Tools are beautiful. Something about design for function makes the result attractive. And rendering designed materials in watercolour can create magic. Aircraft design requires no description and train spotting is a thing. Boats and the supporting technology (and characters) are certainly a worthy subject for a watercolour study. When I worked on the mine I used to love having to go to the open pit to watch the huge dozers, shovels and trucks. Functional design on a mega scale. Where would we be without engineers?

This posting focusses on the beauty of the functional mundane.

Plumbing Kit

Since taking on the discipline of one watercolour-a-day I have sometimes looked into my plumbing kit for subjects to paint. I like the dull shine on brass. The shapes make excellent drawing exercises. And of course good functional design is beautiful.


I can’t do anything with this plumbing kit without two very important helpers – Shifty and Bobbejaan. These are the core components for any workshop ‘op die plaas’. Any farm workshop will have the kit to work with wire. ‘Bloudraad en n Tang’ is the order of the day. Well, mine are a bit more fancy – they are adjustable pliers. Then I have added a good set of knippers which my friend Robbie gave me when I did the steel for a fishpond.


Holding devices

To avoid blood-blisters you have to be able to hold stuff down. When I was a kid I worked on my bicycle with really basic tools and no access to a vice. Man! The frustration! It was one of the first tools I bought after my mate wally got me a used workbench on the mine auction. Apparently this is an ‘Engineers Vice’.

The second vice in the gallery below is a mini-vice I bought mostly because it was just a neat little piece of equipment. It came in a carefully constructed box with wax-paper wrapping. Very cool. I use it to squeeze the last few washes out of watercolour tubes when I recharge my palette. Actually that would make a cool painting.

Then also – as long as I am holding things down, some G-clamps are also handy. The last view has some tomatoes – for free!




As long as we are holding things down, we may as well bolt them to the wall. For the watercolour exercise, more brass and shine!

My High-lift Jack

Here is a piece of equipment that saved my landrover – decades ago when I drove into a mud sink in the Namib. Fortunately for all of us on the trip I found a log that had washed down the Orange River and was able to get just enough lift on the front bumper to get some rocks under the front wheels to reverse out. I also used it extensively to build a rock wall. A whole other story…

I bought this from a guy called Bob who was a Cobol programmer on the mine. He used to call his globals file “Bobglobs”. Later when I joined the team to write code they told me he used to pick his nose as he worked. I always found that quite amusing.

Some other tools

And finally here are some highly functional items from a while back. The first is a “Friend” a camming device from rock-climbing days. My magnifying glass with resident elephant from my days in geology. Below is my “Awl for All”. When I made myself sheepskin boots and a leather jacket I bought the awl from Woodheads in Cape Town because it included instructions on how to sew leather. Good 50s packaging.