Project Chaboo

October 24th, 2008 by tomitadesigns

Project Chaboo is an artist series I am curating based on my chaboo design.  I am recruiting artists to customize my chaboo in their own style.

13" tall, 14" deep, 32" wide

I have illustrators, painters, woodworkers, glass, metal, concrete, laser, felt, carbon fiber, and a recycled skateboard artist.  These artists are very talented in their own right and I am fortunate that they are willing to collaborate with me on this project.  The diversity of the energies they bring to the project will propel it forward as well as enrich my life as a designer.

I cant wait to see the range of customization these talented artists bring to this project.  ShowPDX has been a great show where we can really see the different signature styles of designers.  Id like Project Chaboo to be similar in that respect but in a format which will create a series of work based on the same basic design where their voices can be heard.  Their chabus will be marketed on my website and Id like to have a local show in a gallery as well.  Im really excited about this project as a community building exercise.  I really think it will help everyone by connecting us all together in a web.

Another motivation for this project started from frustrations that were voiced by many local furniture designers that they dont have a venue where they can sell their creations without paying large commission fees and retail markups.  Id like this to be a project that will allow artists to sell their artwork for what they want to charge for it.   I dont plan on charging commission for sales through the site. Commission may be involved if the sales are through a gallery though.  Im working on eliminating that issue, either by contracting a venue through a flat fee or by obtaining a grant that will pay the artists’ commissions.

This project will be a lot of fun and a great exercise in community building and collaboration.  I think its important to think of art/design as something beyond yourself every once in a while to keep our spirits fresh and our creative minds sharp.

Online Supermarket

October 24th, 2008 by tomitadesigns

Ive posted a few of my pieces for sale on an online design supermarket

The site is a curated collection of design goods from hundreds of designers.  There is a lot of cool stuff on there.  Take a look!

Thoughts from the custom bike show

October 13th, 2008 by tomitadesigns

Last Friday I had the chance to go to Oregon Manifest, an event showcasing handmade custom bicycles.  The event took up two floors at the Leftbank project near the rose garden arena.  I was amazed at the pure number of vendors at this event, meaning Portland has a substantial enough bike culture to support so many local bike businesses.

A reporter from the Oregonian approached me and interviewed me for a featured article which was published on the front page of the metro section of Saturdays paper.

here is an excerpt:

Ken Tomita got his first road bike two weeks ago but insists he’s not “really into bicycles at all.”

Still, the Southeast Portland 30-year-old liked a lot of what he saw Friday at Oregon Manifest, a two-day showcase of handmade bikes at Leftbank Project, 1618 N. Vancouver Ave., in Portland.

“I really like seeing people who take things to the limit, who customize or do innovative things with new materials,” Tomita said. “So I’m here to check out what people have done.”


Tomita, who runs a custom furniture company, said the show brings together people who take a craftsman’s approach in a mass-produced society.

“I think it’s amazing that our society — at least in Portland — is going in the other direction,” he said, “toward locally made, high quality, instead of cheap and fast and disposable.”

Im encouraged to see how people in Portland value high quality locally made goods.  The trend towards specialization and niche businesses extends beyond bikes.  Hopefully, the demand for hand made high quality furniture will see a jump in demand like the market for custom bicycles.

Coat rack/Umbrella Holder

October 8th, 2008 by tomitadesigns

Im designing a coat hanger/umbrella holder for a new client.  Theyve given me a lot of creative freedom and Im taking full advantage.  They like my kibako bookstand so thats a good start. Ill use the 1.5″  bamboo countertop material ripped into 1.5″ x 1.5″ strips.

They also like my use of the sumi ink for contrast.  Their criteria function wise are somewhat relaxed.  They have a closet for coats right by the entry so this coat hanger would be mostly for sculptural purposes.  They require it to hold 2-3 coats and 2 umbrellas with the reality being that most of the time there would actually be nothing on there at all.  Nonetheless, the design of this piece is driven by function.  What are the different ways to hang coats and umbrellas?  How is the structure going to be stable and not fall over?  I need to consider the possibilities of free standing, wall mounted, suspended, and any combination.

My initial inspiration is the form of a tree.  I like the idea of branches holding the coats.  Another gesture that comes to mind is a field of long grass or a bamboo grove.  Upwards movement would be nice in this space.   There is a window at the height of 67″.  The horizontal line of the sill is something I need to fight to get the feeling I want.

I narrowed the possibilities down to three concepts and made 1/3 scale models out of plywood scraps and my trusty hot glue gun.  The overall height is about 7ft

I met with the clients and we have decided to proceed with the center design direction.  Time to input the model into sketchup and play around with proportions and color.

Here is the latest edition modeled in sketchup in two colors.  I concentrated on staggering the distances between the “branches” to create more movement in the piece.  At  the bottom they are closer together and become more spread apart as you go upward.    I was looking for a progression similar to a sine curve or fibonacci sequence.  The height has been increased quite a bit to go over the window sill plane.

The latest design change.  Client has requested it handle 3 coats and 2 umbrellas.  I raised the whole thing up by 10″ so that the third one up is at 40″, an acceptable height for hanging coats.

