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Author Topic: What makes an object look steampunk?  (Read 6618 times)
Copper Sulphate
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« on: February 24, 2007, 12:25:25 pm »

I would be interested in hearing people's views about what makes an object look steampunk. By object I am mainly thinking about electro/mechanical contraptions, since that is where my interests are mostly focused. Please feel free to add comments to this thread relating to garments and costumes.

My personal thoughts in no particular order.

Materials visibly allowed: Zinc, silver, gold, brass, copper, iron/steel, hardwood, glass, porcelain, enamel, cloth, leather, rubber, paint, lacquer, chemicals/colourful liquids.

Materials, which are right out when visible: Except for a very few exceptions then synthetic plastics of all types. Aluminium is out as well(!)

Careful with: Garish or bright colours of paint and cloth. Some synthetic colours where not available in the Victorian era.

Style: It would be too easy to just say Victorian era ornamented mechanics. I feel it goes a bit deeper than excessive amounts of rivets, screwheads, cogs and knurly ornamentation.

The best way I have read of thinking about how to envision a steampunk contraption, functional or otherwise, is to consider how someone would build a particular object if A) the creator lived during the Victorian era and B) he or she had no preconceived ideas about how a function 'is supposed' to be done.

An example would be the walking stick valve radio I mentioned in my personal introduction. That is how someone back then tasked with making a 'portable' radio might perhaps have solved the problem, given the technological constraints and knowing that the affluent gentleman would surely be carrying a walking stick.

Your thoughts, please.

C.S.
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« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2007, 02:03:23 pm »

My list of materials is a bit shorter than yours I fear - not because I disagree with your suggestions, of course, but it's all personal.

Brass, iron, copper, glass, quartz, leather, dark woods (varnished), velvet, canvas, lead, mercury (as a weird looking liquid metal), oil, redbrick, paper.

I'd definitely agree that aluminium is right out.  Same for plastics.  I lean away from rubber as a Steampunk material, but that's just personal preference.

Colours - Black, brass, fireengine-red, british racing green, small amounts of very bright yellow as an accent, rust, anything in the brown/burgendy line.  Mostly anything you'd expect to find on a steamtrain livery.

Generally, I'd avoid most blues, clean whites, pastels, oranges (unless brown), purples (unless puce?).
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gozer87
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« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2007, 02:35:43 pm »

To make an object look steampunk to me, it has to be made out of things that were available during the late 1800s.  Brass, copper, iron, leather, paper, horn.  Actually, I'd modify that to say, it should look like it's made out of those things, to allow for artificial ivory and tortoise shell.  They were used in all sorts of Victorian era products.  I think I'd even go so far as to allow bakelite, in moderation.  If it looks like it belongs on the Nautilus, it's steampunk to me.

Cheers,
gozer87
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RPFolkers
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« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2007, 02:46:18 pm »

Actually, large-scale production of aluminium was made possible in 1886, and it was used ornamentally since 1825. The rich even had aluminium cutlery, and the statue on top of Nelson's Column is made of it, as is the cap on the Washington Monument.
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« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2007, 05:28:00 pm »

I'm not sure I could fully describe what makes something look steampunk, but I can give some traits that must be missing to be steampunk.

Non-plastic
not bauhaus or minimalistic
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« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2007, 11:02:27 pm »

Brown leather, dark coloured woods, and brass or bronze. Copper is wonderful too.

Glass, is great, especially when filled with some strange bubbling liquid. Paper and pens are great additions as well.

NO:
Duct tape
obvious glue
plastic
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Jake of All Trades
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« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2007, 11:41:43 pm »

I have a strict "no visible philips-head screws" rule on my projects.  Also, be careful with the use of LED light-even when you've hidden the diodes themselves.  Some colors are OK, but many of the newer ones (especially blue and white) have that odd, otherworldly, UV(?) glow that screams "modern". 

I'd also point out that glues and plastics can be wonderful materials if properly painted.  A simple matte black is often all it takes to make even the most modern plastic look like cast-iron.  The same goes for hard glues like JB Weld, which can be easily disguised as a real weld.

Other than that, you've all covered everything I can think of...

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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2007, 04:33:40 am »

Bright colours were around, indigo, for example. Victorian times were not all that dark and gloomy as many think. That said, steampunk is not a historical representation of that era, but rather science fiction of that era.

Even if a piece is plasticky, I won't go so far as to tell the maker (indeed artist) that it is not steam punk. An effort has been made, and I respect that.

I tend to agree with what all of you have said. Make it so that it looks like it could of been made in the era. Plastic and modern materials are OK if care is taken to make it look correct.

But I digress,
Bright brass, cut glass and crystal, laquor, steel cast and wrought iron. Gears, levers, nice scroll work, burneshed knobs, and naturally, steam.  These all say steampunk to me. Paper lables written in ink add a nice touch.
cheers
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heavyporker
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« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2007, 04:57:13 am »

I want to point out that the plastics section of Wikipedia says that plastics were present in the 1860s-on.

So... if plastic was used *sparingly* and in simple forms/textures, perhaps that might be acceptable. You know, like artificial ivory, celluoids and such.

With the heavy science/engineering aspect of steampunk, one would have to be daft to completely exclude plastic, as long as it's used well and in a plausible manner.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2007, 12:13:24 am by heavyporker » Logged

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Fantômas
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« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2007, 08:15:50 am »

I would be interested in hearing people's views about what makes an object look steampunk. By object I am mainly thinking about electro/mechanical contraptions, since that is where my interests are mostly focused. Please feel free to add comments to this thread relating to garments and costumes.

My personal thoughts in no particular order.

Materials visibly allowed: Zinc, silver, gold, brass, copper, iron/steel, hardwood, glass, porcelain, enamel, cloth, leather, rubber, paint, lacquer, chemicals/colourful liquids.

