Prototyping a Music Box Mechanism

music box mechanisma made by Gabrielle Nowicki

Sometimes you just want to see if something is possible to make. I’ve been thinking about how fun it would be to incorporate melodies in my automata. There’s pleasure in trying to solve a problem just to see if you can do it. I didn’t want to buy a ready made music box mechanism because it seemed to me that whatever the music box part was, it had to be of similar scale and primitiveness as the automata. And like all of my sculptures, it had to be made of reclaimed materials. So of course, that meant that I had to make it myself

Google searches of “hand made music boxes”  and “hand made music box mechanism” showed countless hand made boxes with bought mechanisms installed inside of them. Many of these were lovely, but that’s not what I was after.

One afternoon, a few weeks ago, the weather was too nice to be stuck indoors. I was in the mood for noodling about,  so I opened all the doors to the garage and began to rummage through my scrap piles for materials.

Immediately, I was presented with the biggest problem, what to make the tines out of. I was thinking about kalimbas, and I knew that rake tines are sometimes used. but I wanted a direct way of attaching the tines to a bridge. The easiest way I thought, would be to use screws; rake tines are too narrow for screw holes. That’s when I came up with the idea of hacksaw blades.

I sized the tines by bending the blades in a vise until they cracked. They were worn out ones that Dave had held onto, because he has a hard time throwing things out, in this case, it was a win for me! I just made 5 of varying lengths. Luckily, they didn’t sound too bad as a group.

music box bridge Gabrielle Nowicki
I placed the tines so that if the bridge was on an angle, they would all be more or less even along their free edges.

The next thing was making the roll with the pins. I used 4 circles cut from a hole saw in the drill press.

circle cutterI want to show how this works. It has two blades that spin around and cut through the wood. You have to be sure you tighten them before you turn the drill press on, though, otherwise you get projectiles flying off the arm of the cutter (yes I have done this).

I glued the discs together and put a dowel through the holes the cutter had made in the drill press.

Next came the melody. Since my notes were randomly generated, I worked with what I had.

transcribing melody for hand made music box mechanism

I made a chart, measuring the circumference and width of my roll and plotted on it where the pins would go. I wrapped the chart around the roll and used an awl to poke holes in the roll where I’d made the marks. Then, I hammered small nails into the holes and clipped the heads off. I didn’t worry too much about the length of the pins.

I built the frame next, using tobacco sticks.  Wooden tobacco sticks were used during harvest, to tie the leaves onto. The sticks were hung in the kiln where the tobacco was cured. I had a bundle given to me from a neighbour, when he stopped growing tobacco.

After building the frame, I mounted the roll onto it and placed the bridge just far enough away so that all the pins struck the tines. I screwed down the bridge and began to adjust the length of the pins. Because I rough measured, things were a bit loosey-goosey; I had to adjust the nails individually, so they hit the tines with just their tips.

Once I tried it, I wasn’t totally thrilled with my melody, so I pulled nails, hammered them in and re-nailed until I had something I liked better. Composing music with a hammer and nails isn’t an exacting process.

This is the final product:parts of hand made music box mechanism

underside of hand made music box mechanism

And here’s a video:

Since making this, I’ve used my prototype to make  an automata with it’s own music box mechanism. It was great, having the prototype to work from. One thing that holds me up, when building, is after having invested so much time working on something, it becomes scary to do certain steps because you don’t want to mess up and have to start all over again. The prototype gave me the plan I needed to get the project done.


Gabrielle Nowicki - Wacom Intuous and Artrage

Gabrielle Nowicki- Wacom Intuous and Artrage

My Wacom graphics tablet gave up the ghost about a month ago, so I had to get another one. It’s an Intuous, I really like it but Windows 10 seems to have issues with it. When I get a chance, I’ll look into troubleshooting it but mostly I’m very happy with everything.

This is my 4th graphics tablet. The first one I got off eBay in 2003. Back then they were harder to come by. It was also an Intuous, but it had a serial port! Remember those? I get a lot of use out of my graphics tablets, so when they cease to function, I figure I’ve more or less got my money’s worth.

This latest tablet came bundled with Artrage, which is drawing and painting software.

I leave a file open and work on it when I need a break. I thought I would like to approach things outside my comfort zone, so I decided to work on faces for a bit. These are two of them


Blustery Day

There’s another special weather statement in effect from Environment Canada, mostly wind warnings. The house is a couple more roof shingles lighter.   We took a quick drive down to the lake to see the wave action. Needless to say, nobody took a dip.

