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Frequently Asked Questions

Why did you build Determination?

There are dozens of reasons. Here's my favorite:


Because I'm just ...that ...kind ...of ...crazy.


Here's another good one:


Who else would do it?


But I can't explain it any better than this quote:


"HOW TO BE AMAZING: Risk more than is required. Learn more than is normal. Be strong. Show courage. Breathe. Excel. Love. Lead. Speak your truth. Live your values. Laugh. Cry. Innovate. Simplify. Adore mastery. Release mediocrity. Aim for genius. Stay humble. Be kinder than expected. Deliver more than is needed. Exude passion. Shatter your limits. Transcend your fears. Inspire others by your bigness. Dream big but start small. Act now. Don't stop. Change the world."


- Robin Sharma (via Brent Turner)

Why is it called Determination?

I started with the name "Massive Art Project". Weight, mass, and inertia are part of the message.


Some people, when I told them about it, were impressed by the idea, which is fine. They would call me crazy, which is fine. But they would walk away shaking their head. They didn't think I could really do it. Words like determined, persistent, unwavering, single-minded, obstinate, and tenacious were going through my head. Then I noticed the pun, and I couldn't resist.

Is it really "art"?

I don't know. I made it. People like it. Beyond that, it doesn't really matter to me. But here are a few other thoughts:

  • I heard a quote from an art critic, many years ago, don't even remember the reference, but the quote was, "a new medium doesn't make it art." In a way, this is something very pedestrian, done up in an unusual medium and size.

  • I looked up "art" in the dictionary. The words skill, creativity, imagination, ingenuity, subtlety, invention, and execution (!) are prominent. The word aesthetic is only there once. I'm a little surprised. Isn't art supposed to have meaning, a point, something to say? Symbolism? Depth? Most people would be surprised by the amount of creativity, ingenuity, and skill that went into the computer programs that I wrote for this project. If those elements are part of art, then this is art. But if we're also looking for meaning or depth, I think a person who stares at Determination for a while could come away with many different messages. Does that make it art?

  • I once heard a speaker say, "Being creative is all about being precise." He was a computer guy, like me, but his hobby was photography. He talked about getting everything set up for a shot - tripod, camera, settings, subject - and then waiting an extra 15 minutes before taking the picture, so the shadows from the sun would be just right. Determination is nothing if not precise. Any time I'm thinking creatively, I find I'm paying attention to every detail. I don't really know, however, if "something made creatively" is automatically "art".

Where did you get all the pennies?

I got over 20,000 pennies by saving every penny from every cash retail transaction for 20 years. No kidding. I didn't hand a penny to a cashier for 20 years. The rest, my kids and a few friends saved for me. But all were taken out of circulation, not picked up at a bank or something like that. I also took 500 pennies out of Jason Miller's tip jar, and threw in a $5 bill, when he wasn't looking.

Why does it weigh so much?

Mostly the glass:

  • 300 lbs - two panes of glass, 150 pounds each

  • 132 lbs - 1000 pennies weigh 5.5 pounds, 24 kilopennies x 5.5 pounds = 132

  • 92 lbs - the frame

  • 30 lbs - the acrylic disks

554 pounds total

So why two panes of glass?

When Kelly Weyrauch heard that the pennies would be 5 or 6 layers thick, he suggested two panes of glass, so that you could see it from both sides. I loved the idea. I think it will be hilarious when someone's first glimpse of Determination is the backwards map. I added the idea of building it right into a wall, like a window, instead of hanging it on a wall. If it ends up in a museum, I hope they can display it that way.

Why all the layers of pennies then?

I built the original map 9 layers thick, just to make it stable. If you try to make a picture out of pennies on a table, one layer thick, they keep getting bumped around. If someone down the hall in the apartment building slammed their door, the pennies would move. So, 9 layers in the original. But there was a side-effect -- just staring at all those neatly-stacked pennies gave you a real sense of mass. You could bump the table, and they didn't move.


In 2012, when I started thinking about making the map again, I wanted to recapture that feeling. "People are going to look at this," I thought, "and know that something is there." It has the presence of a sculpture, but the picture of a painting.

Why not glue all the pennies together?

Wouldn't that be easier? It sure would. The glass could be much thinner, which would make it lighter, and cheaper too. And if the glass is lighter, the frame doesn't have to be as strong, which makes the whole thing lighter still.


So partly it's that sense of mass that I described above. But I also had these thoughts during the design:

  • What if I decide to make some other picture, instead of the US map?

  • What if I like the US map for now, but in 5 years, I want to take it apart and make something else?

  • What if Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state?


It seemed possible that I would want to change the picture someday. Now, 18 months later, I doubt that will happen. But I started the design without glue, and I left it there as challenge for myself.

How long did it take to make?

That depends on whether you're measuring with a calendar or a stopwatch:




  • Aug, 2004 - Built the original map.

  • 03/11/2012 - Vivian and I came across a portrait of Abraham Lincoln made out of pennies. I started thinking about making the map again, but framing it, making it permanent.

  • Apr, 2012 - Wrote a computer program to calculate the best choice for the color of each state. The program maximizes the contrast for the longest state borders, which dominate what your eye sees, and also for the smallest states, which need contrast to be seen at all.

  • May-Sep, 2012 - I put this project on hold, because I was working on a wood carving for Chris and Maria's wedding.

  • Oct, 2012 - Worked on the design. Had long conversations with Kelly Weyrauch about the materials, the weight, and how to make a frame with strong enough joints.

  • 11/4/2012 - Bought the first supplies - wood for the frame, platforms, and sawhorses. Still just a fun experiment at this point. I knew the most expensive part would be the glass, so for now, I could still back out.

  • 11/9/2012 - Finished the detailed design and project plan.

  • 11/20/2012 - Ordered the glass! This is it, I'm committed.

  • Jan, 2013 - Wrote another computer program, this time to calculate the best layout for the shapes of the states. You, unless you're Curt Matlin, would not believe all of the decisions and compromises there are.

  • 09/11/2014 - Done!


2 1/2 years from idea to completion. 22 months for the construction.


Stopwatch (as of 9/23/14):


  • 100 (low estimate) - designing, planning, research, testing, shopping, worrying

  • 81 - wrote computer program to calculate best colors

  • 82 - same for best shapes

  • 41 - frame

  • 97 - sorting heads

  • 48 - sorting tails

  • 163 - acrylic disks

  • 205 - final assembly

  • 36 - website

  • 27 - video

  • 5 - music (for the video)

  • ??? - 20 years of saving pennies


885 hours so far. I'm still working on ways to move it safely, more on the video/music, I'm throwing an unveiling party, plus whatever I'm forgetting.

How much did it cost to make?

I took this answer out, because it's getting too embarrassing.

What are you going to do with it?

I hope to sell it. Otherwise I'll try to get it into a museum or an art gallery.


But also: Imagine Determination built right into an interior wall of a museum, between two rooms with other exhibits. Next, we turn off the lights in both rooms. Then we stand in one room, while someone in the other room shines a flashlight through it. Or two people with flashlights, at different angles. There will be some awesome shadows and patterns.

How much would you sell it for?

A dump truck full of money. And the dump truck.

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