Fyodor Krasniy isn’t your average artist. This Soviet-born designer is a self-described “steampunk supervillain” and has always been fascinated by mass manufacturing, Art Nouveau, and automatons. He now sells his creations through his own company, appropriately named Madness & Tea.
He began his art career about ten years ago as a silhouette artist/painter hand-cutting steampunk portraits and characters from black paper. Later he bought a small sticker-cutting machine, which made producing his silhouette art much easier. Eventually, he came across a “vectorization method” that introduced him to the world of CAD (Computer Assisted Design) and CNC (Computer Numerical Control), allowing him to have greater ease and control with his work. He then decided to set out to solve what he felt was the biggest problem with modern mass manufacturing: A lack of creativity.
Krasniy’s first exposure to laser engravings was at a small artist market one day where he was intrigued by small intricate wooden jewelry, and later found out they were made with a laser. With a small loan and a lot of help, he ordered a cheap $1,500 knock-off 40 watt laser and was taken by the time he made the first cut.
As for his own unique self-identity, since his teens, Krasniy has believed that the archetypal “supervillain” is a force of change in the world because of their style, power, and tenacity. Inspired by the music, art, and ideals of Rion Vernon, AKA Dr. Phineas Waldolf Steel, a “real-world supervillain/mad inventor”, he aims to “mass produce beautiful things to inspire people to see that technology of production exists to be seized for the greater good” through the steampunk aesthetic of Art Deco and Art Nouveau. His life and work had also been heavily influenced by an old point-and-click computer game he played as a child called Syberia wherein a mad Russian inventor rebuilt towns with clockwork automatons around the world. That vision embedded itself into his mind and hasn’t let go, he says: “I simply can’t escape seeing everything as clockwork these days, that’s why I make these things, so you can see them too!”.
To create his works, Krasniy uses a free open-source vector program similar to Adobe Illustrator called Inkscape, as well as a program called Linkage that emulates links and gears to show a simulation of each mechanism. From there, each project is sent to his “beautiful Chinese-made hunk of junk, the Large Format RedSail Laser Cutter”. Despite their frequent issues, Krasniy believes cheaper machinery “teaches you more than any of those high-end machines will, how to disassemble, reassemble, calibrate, clean, rewire and troubleshoot an industrial-ish machine, all by yourself”.
Each process begins with Krasniy thinking about a problem he wants to fix in the world around him. Next, he finds a mechanism that roughly fits the desired movement, laser cuts the paper, the cardboard, then wood until the basic mechanism works smoothly. After that, the art is placed on top of the mechanical movement, and from there it’s just a matter of continuous refinement until completion. Depending on how inspired he feels and/or how dedicated he is to proving someone wrong, the process of designing a mechanism can take up to fifty hours, and another fifty just to “mess about with aesthetics”. Other simpler projects take far less time, such as a woodcut Mars rover he produced in about half an hour from start to finish.
The most complex, infuriating, and time consuming piece Krasniy has produced was also the first piece he’s ever made, and ironically became his most popular: a clockwork horse. In initially producing it, he admits, “I had no idea what I was doing, just mashing things together, borrowing ideas from the internet, and just really making something in my own time”. Thinking of it as a one-off project, he didn’t think ahead about how he’d make more: “So when asked to remake it, I realized there were a lot of problems, like standard parts [parts that will be reused later in all your projects, forming the cornerstone of production]. I didn’t even know what a standard part was”.
Krasniy believes the prototyping speed of a laser engraver is the key to their limitless possibilities. The large size of his laser bed allows him to make commissioned façades for clubs and shops, stage fronts, and other larger projects including kinetic wall pieces, clocks, and lamps. He also claims to be working on a clockwork horse-driven chariot, a carousel, and even an airship: “I wouldn’t be a mad inventor if I wasn’t riding around in my own airship, right?”. In combining his craft with Arduino “programming magic”, he’s even worked on audio-reactive pieces that come to life with sound.
Krasniy’s craft is not without its challenges. To him, just persevering failure after failure can be difficult to achieve: “To make a piece and not have it sell at all, to do your research and it not working, to having nobody buy the things that you make for a living…that takes a lot of effort to get over. No really, the biggest challenge is to stay motivated, to not give up against your brain that just screams for you to stop this madness, to go get a normal job and live a corporate life somewhere”. Staying true to his passions without selling out to what the world wants to see, he says, is the hardest part of making his art.
He still finds ways to keep going, however. He closely adheres to American artist Chuck Close’s motto: “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work”: “I find that when you are dedicated to being an artist, or any profession really, your mind simply switches into the state of being inspired. You just sit down and make weird cool stuff, your brain just knows what to do”. When asked his thoughts on artists being mad he explained, “I’ve always thought that artists are mad because we chose to ignore basic survival drives for the sake of a higher calling. When I was a painter, the choice between real food or noodles and paints was a rather easy one. I’ll starve if I can just afford that new cadmium pigment. That red will sustain me more than any food will for the week. That is mad. And why? Because I wanted to solve a problem. A thing in the world didn’t exist, and it needed to”. Those who are driven, he believes, are driven by madness.
When it comes to advice for those interested in laser-engraving, Krasniy insists on learning to use Inkscape. He suggests beginning by creating silhouettes, which can easily translate into laser etchings and don’t require very much artistic skill. He also suggests purchasing the “cheapest, nastiest Chinese laser cutter you can” and learning its ins and outs. The internet is another great resource to learn, as well as to connect with other laser engraving artists: “You also have people like me who you can bother and ask questions, email us, we’re as weird as you imagine…So, go forth and laser everything. Lasers are still the future!”.
To find out more about Fyodor and his work, visit his designer page here, check out his jaw-dropping pieces on his Etsy store, and follow him on Facebook and Instagram for all the latest updates from Madness & Tea.
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