Art at the Steampunk Asylum

Every year one of Europe’s biggest steampunk events takes place in Lincoln, bringing together over 30,000 steampunks from across the world to enjoy four days of music, art, costume, gin, tea and silliness.

One of the many events is the Great Exhibition, a chance for those taking part to share, if they dare, their creations with an admittedly sympathetic audience. Unfortunately, I suspect that steampunks are mostly shy and strangely introverted for a bunch of friendly and weirdly dressed people!

This year’s great exhibition contained just four paintings with the result that I won again. I win something every year and I say that with no sense of pride as I am often the only 2d artist to take part! This year, in a bid to save my blushes and perhaps encourage someone, anyone! else to enter next year, I did four paintings in three different styles.

So The Ruskin prize went to a Bob Ross parody (he of the bouffant hair and softly spoken utterances about happy clouds and squirrel friends), entitled “Happy Little Accidents” from his quote; “Remember, we don’t make mistakes, we have happy little accidents.”

I know his art is kitsch but he was very good at it indeed and he inspired so many thousands of people to pick up a paintbrush that it is rude to dwell too long on any failings his art might have. As with all art, try copying a piece and you will learn something!

That’s why I painted my second piece: Sanctuary. There is no pun involved, I just wanted to draw a Bob Ross wave, do it a little bigger and throw in a lighthouse and giant octopus. I think it would look rather good as a steampunk book cover, don’t you?

My Netflix addiction was also responsible for “Big Goggles”, a pastiche of Margaret Keane’s work which was recently given a boost from the film Big Eyes starring Amy Adams. My write up (steampunk has a strong basis in literature so I think the write up can be as important as the image) was as follows:

Title: Big Goggles

Medium: Oil on Board

Artist: Maggie Keen (1926 to present)

Margaret Olive Catherine Keen has become known for her pictures of big eyed waifs. In the 1960s the paintings , often derided as kitsch by art critics, were attributed to her husband, Phil Estein but following a bitter separation in 1970 she accepted the blame as part of a wide ranging divorce settlement. In return for taking responsibility for the art, she walked away with the house, car, narrow boat and the couple’s beloved pet cephalopod .  This painting is thought to date from the early 1970s and could  be an attempt by Maggie to explain away the ridiculously big eyes by the addition of goggles. No explanation has yet been found for the goggles.

Yes, I find it easy to mock but once again I would like to add the caveat that every artist has something to teach and she did well for herself in the end so If you like her art just go ahead and say so and ignore all those sneery critics!

Both the winning piece and Big Goggles went into a charity auction at the end of the event and raised £95 for charity so I sincerely hope the buyers did like the paintings and will enjoy them.

The final piece was simply a little cartoony picture of steep hill in Lincoln with a backdrop of air balloons. I had thought to make it into postcards to sell but I ran out of time so it just went in to make up the numbers. It is a scene I want to return to at some point though, perhaps in a more serious style.

Steep Hill, Lincoln

I am rubbish at promoting this blog so this probably won’t reach the people it needs to reach but if there are any steampunks out there who go to Lincoln and who also do art; please think about entering the exhibition next year. It is very difficult at first to put your art out there (and that’s probably why i paint jokes, so that i can laugh them off and not expect people to take them seriously) but really, nothing bad will come of it and it may even encourage you to do more, get better, stretch yourselves and that has got to be better for all of us.





Bent Copper


Steampunk button-hole for a friend


Copper orchid button-hole


Holly sprig with coral berries


Copper Chrysanthemum tiara modelled by Emily and reproduced with kind permission from the photographer.

Copper is a wonderful metal to work with and its cheapness relative to silver means allows me to experiment more and try bigger projects with it.
Last year I started making fold-formed orchids. these were followed by some little Chrysanthemums whose layers of petals I hammered out on my doming block.
The Chrysanthemums I made into a headband, kindly modelled by a friend here.
This Christmas I have followed those up with a holly button-hole complete with coral berries.
The colour of the metal is the result of the folding and annealing process and won’t last unless I seal it under a coat of laquer.
I have a steampunk friend who insists that everything he makes is polished to a mirror shine. I admire the dedication but personally I like the way metals oxidise and age.
I have plans to choose a flower or plant for every season. For spring I am planning a hair ornament with hawthorn. I think I would try to oxidise the copper leaves to green and then combine them with little silver flowers and “buds” of white button pearls.
I would love one day to do a complete bridal set, copper flowers, a tiara and button holes for the bridegroom’s party.
In a world where florists charge up to £50 for a button-hole that won’t last the day, this must be possible! Continue reading

Grown up steampunk jewellery

Steampunk is in danger of becoming a cliché.

Of course there are wonderful makers out there doing amazingly original things but for the majority the steampunk aesthetic can be summed up thus: It is steampunk because it has a cog on it; it has a cog on it because it is steampunk. Cog-ito ergo steampunk.

This often frustrates me but I do sometimes succumb to the lure of a sweet little cog and I do love old watch movements…and so I too am guilty of making jewellery with cogs in.

This was my first such piece; a lovely deep cut rock crystal whose lower arc happened to be the perfect match for the edge of a watch movement I had in my collection.


Deep, rose cut quartz cabochon set in silver with steel and brass watch parts.

I do hope that you will see these as grown-up steampunk jewellery. They are not made of brass-coloured, pre-made elements wired together, but of silver. The cogs are carefully chosen and set almost discretely behind gemstone cabochons. In their turn the gemstones are chosen for their cut and even for their characterful flaws.


Steampunk Industrial ring in hammered and oxidised silver, set with a rose cut quartz and watch parts.

The ring above  is set with part of a watch movement and oxidised. The oxidisation was done with liver of sulphur which makes up for its nasty smell at the time of using by turning silver first ochre and then russet before going an oily bluey greenish colour. The colours are subtle and as this ring is worn they will change, weather and develop character. The rose cut stone brings out the intricacy of the watch movement even as the facets split its image, making it hard to pin down.


Finally these are part of a collection of tie or lapel pins simply set with a labradorite, a cog and amethyst and, finaly, a star sapphire. I also have pins set with glass taxidermy eyes but they are surprisingly expensive.

Thank you to my friend Mark  Todd for taking the first and last of these pictures for me.