague Grimshaw, Amnesia Primm, and Baron Von Bosch, as well as the bios you’ve created about each one. I know this is a difficult question to answer, but which character is your favorite?”

“I don’t have any favorites really. I like many different characters for different aspects. Some of the earlier ones like Stephan LePodd I think I may never match in their surrealness. Others like “The Self Made Man” or “Harry K. Nidd” represent leaps in technical achievement for me so become important milestones in my body of work.” Doktor A reaches between the plate of sliced lemons and the spouted creamer of milk to the sugar bowl. Picking up a white cube, he plunks it into his tea.

Perambulator

Mr. Pumfrey and his Astounding Mechanized Perambulator

“Please tell us more about one of your newest toys, Mr. Pumfrey and his Astounding Mechanized Perambulator. What is the inspiration behind it? What does Mr. Pumfrey actually do with his Mechanized Peramblator?” I brim my teacup full and as the tendrils of steam rise, I take a dainty sip.

“The origins of the toy came from two roots. I did a painting called “Mr. Pumfrey takes a Midnight Jaunt”. Which had a small fellow riding a large tripodic type machine with worm like tentacles in the front of it. Later I did an ink drawing which was a bit of a riff on one of Jeff Soto’s infamous walkers. The drawing became a small run print edition for Dragon Con in Atlanta. Munky King toys in L.A contacted me to see if I was interested in producing an art-toy with them. They were particularly interested in doing some sort of robot driving another robot. I showed them the drawing and they loved it so I drew up some blueprints to make it possible as a three-dimensional object.” Doktor A picks up a silver spoon and dipping it into his teacup, swishes it side to side. “The original painting had the tag line ‘Mr. Pumfrey is looking for a wife. Anyone’s wife will do!’ so you may attach sinister connotations to that…Mr. Pumfrey may be up to no good.”

“Oh my, that does sound quite sinister. It would be a great opening line for a book.” I lift my teacup from the blue willow saucer as the aromatic scent of Earl Grey billows around me. “I have found such strong similarities in the way visual artist and literary artist think and work though the mediums seem so different. Have you ever put your characters and stories into a literary form or do you have any desire to do so in the future?”

Blackwood

Blackwood

“I haven’t really intended to do that, however each character has their own small biography written about them and over the years (I started making them in 2005) the back stories have cross referenced each other and woven a quite intricate patchwork picture of life in Retropolis. Maybe someone will one day take those snippets and expand them into a more formal narrative.”

“You work in different art mediums: drawing, painting, sculpture and toys, in 2D, and 3D art. What challenges do you find in working with such different mediums and what is your favorite medium to work in?”

“I get bored easily doing one thing all the time to like to switch things out now and then by working in different mediums. It keeps things interesting for me. I feel most at home doing dimensional work. I was trained as an Industrial Modelmaker, so this sort of think is what I feel I do best.” Doktor A lifts and tilts his teacup to his lips as he takes a long sip.

Harry Full Door

Harry Full Door

“How young were you when you first became involved in models or in art?” I take a long swallow of my tea, savoring the taste.

“The first thing I can recall sculpting was a Zygon from Doctor Who, in Plasticene when I was about 5 years old. I have always made models and robots and monsters.”

“Did model making and art always run together for you in some way or was there a period of time in which you went from model or toy maker to artist?” I set my cup back on it’s saucer on the tea table with a soft clink.

“I don’t see the difference. I do what I have always done. It’s just now other people call what I do Art.”

Maxwell & Hugo

Maxwell & Hugo

“Speaking of art and your art, it’s amazing how many brilliant artists in the Steampunk community are drawn to unusual mediums for their serious art such as snow globes and water globes, stained glass, dolls, and in your case toys.” Picking up a slice of lemon, I breathe in the sunny, citrus scent as I squeeze a drop of its juice into my cup. I slip the yellow slice into the light brown tea. “What drew you to the medium of toys to create whimsical yet serious art?”

“I was trained as an Industrial Modelmaker. I worked in the mainstream toy world for many years as a “Ble-sky” designer and prototyper for the big toy companies. I have always loved and collected toys and models. It was a natural outlet for my artistic leanings and one which, luckily for myself, has in recent years been accepted as a legitimate art form.” With his tea now cooled, Doktor A took a generous sip.

Bella Snow Standoff

Bella Snow Standoff

“Do you usually sketch your art out before beginning your sculptures, paintings and toys? What is your creative process?”

“My characters are generated in one of three ways. I either come up with the written biography of the character and then work out what they look like in rough sketches or ink drawings and then build them. Or I sketch a character and then start to piece together the physical sculpture, all the time altering and refining, at this stage the personality of the piece starts determining their story. Or I find a particular item or piece of junk which inspires the whole creation, look, story and all.”

“It’s always interesting to learn about the artistic procesess for different artist. What about an artist notebook, do you use one to sketch ideas at odd moments of the day or night?”

“My sketchbooks are a mess. Nothing like finished drawings. Just thinking on paper. Notes and snippets to remind myself of ideas, or scratchy little diagrams working out ways to physically achieve something.. They are not really meant for other people’s eyes.” He sets his teacup on it’s saucer on the tea table.

“Sounds a lot like my rough drafts.” I lean forward. “This may be hard to answer but in each piece of your art work, especially in your 3D work, sculptures and toys, you are able to convey an emotion people can connect with, do you have any idea how you do that?”

“No idea. I think it’s the Japanese Shinto philosophy that says an artist or craftsman puts a little piece of their soul into each thing they make…that’s the nearest I can come to an answer.” With his forearms on the cushioned armrest, Doktor A leans back, getting comfortable.

“I fully agree with that philosophy.” I drink the last of my tea. “For any artist interested in taking their art in a toy direction what advice would you give them?”

“These days I would say do it yourself. Teach yourself how to make silicone rubber moulds and cast in resins and make some toys yourself. Show them around. Put them online, photos on social media sites and the resins on Etsy or Ebay. Take a booth at a convention like Designer Con in L.A. or Dragon Con in Atlanta and shout about what you do… and keep doing it, a lot! It’s the only way to get better at it. Show your work to toy companies, if they like it you may get something produced by one. But self made toys are just as legitimate these days as company produced pieces. The art-toy world is a very “grass roots” type of place. If you are good you will find an audience. If you are not good, then stick with it until you are good.”

