Kinetic Sculpture Race 2015 Arcata-Ferndale

Memorial Day once again brings the Kinetic Sculpture Race to Humboldt.

Traditionally, the race begins on the Arcata Plaza with the noon siren. Due to the dismantling of the fire house, the siren had to be carted in and manually started, which happened 15 minutes late, and the mishaps didn’t stop there.

There were a lot of racers dealing with new art or equipment, and some big newcomers.

Kinetic Elephant

This zombie pink elephant was exactly what I like to see in the race. It was original, attention grabbing, and gave the impression that an equal measure of attention had been given to both art and machine.

steampunk shark


I don’t say this often, but this steampunk shark was such a well polished design that I would welcome seeing it back without much alteration in future years. As much as I like to see new stuff, I hate to see something like this scrapped in the name of progress. The tophats of the riders even popped open to reveal shark teeth.

kinetic butterfly

I think this butterfly was the first catastrophic casualty. It only made it a few blocks before breaking down and calling it a day, which is unfortunate. Better luck next year.

Kinetic whale

This Blue whale skeleton was just shy of life size, and it was their first time on the course after traveling all the way from Sacramento. Things were looking good until they hit a crosswind that broke the head loose.

Whale restoration

The couple on the right are getting married at the finish line, so turning back was not an option. Half an hour later they had it back together and were back in the race, though they had to repeat the whole procedure again later.

Starship Voyager sculpture


These guys boldly went until about Dead Man’s Drop before they broke down and spent the night on the wrong side of the bridge.

Kinetic official

As always, Kinetic officials were everywhere, looking for infractions and heavily laden with bribes.

Borg costume


This Borg was apparently finding plenty of culture to assimilate.


Pastels on the Plaza 2014 Arcata

It was a scorching hot day in Arcata, and the sidewalk artists were out in force.

borage and honey  bee

A morning of wrestling with the lamp post that was right where I wanted to sit and squinting into the sun made me grateful I had planned my design out in advance. I went with a honey bee and borage flower for my sponsor, local landscaper Genevieve Schmidt. I thought it would be well suited to the chalk/pastel color palette. It took longer than I thought because I’m not the kind of artist that will be satisfied with a solid color out of the box, so I ended up blending everything anyway.

Leah Vaughn Holly Yashi pastel 2014

I always come home at the end of the day sore and tired and complaining that I didn’t get to stay longer and finish that last thing. Leah Vaughn, who did this square for Holly Yashi jewelry, takes this hard headed determination to  whole different level, doing a square twice the size, baby in tow, only scant weeks after giving birth.

Plaza whiskey pastel

There are a lot of things we think about in planning a pastel design for an event like this. The commentary of passers-by teaches us a lot about what people like to see. Mine was polarizing, with people either loving or hating bees. I like to do something that gets the kids excited. Local graphic designer Casey Vaughn did the above pastel for Plaza, which was a hit with the graybeards, but for whatever reason, today’s youth has little appreciation for a decanter of single malt whiskey. One of my favorites of the day. I kinda want to hang it up over my bar.

Susan Devine 2014 pastel

Susan Devine did this dreamscape with stained glass bird for Barbara Rips.


Here’s a view of the action. I’m sorry I didn’t find time to get more shots like this..

the alibi pastel

My favorite of the day was this spider with geometric web for The Alibi. This artist has been consistently excellent over the years.

Wallace pastels 2014

Jerry Lee Wallace is a personal favorite of mine every year. This one I would hang on my wall.

flatmo pastels 2014

It wouldn’t feel like Pastels on the Plaza without Duane Flatmo. As usual, this was huge, about four times the size of the average square, but it probably seems small to a guy who paints whole buildings.

Talisman jack o lantern art

Talisman beads had an interesting concept here, and executed it perfectly.

And there were hundreds of other artists on the plaza. Here’s a small exerpt:

ramones bakery pastel
garden gate pastel 2014


jitter bean pastel

pacific builders pastel

pastel elephant




Kinetic Sculpture Race 2014

It was a beautiful Arcata day for the start of the annual Kinetic Grand Championship. Racers seemed to be focused on their machines this year. There wasn’t the usual fire-breathing spectacle, but there a lot of mid-sized machines, heavy on gears and muscle. Everyone made an effort to bring something at least a little new this time. Listening to the interviews with the judges, I definitely got the impression that they were looking for something novel as well as functional.

