We talk to inventor Tom Lawton about the creative process behind Uplift, a meditative, moving sculpture inspired by spirals
I wanted to create something beautiful that encouraged a meditative state of mind. Something transfixing that stops me from thinking altogether. In the same way I experience tranquillity when I’m in nature. Watching ripples, leaves or birds. Natural patterns.
But not just beautiful to look at, for my mind isn’t just conscious about what I see with my eyes, I’m a designer and I know well the hidden ugliness behind many of the consumable goods we perceive as a necessity today. A smart phone for example uses 75% of the periodic table to make it work. That’s a triumph of human ingenuity, a celebration of what can be achieved with the earth’s remarkable resource but it’s deeply disturbing that we toss them away after two years eager to move on to the next. A smart phone isn’t something I feel comfortable meditating with in the first place. So, no, my creation was not going to use advanced technology.
Therefore, my creation had to be intrinsically simple, sustainably designed, work with renewable operation and be engineered to last a life time. So, I thought about it. A lot. Most of all it had to be beautiful.”
What are your own feelings on meditation?
Life is brilliant. Life is hectic. Life is tough. But life is what you make it. The ups and downs. The ebbs and flows. Good and bad. It’s all fine, even when it’s miserable… because it always changes… the sun always comes. I am not in pursuit of a permanent state of happiness and I think that’s wise. But I do want to feel good about myself as often as possible and every now and then I get stuck, in a rut, like a car wheel spinning in quagmire and I don’t know which way to go, forwards or back and I start to run out of energy. I’m just stuck and it feels awful. This is the opposite to being in a state of flow where the wheels of my mind run free.
I met a wonderful lady once, her name was Jan and she told me that she had a PhD in ‘winning’. In winning, wow, ‘what’s the key?’ I asked. ‘Rest’ she said. ‘I counsel high performance individuals. All these high flyers have everything they need to achieve their goals, to reach their dreams, but if they don’t rest they burn out and they never get there.’
I think I knew this already. The age old adage of ‘take a deep breath’ when life gets stressful is common wisdom, but as life’s frequency turns up the dial on distraction, stress, activity, pressure and ambition, common wisdom can be harder to find. Even when you already know it.
But the result is so clear – a rested mind, body and soul creates a calmer, more contented life. The mind allows thoughts to flow when you feel calm and you radiate your own peace. If you’re super chilled that spills over in to everyone around you and it can be bliss. But how on earth do you maintain that when life’s pressure never ceases to stop? It’s quite an art. I don’t live on holiday and I don’t live in a monastery (thankfully). I have work to do.
What do you do to relax?
About once a year I take a week of holiday. I know, it’s no where near enough and the twenty year old me would point out in an instant that there lies the problem – but I can’t take more time off, I can’t afford to, I am at that stage in my life, I have a young family and a small business and I am always on the back foot. Super creative and super ambitious, but always on the back foot. Slowly forging forwards.
To find peace of mind, running has become my go to release… exercise is a wonder drug and wow has it worked for me. I love it. For two decades I’ve run every other day and I’ve worked through pretty much every problem I’ve faced. It’s been a form of meditation and it’s inspired me too. I am an inventor and for many years I used to meditate, while running, on the idea of turning my energy in to light to keep me visible, which is a problem because I live out in the sticks in rural Wiltshire and I don’t want to get hit by a car. So I invented a thing called a Million Mile Light – it’s neat, it lasts forever and the symbolism of it is magical. You can literally be the light.
But running to relax is kind of crazy when you think about it. It’s so intense, even if you’re fit. So, I have been doing my best to practice meditation at home – and occasionally it works – and I don’t need somewhere special, it could be doing the washing up. But it’s a state of mind I can much more easily reach through exercise or if I’m in deep nature and as I’ve got older, running eights miles is one heck of an energetic way to find serenity and well, looking at the washing up doesn’t exactly get me in the mood to let it go either.
How do you incorporate meditation in the digital world?
I’ve tried meditation apps and I like watching geometrically satisfying videos and animations – but I really don’t want any more screen time in my life! In fact, I’ve started to hate my phone because I can feel its addictive draw on my attention. That’s why I played with the idea of creating a kinetic sculpture of some sort that would evoke relaxation indoors. To encourage me to stop thinking and encourage my flow. It’s often when thoughts and emotions get bottled up and blocked that problems begin. I can visualise flow in my imagination, scouring pad in hand or not, but it would be even better if I could actually see it. Sit me by a river any day, but I don’t have one in my living room.
How did you decide on a spiral design?
One thing I have always been drawn to is geometry. The simplicity of a circle. The strength and versatility of a triangle, the fixed order of a square — but most of all I love spirals. At every scale of nature, they exist to unify physical laws and bring beauty to their worlds — whether being hauled on the back of a snail, sealed inside a rock, disappearing down your plug hole when you brush your teeth or exploding forwards like the helix nebula of a dying star. Spirals delight me.
I have previously experimented be putting spirals in motion and have discovered they can be hypnotic. An upward flowing spiral was what I could visualise in my mind’s eye. Turning in a clockwise direction, like a prayer wheel, so as to evoke the good spirits.
Fortunately I have some wonderful friends who share some of my utopian ideals and we dared to dream a little. Then last summer my friend Ben presented me with a remarkable solar engine that he had built and my whole being raced with excitement, realising in an instant that, combined with a geometrically exquisite, organic spiral, this could be the perfect embodiment of my idea… and so Uplift was born.
Take us through the creative process
I devoted the following six months to designing, testing, building and refining this kinetic sculpture into the most beautiful and calming object that I could make and the result is something that I have poured my heart and soul into and I am incredibly proud. It wakes with the morning sun and sleeps when it sets, also working gently under lamplight.
But to ensure the design would only turn clockwise and therefore visualise an upward flow I had to make it more complicated and that didn’t feel right. It lost the magic. So while I didn’t want to accidentally evoke any bad spirits by having the wing flow downwards it made me question the notion of good and bad spirits! I mean, what are they? It’s just made up, right? Sometimes life is up, sometimes it is down. Good can do bad and bad can do good.
Does it really matter which way the wing turns? I like the sentiment of good spirits but perhaps Uplift should just be neutral and visualize flow. You, as the observer, can then decide if you want to make it flow up or down – the flow is always there, powered by the sun.
There is no wrong or right way. As steam rises, whirlwinds and smoke flow upwards — molten lava, waterfalls and whirlpools flow down. If you live in the northern hemisphere the sun moves clockwise across the sky, in the southern hemisphere the sun moves the other way. So it’s up to you! Uplift comes with a magnetic wand that lets you interact with the wing, choosing the direction of flow.
What’s the next step for Uplift?
I finished the project a few weeks ago and have been sharing videos of my final prototypes to a wonderful response. ‘It’s beautiful and I love it’ are the best possible comments to read and that in itself has been fuelling my creative energy and deep desire to get this creation out into the world. So from early May, Ben and I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise a critical mass of orders that enable us to proceed and make a limited edition batch.
Unlike my previous endeavours, I will be making all of these by hand in my hometown of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, which is brilliantly terrifying.
If you also love it, then I implore your to support this magical project because I know I am not alone in wanting to find more a little more calm, a little more serenity and in wanting less time with my phone, as we all work together to create a more sustainable and beautiful world.
Please help me to inspire the world and share my story or support my campaign. Join me and we can be the flow. Sign up here.