Life in the Chandelier Factory

chand_crewIt took us a couple of weekends and some help from excellent friends to do it, but Chuckles (my loving and long-suffering art-car widow of a wife) and I built 14 chandeliers with the help of dear friends Lee Vodra and Christefano Reyes.

chand_templateWe began with discs of 1/2-inch plywood that I designed by using a template that laid out the shape and designated holes and slots that would hold the wiring and conduit in place.

chand_keyholeI cut out big holes with a keyhole saw.

chand_clampedThen I began cutting the curved slots and drilling holes to accept three “arms” of conduit for each of the 14 chandeliers. I worked with two sheets of plywood sandwiched together with clamps. Slow going, but it kept the results uniform and consistent.

chand_kristinaMeanwhile, Chuckles (Kristina) hacksawed up 42 2-foot lengths of half-inch two-pole electrical conduit from a 100-foot coil of the stuff.

chand_kdrillingShe then drilled out the bottoms of 42 plastic tumblers she discovered at L.A.’s beloved 99 Cent Store – a much better design and result than my original plan to mount the 300 Chinese LEDs into chunks of PVC pipe.

chand_strippingWe brought these into our temporary chandelier factory (the dining room) and began assembling them.

This involved stripping the wires of each of 300 LEDs (thanks, Hitgirl – our daughter, Miranda – for the careful, tireless work!) and then stripping the wires at both ends of each chunk of conduit.

IMG_2524The work table quickly became a rat’s nest of wiring, conduit, insulators and debris.

chand_factory2We worked for two long 10-hour sessions, building each head by inserting a chunk of conduit into a conduit connector, inserting a drilled plastic tumbler onto the end, wiring a cluster of 7 LEDs into the end and securing it with the connector’s screw-down collar.

chands_builtBefore long, we had collected 42 fully wired heads.

chandelier_cooperThen we began inserting the heads into the plywood frames, securing them with thick zipties on top and bottom, and inserting 1/4-inch steel eyebolts through the frames’ centers so that they could be hung from the top of the struts on the van’s superstructure. Thanks to Biomass (our hard-working son, Cooper) for helping the crew build these, one by one.

chandlierbuildiung2Christo and Lee brought not only quiet industry, nimble fingers (and lovely snacks) to the factory, they brought awesome conversation that made us all forget the mind-numbing, fingertip-shredding labor of thousands of cuts, strips, insertions and crimps involved in assembling our vision for The Light Fandango.

chand_structureAnd it paid off, bigtime. Here’s a structural view of a completed chandelier (held upside down) showing the conduit, wiring and mounting bolt.

chandelierHere’s the finished product, a glowing chandelier run off a 12-volt battery we used for testing.

chandeliersAnd here’s a stack of beauty – 14 handbuilt, playa-ready chandeliers, just awaiting packaging, transport to Black Rock City, setup and installation around the crown of “The Light Fandango.”

We really enjoyed this chunk of our massive project, and we’re so very grateful for all the help we had in bringing it to life. Lee and Christo, we love you both.

Stay tuned for photos of the end result. It turned out mindblowingly gorgeous.

Sewing, skinning and draping your own art car

skin_robertIt pays – and I mean *really* pays – to have experts among your friends.

Robert DeHart – a wonderfully talented clothing designer and expert human – stepped in again to help finagle the rough fabric patches onto the body.
skin_wheelcoverThe swaths of fabric covering the front quarter panels and doors proved especially tricky. I had fabricated quarter-spherical shells of aluminum strap to make armatures that carried the fabric out from the front wheels, to allow for safe turning and lend a soupcon of style.

yellowcordRob helped me by slitting the fabric just so to allow the gongs to slip through to a playable position, then I sewed stout nylon cord into channels in the fabric edges so that it could be tied to the doors and anchored around the wheel covers, quarter panels and front bumper.

skin_eyeletWe anchored a lot of this stuff with steel eyelets screwed right into the bodywork.

skin_robRob working on the doors and more.
skin1And lo and behold, it’s starting to resemble my sketches!