Kinetic sculpture shark

If I had to pick a favorite this year, I’d go with this shark. The lower jaw doesn’t have a center, so kids could stand in it to get their picture taken in the jaws.This is the first time I think an entry has been too seaworthy. It would have had a better look if it had rode a little lower in the water. It floated at about wheel level.


Star Trukkers kinetic This starship Enterprise lookalike was called Star Trukkers. It had a nice clean look and seemed to perform well.


Hell on Axles kinetic

Hell on axles was certainly vibrant.


Kinetic low rider


I don’t know anything about these guys, but I really like something about the design. It looked comfortable, something like pedalling around on a reclining couch. Normally, I would be concerned about being able to stop without just rolling around like a hamster in an out of control hamster wheel, but the low center of gravity and two person seating really makes this one seem stable and easy to control.


Kinetic sphinx

Race Like an Egyptian had, ahem, quite a prow on it. Didn’t do so hot when it hit water. Not the most streamlined float ever, but an entertaining entry.


Kinetic oyster

Blue Oyster Cult. I’m a bit puzzled, but googly eyes make everything better. Nice barnacles too.


Lost Coast Mutineers

Lost Coast Mutnineers. We’ve seen better pirate ships, but this one had the engineering to make it work well.


Kinetic Train

This thing needed some dry ice or something, but it looked good for how little there was to it. I’d be interested to see one of the big players run with this idea in metal and propane.


Kinetic Screw

I don’t know the story behind this one. I like it, but I wish they had used the screw for water propulsion, or at least had it spinning.


Crowd of Unknowing

They were calling this one Cloud of Unknowing. I’m going with Crowd of Unknowing. Supposedly the most drivers ever in one entry at a dozen. One of these years, someone is going to refit an old school bus with bicycle propulsion in all the seats and enter it in the race. It does seem like the ones with more people function pretty well, but I’ve been seeing an increase in the number of entries that have a bunch of people pedaling like mad to propel something at a fast walk.

Duane Flatmo Doomed Buggy

Here’s Duane Flatmo in his Doomed Buggy. Not his usual spectacular entry, but it’s always good to see him in the race. This one was a bit front heavy (I’ve seen the back wheel come off the ground a few times) and flipped over going down Dead Man’s Drop. Duane suffered only minor injuries and was right back in the pilot’s seat.

Thank you to all of the people who worked so hard for our entertainment. I look forward to next year.

Chain Making Machine Animation



I’ve worked with a few machines similar to this, and I’ve always found them a pleasure to watch.  They are generally just controlled by a series of switches. Once one part reaches its intended position, it hits a switch which stops it and starts the next part moving. It’s crazy to think that the cells in our bodies are constructed in a similar fashion, though the logic is made of complex molecular bonding.

Watermelon Carving – Jack (Frost) o’ Lantern


So I went to the store in search of Halloween supplies, and what do I find? Aisles and aisles of Christmas stuff. This year I just decided to roll with it. I put up the Christmas lights, and we dressed up as Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the Grinch, and handed out candy canes to the trick or treaters, blaring Christmas music.

Of course, no Halloween would be complete without carving a Jack o’ Lantern.  I skipped the pumpkins and hit the melon aisle, choosing out a watermelon, a honeydew, and a mini watermelon. After removing the skin they were a nice snowy white, with Christmasy red and green interiors. I stacked ’em up and carved a wicked snowman, complete with carrot nose and twigs for arms, and then packed him with Christmas lights. The results were pretty awesome for how easy it was. Of course now the neighborhood thinks we’re crazy, but I can live with that.

Christmas Halloween watermelon carving

For the Christmas lights, I used a string of these fairy lights I found dirt cheap on amazon.  I’m super impressed with them. They are LED, so they are cool and low energy, the string is really flexible, the lights are really tiny and bright, and it has a controller with several different blink/steady burn options. These melons can’t handle the heat of a candle. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried this. I’m pretty proud of my previous watermelon skull and brain carving.

See all my previous watermelon carvings here.

Pastels on the Plaza 2013 – Arcata

Pastels on the Plaza was clearly scheduled by either a gambler or someone who doesn’t have to sit on the cement for five hours. Being about a month into the season of varying weather that is the Arcata norm,  it is always worrying that it may be windy or rainy (as it has been in the past week) but this time it worked out. This was quite possibly the clearest, calmest day I’ve ever seen in Arcata. Pastel -Arcata Plaza 2013

This year, I had my mom in town, so I figured I’d do something tougher than usual under the assumption that she would bail me out if I got in over my head. Above is our end result. I’m pleased with it, though I always feel like I want to go back down there and fix some things after looking at my photos. This event is like running a mile race; long enough to be tiring, but short enough to make you feel like you could have run harder. My concept for the piece was a woman sitting in her window on a winter day, enjoying her garden, with a vase of cut flowers. It was done for local landscaper and garden writer Genevieve Schmidt

Leah Vaughn - Holly Yashi

Above is an art nouveau peacock done for Holly Yashi by Leah Vaughn.