“Great advise.” I set my teacup on the table. “Since this is Steamed, I have to ask, do you read Steampunk fiction and if so what are some of your favorite books or authors?”

“Not really. I have read H.G.Wells etc of course. I read “The Difference Engine” when it was originally published. Other than that it’s only really the “Larklight” trilogy which I actually picked up on the strength of the illustrations. Although does Hellboy count?”

“Hell yes, Hellboy counts.” I couldn’t resist that little play on words.” I lace my fingers together and rest them on my lap. “What are somethings you’d like to say to your fans and prospective fans about your art?”

“I am jolly pleased and perpetually thankful that what I do resonates with so many people. It’s because of the support of my collectors that I can do what I do in a full time capacity. I hope each new thing I create makes people all over the world smile. And that some of the pieces make the odd person stop and think about the ways we see and do things in today’s “society”.

I hear rattling and clinking. I glance at the tea table and see the cups and saucers shaking. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for three short questions. “When you’re not creating art what is your favorite leisure activity?”

“I don’t have much time for leisurely activities. I watch movies when I can. I occasionally take time off making my model robots to relax by making a model robot (or monster) kit from someone else…Hmmmmm?”
Doktor A grasps hold of the armrests, bracing for the shaky landing.

“That makes sense, since that’s what you love to do. Let’s go from leisure to another favorite activity of mine, eating. You’re from England but you come to the states fairly often for shows. When in America, what is your favorite American style food?”

“That would be Root Beer. You can’t get it in the UK. Not the real, good, small brewery stuff.”

“Perhaps I should have served root beer rather than tea. Next time I’ll know.” I hold on to one arm of the setae as we dock again. “What workshops, convention appearances or shows do you have coming up?”

“Monsters & Misfits III on September 13th – 26th, and Circus Posterus Group Show at the Kusakabe Folk Museum in Takayama, Japan. Also feel free to click here for all show and event information.

Though Doktor A must go, he has left calling cards for us.

website

Online store http://www.spookypop.bigcartel.com/
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Forum
Instagram: Doktor_A

~                                           

Maeve Alpin, who also write as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 18 published romances. Her latest Steampunk/Romance is Conquistadors In Outer Space. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter and her cat, Severus.

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I’m waving my arms enthusiastically, to artist, Michele Lynch. “Welcome aboard the airship.”

Her mix media art, art dolls, tree toppers, ornaments, jewelry, paintings and so much more are incredible. Not only the art itself, but I also love what she writes about them.”The soul sucker mix media dolls or sculptures started after I took a full time job with the soul sucker corporation. I find myself still running from the soul sucker even though I no longer work for that corporation.”

Michele Lynch's Steampunk Souls

Michele Lynch’s Steampunk Souls

Michele jumps across the gaping space between the dock and airship, landing onboard, facing me with a sunny smile.

“I and all the Lolita’s of the airship steamed are also devoted to escaping the soul suckers, so we had to have you aboard.” I show her into the parlor where she eases onto the cushioned settee with lion head legs and claw feet.

I plop down on the chenille upholstered armchair and lean toward her. “You also wrote, ‘Our story begins in a far away land where a steampunk princess ruled her kingdom with creativity and kindness, but a soul sucker invaded her kingdom feeding off the souls, and letting loose his Shoulds and Regrets. Enslaving the people and holding the princess prisoner in his tower, the castle of corporation.’ And your art work tells the story from there. All of us here on the airship Steamed love stories and it fascinates me when they are told in means other than words, such as with your fabulous art. Why did you choose this particular art?” What draws you to mix media, especially art dolls?”

Red

Red

Michele laces her fingers together as she rest them on her lap. “I think it chose me. I had a long drive to the castle of corporation every day, and time to think about how evil the Soul Sucker was. I began to imagine a rebellion and what those souls would look like. I could clearly see them in my mind, until I knew I had to create them. I love mixed media because it’s not limiting. I can incorporate all the different skills I’ve learned over the years.”

The engine purrs and the china teacups on the coffee table rattle as the airship begins lift off. “What inspired you to take your art in a Steampunk direction?”

Michele grabs the settee with one hand as the airship gains altitude. “When I envisioned the steampunk soul rebellion, I saw them with mechanical parts to them. I’m not sure where that inspiration came from! But I have always loved movies that had that slight Steampunk feel to them.”

Nevermore

Nevermore

Now that the tea cups cease rattling, I lean toward the coffee table and lifting the blue willow tea pot, I pour Michele a cup of steaming tea.“In addition to being an exquisite artist you are a genuine muse. I can’t imagine any author looking at your art dolls and art and not having them trigger story premises and plots. I have to ask you the question that is always asked of writers, how do you come up with your ideas?”

She lifts the porcelain teacup and takes a dainty sip. “A movie plays in my head with these characters and for some reason they come to me and tell me their story. After that it’s up to me to give them life. I try to live up to that task!”

“That is exactly what a writer experiences when they create characters, from that point on we are committed to tell their story. To bring them to life. Your dolls do an incredible job of bringing these characters you create in your mind alive. How did you learn this amazing type of art?”

“I am self taught. I have always had a passion for learning new techniques and trying different medias.” Michele reaches her slender fingers between the plate of sliced lemons and the spouted creamer cup of milk to the sugar bowl. Picking up a white cube, she plunks it into her tea

I brim my tea cup with steamy tea. “Of all your wonderful creations, which is your favorite?”

Rose Red & Snow White

Rose Red & Snow White

“I think it’s always the current one that I’ve just finished! So right now it’s Rose Red & Snow White.” Michele picks up a polished silver spoon and stirs her tea, creating a tiny maelstrom in the cup.

I took a sip of my earl grey. “Is it hard to part with your dolls when someone buys them, it seems it would be?”

“Actually it’s not for me. I usually make a connection with the person buying the piece and I know they are going to a wonderful home where they will be loved.”

