Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beehives and other cool woodwork by Pete Michelinie

At the Hollywood Farmer's Market the other day, in between the tomatoes and the pints of blackberries, I spotted this: 

All images by Pete Michelinie. 

Turns out it's a beehive — specifically, a top bar beehive — made by local woodworker Pete Michelinie

Top bar hives are a low-fuss approach to beekeeping: no need to smoke the bees, no funny-looking protective suits. The bees build honeycomb in vertical slabs hanging from the bars on the top of the hive (hence the name), and you can watch their progress through the window in the front.

A stripe of beeswax down the middle of the bars tells the bees where to start building. 

Now, I don't know the first thing about beekeeping, so I'm taking Pete at his word when he says that he'll have to wait until next spring to catch a swarm. But expect a follow-up post when he does!

Pete's other woodworking is beautiful, too. Check out this French corner cabinet. I love the design of the inlay. 

Also, I'm seriously coveting this workbench, although it's almost too pretty to use. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A season of plenty, especially blueberries

The harvest is upon us. Farmer's markets are overflowing and friends and family have more fresh produce than they know what to do with -- and that's where I come in. In the last 2 weeks, I've eaten, given away, or put up large quantities of: 
  • blueberries (14 lbs. of late-harvest organic beauties, plus what I ate while picking them)
  • plums (eaten fresh and made into plum kuchen and no-sugar freezer jam)
  • fresh salmon from British Columbia (froze what I couldn't eat right away)
  • cherry tomatoes (salads, salads, salads!)
  • cucumbers (salads, or marinated in vinegar)
  • zucchini and yellow squash
  • fresh garbanzos in the pod (which I had never seen before)
  • bunches of basil (pesto, yum!)
  • peaches and nectarines
I think my eyes have been bigger than my stomach, fridge, freezer and fruit basket combined. It may be time to take the plunge and finally learn to can. 

In the meantime, I've been freezing blueberries on cookie sheets so they don't all stick together, then transferring them to double-thickness freezer bags. Because there's nothing like a smoothie in December…

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Flight of the garbasail [How-to Tuesday]

This is a guest post from Jesse Dill, a fellow scientist and good friend of mine from Berkeley. He's always coming up with brilliantly wacky ideas to try, like this one. You can find more from Jesse on his blog and his Flickr page


I first found out about Garbasails when they were featured as Urban Dictionary's word of the day. A few curious clicks later, I was completely hooked on the idea. It's a simple formula: trash bags + duct tape + a lot of rope = one very large, very impressive-looking kite. My friend Harish and I decided to make it happen, and we hit the hardware store.

Duct tape, rope, and trash bags. Oh my.

Total cost for the materials was about $70. We thought we'd go medium-scale, with a 40-bag kite of single-ply, heavy-duty trash bags (“single-ply" means that we cut each bag along two seams so that it was just one layer of plastic thick).

Harish assembles the first row of trash bags

Assembly took three hours. We didn't have much space in the house, so there was only enough room to see one row at a time as it was added. After the panels were taped together, we knew that adding the reinforcing tape along the diagonals would require a bigger space to spread out the garbasail; fortunately it wasn't hard to locate an empty parking lot at the university on the weekend.

Our final garbasail design used 40 heavy-duty trash bags in an 8 x 5 arrangement, but with the longer edges making up the row that was five bags long. The result was a nearly square kite. One face of the kite had tape along all the edges, and the other face had a double-layer reinforcing line of duct tape along the diagonals and splitting each edge. The corners were reinforced with about six layers of duct tape, and the ropes were threaded through holes we punched at each of the eight attachment points (four corners, and the middle of each edge).

In the first test flight, we taped several of the ropes to lamp posts in the parking lot. We were stunned (and pretty delighted) to find that the kite caught enough air to rip through the duct-taped corners in just a few minutes.

Harish wrestles with the kite during a gust.

The power of the elements: our "reinforced" corners were no match for the wind.

The only camera we had on hand was my cell phone, but I did get a quick (albeit low-resolution) video of our test flight. Harish is holding down the corner that had already ripped at that point:

Fast-forward to the flight day: we’d toughened the attachment points by linking three rope loops through each of them and then running a single rope through the loops. This distributed the force across a wider area, and prevented the tear-through we had on the test flight.

Attaching handles to three short loops through each attachment site helped to keep the rope from ripping through the duct tape.

So how did it fly? Better than we imagined--with eight people holding onto the ropes, on a pretty windy day at the marina, we had serious trouble keeping a grip on the ropes. [Ed. -- And when we did, it was hard to stay on the ground.] I’d highly recommend wearing thick gloves when flying large garbasails, as the friction during strong gusts can be intense. We got several hours’ enjoyment out of the garbasail--though it did eventually tear to pieces, we all agreed that it was worth the investment.