Below is her husband Casey Vaughn’s work for Plaza. Three of the toughest things to do on the rough sidewalk are smoothness, fine details, and perspective. He managed all three. To quote a passer by, “It’s a chair, but it’s cool”. Casey Vaughn - Plaza Pastel

You may remember Susan Devine’s dragon on the Trinidad lighthouse from last year. This year she brings us a dreamscape for Barbara Rips: Susan Devine

I think my favorite square of the day was for SuddenLink. It was kind of hard to find since it was behind some giant sandwich board from the neighboring square. The background wasn’t much, but the horse was exceptional. Suddenlink-Pastels 2013_thumb

The neighboring square, for armack, clearly had a fantastic artist and self-important planning. Not only did it take up the entirety of the sidewalk, it also came with a large sandwich board placed in front of the previous square.


The Pacific Builders square was cute:

Pacific Builders_thumb

This elephant looks like a great collaboration between several artists for Gallagher’s Irish Pub. I love how they got the texture on the trunk. If you zoom in, it looks like there is some real dimension there.

Gallaghers Irish Pub_thumb

This one is from Baroni (and sometimes Y). The artist did a beautiful job on her first solo year.


And this crystallized sea dragon for the Big Blue Cafe was very nice (click for full image)

big blue cafe

And finally, a shout out to the Six RIvers Montessori people in the square next to me. Their kids were courteous, personable, and responsible; a better advertisement than any pastel square.

Thank you to the businesses who donated money for the Children’s Center in order to reserve a square, the artists who volunteered their time, everyone who came down to cheer us on, and to whoever put the farmer’s market around us. It was nice to have them there rather than a bunch of traffic. Same time next year.

Kinetic Sculpture Race 2013 – Arcata – Ferndale

Humboldt County’s annual Kinetic Sculpture Race started off this year with unseasonably nice weather, with the throngs being shamed by the stigma of getting a sunburn in Humboldt County, a feat normally accomplished only by the most pallid of individuals.

Animated SculptureThe above entry may look familiar, but it is not a rework of last year’s entry, it was there in addition. They are both beautifully animated and controlled by the pilots. These things were definitely a favorite, especially of the children, and if they can continue to produce more, I think they could become an attraction all on their own.

Lady Luck kinetic sculpture

The HMS Lady Luck is an interesting piece of engineering as well as sculpture and performance art. The mast seemed to be worked in as a steering system rather than a method of propulsion, and the many sideways people providing propulsion you may remember from previous incarnations like Gloryopolis and Classical Nudes.

Post -apocalyptic Cockroach

The Post-Apocalyptic Cockroach won some awards for speed and engineering. I don’t know about the apocalypse, but it looks like the pilots could survive a massive hailstorm with nothing but hearing damage. I’ve seen those tires in an local outdoor store and they look huge on a bicycle, but I think they must be much more efficient on the road than the much bigger tires of most of the competition. I saw them at the bottom of Dead Man’s drop and they seem to have gotten through all the sand and cliff quickly, which I would have expected to be their biggest challenge.

Duane Flatmo dragon sculpture

I sometimes give the entrants a hard time for not changing their sculptures from year to year, but there are obvious exceptions. Duane Flatmo brought back his fire-breathing Snapdragon and won the Spectator’s Favorite award, a clear sign that the crowds are happy to see it again.

Ant safari sculpture

These guys crack me up. There’s nothing like coming over a hill to find a group of safari guys carrying a giant dead ant up a sand dune to make you feel like you’ve fallen into a parallel universe. I think it is also an odd case of something getting better as it was simplified. They started out with a fire engine, then stuck the ant on top of it, and now took away the fire engine to make what I think is the best of the three.

Mr Fish kinetic 2013

This puffer fish sculpture sponsored by Mr. Fish is a classic which keeps changing species each year.

Amphibious vehicle

I’m putting these guys up as an honorable mention. They’re a bit light on the sculpture, but they look ready to race in style and comfort. If I had to commute several miles a day over land and sea, I think this is how I’d want to travel.