“I ‘m sure that’s the case. It’s hard to look at your art dolls and not fall in love with them.” I place the cup on my saucer with a soft clink. “Do you usually sketch your art out before beginning your work? What’s your creative process?”

“I do usually sketch out the pieces, however most of the time it is a loose sketch and I know things will change as I go along.” Michele sets the teaspoon behind her cup on the saucer. “I figure out most of the piece in advance so I know how to begin constructing it. Also the clay I work with dries pretty quickly so I need to know the direction I’m going before I begin sculpting. Although like I said that can change along the way.”

“The similarities between literary and visual art are so intriguing. To put your process in writing terms it’s like you plot the work out but leave room for an element of surprise like a combination of a plotter and a panster.” I pick up my cup and saucer and breathe in the subtle, aromatic scent of the tea. “Do you sketch or doodle your ideas in an art journal to as they come to you?”

Michele brings her teacup from her saucer to her parted lips and draws in a long sip. “I use a basic recycled sketch paper book. I usually date the page and also put the name of the file I use from my computer that is the finished photo of the piece. I keep all of the books and it’s fun to look back on the original sketch and how it evolved. Besides the sketches I also jot down ideas in the book.”

“You work in all these different artistic areas jewelry, dolls, paintings and more. What is your favorite?”

Wanted

Wanted

“My favorite depends on my mood lol, which is why I do so many different expressions of the Steampunk Souls. I never get burnt out on doing the same thing!”

Picking up a slice of lemon, I breathe in the sunny, citrus scent as I squeeze a drop of its juice into my cup. I slip the yellow slice into the light brown tea. “Are there different challenges between creating the sculptures of art dolls and creating jewelry or paintings? What are some of the challenges?”

“I think the dolls are more challenging, the armature needs to be able to support the doll and the pieces that I incorporate. Since there isn’t usually any symmetry the doll has to balance. There is also always the challenge of making the doll pose-able.” Michele set her empty cup on her blue willow saucer.

“It can imagine there is a lot of hard work involved in sculpturing the art dolls, especially since they have to be pose-able.“ I lift the tea pot and pour her a fresh cup. “How long have you worked as an artist?”

Liza - Octopus Girl

Liza – Octopus Girl

“Oh wow, I think at least 10 years? Maybe longer. But it wasn’t until 2010 that I found my true style. It was this year, 2012, that I was able to make the leap to full time artist.”

“How wonderful. Working as a full time artist is quite an accomplishment. How long does it usually take to create a Steampunk art doll?”

“This is a tough question because it depends on the piece I’m doing. Some simmer in my mind for a while, and some come to me fully formed and demanding to be created immediately. From there it takes me anywhere from 3 days to a week to complete a doll.”

With my tea now cooled, I take a generous gulp. “I can appreciate what hard and steady work it takes to create your art dolls in such a prompt time period. What advice do you have for artist interested in working with art dolls and mixed media?”

“Do what is in your heart, don’t try to mimic someone else. When you do this your true style will emerge and your creative heart will sing!”

“Wise and heartfelt advice.” My cup makes a soft clinking sound as I set it in its saucer on the mahogany coffee table. “What do your family, your children, and your husband think of your art?”

Don't Tell

Don’t Tell

“LOL, they think my imagination is a very scary place!”

“I think so too. I love it. Speaking of family and children, how young were you when you first became involved in art?”

“I have been involved with art since I can remember. My mom always bought me paints, clay, crayons, etc…there was no other gift that I loved more, besides books!”

I lean back and set my forearms on the cushioned armrest, getting comfortable. “Speaking of books, do you like Steampunk literature, if so what is are some of your favorite books or authors?”

“I have to admit I’m new to reading Steampunk literature, and would love to know everyone’s favorite books and authors!”

“Yes, everyone please post your favorite Steampunk books in the comments for Michele Lynch, also the Lolita’s of steamed have written some interesting books, and we have a Steampunk reading list in the airship’s library . Michele, what are some things you’d like to say to your fans and prospective fans about your art?”

Fortune Teller

Fortune Teller

“I hope my artwork evolves some type of emotion in you and you can feel the characters personality in each piece, when that happens there is a connection between me and the person who purchases the artwork, and that is pure magic! There is nothing I love more!”

“You do an amazing job at creating an emotional connection to your art dolls, you truly bring them alive.” I glance at the coffee table at the sound of rattling and clinking. “I see the teacups are shaking. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for one last question. What workshops, convention appearances or shows do you have coming up? What are the dates, places, times, and websites with further information on them?”

Michele grasps hold of the arm of the settee, bracing for the shaky landing. “I’m teaching at two national doll conventions in 2013. Artistic Figures In Cloth & Clay in Ohio April 25-28 www.CyndysDolls.com, and All Dolls Are Art July 25-28 Austin, Texas www.alldollart.com. You can also find my artwork at these galleries, http://www.popsantafe.com/works/search/183 , http://www.swoongallery.com/ , http://www.augusteclown.com/original-art.html , http://www.dollirium.com/ and I have two shows coming up at Tasty gallery in March and May http://www.shoptastyart.com/#/home/

The airship Steamed has landed so we say our goodbyes. But you can visit Michele Lynch anytime at her Website Etsy Blog Facebook Pinterest Please comment or ask questions below and please post list your favorite Steampunk books  for Michele Lynch,

Maeve Alpin, Steampunk/Romance author 

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As the Steamed airship lands in Phoenix, Arizona, I go to greet my two guest. They step across the gaping space between the dock and airship to board, with a graceful, fluid glide. Both are dancers of

Diosa with sword & Katara in top hat

the Osiris Belly Dancing Company, Diosa, the director and her co-dancer, Katara.

I show them into the parlor where they ease onto the cushioned hand carved settee with lion head legs and claw feet. I sit across from them in a chemille upholstered arm chair.

“Welcome aboard Steamed. It’s so good to have you.” I lean toward Diosa as she sets her sword on the marble top coffee table.  “I love your dance company’s name, Osiris. Of course he’s the Egyptian god of the dead. Also, George Mann wrote a well known Steampunk novel titled The Osiris Ritual.  Why did you chose the name Osirus?”

