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A few weeks have passed since the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire 2011 and I’ve been enjoying some follow-up visits with some of the many makers I met at the event. Time was short during the one-day fair, so I didn’t get to visit much with Alliene Bouchard, an Atlanta-based maker. Alliene (pronounced Ollie-yen) impressed me with his brass cast triple-gear kinetic ring — you twist the ring on your finger (one gear) and the two smaller gears mounted on top of the ring spin up. I wanted to see more of his work, so I paid a visit to his workshop to see more of his kinetic projects and visited with him and his lab assistant (and girlfriend), Jamie Sichel.

Alliene earned a B.A. in Fine Art from the University of Georgia, and his project ideas tend to focus on kinetic art and the use of mechanisms in his designs as well as some dabbling in jewelry making. The ring, for example, is just one of many types of jewelry that he designs, casts, and assembles by hand. Alliene showed me the wax masters he uses to create his custom jewelry such as the gear ring, and the fragility of the small pieces made me very nervous to hold. The finished ring, however, was as solid as it could be, and the rotating mechanism built into the ring that spins the gears on top has a strong, industrial feel to it.  Alliene pulled out an assortment of small items that he has designed — a box with a secret mechanical latch, an unfinished pair of lenses for some goggles he’s designing, some etched brass art, and a few other curious trinkets that you can see in one of the images here.

One of the larger items that immediately caught my eye in his shop was his Lotus Table. Alliene tells me he spent months just trying to understand its basic functionality and how best to incorporate it into a table. The table is made of layers, and turning one of the middle layers opens the iris and provides small petals that increase the surface area available. The movement is quiet and smooth, and Alliene hopes to scale up the prototype table and offer it for sale to organizations looking for this kind of unique furniture item.

When Alliene mentioned selling the handmade tables for functional use, he directed my attention to his mechanical Zen garden. It’s a round tub filled with a very fine sand on a tabletop that spins.  He places various sizes of ball bearings into the sand, turns a switch, and I get to watch as a pattern develops from the marbles movements.

After the smaller Zen garden unit had finished its movement, Alliene put together a larger version on the floor, but one with a twist. This larger version provides a hand-crank control that allows the user to move a ball bearing forward and backwards as the tub spins, allowing for more unique patterns to be drawn in the sand. He’s also hoping to turn this into a functional piece of furniture that he hopes to produce and sell for use in lobbies or coffee shops where visitors can press a button to reset the device and spend some quiet time drawing patterns in the sand.

You can view more of Alliene’s work by visiting his two websites The Workshop of Alliene Bouchard and Enginivity. You’ll find many more photos of his designs as well as some videos of various projects in motion. I asked Alliene to summarize his design methodology, and here’s what he said:

Successful design is achieved through effective problem-solving with specified goals. Deciding what those goals are and how best to accomplish them is what defines a person as a designer. The purposes of my projects tend to center around playful interactivity and (hopefully) useful insights and inspiration to be gained when people venture outside of whatever they might be accustomed to. Some of my work has an element of Zen, as I find the balance of conscious challenge and calm focus to be the most productive mechanism for growth. I call it the Zen Spot.


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