Loyal readers of Art Regard will have noted that, to date, I’ve made rather scant note of a public art commission I was awarded last year. Nearly all I’ve made mention of is the project’s intended location: Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Does that mean I’ll be living and working in Oklahoma for a while, as some have asked me? 

Although I have made a few brief trips to the city, thankfully only about an hour and a half from Colorado Springs or Denver by air, no – my role in the project can primarily be played from the Springs.

After months of preparation and a few unanticipated delays getting some required insurance on my end, at last, the contract was signed by both me and, on behalf of the city of Tulsa,  Mayor G.T. Bynum, about a month ago. 

And while a coordinated announcement of the project is still yet to come, I will reveal that the piece will consist of three primary elements which hearken to Tulsa’s past, its present, and (via the piece’s focal point) its future

From a design and fabrication perspective, one of the three elements is relatively straightforward. 

The other two… not so much. The bulk of my time on the project has consisted of tweaking and honing and getting close to finalizing a design that will be plugged into software for stress-testing which has easily entailed hundreds of emails and scores of phone calls, conference calls, and physical meetings with my graphic designer, four 3D modelers, two architecture firms, two structural engineering firms, a slew of suppliers and fabricators in I’ve lost count of how many states, as well as representatives from the city of Tulsa and the selection committee.

Assuming no changes are required, the design will then pass to an architectural and engineering firm in Tulsa to add further structural elements and produce stamped and sealed drawings for the city of Tulsa to scrutinize. Pending the passing of that review, physical fabrication of the piece – both in my studio and elsewhere – can, at long last, commence.

On the side, I’ve also been working on a loose, gestural representation of the primary element of the piece, for the purpose of promoting the project. 

There are a number of factors that have contributed to a design that initially seemed relatively straightforward, but has already proven to involve myriad complexities. One overarching factor has been ringing in my ears for weeks – the same one that has echoed in my studio for decades…

For years, before transitioning to making art in 2012, I was a custom props builder, and nearly everything I made was “client-driven”. In other words, I would be hired to fabricate something that a company or organization desired which couldn’t be bought off the shelf.  

My first job at the outset of each potential project was to bid on it – to make a convincing case that the cost I’d be asking the client to pay was fair and equitable, and hopefully within their budget, which, oftentimes, wasn’t stated. 

Let me tell you – bidding/estimating is a rather perilous art form in and of itself.

It’s a bit like trying to move a futon frame. Recall futons? Ever try to pick one of those hateful, folding futon frames up to move it to another room, or, more likely, the dumpster? Why, the things could mash your fingers in any of a dozen or more devious ways.

Bidding on projects similarly involves a lot of hazardous moving parts. An extensive study is beyond the purview of this post, but suffice to say, shoot too high, and the client will look elsewhere for their current project (and, good chance, any others that might’ve come down the pike). Too low, and while you might get the job, financially, you’ll be running just to stand still. (Incidentally, this is a major problem for many visual artists as well – underselling yourself may produce more sales, but is it sustainable in the long run?)

Over the fourteen years I hung a shingle as a custom props builder and the approximately one hundred and fifty discreet projects, large and small, that I tackled during that period of time, estimating got somewhat easier. In part, that’s because experience created fewer opportunities to be blindsided, though I’m well aware that substantial opportunities for stepping on a rake yet exist. 

Early on, though, bidding on a project – estimating the cost of the time, materials, overhead, and profit involved in projects, especially when they entailed, as they often did, materials and/or processes I had never used before, and at times had never heard of anyone using before – was kind of like being handed a rifle and attempting to hit a moving target. 

While blindfolded. 
And with my family, gagged, bound, and huddled together, wide eyed in fright, somewhere within range. 
One mistake, and we all would pay for it.
After some particularly painfully time-costly projects were completed which entailed many more hours and/or more wallet-emptying than I’d projected, I began to write down certain sayings. Mental measuring tools that I needed to use to check my numbers prior to presenting a number to the client. One of them, already mentioned, quickly rose to the top of the list of the ones most frequently uttered.

Curves are costly.

My oft-employed saying’s origin began on graph paper. Decades ago, one disparate offshoot of my one-man design/build business involved creating custom reception desks for local businesses. When I was designing one of my first desks, I got out an architect’s compass and put a couple nice, quick, innocuous curves in the plan view, or top-down view, of the sketch. It took mere seconds to do on paper…

but then I got the job.

Having built a few straight-edged desks prior, I knew how about long each step in the process generally took. Yet this desk, I was now estimating, was taking approximately four times longer to construct, all due to one unexpected complexity:

that of birthing in the third dimension the curves I’d conceived of in the second.

“These curves I designed,” I thought to myself with a frown, “sure are costly.”

After finishing the project and receiving the resulting pitifully insufficient payment (relative to the additional time I hadn’t accounted for), my thoughts about the curve ball I’d thrown myself by nonchalantly throwing a curve into the design hit me full force. 

Never again did I want to make the mistake of assuming that what can be swiftly executed in 2-D would necessarily translate to the same in 3-D. I’d rather ruin my back and sleep on futons for the rest of my life than neglect this saying. 

So I thought.

They say rules are meant to be broken, and the funny thing is, these days, nearly everything I make involves creating curves. The human hand, my primary sculptural motif of choice, is a wonderfully complex form – anything but straightforward to make or to install. 

It’s all curve.   

Hence, in terms of the time it takes to make each sculpture, it’s all costly. 

Lest it be assumed that the lesson “curves are costly” is intended to impart is to avoid curves at all costs, it isn’t. Not necessarily. 

I’m just saying one ought to look before they leap, 

count the cost, 

then – if it involves curves – double it, triple it, maybe quadruple it.

Curves are costly is anything but one-dimensional – how could it be? It applies to all sorts of things we creatives do to ourselves on a regular basis. 
Why, as alluded to in prior posts about the Tulsa project, I’m about to throw you all a major curveball in the public art piece I’ve conceived and been asked to create. Advisedly so.

Curves are costly. 

It’s a handy way to describe the phenomenon that, despite ourselves and today’s fair warning, most creatives, me included, will continue to experience.


Because some rules are made to be bent, and bent, and bent even further. Resulting, in the current project for Tulsa, in some mind-bendingly complex computations and conversations.

Brings to mind yet another self-created sayings I’ll highlight on the blog in coming days:

The things we make to make the things we want to make.

Stay tuned for more…