Award-winning engineer uses unique materials to sculpt the lamps

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Few people would call a carburetor “beautiful”.

This, Morrison acknowledges, is the starting point for what he does.

In his eyes, the beauty is in the engineering. To Blot worksMorrison works at the intersection of art, industrial and mechanical engineering to create whimsical yet functional pieces inspired by architecture, machinery, birds and other forms.

His handcrafted clocks and lamps, made from industrial and decorative heritage materials, are not among those pieces you would want to admire. On the contrary, they beckon you.

engineering art

To illustrate, his balance lamps can be extended or retracted by gently rolling them forward or backward.

His bird lamps, which include a Crane desk bird lamp, mechanical bustard lamp, falcon and even a duck table lamp, have a rack and pinion mechanism that can lengthen the bird’s neck. You can also adjust the angle of the beak itself by loosening and tightening the eyeballs.

Another wonder, Clamshell Alchemist Sculptural Lamp, features a hand-carved oak shell that opens to reveal a light source that shines from the lower shell. The shell can be operated by turning a brass handle connected to a rack and pinion mechanism.

And then there is the Pebble Clock with Kinetic Timer, the first piece he designed for Blott Works with his friend Andy Plant. A brass knob on the timer moves a stainless steel chain and brass pointer around the periphery of the clock case. Releasing the button starts a trip around the clock.

Clearly, his pieces are mechanical marvels with a clean architectural aesthetic. They seem to have a personality of their own, with an added play element.

Go back in time

Dan Morrison in front of his mechanical Hawk desk lamp.

The award-winning artist and engineer lived several lives before embarking on a journey to his studio near Manchester, England.

Born in a parsonage in London, Morrison majored in engineering design and appropriate technology at the University of Warwick.

“We were told that it was the first course in Europe that focused on renewable energy and socially useful engineering. At that time, we were the hippies of the engineering world because of what we were studying”, he says. THAT’S TO SAY.

In the 80s, after graduating, Morrison began making musical instruments.

“In my twenties, I spent hours in bands and in the theatre, performing and composing. It was different from what I do now, but there was always a combination of technology, art, design and music. After that I did a Masters in Computer Science in London, I spent 10-15 years as a programmer in the early days of the internet,” he says.

A different trajectory led him to become an undertaker. “I thought this job could be very interesting, because my father was a vicar and there is a kind of little connection with him. It was about helping people at this time of life. I applied and I got the job. It was very rewarding, but I’m more of a doer and a creator,” he continues.

The builder, who has been dismantling engines since his teenage years, has remained true to his vision. “I always thought it would be nice to end up in my own studio. At the moment mine is in a cellar downstairs,” he says.

For eight years, he has tried to celebrate engineering and design.

“The workshop is very small, with very simple tools and a lathe. It’s where I spend all my time. I go out sometimes, but I’m very happy here”, he tells us.

Interesting Engineering (IE) sat down with Morrison to choose his brain.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

THAT’S TO SAY: Tell us about your design process.

Dan Morrison: I have a love for engineering, art and design, which I’ve always wanted to combine and create something unique. Most people have one or the other – they are either about function or about beauty. To me they are both intrinsic and part of the same thing. I wanted to use metal and wood together to give them that mechanical or scientific engineering feel. And, of course, I wanted it to be functional. The first thing I prioritize is the mechanism – like the gear linkage – and the next is the design. Working in theater for a long time has influenced me as each piece of my work has character and personality.

THAT’S TO SAY: What is the aesthetics and practicality behind the use of metal and wood?

Let There Be Light: Award-Winning Engineer Uses Unique Materials to Sculpt Lamps

Right: Crane table lamp. Left: Daisy Crane table lamp.

I use a special type of aluminum that has been anodized – much of the gray color you see is hard anodized. What’s nice is that for me it then becomes an industrial process and not a decorative one. It has a hard finish, but at the same time it has a nice matte gunmetal gray. So it’s beautiful, but it’s purely practical. This is the essence of what I do. And I always try to combine the wood, which is usually oak, because it’s a good solid industrial wood with an English overtone. I also add a bit of brass to give the object a little more pep. It’s a delicate balance with all of those things. There are also some stainless steel fittings for that bit of sparkle. I keep reworking these four or five materials, which now have a Blott Works identity. It’s good to restrain yourself; otherwise, you end up constantly exploring new things all the time. It’s nice to work with a simple set of things.

