Prototyping swaying branches

I’ve made some progress on a background project that’s quite dear to my heart: a kinetic sculpture representing a beech branch with fresh new leaves. I’d developed some pleasingly fluttery leaf prototypes, but was struggling with how best to articulate the branches to replicate the way that a real tree sways in the breeze.

Given that my sculpture will be situated indoors, it will feel far lighter air currents than a free-range tree, so it must be correspondingly more sensitive. It must also grow up or down from a fixed point on a wall or ceiling, moving easily in the horizontal plane without drooping vertically.

My inspiration has come from a child’s toy – wooden or plastic snakes, with vertical hinges spaced along the body which let them wriggle freely from side-to-side when held up from the tail. These are often constructed using thread or fabric sandwiched between halves of the body, with cut-aways to allow sideways movement.

Antiqued Wooden Snake Toys by wold630 on Instructables
Antiqued Wooden Snake Toys by wold630 on Instructables

Irrespective of the angle of the branch, as long as the line of the joint is vertical, a branch will be balanced and able to swing freely. Smaller branches, down to the level of twigs, can be jointed on and articulated in the same way, and mounted at whatever angle suits. The range of motion of a particular branch is determined by thickness of material removed around its hinge.

This prototype is constructed from balsa wood and double-sided tape, using a ruler, set-square, craft knife, superglue, sandpaper, and a spare pair of hands.

The next stages will include larger-scale and higher complexity prototypes, as well as more materials tests.

Driftwood Duck

Walking along a beach together, my Grandma handed me a scrap of driftwood she’d picked up. She loves ducks, so I slipped it in my pocket, and carved it a sleek little head to match.

Flashback – spooooons!

Two little spoons made a long time ago, from highland yew wood. The long one is still silky smooth. Alas I didn’t finish the cute dipper spoon because I was ambushed by an unexpected knot.

Flashback – really old carvings

These go way back! Last year(s) of high school and first year(s) of undergraduate…

The interlocking apples were a terrible double pun for a teacher who liked macs, the polar bear for one nicknamed ‘bear’. The woman and moon was one of my first sketches noodling with wood – I still haven’t done much in the way of figurative sculpture, except some small partial nudes in soapstone I hope to post soon.

Working on the ball in a cage precipitated the first conversation I had with the guys who became my best friends throughout my undergraduate :) Yes, the ball is free to move inside the cage. It’s actually carved from part of the main stem of a very old virginia creeper, which has a brilliant yellow colour when freshly cut.

The triple hearts were made using the same method as my double hearts, then by splitting one of the hearts in two with a saw!

Silver cherry blossom

Early in my silversmithing career, experimenting with piercing and carving silver and shaping it to set a cabochon. I was dissatisfied with the results, so I straightened it out again, soldered posts to the bag and set it into a block of purpleheart wood

Jolly Hearts

I sometimes carve interlocking hearts from a single block of wood, as wedding presents. In this case, I think the wood came from an off-cut of a lovely looking banister rail that we used to make a leg for a folding desk on a friend’s narrowboat. It’s got a beautiful rich colour, and I’d be interested to know how it oxidises over time – I suspect it’ll get redder than the fresh-cut colour.

Presentation can be an interesting problem. In this case I part-polished a shard of oak, recovered from decades of burial in anoxic stinky creek mud and naturally stained. Beautiful stuff, takes an incredible polish. A buttery ribbon, and it’s all ready.