Well, it’s November, after all.

Mail Art

bongo mail art to rf cote, from g nowicki

Sent to RF Cote, yesterday.  It was my turn; the rest of our correspondence is chronicled here.

I found two sets of vintage bingo cards at The Shop, in Strathroy, this card is from one of them. I’ve not collaged since I finished the last of the year of collages. It felt good to make this and as usual, ideas for more came while I was cutting and pasting. They say that a habit can be formed within a month. I’d been making a collages to post daily, for a year, so I guess the habit is deeply entrenched. Last night, I ordered some of my original patterned papers to be printed at Staples, so that I will have a fresh stash of material when inspiration hits.  I’m looking forward to expanding the collage images into larger works, in December. Meanwhile, I’m working some longish hours, getting ready for the Crafted show at The Arts Project.

Fall colours

gabrielle nowicki digital oil painting

Autumn Motion, Digital oil painting. Gabrielle Nowicki, 2015

All this week, the weather has been a throwback to late September.  I’ve been working in the garage in t shirts and even shorts. It’s strange though, because the days are so much shorter now, and the sun is lower, casting long shadows.  By late afternoon, it seems almost disorienting.

Today however, a sharp cold front is on it’s way, bringing strong winds and rain. Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement, just saying in general that the weather is going to suck. The remaining brilliant leaves will be gone by the end of the day, and the trees will be skeletal until next spring.


What’s next?

What's Next? Digital Oil Painting Gabrielle Nowicki

What’s Next?, Digital oil painting. Gabrielle Nowicki, 2015

So, what is next? Now the collage project is finished, I’ve decided to open up my tumblr blog to a wider range of my work and show work in progress. I was thinking about this while working on the image above. The shift is exciting, yet I’m a little bit apprehensive and that surprises me. I think the apprehension even shows in this image

A year of collage

A year ago, I began making small collages and posting one every day, on my tumblr blog. I started making them to use as references for my sculpture and automata; I had no idea I’d keep up the momentum for so long. Today marks a whole year, and the finale of posting these little things. It feels strange, a bit like leaving a job I’ve enjoyed, but I feel a full year of posting is a good time to wrap up the project as I’ve explored everything I’ve wanted to, for now. The tumblr blog will remain, I’ll continue to post work, updates and news.

The first:

tindaisies gabbygubbins on tumblr - collage

 The Last:tindaisies, gabbygubbins on tumblrGabbygubbins

In the Mail

Over on Tumblr, there are a lot of great mail artists. Earlier this year, I connected with Canadian artist,  R.F. (Reg) Cote and we began a mail art correspondence. Reg is the man behind  Circulaire 132, an eight page mail art zine filled with very cool contributions by artists including artist stamps, collage, block prints, ATCs, post cards, poems and more. The pages of each copy are printed and the submitted art and pages are painstakingly assembled.

Reg started things off. I received this post card in March:


I replied with this:


Next up from Reg:

From me (left side of folded collage):

and (right side of folded collage):

Then I received this gorgeous book cover:


Back of collage (original book cover. I love these old covers):

I sent a copy of my first comic, Worng. Reg included spreads from Worng in 2 issues of Circulaire 132. (I now have 3 issues of Circulaire 132):

The latest, I received this in the mail today! I’m looking forward to thinking up something to send back :)

An added bonus is how it comes addressed to you. This is the wrapping for the book cover I received:


And one of my envelopes:

Will keep you updated.

All the best



On My Desk

gabrielle nowicki, tindaisies on my desk, work in progress

Ahhh, the state of my brain

This is what my desk looks like these days. As you can see, lots of ongoing projects. Starting at 12:00 are the circus themed automata I’m progressing slowly with.

In the centre, and 6:00 – ish are two of a series of six wooden jumping jack dolls I’ve completed but have not yet photographed.

And all over the clock, everywhere else, are collage scraps, tools of the trade and just a general explosion which is  a manifestation of the where my head is at.

Lots of work here, in varying states of completion, and now over  200 GabbyGubbins collages for my tumblr blog.

Usually, I like to tidy up and finish projects so there aren’t too many plates spinning up in the air, but you see, my father is very ill and we have all been visiting him as much as we can, these past few weeks.

The projects will get done, in good time.