Gear Design – Differential


Designing gears is often a matter of knowing what needs to be done, but having trouble imagining into existence the perfect set of gears for the job. The above video does a great job of showing how a simple concept was refined into the elegance of design that is the modern differential gear that allows a single drive to rotate multiple wheels on a vehicle at optimal speeds to prevent slipping.

An Introduction to Wave Principles

The above video is an old timey introduction to waves, using a mesmerizing mechanical simulator to demonstrate the main principles.

A basic understanding of waves can be helpful in inventing, since the principles are so similar across very different kinds of waves. Tesla was into waves, and they have applications in electrical theory. The way they build, cancel, resonate, and travel through different materials is central to understanding sound, music, vibration, earthquakes, tsunamis, light, color, economic prediction, and…well, I’ll stop listing things now, so you can watch the video in peace.

Pastels on the Plaza 2012

Pastels on the Plaza Arcata 2012

Pastels on the Plaza 2012. What a beautiful morning in Arcata California. Around here, a sunburn is a mark that you have just returned from distant lands with “summer” and “shadows”. Well. believe it or not Arcatians, I got a pretty good sunburn despite two layers of sunscreen. It was worth it. I’m displaying my results (above) large and proud this year. I drew our cat Tamir in our apple tree for Genevieve Schmidt and her awesome gardening blog and landscaping service. It took nearly six hours and measures 3′ x 3′. I’m going to have it printed on canvas and hang it in the living room.

We were surrounded by farmer’s market booths selling fresh local produce, bands, street performers, and crowds of people coming to enjoy the event. I met several old friends I haven’t seen in a decade, and I was in good company. There’s nothing like sitting yourself down in the midst of famous local artists and designers to up the pressure to perform. They set the bar high.

Sitting to one side of me was Leah Vaughn, representing Holly Yashi Jewelry, who have recently opened their own store at their studio. A great place to shop for jewelry or other gifts. I think this image would make an awesome postcard. This pastel was twice the size of mine, and I have no idea how she managed to get it all done by herself. A side note on this for anyone planning on participating in the event; They kicked us out at 3:00, so if you think your concept may take more than seven hours, either rethink it, or get a helper.

Casey Vaughn, Baroni Plaza Store Pastel

Beside her was her husband Casey Vaughn, representing Plaza. This is his first year doing a three foot square, rather than the double size. I think the extra time per foot really allowed him to show off his skills. One of the top looks of the day in my opinion.

To my other side was Susan Devine, representing Barbara Rips with this picture of a dragon on the Trinidad lighthouse. You don’t have to be a business to support the event. North Coast Children’s Services takes charitable donations and we artists donate our time in the name of donors. Everyone wins. And the kids loved this one. Susan was fond of telling them that if they wanted to see the dragon, they had to get to the lighthouse really early in the morning.

Linda Parkinson-Pastels on Concrete

This is a great pairing of the Wildlife Care Center with award winning artist Linda Parkinson. These two really are perfectly suited.

Duane Flatmo 2012 Pastel Arcata

Duane Flatmo, larger than life as always, for a guy who is used to paintings that take up whole buildings, this must seem easy. I spoke with him briefly. It seems he is still touring with his giant fire breathing octopus contraption. Go check it out.

Humboldt Area Foundation

This one was the most vibrant and eye catching hing I saw all day, and beautifully done by these two artists. My only criticism is in the decision making process. If you are going to have one pumpkin spilling out of the square, don’t chop off the one next to it at the edge, and if you are going to sign it, either work it in and make it look nice, or keep it outside the bounds of the picture. There is just no way to crop this to make it look right.

Jerry Lee Wallace - Outstanding in his field

I took a break to stretch my legs and go see what Jerry Lee Wallace was up to. I’ve been a fan of his work since before I started doing the event myself. He has the most distinctive style, with his obelisk-like people and vibrant landscapes. This is a portrait of a guy who is “outstanding in his field”. I love the reflections and the shadow going up the tall grass. The donor was Humboldt Family Services.


And lastly, a couple of honorable mentions. B&B always cracks me up with their poop-to-rainbows attitude. And I like this one by Ca Redwood Co. I don’t get it, but I like it.

Each year, I improvise a few new techniques, with varying success. This year I brought a chunk of neoprene, with the hope that I could use it as a dry paintbrush. It was remarkably effective, and held up unexpectedly well. It allowed me to blend the pastel I had already applied, so I ended up using less, and having less dust. In total I used less than eight pieces of pastel.

Please feel free to post your thoughts or experiences with the event, and I hope to see you all there next year, same place, same time.