Tools & Techniques - Technological Evolution

The tools in my shop/studio include drill presses, bandsaw, routers, jigsaw, sanders and a collection of hand and hand power tools. They haven't changed much over the years although I am always developing creative ways to use them for constructing kinetic sculptures. The unique feature of my current shop is a long blank wall for testing multiple sculptures simultaneously. With features like the large testing wall my shop has evolved into a very specialized place that only works really well for building sculptures. 


My design tools have changed quite dramatically in the past 30+ years. Initially I sketched in a notebook and drew finalized drawings on a drafting board. I would take the full size drawings to the shop, glue them to a piece of wood and cut them out with a bandsaw. Any changes literally meant "back to the drawing board." I ended up making a lot of changes by just sketching them on a new piece of wood and reshaping them with a sander. 


The early design drawing by kinetic artist David C. Roy from Wood That Works

This began to change in 1986 when I started drawing using a Macintosh computer. I used a number of early drawing programs but settled on Adobe Illustrator when we acquired a LaserWriter printer.

With this combination I was able to create my drawings, scale them up to full size and print them by tiling together a number of pages. I glued the drawing to a piece of wood and cut it with a band or jig saw. This system had a huge advantage when it came to making changes. I could just tweak the original computer drawing and reprint it. It took a while to get comfortable drawing with a mouse and using bezier curves as the primary drawing tool but it is a very powerful and flexible way to create the curved shapes I have come to prefer. 

Design drawings completed by kinetic sculptor David C. Roy of Wood That Works

I used that method for many years. The hardware and software got better and faster but the procedure was the same. The big change happened about 5 years ago when I got access to a large computer controlled cutting machine at a local wood shop. All the work I used to do with a bandsaw and jig saw I now have done using this tool. I create very precise drawings in Adobe Illustrator and convert them to a special form that the cutting machine can understand. The machine is far more accurate than I can be cutting on a bandsaw and has the added benefit of being able to cut shapes that were impossible for me to cut with older power tools. 

The computer has proven a wonderful tool for drawing and cutting the forms I use but also for the important task of visualizing new shapes and patterns in motion. I can link the Illustrator drawings of individual parts together in an animation application called After Effects. I then use some simple programming to set them in motion. This enables me to quickly iterate through many changes and see how the motion patterns evolve. 

I also use several other applications when desiging. To visualize freestanding sculptures I create full 3D drawings and animations using a program called Strata Design 3D. This program was indispensable for the large and complex drawings needed for Silver Symphony. This piece was complex to build and I wanted it know how it would look before I started. I use Working Model to compute the balance points of complex systems of parts where balance is critical as in a scupture like Frolic

Computer generated design drawing of a kinetic sculpture with wind chimes by David C. Roy of Wood That Works

I enjoy both the mental process of thinking about and drawing designs for sculptures and the physical process of actually building them. I work alone because I want the freedom to mix these tasks at my discretion. This severely limits the number of sculptures I can build but I believe also makes each of them a bit better. 

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