Recently, while cruising through Youtube, I came across some of the amazing Kinetic Sculptures by Bob Potts.  Check them out below:

I was deeply inspired by the work that he does.  I’m not a huge fan of gears for gear’s sake, as much of the “steampunk” fashion has been for the past few years.  Mr. Potts here uses gears, but only exactly what is needed.  Everything he uses has a beautiful function, and the result is a majestic, almost organic motion that keeps me spellbound.  When I watch these videos I find my eyes darting over the bearings and curving armatures, trying to figure out how it all holds together.  But when the camera zooms out my jaw drops at the overall beauty.
Being rather inspired, I decided to send him a doting email, with the full expectation that it’d most likely be ignored.
Here’s my email to him:


I just finished watching every youtube video of your kinetic sculptures that I could find.  I am highly impressed by the complex motions you are able to develop out of the relatively simple cams and gearing.I’ve got a physics/engineering background, but lately I’ve found myself in the art world, where I’ve frankly been a fish out of water.  I’m inspired by your work, and interested in some of your techniques.

Just so you get an idea of who I am, I’ve built machines for music videos, my own electric car, and most recently a bicycle powered dining table (please excuse the bad video quality.)

Enough about me, though, I’m interested in you and your background.  How did you come to start building the amazing contraptions you build?  Are you from a Fine Arts background or from an engineering frame of mind.  Where do you source your parts?  Many kinetic sculptors source parts from found equipment.  The gears you use look like they’re either home-made (impressive!) or catalog purchased.  Are these machines made out of stainless, or is it polished steel that I’m looking at?  What sort of tools do you employ?  Mill, lathe, and TIG welder?  Do you do your own casting?  When you work, do you come up with a plan to execute, or do you start tinkering away and arrive at a contraption?  Any lessons for the beginner artist?  Are your pieces commissioned, or do you sell them after you make them?  I hope I’m not asking inappropriate questions.  Feel free to ignore any questions you don’t wish to answer, or the entire email.

Thanks for the inspiration, either way!


And here’s his awesome response.

Hi Dan,Thanks for you very nice response about my work.About me, well I am 70 years old born and raised in San Francisco. Loved to work in my dad’s shop and was a Hot Rodder and motorcycle gear-head from an early age. Did the Navy, then a couple yr’s at SF city collage, learned a little math and dropped out of the institutional thing. Pop got me into the carpenters union.My older brother, Artist (Hada) Don Potts was teaching a UC Berkley and asked me if I would help him with a long term project called “My First Car” which introduced me to the Art world in Berkeley in the 60ies. He was my mentor and a true Artist that time I started playing fiddle in the Old Time style. The project took about 6 years and did a tour of the countries top museums. It is hard to find, but the ar-t site may help. It was a remote control car and three more variations of the first. That is when I was introduced to the creative process in depth and  my machine and welding capabilities grew.After that I played and toured with an Old Time stringband “Highwoods Stringband”. That brought me here to the east cost. After seven years of traveling it ran its course. I stayed here, and reverted back to my carpentry skills, got married, had three kids. Built a house, planted a garden, you know “back to the land’. It’s a good life.

I got a job with a couple of brothers building a Corvette with rear wheel steering. To get the funds for that and another IMSA car we built automation machines for the computer industry. The money ran out for racing so I left.

That’s when I met George Rhoads and built rolling ball sculptures (audio Kinetic Sculptures) for 20 yr’s. In the meantime realizing that I had to create my own work. Here I am using the tools I have learned to use by the seat of my pants. My pallet is made up of gears, bearings, nuts and bolts etc. I have a small one man shop in a 1850’s barn. Woodworking shop and a machine shop, TIG and MIG welders. I like to use all mediums. I have done allot of dumpster diving and am inspired with found objects. I also have lots of catalogs for gears. bearings etc. I like to make pieces that will last. I use mostly mild steel clearcoated and waxed.

I do tinker away and come up with ideas. I make stick models to work out geometry. No high powered CAD programs here. Much of the time what I start out with is much different then the results. It is very rewarding to see a piece grow and evolve.  I am looking for the gracefulness that surrounds us, I use the talents I have to try and bring it forth.  I do sell my work and would consider a commission but am a little hesitant of restrictions and deadlines.

Enough about me, I checked out your sites and am blown away. I have a 66 TR4A IRS.  Haven’t driven it for awhile, its been on jack stands for 10yr’s, kind of a painting on the wall. I have thought of making a electric car, but… Now the” This To Shall Pass happening” had me spellbound and laughing out loud. I am envious.  When I built for George Rhoads it was business and sell it. What I saw was fun and profound!  And the pedal powered dinning table. Man I would love to have a dinner invitation, do you live down the road?

As for art, and being a fish out of water. I would say yes, and many say the fish came out and walked. well that’s what you are doing I think your work is great. Is not Art the reflection of the evolution of the artist. My brother Hada told me once when I asked what is art, he said “Thou Art.”

Best to you,
Bob Potts

I was truly honored to receive this email from Mr. Potts.  Not only did he take the time to read my email and follow my links, but he answered all of my questions and even through in some great ego-boosting comments!  I have some table-top sized projects planned in the future, and Bob has given me just the inspiration to pursue them.  Thanks, Bob!


Due to all of the traffic from ThisIsColossal, I decided to add some more information about Bob.