Introduction: Functional Found Art Assemblage- Clock

My father worked in advertising for 30 years. He has always been a very creative person. In fact, he began his professional life as an art director before being promoted to creative director. If you watch the new show Trust Me, perhaps this will mean something to you: My father had Eric McCormack's job. Though advertising wasn't his life dream, he turned out to be pretty darn good at it. Maybe you remember "Peter, youre home!"?

Anyway, after retirement, dad was able to truly exercise his creative muscles. Though he wasn't trying to be environmentally responsible, a lifetime of what I call trash shopping (perhaps inspired by a thrifty Jewish father) led him to begin to create amazing sustainable sculptural masterpieces. His assemblages use materials collected from garage sales, dumpsters, and recycling centers.

One series which has garnered a lot of attention from friends and neighbors is his line of folksy Functional Found Art Assemblages (known to the rest of us as clocks). I have one hanging in my building in Brooklyn. Coincidentally, I also design clocks and watches, and I absolutely adore my fathers work. I asked him to help me write up a description of his process so that we could post it on instructables to encourage and inspire others. I can't imagine anything greener than creating something useful and beautiful entirely from recycled and reclaimed materials, and I'm sure there are a few people out there who will appreciate this idea.

Be sure to read all the steps before you start, as the steps are not necessarily chronological so much as logical. Steps 2-5 outline what you will need to collect. The only tools you'll need are a saw, a ruler, a couple pencils and some string, paintbrushes, masking tape, double sided tape, and maybe a protractor and/or compass if you want to be fancy. Also some other methods of attachment like screws, nails, and/or glue depending upon the specifics of our design. Steps 6-9 describe the preparation and assembly process, some of which might be started before you've completed steps 2-5.

Step 1: Dial (aka Face)

To begin this project, be on the lookout for discarded plywood. The older, the more weathered and distressed, the better. Just be careful not to choose anything that will fall apart. This is going to form the dial or face of your clock, so youll need a piece big enough for your desired size. Dad's clocks are relatively large, probably 15-20 inches. The good news is, in this economy, lots of people are choosing to improve their homes rather than move, so I've been seeing tons of full dumpsters near construction sites.

Step 2: Figures (aka Numbers)

More fun than dumpster-diving for plywood, this is your first opportunity to get creative. Collect various numbers from garage sales, old games and toys, flea markets, etc. Replace your old address numbers with the new 911 reflective ones recommended for fire safety (see, and use the old ones for your clock. Try using old doll or mannequin parts, pool balls, dice, dominoes, or anything else that could be understood to be a number or number-marker. You can even use scraps of wood or metal to cut or assemble some of the numbers. Mix up arabic and roman figures, images, 3-D pieces, and toys. I love the scrabble tiles from an old incomplete set that he used to both spell and graphically represent the numbers. Once youve collected different things to mark 1-12, youre on your way.

Step 3: Movement (aka Mechanism)

Find an old (probably ugly) battery-operated clock that still works. These are easy to come upon at garage sales, in basements, or maybe even on your wall. Unscrew or otherwise remove the hands to remove the mechanism from the ugly clock. If your clock happens to be the right size and material, you might be able to paint it and reuse it for your new clock. These mechanisms are usually attached with threaded nuts -- be sure to save them to use to attach the works to your new clock.

Step 4: Paint

Youre not going to need much paint. You might have some house paint in your basement from old projects. Raid your friends and neighbors storage. An excellent source for additional colors is your local hazardous materials recycling center. Again, you dont need much so should have a lot of options at the recycling center. If you're lazy, your local Benjamin Moore distributor sells tester paints in very small containers and many colors. Be on the lookout for low-VOC paints for added greenness.

Make sure to pick your paints to coordinate and contrast with your plywood from step 1. You are going to decorate your dial in at least a few colors and paint your hands. You want your hands to stand out so you can read the clock. If you want to paint the dial, you can do that. Choose two colors and pick up some crackle coat from a local store. You can use masking tape to easily create hard-edged designs.

If you dont have any brushes lying around, you may be able to find them at garage sales. Modern latex indoor house paint is water-soluble so if you wash your brushes while the paint is still wet they will last until they fall apart. You can use small, cheap craft brushes from a discount store if you like.

Step 5: Prepare Your Dial

Once you've accumulated your stuff you'll be able to determine how big your dial needs to be. Dads clocks are all round thus far (maybe not after he reads this) but I don't see any reason they couldn't be square, rectangular, or any other polyhedron. For a circle, use a large compass if you happen to have one. Make one using a couple of pencils and a string OR find a bucket or something else to trace onto your plywood. For an arbitrary polyhedron, divide 360 by the number of sides and use a protractor and ruler to mark from the center and draw your sides. If you cant figure out how to cut a square or rectangle this whole thing is probably over your head anyway.

Cut your wood with a jigsaw, bandsaw, or coping saw. Since your wood is already weathered you need not bother with sanding unless your cutting job is very messy.

Drill a hole in the center large enough to fit the pinion from your mechanism. The pinion is the part that goes through the dial and accepts the hands.

Step 6: Painting

Paint the front of your hands to contrast your dial. DO NOT paint the surfaces that fit onto the pinion.

If you want to paint your dial rather than leave the existing surface but still want the weathered look, use a crackle coat. These allow you to put down a base coat, apply a clear crackle coat, and then add another color. The second color will crack, showing the color underneath. There should be more specific instructions on the can or bottle.

Paint the cut edge of your wood. You can mark a circle around the edge of the dial and paint that in the same color as your edge to create a frame.

Mark out smaller circles in the center. Pencil-mark your minute markers and paint over them with a thin brush or use a potato stamp. Masking tape will probably come in handy if you don't have a very steady hand.

Minute marks are 6 degrees apart, hour marks are 30 degrees apart. If you don't have a protractor, you can make a 30 degree angle by folding a piece of in thirds from the corner' dividing the 90 degree right angle into thirds gives you a thirty degree angle. Move the paper around the circle with the point at the center to mark thirty degrees, and then eyeball four minute markers between each hour. Mark and paint triangles to point to each of your numbers. These not only add decorative interest but help make your clock more readable.

Step 7: Assembly

Lay out your numbers to figure out where they go. Make sure to put them in the right order (or not!). Attach them using screws, wood glue, hot glue, brads, tacks, or whatever else is appropriate.

Put some double-sided tape onto the front of your mechanism or back of you dial around the center hole if you need it to attach your mechanism to your dial. Insert the pinion of your movement from the back of your clock (so it sticks), and then reattach the hands from the front.

Put in fresh batteries. Most clock mechanisms take a standard AA battery. A rechargeable battery will work just as well and won't need to be charged for quite a while as the draw from a wall clock is minimal. If your clock sets from the back, set it. If it sets by manually moving the hands, you can wait until your clock is hung.

Step 8: Ready to Hang

Many mechanisms have a hook on the back for hanging. If not, attach a piece of picture wire across the back of your clock dial. Measure the distance between your hook or wire (from the center when the wire is pulled taught as if it were hanging) to the top of your clock. This is distance X. Pick a spot on your wall for it to hang and hold up your clock, moving it around until its in exactly the right place. Pencil-mark the top of the clock. Measure down from the mark distance X and mark again. This is where you put your nail or picture hook into the wall. Now hang your work and step back. Grab your cell and invite some friends over to admire your new Functional Found Art Assemblage!

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