Diosa flashed a bright smile. “I chose the name Osiris as a result of a series of my own personal experiences through belly dance. Enthralled by dancing with double veils, I later aspired to dance with seven veils, attributed to the myth of the “Dance of the Seven Veils”. After researching the history of Inanna and Ishtar and their descents into the underworld, I thought it fitting to use Osiris, also known as the keeper of the underworld. The name became a symbolic transformation of spirituality, where a dancer could abandon inhibitions and masculinity, empowering her feminine expression, as if to shed the facades created to hide her true self.”

“How intriguing.” The engine purrs and the china teacups on the coffee table rattle as the airship lifts off. I rub my lips together as I think of my next question. “On your website you say the Osiris Dance Company has its roots in Egyptian Cabaret. As I and some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the term, can you tell me more about what that means?

Diosa with the Osiris Dance Company

Diosa with the Osiris Dance Company

Diosa nods. “Our roots are bound to a more refined style with ballet and jazz influences with arm positions and traveling movements. Body movements are smaller, intricate muscular movements lending to a more intimate venue like night clubs or in this day and age, at coffee shops. Costumes also tend to be more intricate with a two piece sequined, beaded, and rhinestone bra and belt. The music style may have more dramatic orchestral elements with lavish musical styles.” 

I poured  Diosa a cup of steaming tea. “How old were you when you started belly dancing?”

Disoa picked up both cup and saucer, holding them in her lap.  “I began belly dancing when I was 28. I was entranced by the majestic and fluid belly dancers at the Aladdin in Las Vegas with their glitzy costumes and the wonderful live music.”

I brimmed Katara’s porcelain teacup full. “What drew you to this beautiful, exotic genre of dance?”

Katara took a sip of tea. ” I took my first belly dance class at the beginning of my senior year of high school – I was seventeen. It was  the embodiment of grace, beauty, sensuality and womanhood. So I found a studio, and my first teacher – who happened to be Diosa!”

I picked up my own teacup, took a hot, refreshing sip, then shifted my gaze onto Katara. “Tell me, When did you first fall in love with belly dancing?” I dropped a cube of sugar into the teacup. “Also , when did you first fall in love with Steampunk?”

Katara set her teacup  on the marble table top and leaned back against the red settee. “I first saw belly dancing when I watched one of our local belly dance legends, Yasmina’s, public access show once as a little girl. I was fascinated! Then, I saw another local legend, Jasmine, perform in a cultural week at my high school and decided I had to find classes in the dance style. Steampunk, I first found several years ago. I was completely intrigued with the way Steampunk blended historical fashions with modern designs. And it gave me an excuse to break out the corsets and bustles.”

Leaning forward I picked up a sliver spoon and stirred my tea as I asked Diosa, “What intrigues you about Steampunk? Why did you decided to blend it into your belly dancing performances?”

“Our group is always intrigued by doing something new and off the beaten path. We’ve done marionette pieces, Alice in Wonderland, and tough girl themes. We trained so much in traditional styles, that I think we all just wanted to do something completely different. ” Diosa picked up the teapot and poured more of the steaming brew into her gold rimmed china cup. “When we started dancing at Comicon, we were actually thrown into the Steampunk genre when we were invited to perform at the Steampunk Ball. I consider our dance style to be belly dance fusion, but we blend steampunk into our costuming for those specific venues.”

Katara leaned forward to pick up her teacup.  “Personally, alternate histories always fascinated me, and the way Steampunk blends science fiction with Victorian themes intrigues me.” She took a dainty sip of her tea. “But, really, it’s the opportunity to play with historical fashions and blend them into something interesting and modern. As far as adding it into my dancing, it seemed a natural progression. A new way to tell interesting stories with dance and some really fun costumes.”

I shifted my back against the soft, cushioned  arm chair  “Why do you think steampunk and belly dancing blend together so well?”

Diosa with fan

Diosa with fan

With a flick of her wrist, Diosa snapped her fan out and fluttered it in front of her face. “Steampunk and belly dancing blend together so well because they both thrive from innovation, whether it’s creative choreographies or outrageous costumes.”

Katara with fan

Katara with fan

Katara set her teacup down and flicked her fan open as well. “Belly dancing has always been seen as an exotic, mysterious art form.  I believe that speaks to steampunk – it allows a blend of ethnic and intrigue that melds well with the mixing of sci-fi and history that makes up so much of steampunk. And it brings in a new kind of cultural interest – which was a big part of victorian life.”

I grab my own fan from the coffee table and open it with a flick of my wrist as I ask Diosa, “What are some major challenges of choreographing Steampunk Belly dancing performances?”

“Like any choreography, picking the right music and costuming are a couple of the major challenges. The music is my muse, so if I find an inspiring song, the choreography comes pretty easily.”

Katara of Osiris Belly Dancing Company

Katara rests her fan on her lap. “A major challenge is to bring elements of the steampunk world into a middle eastern artform. Personally, I’ve always leaned toward a more fusion style that blends the traditional dance with different styles (anything from theatrical to jazz to modern), so it wasn’t -too- much of a stretch for me, but being able to embrace that science fiction/period element was definitely a challenge.”

I fluttered my fan and leaned back, fixing my gaze on Diosa. “What Steampunk bands, in addition to Abney Park, do you  think play music which fuses well with belly dancing?”

Diosa set her fan beside her sword on the marble table top. “Music reminiscent of the time period can lend itself to that specific style, especially when blended with the theatrics and costuming. I’ve seen dancers perform to music I considered fusion, though their costuming style was steampunk. I haven’t really figured out what categorizes a band or music as being ‘steampunk’ other than the fact that they specifically note themselves as such or the artists are wearing steampunk apparel.”

Katara brought her teacup to her red lips and took a slow sip. “Well, Abney Park is one of my favorites. I also have performed to a Professor Elemental piece or two. A good many of the steampunk bands utilize instruments that are good for dancing to. Beats Antique is fabulous, as well, it’s a band that is a ‘belly dance band’ that works great with steampunk.”

