Monday, July 20, 2015

My artwork that inspired an Invention that became a successful Business

I am going to start by going off topic for this post and tell you about a surprising success I had back in 2002.  At that time I was making turned wood artworks that took the form of undulating shapes supported by legs.  I have sold most of those pieces, but here is a good example:
"Ground Effect" by Guy Marsden
These artworks created a sense that the central lighter colored piece of wood was floating and eventually I decided that I  wanted to create a piece in which the wood actually levitated.  The result was this piece:
"The Mother And Child Reunion"
by Guy Marsden
(this piece is available)
The large yellow "mother" section is actually attached to the tusk shape in the back, while the smaller "child" element hovers just below:
"child" suspended in thin air!
The "child" moves around slightly in air currents but remains about a quarter inch away from the upper section at all times.  When I decided to embark on this project I researched magnetic levitation and eventually decided to develop my own circuit that would accomplish the levitation for this artwork.  (I design electronic products for a living: There is a small powerful magnet embedded in the lower section, and an electromagnet with control circuitry that I designed in the upper section.  It took me about two weeks of research and development to come up with an ideal circuit.

Having completed the artwork, it occurred to me that other electronic hobbyists might enjoy building the circuit that I came up with.  So I approached the hobby electronics magazine: "Nuts and Volts" to see if they would like me to run a construction article.  They approved enthusiastically and my article was published in 2003.  

Authors who publish construction articles often offer a kit of parts along with a circuit board and instructions to make it easier for people to build their design.  So I designed a circuit board, ordered parts and created instructions comprising a total investment of around $500.  I hoped that I would sell several dozen kits over the next few months after the article was published.  Here's a photo from the article showing the original kit levitating a matryoshka doll:
Original levitation kit assembled
I was quite surprised by the response to my kit and in my first full year I sold over $9,000 worth of them!  It was delightful that my email inbox went from: "you've got mail" to: "you got money" as order confirmations came in via PayPal.  Since then, sales have tapered off somewhat but I still sell several thousand dollars worth of them every year through my website:  I offer kits and fully assembled versions and often hear from people that have made amazing projects with the kit - like this wonderful flying bird:
click here to see more projects
I often look back and reflect on the unusual sequence of events that began with creating an artwork that transitioned to designing an electronic circuit that became a successful product.  I think the lesson to be learned here is to always be open to the possibilities and to recognize and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.

To bring this blog post back around to the topic of sustainability, a few years later this experience inspired me to market another product that I originally designed for my own personal use.  This is a solar differential temperature controller used to improve the performance of my off-grid solar thermal heating systems.  I was equally surprised at how easy it was to start the business and how successful it became - I guess I have a knack for starting small businesses.  I eventually developed more sophisticated versions of this basic product and market them from a separate website:
ART TEC SolarSolar Differential Temperature Controllers
There are now hundreds of my products out there in the world improving the performance of off-grid solar heating systems and I feel good that I am making a contribution to this important renewable energy market segment.

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