Construction commenced!  Dadoing out the slits for the splines with a tenoning jig in this photo.  Splines are made with katalox, a dark mexican hardwood.  The splines create the joint at the elbows and also create some visual interest.

Lowering the center of gravity on this piece is a concern.  Its really tall and I dont want it tipping over under a load of coats.  The base needs to be made heavier.  I drilled multiple 1/2″ diameter holes on the undersides of the base and filled them with molten lead which i melted down using a camp stove outside my shop.  Lead has a very low melting point for a metal.

Dont try this at home kids.  Notice I am wearing a respirator, safety glasses, and welding gloves.  I have never done this before so I had no idea if the lead would splatter or explode or anything like that.

I figured out through trial and error that the lead pours best if you let it cool down slightly.  When its too hot it boils when you pour and it also catches the bamboo on fire (not good)

Crazy idea but it worked!  The base is very very heavy now, and you cant see that there is metal in there at all from the top.  I chiseled away the excess and sanded it down.  I covered eve

rything with a thick epoxy to keep the lead sealed, just in case.  What a fun day of experimentation.  And just think… the brain damage wont hit me for years down the line.  YEs!

Detail of the base.  I added a corner brace of sorts.  The lead filled legs really lower the center of gravity.

Looks right at home outside my shop!

Here it is in action.  This will be a fun piece for the clients to play with.

Electric Picnic Music Festival- IRELAND

October 3rd, 2008 by tomitadesigns

Electric Picnic Music Festival is a 3 day outdoor music festival in Stradbaly, Ireland that took place august 29-31. The festival is known for emphasis on public art and includes poets, comedians, the circus, a ferris wheel, movie theater and other elements not usually seen at these outdoor concerts.  First international project for team BambooDNA.

Wow- the story starts with bad news.   The container we had shipped to Ireland from Columbia full of 400 large bamboo poles got stuck in customs in Rotterdam and would not arrive in time for the festival.  This amount of material was our most ambitious yet- even more than Coachella.  NONE of this material would be arriving.  All we have is our minds, bodies, and a few hand tools.

These bamboo sculpture projects have always been an exercise in flexibility.  Something always goes drastically wrong and we have to improvise.  The team has gotten used to it and gained confidence in the face of adversity to the point where when we heard that the bamboo was not arriving we merely shrugged and started to set up camp.  No problem, well figure something out.  Not much sense of panic in team bamboo!

We set out harvesting materials from around the site.  The land was private so with permission from the landowner we spent the first two days looking for and gathering material.  Its hard to believe that a normal family lives here.  They have 5 acres of roofs to maintain on the property!

First we erected the three main columns.  The plan is to build a giant willow ring on the ground.  The rings was tied with a series of clove hitches and reinforced with willow weaving. Led by Lynda the weaving team leader, the long skinny willows were painstakingly woven in one by one.   We were to then lift the entire ring up solely with human power.  Our resident rigger Brandon can do amazing things with rope and pulleys.  These complicated lifts would not be possible without him.  Of course, Brandon was out of commission with back spasms so he had to direct us to do all the work.

The first lift was a failure.  The forces exerted on the ring when we lifted pushed the inside oculus together and we lost the form.  After lowering the ring once again we fortified the center with a willow ring and tried again.  The second lift was a success.  Now, we started constructing a second smaller ring to go above the first one.  One of our irish volunteers Tom and I scrapped the weaving technique we used for the first ring and instead built two large wreath like structures with willow.  We strapped the offshooting willow branches to these two rings and hoped for the best.  LIFT!

A crowd gathered and laughed at how absurd this lift looked.  Kevin did an amazing job of manuevering the second ring until Ryan and Jenn could secure it into place.  Once the second ring was in the crew up there could relax.  Looks like a nice place to hang out!

Because our material didnt arrive this project changed in scale dramatically.  Though not nearly as big as we had originally planned, the new sculpture we built involved a lot more detail work and craft than we usually get a chance to do.  Our local willow artist Lusi and her teenage son Ollie spearheaded a team building lanterns.  Incredibly complex, these structures probably took a full day each for one person.  Marisha led the design and building of benches made out of solid wood slabs.  Our young Aussie Dana led all things related to sledgehammers and axes.  On the last day we all carved totem poles, leaving our signature touch on the project.

Not having our bamboo was actually a good thing.  We learned to work with a new material and learned to work in a new way.  The spirit of Electric Picnic is more about craft than the american music festivals where prefabricated truss structures and tents dominate.  We were true to the spirit this year due to our adversity.

The structure was quite successful as a hang out area during the concert. The benches provided unorthodox sitting angles for conversation and the structure lit up pretty nice at night. We didnt have our usual lighting guru/mad scientist/pyrotechnician, Alan so we settled for floodlamps that the festival provided.

We all learned alot from this project.  Being flexible, staying calm and positive in the face of adversity and just doing the best you can with what you have were all good lessons.  All good things must come to an end.  Teardown was easy.  The site looked apocalyptic with all the trash around.  We burned what we could.  No attachments….