Dream Machine

   by Lisa Gibby for Build A Dream (2014)

I often dream about building things - crazy things, colorfully-whimsical things, things that are just shy of impossible. And I've come to an understanding with the Sandman over the years. As long as he keeps sending me these wacky dreams, I'll try to build one of his machinations every once in a while.

Recently, Mr. Sandman sent me a doozy. It was the machine he uses to choose what dreams a person should get that night. You turn the crank, the kaleidoscope turns and voila, when you stop cranking, there's a dream selected just for you.

Now the problem - how on earth do you build such a thing?

Well, I had a box-load of materials at hand, so now I just needed to get to it.
A kaleidoscope seemed to be the main support of the thing, with gears leading out from its stained glassť spinner. I need gears - cutting them from the box (of the box-load of materials) worked rather well. It took a few sleepless nights and more dulled exacto blades than I care to admit, but in the end, I had gears enough to turn all of the what sits of this gizmo.

Gear process:
there were several sizes of gears used here, but the process remained the same for each.
- Cut an outer and an inner circle from the box board, leaving some connective material between the two.
- Cut (a number) of dragon tailsť from the box board with notches to connect onto the inner/outer circles
- Paint everything using acrylic craft paint or Sharpie/Prismacolor markers (too much paint warps the board - and makes for many more sleepless nights)
- Glue (Aileen's Tacky Glue) dragon tails at equal intervals onto the inner/outer circles, cutting away the connective material as the dragon tails hold the two in place.
- Realize a little late in the game that you should have made spacers to put between each pair of dragon tails to make sure they don't end up out of sync.
- Cut trapezoidal spacers to fit the space between the dragon tails, color black with Sharpie and glue in place (aileen's)
- Let dry. Really. Don't start spinning them in 100% humidity and expect good things to happen. Otherwise you must be dreaming.

Kaleidoscope process:
- In essence the kaleidoscope was a really big gear. I cut two mirror images of the kaleidoscope design
- I colored the front side of the kaleidoscope with sharpies
- I laid a thin layer of glue (aileen's) onto the back of the front piece, then laid a piece of the shrinkwrap from around the box onto the glue.
- Once dry, I trimmed the excess shrinkwrap, then using prismacolor markers, colored the shrinkwrap sections (slightly overlapping the board)
- I glued the opposite side of the kaleidoscope onto the back of the shrinkwrap, matching the bars to the front
- then I cut (out of the box board) a lot of fins to catch the dragon tails of the other gears - colored with a sharpie
* there was a small balance issue - I had built two circle spacers out of box board to lift the kaleidoscope from the hardboard to give it more light (made the effect much stronger) but the piece now wobbled on its axis (a short length of wire). To fix, I cut 2 large circles the same diameter as the kaleidoscope. I left one whole and cut the other into sixths. I stacked 2 sixths onto each other (glued with aileen's) 3 times and attached the new spacers onto the large circle. Then attached the whole contraption to the bottom of the kaleidoscope. This allowed the kaleidoscope to ride on the solid circle as it spun but still had the light coming through the spaces between the sixths.

Step two was creating that main support piece. The piece of hardboard in the box should be sturdy enough to hold everything, even after being carved into Swiss cheese. This time cutting was a bit more complicated. Hardboard was surprisingly hard. The exacto would've died in the fight, so I turned to my Dremel. I cut and cut and cut until I was seeing the dust fly in my sleep. (So I collected some of the dust for later - just in case). Eventually I had a pretty close facsimile to the Sandman's version from my dream and painted it with the same acrylic paints I use for... everything. I attached one more copy of the kaleidoscope shape to the back of the hardboard, sandwiching a piece of marked shrinkwrap in between. The blue/clear pattern when combined with the red/yellow pattern creates a nice rainbow of colors as they interact.

Using the same Dremel and a few different bits, I drilled the center hole in each of the gears and their counterparts in the hardboard. To attach them to the hardboard, I made pegs from the wire, that I colored with markers for a nice metallic hue, then curled on both sides until snug, but spin-able (not the easiest balance to find). The center gear was pushed on to the round dowel - and the hardboard got a slightly bigger hole cut into it, to accommodate. It also got painted in a nice spiral pattern, that had me a bit dizzy.