It took a couple of tries before we got the garbasail off the ground. The red moped helmets were purely for decoration—garbasailing is a family-friendly activity.

The garbasail catches some wind at low altitude.

We also got some tips from a professional kite flyer. His main recommendations: include a ninth rope attached to the center, and buy some thick gloves.

The garbasail takes flight at the Berkeley Marina.

Can't get enough garbasail?
  • See the entire album of Wendy’s photos from the garbasail’s flight at
  • Check out the website of Josh Levine, an artist who created the first documented garbasails:

Friday, August 7, 2009

Opening reception tonight at Re:Vision Gallery

Don't forget to head over to the Re:Vision Gallery at SCRAP tonight for the opening of gallery's first solo show, by metal sculptor Brian Mock. 

Also, check out my interview with the artist here

Monday, August 3, 2009

Time-lapse cake creation

Wow. This video of Leslie Evans preparing her entry for the Threadcakes competition is utterly mesmerizing. She says that the process took about 40 hours. Check out the individual scales on that koi…

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Interview with metal sculptor Brian Mock [Sunday spotlight]

This month, sculptor Brian Mock will have the first solo show at SCRAP's Re:Vision Gallery. I'm particularly excited for the exhibit, as recycled metal art is a favorite of mine. Brian's work spans a wide range, from rustic metal fish to tables to tall, elegant, painstakingly crafted statues. 

"Round 'n Found 3". All images courtesy of Brian Mock. 

"Winged Woman"


The opening reception will be this Friday, August 7th, 2009, from 6-8 pm. Here's a map to the gallery, which is at 2915 NE MLK Jr. Blvd. in Portland, OR. 

I caught up with Brian at Re:Vision for a conversation as the exhibit was going up.

BMCB: How did you get into making metal sculptures?

Brian Mock: I grew up drawing, painting, taking electronic things apart, dismantling things, putting them back together. I went into wood carving and sculpting a little bit. I started doing bird houses and putting metal on the roofs (this was before I was welding) so I ended up getting a welder -- no, actually I was doing this auto sculpture and there was no welding. It was all just very time-consuming handcraft. Then from there I just naturally went into welding. 

I liked the idea of using recycled and found objects and reclaimed metals, otherwise I'd be working in a fabrication shop or something. So it was kind of, let's see what I can make out of something I found off the street or collected.

"Bromwells," non-welded auto sculpture

So where do you get your materials?

I've collected over the years and made connections during shows or exhibits -- people that have worked in the construction industry, people that might have a garage that they want to go through. And to have a box of goodies in my driveway some morning is kind of nice. 

I don't do a lot of dumpster diving. I used to dumpster dive when I first started. I spent a lot of time hunting and over the years just accumulated a lot of stuff, but never enough. There's never enough. I'm always looking, still.

Are you mostly self-taught?

Yeah. I've never taken a welding class or sculpting class. I've taken painting classes and drawing classes. That's where my true love is, it's painting, but I just haven't had the time to do it, to cultivate it. I'd like to incorporate painting in sculptures and stuff. To make my own canvases out of recycled material and paint.

Who are your artistic influences?

Not really who, but where. I see it every day when I'm around artists. It's pretty influential. I don't have any one particular -- I think it's just a wide range, just a family. You know, here in Portland, in the Northwest, I just feel like I belong. I don't feel like an outcast. So I can't really think of any one particular artist. 

Some people have said some of my stuff reminds them of H.R. Giger.


What's the creative process like for you? This wing nut bowl seems very time-consuming to put together.

It's monotonous sometimes, working with the same material. The wing nut woman consists of about 7,000 wing nuts. I know by weight. By the time I was done with that I didn't want to work with a wing nut for a long time, so I didn't do my wing nut things, and I'm out of wing nuts now. I got them from a machine shop -- they were offs. These weren't all done together. I had to wait a while in between to work with them. 

I made this bowl so you couldn't see any of the welds from [the top] but on [the underside], like the outside of [the winged woman], you can see all of them.

"Winged Woman," detail

What are you working on now?

I'm working on commissions, and I'm actually working on a painting, too, this week.

Trophy commissioned by NW Energy Efficiency Alliance

Do you plan out the way things are going to look ahead of time or form them as you go?

I do plan, but I'm not meticulous about what it's going to look like because I never know what it's going to look like. It's always a surprise to me. That's why commissions are so interesting for me to do. I always tell the person I'm doing the commission for, this is vaguely what it's going to look like. They usually understand, but if someone wants something a particular way it becomes difficult because I say, I don't know what I have to work with. I just find stuff. 


You can see Brian's work at the Re:Vision Gallery through the end of August, 2009. An online gallery of his work is also available on his website

If you liked this interview, be sure to check out the sidebar to the left for other artist spotlights.