Materials, which are right out when visible: Except for a very few exceptions then synthetic plastics of all types. Aluminium is out as well(!)

Careful with: Garish or bright colours of paint and cloth. Some synthetic colours where not available in the Victorian era.

Style: It would be too easy to just say Victorian era ornamented mechanics. I feel it goes a bit deeper than excessive amounts of rivets, screwheads, cogs and knurly ornamentation.

The best way I have read of thinking about how to envision a steampunk contraption, functional or otherwise, is to consider how someone would build a particular object if A) the creator lived during the Victorian era and B) he or she had no preconceived ideas about how a function 'is supposed' to be done.

An example would be the walking stick valve radio I mentioned in my personal introduction. That is how someone back then tasked with making a 'portable' radio might perhaps have solved the problem, given the technological constraints and knowing that the affluent gentleman would surely be carrying a walking stick.

Your thoughts, please.

C.S.


I think I have to agree about the plastic, I hate plastic with a passion, and have actually gone so far as to eliminate all the plastic hangers from my closet replacing them with old wooden ones, and you know I feel slightly more healthy as a result. To that I would add that Cardboard is revolting, although I am not sure if I hate it as much as particle board. I also think that the steam punk aesthetic is sadly done a great injustice every time someone decorates something with gears which serve literally no functional purpose at all, it looks OK but the real beauty in gears is when they are in motion, and if they are going to be in motion it isn't much more work for them to serve a function.

any sort of hardwood is fantastic. Gold is obviously better than brass, but beyond this unusual natural materials like ivory, tortoise shell, Narwhal horn or hand blown glass deserve to be included.
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« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2007, 08:22:32 am »

I wanted to say something more, which is that objects used to be manufactured with more than the present in mind, there was no "planned obsolescence" there was only mighty "Quality", and to this end products were manufactured using materials which would last and not merely last but age with grace. We of course would never think of something like a vacuum cleaner being considered a family treasure, but that does not mean that previous generations did not. I like the idea of well made steampunk objects which will be and even look new now, and last, and age with such grace. I think it is strange that everyone wants to rush the aged appearances of their objects, many of those old things were quite beautiful new.
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« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2007, 09:53:50 am »

Well I can't speak for making objects (as in sculpture unless its in a 3d modeling program)
But for much of my drawings I tend to add a fair share of rivets to some of my creations.
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Copper Sulphate
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« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2007, 07:13:36 pm »

Actually, large-scale production of aluminium was made possible in 1886, and it was used ornamentally since 1825. The rich even had aluminium cutlery, and the statue on top of Nelson's Column is made of it, as is the cap on the Washington Monument.

I'm aware of when it was available (though at a price). However so far I was of the impression that it wasn't until the 1920's or so that large scale industrial use became widespread. At that time it was mostly used for expensive and luxury items like airplane fuselages and expensive car bodies.

I cannot recall seeing a Victorian era piece of industrial machinery, which used Aluminium as a main ingredient. But maybe I have just been looking at the wrong pieces?

C.S.
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Jake of All Trades
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« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2007, 08:18:05 pm »

Yes, I'd agree with Mr. CuSO4.  Historical evidence either way aside, aluminum just doesn't look Victorian--which, after all, is what's most important I believe?  Of course, that which was said about other modern materials applies to Al as well.  The gauges on the front of the <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jwhilde/290791949/in/set-72157594363814399/">Telecalculograph</a> are actually made of aluminum, but you'd never know by looking at them (not my manufacture, I might add).
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Slick Mcfavourite
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« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2007, 11:31:34 pm »

Make the object look like you could loose a finger if you're not paying attention. Have all the workings exposed and visible. Pretty much the opposite of today's technology, where everything is tucked away in neat little cases. Also, it helps if it looks like the whole thing could be fixed with either a hammer or wrench.

Course that's just the more industrial strength stuff. For the lighter stuff, hand made looking details and craftsmanship I guess.
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Jake of All Trades
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« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2007, 12:49:37 am »

Make the object look like you could loose a finger if you're not paying attention.

A hearty "haw" to that, sir!  I think inducing a desire to wipe your hands on your jeans after touching said-device it good too  Wink
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The Infernal Mr Adams
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« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2007, 07:58:24 pm »

I have actually gone so far as to eliminate all the plastic hangers from my closet replacing them with old wooden ones

Hey I'm doing that too! I really hate these bent, tube-y plastic hangers that you can get at the 99 cent store (10 at a time) that have invaded my closet.

At Target, you can get a bunch of 5 wooden hangers for 3 bucks, I think....and they look great!
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« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2007, 11:19:25 pm »

it needs to be done. Plastic hangers are a sort of plague....people try to tell me that I am imagining it and that they can not smell the plastic, BUT I CAN SMELL IT! it's like a chemical oily smell, and I have to smoke cigars into my closet to make it go away.
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mulvane
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« Reply #18 on: February 28, 2007, 08:49:54 pm »

I also tire of plastic hangers. Not to mention a good size coat and you need 2-3 of them just to keep them from losing shape and or breaking. I'm not a fan of metal either as they can cause weird rust stains on some clothes I have found. I have in the past fashioned them out of cedar and ran a metal tube into them to add strength. Has a nice smell, keeps the moths out, and it is just another way to have satisfaction from doing it yourself.
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Copper Sulphate
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« Reply #19 on: February 28, 2007, 11:29:33 pm »

Gentlemen,

The olfactory properties of different materials could conveniently be discussed in a thread in Off Topic if you like. Wink This one is about the visual properties of steampunk related materials.
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The Infernal Mr Adams
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« Reply #20 on: February 28, 2007, 11:31:24 pm »

I say rivets Wink
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