Anonymous interviewer talks with Datamancer in the Key 23 archive.

Publisher’s Note: The interviewee has asked that the interviewer be credited anonymously.

You’ve turned out some amazing work on the spur of the moment in like, one night. Yet, I remember when we were working on “Programming From the Ground Up”, something simple and bland like a cover design had you agonizing for days. When you finally settled on the design, it was almost like an act of surrender. It reminded me a lot of some of Crowley’s commonly stated complaints about writing books, where he would get so frustrated he’d just include a segment he hated, almost to spite the reader and the book. Do you find it harder to work on “normal” design projects? Are they a “necessary evil” for the up-and-coming designer or should people just focus on their work?

Well personally, I work from the heart. If I’m not personally motivated by a project or don’t believe in it, I have to drag myself through it like a crippled mule through the snow to a slaughterhouse. But….as miserable as it is, I think every designer should serve some time in the business world. It gives you a broader understanding of your audience and helps to refine your work ethic. I think it also taught me how to dull the edge of my own perfectionism. In the work-for-hire world, there is such a thing as “good enough”. That was tough to get past at first, and yes, it felt like an act of surrender.

Word Association: DARPA

DaVinci. It seems that all of the greatest engineers and inventors had to pay their dues as military designers at one time or another. As rampantly left-wing as I’ve been for most of my life, I have to say, there is something narcotically appealing about being given carte blanche with a nearly unlimited budget, no matter the application.

You’ve gotten the art of “creatively” obtaining materials and improvisation down to, well…an art. Most of your projects are done on a shoe-string (literally, in a few cases). Does this make you any less sympathetic to those out there complaining about lack of resources? If some wealthy sponsor came along, and offered you all the free materials you asked for (not cash), do you think you’d be happier with that or is the challenge of finding work arounds part of your creative process?

In general, I have very little sympathy for people who cry poverty as an excuse for not doing something. If you’ll pardon me a cliché, if there is a will, there is a way. Almost every project in my portfolio was completed with almost no budget. I rummage trash, I barter, I scour eBay, I steal, I scavenge, I salvage, whatever it takes. For instance, I hacked an old refrigerator apart last summer for the raw steel and I’ve since built about half of my pickup truck out of it including the bed walls, the running boards, floor patches, a fully custom rollpan, the license plate bucket, the two dashboard extension panels, as well as the hands for my Edward Scissorhands costume, the metal frame for my Opti-transcripticon scanner mod, The buttcap for my Espada Suena, some patches for my friend’s old BMW 2002, the faceplate for my bass amp, numerous brackets and small clips, and even a hanging wall mirror for my girlfriend. Just recently, I was chuckling over the number of uses I got out of a cheap, freebie paper desktop plotter. The faux leather corners were used on the Opti-Tran, the first page became the embossing glue template for the cover logo, the next few pages were used as masking paper for the Espada Suena, another one became a template for a new faceplate for my bass amp, and finally the cardboard backing was sliced up to become felted drawer inserts in my tiny jeweler’s workbench, all in the couse of about 2 weeks. Resourcefulness is the most important talent to cultivate.

I’d almost go so far as to say poverty is my muse.

Just believing that you can do something is most of the battle. Confidence is 70% of ability. I don’t mean “self-”confidence in the self-helpy kind of way, but more like the confidence to know that anything you’ll need to do probably isn’t all that different from something you already know how to do. Confidence in the sense that you can plod ahead in a project, not limited by your lack of knowledge in a certain area, and know that you can figure it out as you need to…not to be constrained by thinking within your current abilities, but to think within the bounds of your POTENTIAL abilities.

I hear you’re getting ready to unveil an intricate laptop mod. Tell us a little about it.

Ah yes. That’s my latest creation which I will be releasing very soon. It’s an HP ZT1000 laptop modded into what looks like a Victorian music box. It’s made up of swooping wooden mouldings and stained a rich red mahogany color. The lid features a display of brass clockworks under glass and wooden “gingerbreading”. It has antiqued copper keys, leather wristpads with copper rivets, an engraved brass faceplate, and a bunch of other cool stuff. Keep an eye on the site for photos, specs, and even a few tutorials.

Anything else in the works?

Recently a friend and fellow steampunk contraptor, Jake Von Slatt over at the SteampunkWorkshop(.com), made this beautiful brass keyboard in the style of an antique typewriter. He received a ton of inquiries from people all over the net but wasn’t interested in replicating the design, so he referred them over to me. I’m in the process of saving money for my move to California, so I happily accepted the commission. You can see my version in brushed aluminum on the Datamancer .net website. I am currently taking orders for them and plan on releasing a large batch of similar designs over the course of the next few months. I plan on making a few in aluminum, brass, and copper in assorted finishes and configurations. I am more than willing to customize them to individual preferences though, so people can feel free to contact me with their ideas.