I point my fan at Diosa. “Do you have a favorite steampunk song for belly dancing?”

Diosa rest her hands in her lap. “I don’t necessarily have a favorite steampunk song, but I would lean more towards songs by Beats Antique, Bass Nectar, or Beirut. I love the ‘carni’ influences as well as the fusion of dub-step.”

Katara - comicon

Katara – comicon

Katara set her teacup on her porcelain saucer with a soft clang. “I love dancing to Hans Zimmer’s “Discombobulate” from the first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ soundtrack. I’ve done a really fun ‘Hyde’ piece to it.”

“A Hyde piece sounds amazing.” I dropped my fan onto my lap and grasped the carved arms of the chair as the airship rocked slightly.  “You have performed at the Wild Wild West Steampunk convention and Comicon. What differences have you found in belly dancing at those types of steampunk/sci-fi/fantasy cons rather than other venues?”

Diosa answers first.  “We have found styles vary and interpretations of the dance is very different. We have observed some burlesque styles that lend to more of a strip tease, where others are theatrical and humorous. Some groups still hold true to their own traditional styles, whether it be tribal or cabaret, but I have not observed a specific style that would be considered ‘steampunk belly dance’.”

Katara adds, “The biggest difference, to me, tends to come from the audience. It’s refreshing to have a group of people who are new to belly dance reacting to the performance  as well as appreciating that someone could blend something like that with what they themselves love: steampunk.”

I snap my fan shut and lean back as I nod at Diosa.  “What do you like most about performing at steampunk/sci-fi/fantasy cons?”

Diosa tilts her head. “What I love most about performing at these different venues is the invitation to create from an entire fantasy world, whether it be super heroes, manga characters, cult television show favorites, or even our own made up characters.”

Katara reaches up to adjust her top hat.  “I love being able to take belly dance and make something new with it. Being able to combine this beautiful art form with a style I already enjoy, be that steampunk, pure sci-fi, or fantasy, is great for me. And being able to share it with the community that completely embraces it is amazing.”

I lean back in my chair, relaxing and enjoying the company of my guest. “What do you think is the status of Steampunk belly dancing in the United States? Is it growing, changing?”

“From what I have seen, it is a small light in a world of dancing.” Katara spreads her hands as she speaks. “The belly dance community is aware enough of Steampunk to love it, but may not have quite ‘gotten it’ yet. It is definitely finding its niche though, and starting to get a following. An example: about a year ago I performed in a belly dance show completely themed ‘Steampunk’, people loved it, and the community really came out for it.”

Diosa

Diosa

Having picked up my teacup and drinked the last of my tea, I set it on the table. “I have to say the steampunk costumes of the Osiris Dance company are perhaps the best I’ve seen. Exquisite. Who makes the costumes for your dancers?”

Diosa smiles as she answers. “Both Katara and I create our own costumes. Sometimes we’ll make our own individual costumes or design/make costumes for the troupe. I made the ‘western-influenced’ costume pictured here, though I’ve made Domba-inspired tribal costumes made with tassels and kutchies for our troupe. Katara also designed and created her ‘Victorian-influenced’ costume posted in this interview. She is also a professional seamstress and takes on the bulk of our costuming, such as our marionette doll pieces (I love my ruffles!).”

Katara flashed a broad smile. “First – thank you! Because, I actually make a good percentage of them. My ‘real job’ is as a professional costumer, so it just made sense for me to help the troupe out in that sense. Diosa also does a lot of the work, making a lot of her costume pieces. So, we have almost complete control of our designs.”

I leaned forward in my chair, toward Diosa. “Did you find choosing dance as a career a hard or easy choice?”

I was a hobbyist at first, but eventually it lead to dancing full-time. Dancing inspired me to get my Associate’s in Exercise Science, as well as certification as a personal trainer. It’s not an easy career, as dance becomes hard on the body, just like any athlete. You need to be knowledgeable in muscle work, nutrition, history, and aware of new styles and moves. You constantly need to be on your A-game. When you are dancing upwards of 15 to 30 hours a week, your body can easily become overworked and more prone to injury. I danced full time for over a year, and as much as I love the dance, I was exhausted. I believe awareness of the dance and culture here in Arizona is sparse, so paying venues are difficult to find. Presently, I am a full-time school teacher, but I continue to perform in my spare time, and I also find joy in teaching belly dance 2-3 times a week.”

Katara nodded. “It sort of crept up on me. Granted, it’s not my only career, but considering how much of my life ended up being dedicated to dance, it just made sense.”

Katara & Diosa - comicon

Katara & Diosa – comicon

I laced my fingers together. “What advice can you give to anyone interested in becoming a professional belly dancer?”

Diosa cocked her head. “Be consistent—find a local teacher you can study with weekly and progress your training by attending master teacher workshops and/or online videos. Do your research—is this career for you? Can you support yourself financially in your area? Dance, dance, dance—find venues you can perform at to get your name out into the community and connect with your audiences. Abandonment—get rid of all your inhibitions. Your audience can clearly see if you’re embarrassed, fearful, or preoccupied. Let loose in your dance! Teach—there’s no better way to improve your own technique than to teach others.”

Katara tilted her head toward me. “Take every class you can find. All kinds of styles – every kind will help your overall dance ability. And take every opportunity to perform you can find. Get as comfortable in front of an audience as possible and learn how to perform to them. Your technique is important, but if you can’t connect to the audience, you’ll lose them.”

I see the teacups are rattling on the coffee tale. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for one last question. “What future aspirations do you have for the Osiris dance company?”

Diosa inclined her head toward me. “I would love to continue challenging ourselves with choreography and storytelling. We have learned a lot working with each other all these years, from staging to personal space, I hope one day we can specialize a class teaching duos our choreography and how to dance with each other.”

Katara tilted her head in a nod. “I want to keep improving and creating some of the most interesting performances around. I really love the more theatrical pieces Diosa and I have been coming up with lately. It’s the sort of thing I’ve always wanted to do! And I do hope to compete out of state again.”

