Surreal automata – curious moving sculptures with Stephen Guy

Ref: S3D32948

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About this course

Create unexpected and curious moving sculptures using doll parts, your imagination and a nod to Surrealism, in the spirit of College founder and Surrealist patron, Edward James.

Course Description

This course combines a taste for the surreal with learning how to build and control basic mechanisms to create surreal kinetic artworks from ready made objects, such as dolls. The making process is hands-on prototyping and experimentation, assessing what works and what does not, both aesthetically and mechanically. You will get to appreciate that accurate craftsmanship is necessary to produce well-functioning machinery, and that an eye for detail is required to identify and rectify problems.

The underlying creative principle is adventurous experimentation. You will spend time composing and juxtaposing bits and pieces together to create curious assemblages, doing so in tandem with considering what mechanical movements best enhance and heighten its impact and character. Success lies in harnessing the qualities of basic movements, rather than making complicated mechanisms.

You will also consider factors that can affect how people react to an automaton, such as whether it's powered by hand or a motor, and, if motor powered, how it might be triggered into action.

The tutor will provide an eclectic collection of junk, dolls and toys for the creative imagination, and an extensive collection of materials and components for the engineering side. You are also encouraged to bring along anything that may be of use (nothing too heavy though).

The first (evening) session will introduce the tutor's automata and collection of mechanical toys, and there will a structured warm-up mechanism-making exercise.

On the morning of the first day, there will be a workspace and tool induction, and another structured making excercise to learn about some construction and movement basics. In the afternoon, you will start developing ideas for sculptures and the mechanisms to animate them. Under the tutor's guidance, these will be developed to completion in the remaining two days.

You must be prepared to come up with your own ideas, use your own initiative, and be willing and able to use power tools, with instruction as necessary.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • On this course the tutor will supply all of the materials, including:
  • Variety of wood(s) sections and offcuts, plywood, MDF, dowel
  • Variety of metal wire and rod
  • A range of fixings, fasteners and adhesives
  • Craft materials and tools, such as card, scissors, felt-tips
  • Eclectic boxes of junk, curios, toys, found objects

What students need to bring

  • Look out for any interesting dolls, junk, curios, etc. that could be used in your work
  • Check out examples of automata and think about possible ideas for your main project
  • Notepad and pen/pencil
  • Wear clothing and covered footwear suitable for a workshop and using tools.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Fine art materials if required
  • A limited stock of metal, wire, rods, dowel and wood, which may expand the range offered by the tutor
  • Available from tutor:
  • Electrical components such as motors, timers, motion sensors (max. £5 per item)
  • Possibly any unusual or more valuable item of junk or toy, or mechanical component

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no sandals or open toes).


Stephen Guy

Stephen Guy is a designer-maker specialising in mechanical art or automata. He discovered automata at the legendary Cabaret Mechanical Theatre many years ago and still works closely with them. He also works as Fire the Inventor running creative workshops and producing kits that explore how mechanisms work, the science behind them, and how art can be engineered.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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