We were lucky to catch up with Tom Haney recently and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Tom thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Can you open up about a risk you’ve taken – what it was like taking that risk, why you took the risk and how it turned out?
I try to take small risks with each new artwork. I try to push myself to do something I’ve never done before. Most of these risks are mechanically related – part of my kinetic, figurative sculptures – AKA automata. Back in 1994, when I started making kinetic pieces, I would make very simple, straightforward mechanisms – basically marionettes operated by levers, with keys for the “operator” to press to move the figure(s). Over the years I’ve progressed into more complicated mechanisms – as my knowledge of mechanical apparatuses expanded. I’ve used gears, cams, lever, various clockwork techniques, and even wind-up motors from old 8mm cameras and antique Victrolas. Not seeming like big risks, but anytime one is working with a handmade and/or salvaged mechanism, there’s always a lot of ‘trial and error’ work. With this method there is no way to determine how long a piece might take to finish – and sometimes it never gets finished. Sometimes one’s risks don’t pay off. Things don’t work out and ideas have to be scrapped. This happened early on in my career. I was planning on making a piece with multiple figures – all playing band instruments, with a conductor out front conducting. I didn’t even get to making any of the figures because my “mechanism” just wasn’t working. After learning a hard lesson, I finally decided just have the conductor, and I really simplified the piece. I reworked it and eventually sold it. Also, since my prices are based on the time it takes to make a piece, the riskier the endeavor, the more the piece might venture into the realm of being “too expensive” for how the piece ultimately turns out. Luckily, the people who collect my work understand what goes into this kind of artwork, and they realize my process is not always linear.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
Before I became a full-time artist in 2000, I made props, models, and miniatures for TV, film, and advertising clients. This work was always in a freelance capacity – this gave me free time to make other things. I started to teach myself to carve in 1993, and in 1994 I made my first articulated figure. It didn’t work for what I intended, so I decided to put the figure on a “stage” and have keys out front to operate the arms and legs. This was my very first piece of kinetic artwork and lead me to what I’m doing today. I went to college for Industrial Design, and thought I’d be a designer, and make art in my spare time. Happily that didn’t work out, as I wanted to be an artist, ever since I was a child. Basically I create figurative, narrative artworks – most of the time kinetic, but sometimes not. Lately I’ve been creating commissioned artworks for people who want a special piece for a loved one. It could be a special birthday, anniversary, or other memorable occasion. I love doing this kind of work, and love collaborating with people to capture a significant moment in their life. They end up with a singular heirloom creation that will be cherished for years.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
For me, the most rewarding aspect of being an artist, is seeing the fruition of my God-given talent. Many people possess this talent, but not everyone gets the opportunity to exercise it. I’ve known that I had artistic talents from a very young age – I had older brothers and sisters who recognized my abilities when I was a child. I was blessed to grow up in a creative family, and though my father didn’t choose a creative career, (my mother was a music teacher), I think it was innate in both of them. Each of my 10 brothers and sisters received various amounts of creative gifts. In my teens, I thought I might follow my father’s footsteps by studying accounting in college. Even he knew I should pursue something more creative – certainly not accounting. I ended up studying Industrial Design, and even though I’m not in that field today, I appreciate what I learned, and am thankful for that designer’s mindset. I look at thing differently – and am sure I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for my ID background. Sometimes I wonder what I’d being doing if I’d studied art in college. Oh sure, I took art electives (and loved them) in college, but I never got that ‘artist’s mindset’. Traditionally trained artists think differently from me, and I’m good with that. So far, I’ve enjoyed my journey, and am excited about where it might take me. I want to continue to explore more varied paths in the future.
: Is there a particular goal or mission driving your creative journey?
My initial goal, when I started out in 2000, was of course to survive – to make a living as a full-time artist. I knew pretty soon that things were going to be okay, as I had a few very successful shows and sold many artworks. Though I had no idea what challenges lie ahead. 9/11 changed everything – at least for a while. People stopped coming to art fairs, (my main source of income), and people stopped buying art in general. The economy turned sour. Things got slim, and I could look back on the year 2000 and could see how great things were then, economy-wise, and sales-wise. Over the years, things have been up and down – so my ‘success’ has been up and down. (I don’t need to mentioned the 2008 downturn of the housing market, and the many years it took to recover.) But I have survived – even flourished. I want to think it’s because I strive to make my work better and better with each new piece, and I try to do everything I can to get the word out – yes, on social media and the internet.