Well maybe I can squeeze in one more question as I clutch both arms of my chair for the airship landing. “Speaking of competitions, what dance competitions or live performances do you have coming up, when and where?”

Diosa grasps hold of the arm and back of the settee, bracing for the shakiness of the landing. “Our upcoming performances are the Tucson Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention on March 8th and the Phoenix Comicon Labyrinth Masquerade Ball on May 24th.”

The ship has landed so we say our good byes. Diosa picks up her sword and fan and dances off the airship along with Katara, but you can visit them anytime at their website. Please comment or ask questions below.

Maeve Alpin

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I have a special treat for everyone today, and I don’t mean the drop of whiskey I put in the tea, Camryn Forrest has boarded the airship today. She is a Steampunk artist, who works with  the enchanting, whimsical and technical art of water globes and snow globes. We take our seats on the crimson settee in the parlor just in time for tea. The engine purrs for take off.

Airship One

Airship One

“Camryn, we’re so pleased to have you aboard the Steamed airship today. Your Steampunk globes are fascinating. Why did you choose this particular art?” I lean toward her. “What draws you to water globes and snow globes?”

 “I am drawn to small items. As a child, I made my own dollhouse furniture – carving little legs for my chairs, making a clay bird in a wire cage, covering tiny books with strips of leather and painting titles on the bindings. Over the years, I’ve collected tiny chairs, souvenir buildings, bone china animals, Micro Machines, Little Kiddles and painted lead soldiers. I loved Hot Wheels and anything small enough to be in a vending machine. Once, I helped my mother with a dollhouse, embroidering tiny bits of cloth for bedspreads and framing postage stamps for wall art. My father use to pour and cast his own toy soldiers and I helped with the tiniest painting details.

Birdcage Gramaphone

Birdcage Gramaphone

A family member repairs and makes snow globes, which has always fascinated me. I always looked for them at fine arts shows, and never saw any. Not a one.  I’m not a pink and purple Disney princess kind of person. I longed for snow globes made for grownups, with the quality and depth of the artwork I loved from other artists. I wanted to see snow globes that made me think and feel the way I do about other art.

Rough Sailing

Rough Sailing

So I took my love for tiny things and my appreciation of snow globes and put them together. It wasn’t easy … I knew I didn’t want ‘snow’ – the crushed white pieces in most snow globes – so I thought it would be cool to use tiny watch gears as glitter. Well, it doesn’t work. I kept that first test globe and the metal gears have disintegrated into a little pile of rust. Shake it and you see nothing but brown.

I had no idea about the types of objects and items which could handle submersion in liquid. There was no guidebook. So it’s been a labor of love, trial and error. I’ve talked to guys at the hardware store about sealants. I’ve tested items for weeks, letting them sit in liquid. The family snow globe repairman, who I sometimes call my snow globe engineer, is my patient mentor. His do’s and don’ts are invaluable. From seeing the workings of hundreds of broken globes he’s fixed, he knows what will work and what won’t. He lets me know when I head too far down the wrong path. You can torture me all you want, but I’m not giving up his name – at his request.”

“Oh, no, dear, I wouldn’t think of it, here on Steamed, we reserve torture for enemies of the Queen, but a snow globe engineer, I like the sound of that, whimsical and technical, heavy and light, just the way I like my steampunk. Speaking of which, why Steampunk?” I poured a cup of tea and offered it to her.

“I love the contradiction of steampunk and snow globes. One of the first times I told anyone what I was doing, he said ‘That doesn’t make any sense. Those two things do not go together.’ And that egged me on: I loved the challenge of proving it could work.” Camryn took a sip of tea then set the saucer on the round, marble top coffee table.

“An early comment that stuck  with me, about my first series, came from another friend. In a puzzled voice she told me, ‘They are so masculine.’ I took it as a compliment. I love the contrast of machinery and hardware, and the dark colors of steampunk metals and rich wood in a snow globe, an object that is often sweet and cloying, pink and pretty. I wanted power, not pretty.

I don’t consider myself purely a steampunk artist. I’ve thought about it every which way, and the truth is my notebooks of sketches and designs for snow globes precede my awareness of the Steampunk movement, which is fairly recent. (Here is where I must give credit to two people who brought Steampunk to my attention, John S. and Max G., who are much hipper than I will ever be, introduced me to the genre.) The first time I saw something called Steampunk, I felt a huge connection. Steampunk appealed to me in a deja vu kind of way; it made so much sense to me. I felt at home. The craftsmanship, the appreciation of detail, the willingness to take the time to make something by hand … it all calls to my sensibilities.

Raygun Shaken

Raygun Shaken

On the other hand, I was already making artwork that looks like the work I do now, long before the term “steampunk” entered my experience. I admit that I’m very influenced by Steampunk icons and images –  obviously I would not likely have airships and ray guns otherwise – but some of my work, such as the Escheresque staircases, and the glass heart series, are simply sculptures I wanted to make, regardless of the style. Steampunk purists, if there is such a thing, can argue amongst themselves what makes artwork steampunk or not. I’ve been called a Steampunk tourist, and I accept that with a chuckle. I’m grateful the steampunk “natives” allow some of us to visit their world now and then, and soak up the culture. When I contribute, it’s my own vision, and if someone appreciates it, I’m glad, but I would have made it either way; that’s how my mind works.”

“Believe me, when I look at these globes I see you, their creator, more as a tour guide then a tourist. They are Stempunk to me. In my opinion your passion to contribute your own vision is the essence of Steampunk.” I dropped two sugar cubes into my cup and stirred. “A lot of work must go into making your vision real. How long does it take you to create a Steampunk water globe or snow globe?”

Camryn leaned against the velvet cushioned back of the settee. “You can measure that two ways: how long it would take to make a snow globe if I knew exactly what I was going to make, and how long it takes when I go through trial and error, mixing different elements, sculpting/molding/remolding pieces to the right size and shape, and getting distracted, leaving pieces half-done to work on something else. The simplest answer is, I might produce one completed snow globe every two weeks.

