Making automata – mechanisms and kinetic artworks with Stephen Guy

Automata, puppets and clocks

Ref: SSS11657

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About this course

Enter the world of engineered art and explore the creative possibilities of low-tech mechanisms and hand power. You will incorporate found materials to make kinetic sculptures or automata.

Course Description

Learn basic mechanical movements and the engineering challenge of making them work smoothly and reliably as you explore how movement can be harnessed to produce kinetic artworks, mechanical toys or automata. You will focus on hands-on prototyping and experimenting, with the aim of understanding the necessity of accurate and quality craftsmanship and engineering for a machine to run well, and to closely observe components to see how they function and problem solve when they malfunction.

The heart of the creative process is a playful and inventive use of any materials that can be recruited to help create striking, funny or strange moving sculptures, anything from conventional craft materials to found objects, toys and junk. The tutor will bring his collection of automata and example mechanisms for studying and inspiration, these will be the focus when learning about the joys and frustrations of building mechanisms.The tutor will also provide an eclectic mix of materials from his own store cupboard, but you are also encouraged to bring in your own bits and bobs for potential use in you own machines, or just to add to the general pool of unpredictable resources.

On the first evening, you will be introduced the tutor's automata, including The Ensemble workshop – a gentle warm up exercise assembling individual machines that are linked up to create one long collaborative moving sculpture. On the first and second days, there will be structured sessions making specific mechanisms, which should also result in the completion of two fairly simple automata. For the remaining days, you work on your own project with the tutor's guidance. 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. The objective is to finish individual projects by the end of the course, but this will depend on the complexity of the piece and an individual's skill and working speed.

A wide range of wood, metal and plastic materials and components will be supplied by the tutor for building the mechanisms. These should cover most general requirements, but you are encouraged to bring your own too.

Summer School highlights:

The Summer School week is an immersive learning experience with more time to develop your creativity and embrace opportunities for creative development beyond your chosen course. A detailed timetable for your Summer School week will be given to you on arrival. This will include:

• Short inspirational talks by tutors and displays of their work

• A short creative experience session in another discipline/media or course

• An optional evening at the Chichester Festival Theatre (if pre-booked)

• An optional lunchtime tour of West Dean Gardens, the historic rooms at West Dean College, or West Dean Tapestry Studio

• A celebration dinner on the last evening, with a surrealist theme inspired by Salvador Dalí, who was one of West Dean founder, Edward James’ friends and collaborators. (Feel free to respond to the theme if you wish.)

• Informal end-of-course group reviews and displays of students' work in studios

As evening events are planned as part of the Summer School week, dinner is included in the course fee to enable all students, including non-residents, to participate fully. A detailed timetable will be given to all students on arrival.

(Please note that plans may be subject to change depending on GOV.UK guidance at the time.)


Timetable for Summer Schools

Several evening events are planned throughout the week, a detailed timetable for the summer schools will be given to you on arrival.

Arrival Day

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).

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 should vacate their rooms by 10am please.

Course Materials


  • On this course the tutor will supply all of the materials including:
  • Variety of wood sections and offcuts, plywood, MDF, dowel; a variety of metal wire and rod; a range of fixings, fasteners and adhesives; craft materials such as card, foam, acrylic paints, felt tip pens and eclectic boxes of junk, curios, toys, found objects.

What students need to bring

  • Check out examples of automata and think of possible ideas for your main project
  • Notepad and pen/pencil
  • You may bring your own tools
  • You are encouraged to bring along any interesting bits of junk, curios etc that could be animated, and any favourite art and craft materials.
  • Do wear clothing and shoes suitable for a workshop and using tools.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Fine art materials if required. Shop also has a limited stock of metal, wire, rods, dowel and wood which may expand the range offered by the tutor
  • Available from tutor:
  • Possibly any unusual or more valuable item of junk or toy, or mechanical component
Wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear i.e. no open-toes or sandals. Safety boots, if specified.


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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