Making automata with Fi Henshall

Automata, puppets and clocks

Ref: S4D11205

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About this course

Experiment with how simple mechanisms can be combined with form to create automata. Explore the combination of movement and materials such as wood, wire, metal tube and sheet, found objects and figures.

Course Description

Be introduced to basic mechanisms and experiment with ways in which they can be combined with form to create automata with a narrative theme. The combination of movement and materials such as wood, wire, metal tube and sheet, found objects and figures will be explored with these simple mechanisms.

On the first evening, you will be introduced to a selection of books and automata that demonstrate the aims of the course and also draw attention to the use of different materials, colour, texture and composition. You will discuss what aspects you particularly hope to reflect in your work with the tutor.

On the next morning, you will be shown examples of the few basic mechanisms which you will be working with, and the various ways these can be exploited, as well as the range of materials and techniques to be used during the course. Explore the combination of movement and materials you wish to work with and the narrative theme of your work, so that you are ready to start work on your automaton by the afternoon.

Expect to work with wood, wire, metal tube and sheet, old tins and found objects. Most materials will be provided by the tutor, but please bring at least one interesting old tin, and any other materials or objects you want to incorporate in your work, to make interesting figures to articulate with these simple mechanisms.

The skills used on the course include the use of a jewellers' saw, a fretsaw/bandsaw, a pillar drill, wood carving with knives and chisels, and painting. You will generally be able to choose which materials, techniques and level of complexity you are most comfortable with, with an emphasis on the combination of different materials, textures and colours. You will continue to work on your automaton until the final afternoon.

In the final afternoon session, we will play with the finished pieces and discuss ideas for improvement, development or future projects.


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, 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


  • Plywood, lime wood for carving, metal wire and sheet, rod, a limited supply of found objects and old tins, fastenings and fixings, bits of brass Meccano and pulley belts, adhesive, acrylic paints as supplied by the tutor.

What students need to bring

  • Any favourite hand tools (marked with your name).
  • An old tin, at least 12cm wide x 12cm high x 12cm deep, which will form the base of your automaton (they needn't be square but if they are smaller than this, everything becomes extremely fiddly). The tutor will provide a few spare tins.
  • Any other found objects or materials you wish to incorporate to make interesting figures or mechanisms
  • A notebook/sketchbook and pencil.
  • Any additional old tins of any size to cut up and any found objects you would like to work with.
  • Acrylic paint and paint brushes if you have them.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Scalpels
  • Paint brushes
  • Any additional paint required
  • Piercing saw blades
  • Available from tutor:
  • A few extra materials to purchase if required


Fi Henshall

Fi Henshall took a sculpture degree at Falmouth College of Arts graduating in 2004. She taught herself to carve marionettes, but found the idea of figures which could be made to perform and act out a scene by anyone even more appealing, and made her first automaton in 2009.


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

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