Illuminating XyloVan: Why do ya call this thing “Light Fandango?”

glow2Well, it’s like this. I’m an old hippie at heart – though I’m technically Generation X and more of a punk (I once broke my nose moshing at a Hüsker Dü concert – true story.)

But it’s inspired by the opening line of Procol Harum’s amazing A Whiter Shade of Pale: “We skipped the light fandango / turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor …

So, this mutation of XyloVan is all about wistful ballroom longing, and its heart will pulse with light.

10407806_346691235478576_5102338524030983977_nBut I can barely connect a couple of wires without getting + and – mixed up, so I called in a pro. Swing City, our Burning Man theme camp, is lucky to have as a new member Spencer Hochberg – a champion unicyclist and engineer for the endlessly inventive Two-Bit Circus
Continue reading Illuminating XyloVan: Why do ya call this thing “Light Fandango?”

How to skin a mutant vehicle

planFirst off, you need a plan. It can be a harebrained, cockamamie, piece-o-shit plan, but you need to have some vague idea of how you’re going to pull it off.

Sketch before you build. Figure out how things are going to connect, what they’re gonna hang on, how big they should be, where they might fail, how you can make it all safer – and then rinse and repeat until you have an art car. And that’s it!

No, that’s not it, really.

It goes a little something like this: Come up with an idea and monkey around till you figure it out. Break things. Curse. Spend too much money on the wrong materials. Cut yourself. Stress out. Curse some more. Drop stuff. Lose tools. Forget why you started this stupid project. Go to bed. Get up again. Keep cursing. It doesn’t help, but it beats quitting. Cut the wrong thing. Measure poorly. Do it over again. Make the same mistake three times at least twice. Do the math on how many mistakes that is. Curse louder. Keep going … Continue reading How to skin a mutant vehicle

Sewing the skin for “The Light Fandango”

sewing1Today we began the monstrous job of turning 120 linear feet of theatrical scrim into the vehicle’s skin.

We worked with the guys at Rose Brand to choose “Celtic Cloth”, a fairly strong, lightweight and slightly flexible fabric that gives off a soft glow when lights are placed behind it. The beauty of it is that you can put any color light you want behind the stuff – from a theatrical floodlight to the Chinese-made RGB LED light strips that we’ll be using.

The first task was to sew a curtain-rod sleeve into the top edge of the fabric – 120 feet of 10-foot-wide cloth. Biomass here is helping move the fabric across our dining room table so that I can feed it into the sewing machine in a straight line.

Here’s a 3-second video slice of that chore – which took about five hours.

Shaping the halo

IMG_2132Today Hitgirl, Biomass and I – along with pipe-bending expertise from Bender – shaped the halo of EMT conduit that will support the fabric.

It was finicky, time-consuming work, since each of the 10 lengths of conduit had to be bent multiple times – just so to approximate its precise role in the rough oval of the halo.

We’re deeply grateful to Dan and Carl, a couple of wonderful neighbors (who just happen to do fascinating work ministering to jail inmates in Los Angeles) who kindly loaned us the space in their side yard to do this crazy thing.

The work begins – roughing out the frame

frame1This year’s mutation, ailment “The Light Fandango,” rides heavily on work we did for Janus three years ago.

Like 150 pounds of new steel, fabric and fittings on top of another 100 pounds of recycled security grating that served as Janus’ cloud deck railing.

Biomass and I bolted that together onto the big honkin’ roof rack and – voila! – the foundation for The Light Fandango and the core of the rooftop observation deck.

frameWe then began bolting burly 1-inch EMT conduit to the frame – using a combination of pipe clamps and steel U-clamps.

These stick out from the guardrail/passenger box, making a roughly oval shape of 14 support points – the struts on which the entire rig will ride.