Surreal automata – weird and curious moving sculptures with Stephen Guy

Automata, puppets and clocks

Ref: S3D11370

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About this course

Create unexpected and curious moving sculptures using doll parts, your imagination and a nod to Surrealism, in the spirit of College founder and Surrealist patron Edward James.

Course Description

This course combines a taste for the surreal with learning how to build and control basic mechanisms to create strange and surreal kinetic artworks. The making process is hands-on prototyping and experimentation, assessing what works and what does not, both aesthetically and mechanically.

You will get to appreciate that accurate craftsmanship is necessary to produce well-functioning machinery, and that an eye for detail is required to identify and rectify problems

The underlying creative principle is curious and adventurous experimentation, to spend time composing or juxtaposing bits and pieces together to create different, unpredictable and surprising results. The mechanism is then designed to support the composition, to heighten its character and qualities

You will also consider factors that may impact on the resonance of the artwork and how viewers perceive it, such as using hand or motor power, and if motor powered, ways of triggering the action (timer, button or motion sensor).

The tutor will provide an eclectic collection of junk, dolls and toys for the creative imagination, and an extensive collection of materials and components for the engineering and electrical side. You are also encouraged to bring along anything you may wish to include.

Initially there will be structured exercises to learn about some construction basics, such drive belts and motors. Also some deconstruction - taking apart dolls and toys to reveal hidden design features. You will start developing ideas for sculptures and the mechanisms to animate them. Under the tutor's guidance, these are developed to completion in the remaining two days.

You must be prepared to come up with your own ideas, work on your own initiative, and be willing and able to use power tools, with instruction as necessary.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • On this course the tutor will supply all of the materials including
  • Variety of wood(s) sections and offcuts, plywood, MDF, dowel
  • Variety of metal wire and rod
  • A range of fixings, fasteners and adhesives
  • Craft materials such as acrylic paints.
  • Eclectic boxes of junk, curios, toys, found objects

What students need to bring

  • Look out for any interesting dolls, junk, curios etc. that could be used in your work
  • Check out examples of automata and think about possible ideas for your main project
  • Notepad and pen/pencil
  • Wear clothing and covered footwear suitable for a workshop and using tools.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Fine art materials if required.
  • A limited stock of metal, wire, rods, dowel and wood, which may expand the range offered by the tutor.
  • Available from tutor:
  • Electrical components such as motors, timers, motion sensors (max £5 per item).
  • Possibly any unusual or more valuable item of junk or toy, or mechanical component.
Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear i.e. no open-toes or sandals. You may need safety boots, if specified above.


Stephen Guy

Stephen Guy is a practical hands-on maker and mechanical artist specialising in running automata. He regrets the apparent demise of people's ability to use tools, to repair, hack and maintain the physical things on which they depend. He wants to help revitalise a practical and inventive making culture, and raise the status of skilled craft and technical work.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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