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The Art & The Artist

Stephan J. Smith aka “Dr. Steampunk”

I am a 1983 honors graduate of Ferris State University (Ferris State College, then!), where I majored in Graphic Design. I then worked in ad agencies and design firms for many years, doing all things graphic, which then morphed into design using computers (and all THAT entails!). However, as time went on, my interest shifted to more dimensional art in various forms. I currently focus on paper, including cut paper sculpture and handcast paper, but with an emphasis on mache. I also have a special love for recycling materials that would have otherwise gone into the trash. Many of my papier mache projects wind up using pieces and parts of plastic, metal or wood that came from packaging, manufacturing or scrap.

Making Art from “Stuff”

I’m a big fan of using recycled bulk materials or pieces and parts that were designed for one use, then reused as is, but in a totally different way. The steampunk zeppelin here uses both. The “inflatable” portion of the sculpture is papier mache, and therefore recycles newspaper and cardboard, whereas the gondola portion uses both mache and repurposed plastic pieces and parts from my kids’ old toys, as well as packaging pieces, caps and old wire. Even the propeller on the zeppelin is old wooden parts of toys, as well as paperboard and plastic pieces that were salvaged. I’ve always been interested in taking materials that would otherwise have been thrown away and kept them out of the landfill by making pieces of beautiful art from them. For me, this makes my projects twice as satisfying!

The picture shows a close up of the gondola of my Steampunk Zeppelin. If you look closely, you can see that the pieces on it are made of plastic and cardboard and wire that I saved. These are things that would have otherwise been thrown in the trash!

Gondola detail

Recycled Tinker toys in the propeller

Leave a Reply

 

 
  1. Mehl Renner

    March 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Really inspired by your steampunk zeppelin model and especially using re-purposed materials. I am making good progress creating my own model and I would like to share with you a couple of photos of how it looks to see what you think. I found a great parrot cage stand on e-bay for only $23.00 and it really works well to display the model. My significant other has really got into steampunk jewelry and we are planning a booth at a arts market. Send me a message so I can return an email with my photos. Mehl

     
  2. Kathy Wallace

    March 12, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    LOVE your stuff! I often wondered if you got back to your art roots. Have you quit your day job?

     
  3. Heather Hepler

    July 4, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I LOVE your work. I’m putting an artist into my new novel who builds dirigibles out of re-purposed objects, so I wanted a real photo to match the idea in my head. A quick google search led me to you. Wow. So much more amazing than I could have every imagined.

     
    • admin

      July 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      Thank you for your comment! I love when people “happen upon” my site and are excited by what they find…

      Stephan

       
  4. Marissa

    January 20, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Hey Stephan,
    This may seem like an outlandish question….but do you sell your Art as well? My boyfriend is a HUGE Calvin and Hobbes fan and I noticed your Uke case set up and was wondering if it was for sale?

     
    • admin

      January 21, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Marissa,
      I actually made that case for my daughter, who needed a case for her Ukulele. I doubt that she’d want to sell it, but we could certainly talk about a commissioned one for your boyfriend. I’ll email you.

      Stephan

       
  5. cONRAD

    October 28, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Very good work. Amazing. I would like to talk to you about how you repurpose things and discuss your painting choices.

     
    • admin

      November 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      Sorry for the delay in answering. I’ve had a couple projects I’m working on that are taking a lot of time. What would you like to discuss?

       
  6. Michael Viktor Butler

    December 10, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    Dear Stephen,
    In the spring of 2016, I am producing a film the centerpiece of which is a dirigible. It is to be a silent movie taking place between 1919-1921. I live in Albany, NY, and have a great deal of co-operation from tech. people, actors, crew, etc.
    I’ve made films before over the years and am very experienced in the art of silent cinema.
    We must use a scale model of a blimp for this film (‘Moon of the Mahatma Dons’) which must match the design for the set (gondola interior) which is to be rather cozy.
    Would you be interested in taking on the project of building a model for this film? We have allocated a budget just for this -since it is the centerpiece of the whole story. Thank you and have a happy holiday,
    Michael V. Butler. 518 729 4957.

     
    • admin

      January 4, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      Michael,
      This sounds like an awesome project that I would love to be a part of! I’ll call you tomorrow to discuss…

      Stephan

       
  7. Cynthia Heise

    February 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I’m working on a frog ecology installation and one artist wants to have a large frog hanging in a tree outside the gallery. I saw your site connected to what looked like cloth mache construct of a dragon on a wall. You do gorgeous work, btw. Have you had any luck with making cloth mache and having it stand up to out door conditions or is that dragon temporary? I’m in wet Vancouver, WA. Thank you for comment if you make one.

     
    • admin

      February 22, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      Cynthia,
      Thanks for your comment! I’m not sure where I’m connected to photos of dragons on walls, unless it had something to do with the artist Dan Reeder. I think I’ve posted about him a time or two.

      Personally, I’ve done a couple paper mache animals that I’ve posted about. One was a giraffe and one was a deer, both looking like trophy mounts. Both were paper mache over a wooden armiture, but the giraffe has a layer of cloth mache as well. I used the cloth mache to sort of simulate skin folds, and it worked for the most part, but it did tend to bubble in places over the paper mache.

      I have not tried to put a piece outdoors indefinitely, but there’s a great site where the lady has a lot to say about mache techniques. It’s http://www.ultimatepapermache.com/ and I think she’s talked about how she seals pieces against moisture to be put outside.

      Lately, I’ve been building steampunk airships using paper mache and other found objects and repurposed pieces. I’ve also never put one of them outside, but wouldn’t mind giving it a whirl sometime. Drop me a line and a photo after you do your installation. I love to see other artists’ work!

      Stephan