Now that the gears are turning, I had better figure out the inner workings of the flipping dream chooser mechanism. I had dreamt it worked like the old flip signs used in airports and railways and such. That was easy enough. I used some circles cut from the box board and drilled 7 holes in each - six for the dreams (with a wire rod for each) and one for the center (I needed a stronger rod here, so I pulled the main support of the mannequin). I made the six dream flaps using the card stock and a thin strip of the box for weighting, that I watercolored and wrote on (black ink pen). I also built a stand for this mini-contraption out of more of my slowly-shrinking box. So far so good. Now to make it turn. That would take some dreaming.

After a few mad schemes and failed attempts, I came to realize that the rubber band holding the different dowels in (the remainder of) my box was exactly what I needed to create a pseudo-serpentine belt that could turn my wheel-o-dreams. Or it would be perfect if I had a bit more friction. I created a stop around the main rod (the round dowel) using the box that had held the mannequin. I found a spool of thread in my (growing a bit more abstract) box and realized the spool could be the ideal way to have the rubber band attach to my main crank - I just had to drill 6 holes into it. My only problem was getting the rubber band to pull hard enough to turn the flaps, but not to move them off-center. I know the Sandman likes things whimsical... but even he'd frown at accidentally off-center. So I cut two pieces off of the styrofoam rod and used them as light-weight spacers to keep things in place.

Now before I can attach all of these lovelies together, I need to paint them. (Painting afterward would likely be a nightmare).
So off I go. I had the vague memories of bright colors, almost rainbow-like, from that first dream of the Sandman's machine. I can only hope my stock of acrylic craft paints and my rusty painting skills will do the Sandman's masterpiece, justice.

I created a floor panel from the piece of a canvas board, cutting it to size with holes that just fit the bottom of the hardboard with an exacto. Painting continues. Once the rubber band and the two supports were in place (with a new curved piece between them for stability - made of box board and sharpie) I worked on a front piece that would keep the main rod in place. Made of a bit of the top of the box, I cut the design and painted it. After fitting it on a few times as I nudged and tweaked... I discovered one thickness of board wasn't quite strong enough. So I cut an identical version of the front piece from the top of the box and painted it black. I glued the two layers together and found that the main rod no longer had wiggle room - one nightmare avoided. The main rod still liked to pull forward a bit, so I drilled a hole through the rod and put a small length of wire through the hole then curled it just enough to pull the rod permanently against the hardboard piece. Later on, I'd use this same technique to attach the main crank - so this made for nice practice.

I had originally cut the main rod with a tool that was completely inappropriate (it was late, I was tired and the wire cutters were handy) so I needed to sand the end into something more presentable. I've discovered that emery boards make for wonderful sanders on small projects. Having a metal one with what looked like a cheese grater on one side, made sanding the rod much easier. I drilled a hole near the end of the rod, threaded a small bit of wire through the hole and cut one of the wooden discs to slide over the rod and fit over the two ends of wire. I painted it then glued on the head of the mannequin, which makes for a lovely crank pull when colored black (Sharpies give a nice glossy sheen when applied to whatever finish was on the mannequin).

So now my machine was cranky - how nice.

I cut the mannequin's box to pieces to create a wrap around the flapping mechanism and used more of my shrinkwrap to create the stained glass effect - prismacolor markers work very well on shrinkwrap to give the rich colors that mimic stained glass. I glued the wrap onto the supports, then worked on the sign and the closing flap - both of which were made of leftover box board pieces.

I cut and painted the sign, then drilled two tiny holes to attach the closing flap. I stole two hooks from inside the springs of the mannequin so that the flap could hang and be lifted up. I then cut and painted the main flap and drilled matching holes to fit the hooks. A bit of aileen's glue attached the sign to the supports and finished the dream-choosing mechanism. And it's not too far off from what I had originally dreamed.