Uncharted Skies

Uncharted Skies

Last spring, I wanted to make a metallic hot air balloon — not much more than an inch tall. I worked on this concept for several months. I made balloon shapes too large to fit in a globe or too ornate or too simple. They just didn’t look right. I wanted a feeling of adventure, not a circus ad. Finally one day I completed two balloons that came out well. Then I went through another process to decide what to put below the balloons. One has a wire basket, with more nautical details such as an anchor and ship’s wheel. The other is a tiny clay sailing ship with metal sails. Then, I installed the balloon sculptures with each raised a little. One is carried on wispy tendrils, intentionally vague – they might be ocean waves or they might be the tentacles of a sea creature reaching up. The other has cloud-like shapes below the ship. So those globes, from start to finish, took all spring – several months. I hope the next time I’m inspired to make a hot air balloon, I’ll be able to use what I have learned to streamline the process a little, but I don’t know.

Circular Logic

Circular Logic

I timed myself once, to answer the question, ‘how long does it take?’ Another globe, Circular Logic is basically a Ferris Wheel-inspired curious invention of spinning gears. The entire family went away for a weekend and I stayed on task with that one sculpture, working 18 hours with almost no breaks to complete the intricate machine. With no one home to tell me it was time to go to bed or I should eat,  I kept working on it, having a great time. I survived on Mountain Dew and pretzels. That gives you an idea of the range of time I will spend on any one globe. Usually I’ve got five or six sculptures partially begun and will work a little here, a little there, so it’s hard to know how long any one can take.

Love Complicated

Love Complicated

I rub my lips together. “My next question may be as difficult to answer as how long does it take. Which is of all your wonderful creations, which globe is your favorite?”

“Tough question, it depends on my mood. I thought Love, It’s Complicated and the Always heart were very simple and beautiful. Deadline featured a tiny antique typewriter, which is one of my favorite items, and now belongs to a former journalist, so I have great memories of that one.  It has a lot of details, such as copy editor’s notes and a message hammered into metal “paper” curling out from the typewriter platen, that only the owner can see now, making it cool in its own way. Ray Gun One was a challenge to myself to make a believable raygun, and it always makes me smile.

Rain Gear

Rain Gear

But actions probably speak louder than words. The only one I have on my desk, is Rain Gear. I absolutely LOVE the jaunty little step from my headless robot stomping in rain puddles. I am intrigued that a pair of metal galoshes can project emotion. So I can babble all day about which ones I love, but Rain Gear is the only one I’ve kept for myself so far.

Snow Globe Array

Snow Globe Array

I glance at some of her snow globes , arranged on the crisp white table cloth on the round table at the side of the settee. “Rain Gear is  intriguing. Actually, they are all incredible, but as a writer the one you just described, Deadline, fascinates me. Speaking of writing, when any author looks at your globes, I’m sure your creations trigger a slew of story premises and plots. I just have to ask you the question always asked of writers, how do you come up with your ideas?”

“I am both a writer and a visual artist, and while I have occasionally dealt with writers’ block, so far I have never had artist’s block. Case in point: by just writing the phrase ‘artist’s block’ I thought of a way to illustrate that in a globe, maybe with a cube with six different archetypes shaken like a die. Perhaps a Magic Eight Ball for creative types. But I digress …)

Images and ideas tumble around my brain like a shaken snow globe, whirling and spinning, balancing precariously atop one another. One weird thing is, I keep notebooks where I dash off snow globe ideas as they come to me, sketch little scenes, capture a pun to name the globes, but I rarely go back and look at the past ideas. When I’m in the workshop, the materials themselves suggest new shapes and landscapes.

I recently got up at about 3 or 4 a.m. whirling with ideas I wanted to capture and I spent an hour or so dashing them on paper. Then I turned the page BACK to see the previous entry and it said ‘Drink deeply from the stars.’ I don’t know what I was going for with that phrase, but I want to ponder it and make it real.

There are so many snow globes I’d like to make. I will get inspired by a word I hear, or a shape, a shadow, a snippet of a song or the way someone repeats a phrase. The nose of an Elmer’s glue container, the little orange cap, inspired one of my first airship sculptures.  I ‘saw’ the glue bottle for the first time, clearly, and thought, ‘that’s the nose of a zeppelin.’ I have no idea where that thought came from; I’d only seen Elmer’s Glue a thousand times before. That flash of inspiration prompted me to sculpt a shape that would pass for an airship.

Any small thing can capture my attention, such as a piece of twisted metal in the street, a broken toy, the way a stack of coffee stirrers is displayed at a shop. I love wandering through hardware stores, looking at random pieces of plumbing pipe, nuts and bolts, repair kits for garbage disposals. Recently, the back of my office chair fell off. Instead of inspecting the damage to the chair or putting it back together, I spotted a strange gear that had come loose, and thought, ‘Where can I can more of these?’

Shoes Your Weapon

Shoes Your Weapon

I am also a word person. Words can start a chain-reaction of images in my brain. When I heard the old Gene Autry song, I began to mentally sketch a man climbing down a ladder through a manhole opening into a dark and murky place. Back in The Sad-Hole.

I love verbal and visual puns, such as Shoes Your Weapon – which is a cannon made from a Victorian laced-up boot. I’m working on one called Too big for his bridges. I love merging words and shapes, and twisting tired clichés so they are fresh. I crack myself up, and I pretty much create everything selfishly because it inspires or amuses me. The ideas bombard me constantly. I’ll be reading a book (Cloud Atlas, at the moment) and suddenly I’m reaching for my notebook to capture a passing thought.”

I pick up my porcelain cup and take another sip of sweet, warm tea. “I can feel your creative energy as your talking. Exhilarating. Speaking of globes sure to inspire writers, your airship voyager water globe is another work of art sure to trigger story ideas.

Airship Voyager

Airship Voyager

I blame a writer named StoshK for that one. StoshK wrote a short, complimentary blog about my snow globes and included a note that I should realize more airship snow globes were needed – just a little joke in the article. But, it stuck with me for some reason, in a positive way.

Then, a museum asked for several pieces for a special exhibition, and one was my original airship StoshK liked, which had sold. I couldn’t get the original back to be loaned for the museum exhibit, so I thought, ‘well, I’ll just make a new one.’