My aesthetic would probably be soft industrial, with wood making up the organic part and metal completing the technical part. I don’t think many of my clients play with a handle every day, but just the fact that you can do it is so satisfying. There is something very beautiful about simple engineering for me. People do great things, but they tend to make them much more complicated. Most of my time is spent simplifying the design.

Quotation

There is something very beautiful about simple engineering for me. People do great things, but they tend to make them much more complicated. Most of my time is spent simplifying the design.

THAT’S TO SAY: Why is the interactive element essential to your work?

It is fundamental for me. Instead of working, you could be playing with this lamp on your desk – you’ve got this cute thing that’s not only beautiful and functional, but also interactive – and makes you smile. Many of my clients tell me that my lamps make them smile because it’s beautiful, a bit silly, and it has personality. The handle with a rack and pinion is the simplest technology, but people say “wow, that’s so smooth”. Engineers, architects, and people who have been involved in that kind of world like nice things that are also going to be a little fun. Not that serious.

THAT’S TO SAY: You mentioned that it was good to restrain yourself. How do you see your work evolving?

Let There Be Light: Award-Winning Engineer Uses Unique Materials to Sculpt Lamps

Left: Pebble clock with kinetic timer. Right: Wing Nixie desk clock.

Yeah. Well, there are two things there. Artistically, I would like to evolve in all kinds of fields. But now most of my time is spent on Balance lamps, mostly from a business perspective. It’s pretty hard to take advantage of the other things I do. These Balance lamps can be much cheaper than others. So for me, for now, the focus for next year will be to do more of a production line. I do 50 at a time now. Normally I do one or two at a time. But you come back after two months to do another one, and you realize that you forgot to do it and you can’t find the notes. It’s not the most efficient way to do things.

So to answer the question, I think I’d like to take this line of these new lights a step further. What I like about them is that they all have the same materials that I use for everything else – everything is stripped down and simple. And it’s just about balancing gravity – just a counterweight and a central hub that pivots around everything. I would like to work more on the balance of gravity. I’m 60 and I don’t have many years left. So I try not to be too ambitious now. And so, I think it’s less about new things than about consolidating what I already have. And maybe variations of that, because of the weather, and I don’t have as much energy as I did ten years ago.

THAT’S TO SAY: What do you do when you’re not at the studio?

As you know now, I’ve had quite a few different careers, so it’s a lot of different lifestyles – living in London and going out every night and all that kind of stuff. What I love about my life now is that I’m in one place, keeping it simple and putting all my energy into my work. So in my free time, my wife and I go for walks and runs a bit. We just got a new Chihuahua puppy called Winnie – she takes up a lot of our time because we love her so much. I also like Netflix and YouTube a bit. Then I have a group of friends I meet for a pint in the pub. I like motorcycling – I have a gang and we go on tour several times a year. We are going to Spain and Portugal next month.

I like to go dancing but I like to be in bed at 10 p.m. So that kind of makes it difficult. But… I just like being here; I have everything I need. My wife is upstairs. Why would I want to go out?

THAT’S TO SAY: Is there a specific creation of yours that your wife loves?

It’s a good question. She loves my work and is proud of it. She is a teacher and has a tutoring business for kids in the middle of town. And so whenever I have one of my lamps or a clock waiting to go somewhere, it’s always put there, at its place of work, because it insists that parents and children see it. I think she likes bird lamps and cranes. She has a crane on her desk right now, which is still in all the photos.

THAT’S TO SAY: Finally, why the name “Blott Works”?

Blott is my great-aunt Mary’s last name. She was really like a grandmother – she raised my mother. Mary Blotts was a fantastic and sensible woman, absolutely indestructible, caring and loving, but very strong and inspiring. She died at the age of 101. And I have always loved his name, as well as his love. So I wanted to use it. I don’t know what she would think of my lamps…probably rolling over in her grave. But for me, it’s like a bit of a tribute to her.

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