Now that the mechanical pieces were under control, I thought I should start on the Sandman himself. He's a little droopy-eyed and a bit pale, but that comes from the occupation. And I was a little droopy-eyed and pale, myself as I made him. I started the Sandman sculpture off, oddly enough, with the plastic egg. I cut a small section out to fit two balls of clay and already had the beginnings of a head. I painted the two eyes with the acrylic paint and then added three layers of clear nail polish to give them a deep, wet look. I'll be having nightmares from now on of that one eye that leapt out of the egg and onto the floor for years to come. It. Looked. At. Me. I threaded a long piece of wire through the holes in the Easter egg so that I could later attach the head to the structure for the body. Then I began sculpting the rest of the Sandman's head. A little fleshy-pink paint and I was happy. But he was bald - and we couldn't have that. I took the nylon thread (rolled onto one of the other dowel rods, since the spool was otherwise engaged) and began to color the thread using my yellow prismacolor markers and some orange and salmon sharpies. I cut the nylon thread into short lengths, then teased both ends of the clips until every little hair of the thread was exposed and... fuzzy. Then I took an exacto knife handle I wasn't using and a needle that I didn't need and created a hair punching tool from some instructions I found on the internet. I cut the eye of the needle and shoved the point of the needle into the handle then proceeded to punch each little clip of fuzzed nylon into the Sandman's head. Once I made it around his face, I realized I didn't want to cover the entire back of his head. And since the Sandman has to have a nightcap, I finished and secured the hat before finishing the rest of the hair around the back of his head.

The night cap was a simple triangle pattern cut out of the canvas cloth. I positioned the triangle so as to leave the biggest solid area possible in the rest of the cloth, because I wanted to get a lot out of that one piece. I then used a teal sharpie to color the stripes on the hat and used a needle (with its eye still in tact) and some more nylon thread (that was not teased or colored) to stitch up the hat. I placed the hat on the head and then glued it down (aileen's).

From there, I built the understructure for the Sandman's body. I used a length of one of the square dowels and a piece of the canvas board as a base. (I cut small triangles of the canvas board to hold the dowel straight against the base. I then attached the head to the dowel using the wire I had threaded through the plastic egg. To give the Sandman a little more bulk, I cut the natural sponge and glued it to the dowel. I sculpted two feet out of the clay and attached them to the structure using more wire. Then I used smaller pieces of the canvas cloth and made the Sandman's curly-toed slippers. He's a little old-fashioned, but I think he pulls them off. Then I sculpted two hands from the clay and attached them using more wire - and for a little bulk, I cut pieces of the foam ear and slid them onto the wire to shape the arms. I used the largest piece left of the canvas cloth, to create the Sandman's night-shirt. Since I cut it to fit and didn't need to sew it, I made sure to glue all the edges to keep them from fraying. I drew the stripes with a Sharpie, then attached with more Aileen's glue. I didn't paint any of the canvas pieces during these steps because I didn't want the paint to dry and the canvas to stiffen before I got everything on the Sandman's form. I wanted the cloth to hang, more or less naturally. The marker was great for that. Once everything was firmly in place, I could go back and paint anything as I needed to, without hurting the shape. For the Sandman's robe (a totally different type of shape) I used the sheet of metal mesh and formed it around the arms, neck and back of the Sandman, then slowly covered the mesh in the plaster cloth. Once dried, I was free to paint - same old craft acrylics that have gone everywhere else - just to keep the different mediums looking consistent.

And then I slept.