The new airship refused to be a duplicate of the first. It felt darker and richer, and I wanted it to be more powerful in a way. I wanted the ship to have gone places, done things, survived hardships, led adventures.  I had seen Steampunk images of great airships carrying sailing ships below a zeppelin and dismissed them as too intricate for something as small as a snow globe. And as I sat in the workshop trying to remake the first airship, I kept creeping toward the idea of a sailing ship below.  It just felt right to go that direction.

I loved the idea of taking a ‘ship in a bottle’ and making it an airship in a bottle (snow globe), both balance and contradiction. Once the idea got stuck in my head, the only way to release it was to make it real. I  worked on it until I solved all the technical problems that made it seem impossible.  When I look at Airship Voyager now, I am sure it has been places and seen things, it feels real to me.”

Point of View

Point of View

After setting the cup back on its saucer, I clasped my hands together. “It’s incredible, I love it. You mentioned your interest in phrases such as ‘point of view’ and your globe by that name is pure genius. An incredible piece of art. I can’t imagine the time and  work that went in to creating such a marvel. I often find life is like climbing a staircase sideways. Then, when you turn the globe upside down or on its side you get a different view. It’s like several globes in one. I could look at it all day.”

“I’m glad you mentioned Point of View.  It’s a departure from what most consider pure Steampunk – but again, I make what interests me and try not to edit myself by sticking with a single style. I’ve always loved Escher, but I didn’t set out to make that globe consciously as a tribute. It snuck up on me. While working on a tiny Plexiglas escalator for a postponed project called Reincarnation, I briefly set the stair sculpture on its side. Suddenly, looking at the stairs from a different direction, reality shifted sideways. I realized the stairs went up,  down, and sideways depending on where I placed the figures.

Crossroads

Crossroads

From there, I was obsessed for a while, with Point of View and a similar globe, called Corporate Ladder (I may be the only person who finds the idea hilarious.) Then I put a family of fishermen on a criss-crossed stairway, and added poles, and called it Fishing the Black Hole as the fishing lines broke different planes in the design.

But my favorite in  the series is Not a level playing field in which I put football players into Escher’s uneven, gravity-defying world, and had the wide receiver at one angle, the quarterback throwing into hyperspace, and would-be tacklers reaching into a new dimension. I think I’ll go back to that idea again sometime, because it was fascinating to realize in a snow globe, I am in charge of the law of gravity. It’s a heavy responsibility, running around breaking the laws of physics.

I’m working on a new stairway series now, but instead of plexiglas, I am using old computer circuit boards to make the stairs – still with little figures breaking the plane of perception and ignoring the laws of gravity. It has a ‘Tron’ feeling to it, being inside the machine. I always sensed  little figures inside my laptop ran around retrieving files and saving my work, so I am comforted to see them.”

I shift one arm to my side, while resting he other on my lap. “Speaking of breaking the laws of physics, I have to ask you about Tesla.  I love that you appreciate his scientific work for its artistic quality as well as its contributions to modern day life and our future. What artistic qualities do you see in his inventions?”

Tesla Coil Copper

Tesla Coil Copper

The shapes used in Tesla’s inventions and machines are so beautiful. They are meaningful to scientists, but even if they produced nothing, I would be inspired. I love his wrapped copper coils and the visible bursts of light and energy. The proportions of the upright Tesla coil are like a man-made flower, a blossom of energy. I’m drawn to the straight lines, the encircled columns and the unpredictable element of electricity. The copper and brass is stunning. Simply beautiful. He blended symmetry and balanced assymetry in an unspeakably gorgeous and inspiring way.

I think, at some place beyond my understanding, Tesla’s work tapped into the very nature of the universe. In the way that an insect’s wings or a cross-section of a tree or the Grand Canyon is perfect, there is something perfect about the shape of Tesla’s inventions, pared down the essence of what works.

Tesla Mends A Broken Heart

Tesla Mends A Broken Heart

I shut my eyes a moment as I think about it. “Art and science merged as one. Incredible.” Blinking my eyes open, I see the tea cups are rattling on the coffee tale. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I lean forward and ask Camryn my last question. “What water globes and snow globes are you working on now?”

“I’ve been toying with one called I Love Sho, an homage to footwear, which I seem to collect in real life. The interior has about a dozen tiny shoes in an abstract sculpture: boots, heels, slip-ons … it’s just something fun, and I’m addicted to visual puns.

I also just combined the horn of a tiny gramophone with a glass heart. In contrast to some of my intricate sculptures, it is simple and yet very appealing. I had a long and complicated title for it, but then I shorted it to one word, Listen. When I look at it, I get a pang. It will be hard to part with it.

On a lighter note, I am working on rocket ships and space themes. I have a rocket ship going into a black hole and another with a decked-out Steampunk flying saucer hovering over what might be the moon. I wanted to make a special globe for TeslaCon, with rows of flying saucers at a drive-in movie, watching ‘Trip to the Moon’ (the 1902 movie), with the rocket-in-the-moon’s eye image popping off the screen in 3D. I’ll do it someday, but I couldn’t work out the technical details yet. The drive-in screen was only about ¾” wide, for example, which gave me about a half inch for the rocket. But it will happen in some form. It’s too appealing not to try.

A recent breakthrough for me is the double-tiered globe. I made the first one for a display for the Sacramento Steampunk Society, after an inspiring conversation with one of the members, Doug Hack (perhaps better known as Alexander Watt Babbage.) The water globe sits above a columned base and has liquid-filled pieces as well as air-filled space in the tier below. By breaking the plane of the glass globe, and continuing the design into the open space, it opens a new frontier for my work.”

“The airship has landed, drawing the interview to a close. But before you go back to your studio, I want to share your calling card with all our readers.”

http://camrynforrest.com/
Camryn Forrest Designs

Also five of her  pieces are on display at the Glass Museum in Sandwich,MA, from November 19 to December 30, 2012, as part of a special event on the history of snow globes.

Readers if you have any questions are comments on Camryn and her globes, please post them below.

Maeve Alpin

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