Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Evolution and De-evolution of a mobile

Mobiles are one of the most dynamic and interesting forms of sculpture because they are always in motion. Because of this, the arrangement of pieces is ever-changing and the appearance of any particular mobile can change dramatically from moment to moment.

Sometimes, even the design of a particular piece can seem to have a life of its own, evolving over a period of days or even years, especially when the mobile has been commissioned by a client. Here's a good example.

Several years ago a client contacted me. He wanted a very large hanging mobile for his beautiful modern home that was under construction in eastern Pennsylvania. He was a big Alexander Calder fan, and wanted a replica of the mobile that hangings in the National Gallery in Washington. He wanted it to be about 12 feet wide.

A BIG one!

I explained that I didn't make copies of Calder's work, but that I was interested in the project and felt that I could come up with a design that he would like. I quoted some prices and he told me that he would contact me at the proper time when the room was nearing completion.

I didn't hear back from him for nearly a year, and had somewhat dismissed the project as unlikely to move forward, but one day he called me and said that he was ready to start reviewing designs.

I presented this idea among several, which was similar to the Calder mobile that he liked in that it has two sections; one with vertical pieces and one with horizontal pieces. There is a view on the sketch that shows the horizontal pieces as seen from above. As you can see, the elements are pretty similar to Calder's typical triangle and boomerang shapes. I really liked this design and was hoping he would pick it.

satori hanging mobile sketch_1

But he chose this design instead. He didn't want any horizontal pieces.

Satori hanging mobile sketch 2

His next request was to make the elements "more like Calder shapes", so I sent back this idea.

Satori hanging mobile sketch 3
He really liked that design, (I didn't care for it so much).
The next step was to figure out a color arrangement. He liked this one:
hanging mobile colors

The size was critical. He sent architectural drawings to me and wanted the mobile to fill the room as much as possible. I felt that 11 feet wide would be a good target to aim for. If the mobile turned out to be larger than 12 feet, it would run into a wall. On a new design, it can be tricky to estimate sizes. A lot of it depends on where the hanging points are located, and how all the spaces and shapes relate to each other.

He sent a down payment, and I started working on the mobile.

I was really pleased when I finished and measured the mobile. I found that it had an 11 ft swing diameter - exactly like I wanted. Here's a photo that I sent comparing the unpainted mobile to the sketch. unpainted hanging mobile

The next step was to paint the mobile, pack it up, and (in this case), drive about 8 hours to deliver the mobile to his home. I really enjoyed seeing his home, it was built on top of a mountain and had many unique design features - he also had a lot of Calder lithographs.

Here's a photo that I took after I installed the mobile.

hanging mobile
It looked wonderful. Everyone was happy.
Project closed? Not quite.

A few months ago, I was flipping thru my sketch books and noticed the sketch of first design - the one that I had hoped that he would pick. I still wanted to make that mobile!

Since I had some free time, I decided I would do it. It would be much smaller of course - something that you could hang up in a room with standard ceilings. And I wanted to change the colors to the palette that I've been using lately - verdigris, khaki, red, black, and maybe a blue piece.

Here's how it came out - I really liked it!
I decided to name it "Satori"

Satori hanging mobile by unigami
I posted it up in the gallery on The Mobile Factory and quickly found a buyer.

Project closed? Not yet!!!

About a month later, a client emailed me - she really liked "Satori" but wondered if I could make it in primary colors, like a Calder mobile. Red, Black, Yellow, Blue.

Sure, I can do that!

So here is the most recent version, which I suspect is a miniature of what the large 11 foot mobile would have looked like if he had chosed my first design.

satori hanging mobile with alternate colors
So...after all of that, I guess this one has come full circle.
Unless there is yet more to come!


  1. Thanks for the info. Great website!

  2. Hi- I would like to learn the principles behind creating a good mobile (but I'm not handy with tools other than a dremel, so I don't mean I want to cut metal or anything). How did you learn to create these? I also wondered what can be used for materials if you're not a person who is handy with power tools. I should mention I have absolutely no desire to make these for a business- just want a cool one in my living room but don't have extra money so I thought I'd make one. I'd be grateful if you're inclined to share any info.- and I understand if not. Thanks! Dee