On the final lap of the project, I used, the styrofoam rod to create the base of my sleepy owl. I used sharpies and paint to give him his body color. I used the same technique as the Sandman's eyes for the owl's eyes (clay, paint, nail polish) then glued them in place. Then I added two small bits of cardstock over the eyes to make the expression a little less surprised. Around the eyes, I used painted cardstock that I fringed with the exacto to give a feathery texture. I used an extra piece of box board to create the big arch to support the wing and painted it - then since it had a very pointy end, shoved it into the owl. I apologized. I used the remaining bits of cardstock I had to create the different levels of feathers on the wing. I used the biodegradable popcorn as spacers between the different layers and as tufts of feathers themselves (colored with a sharpie). I used the last remaining bit of canvas cloth to create a small nightcap for the owl using the same steps for the Sandman's hat. I cut a base for the owl out of the box board, painted it and made a border out of the instruction manual (needed something that would curve) and more of the shrinking supply of shrinkwrap. I colored / painted the set up as well as the still brown section of the hardboard and created two spiral brackets to hold the roost up (made of a spare side of the box) and a bit more aileen's glue.

To finish off the piece, I really thought the Sandman wouldn't be the sandman without something sandy. So I used the stiffest portion of shrinkwrap I had left, and the remains of the mannequin box and two long strips cut from the instruction manual to create an hour glass. And very VERY carefully I poured the sawdust I had collected from cutting the hardboard into the bottom section.

After a particularly poorly timed sneeze, I was sandier than the Sandman, but it cleaned right up.

I set the Sandman into his proper position next to the machine, and set the hourglass under his hand and thought I had made good on my deal with the Sandman. The first time I tried it, it said I would dream about saving a cruise ship from a giant lobster using only a shoelace - and that I would wake up confused.

I didn't. I dreamt about all the different ways I would have to light this little sculpture – and how I would explain the process of how I came to make it. So perhaps, I wasn't quite finished yet. Maybe tomorrow I'll dream of stuffing a dishwasher full of pumpkins until it explodes in a shower of pie

Tools used:
exacto knife and so many blades
Dremel rotary tool with varying attachments and bits
small manual hand drill
emery boards / sandpaper
small clamps
wire cutters
hair-punching tool (home-made)

Mystery Box Materials Used:
The Box (board used to create gears and flipping mechanism, owl perch, owl perch brackets, closing flap)
Shrinkwrap (used in kaleidoscope, wrap around owl perch and flipping mechanism and as hour glass)
Hardboard (cut to make back of piece, sawdust from cutting board to make sand in hourglass)
Canvas board (used as bottom of base, base of sandman and supports to armature of sandman)
Round dowel (used as main gear rod)
Square dowel (used as main support of sandman armiture)
Mannequin (main support rod used in flipping mechanism, head used as crank, hooks from springs used as hinges for closing flap)
Cardstock (used to make owl wings, flipping cards in flipping mechanism )
Mannequin box (used to make stop on main gear rod and wrap around flipping mechanism and hourglass)
Rubberband around dowels (used to turn flipping mechanism)
Plastic egg (used as base of face sculpt)
Foam ear (used to create shape of arms)
Canvas cloth (used to make 2 nightcaps, a nightshirt and a pair of curly-toed slippers)
Clay (used to make eyes,head, hands and feet of Sandman and eyes of owl)
Styrofoam rod (used as spacers in flipping mechanism and as body of owl)
Biodegradable popcorn (spacers and feathers in owl wing)
Nylon thread (used to make hair for the sandman and to stitch together the hats and slippers, spool used to make the flipping mechanism flip)
Wire mesh (used to create shape of Sandman's robe)
Plaster cloth (used to make Sandman's robe)
Wire (used as axles for gears, as rods supporting flipping pages as armiture connections in sandman)
Natural sponge (used to make belly of sandman)
Wooden disc (used to make crank)
Instruction manual (used to make owl perch border and wraps around top and bottom of hourglass)

Additional materials (wet stuff):
inks (marker and bottled)
acrylic craft paint
watercolor paints
glue - aileen's tacky glue
clear fingernail polish

I wanted to build something dreamy for this contest - something colorful that swirls and twists, but more than that. I wanted to build something that I had literally dreamed about. The Sandman's Dream Machine is a dream itself, about how he picks dreams for each individual person, and perhaps this piece is a lesson too, about watching too much Dr. Seuss before going to bed. I suppose in essence, I incorporated the theme by building a dream I had about choosing what dreams to have.