Formstone Castle Collective

photo by Katherine Gaines/

Formstone Castle is a small team based out of Upper Fells Point, Baltimore, bringing together the enthusiasm and diverse skillsets of many different communities to make art for festivals and events, as well as simply for the joy of creation. The projects are typically envisioned and produced by lead artist Michael Bowman, and made real through the efforts of numerous volunteers and collaborative artists, who bring a wealth of professional and amateur visual art, music, technology, graphic design, fabrication, and building skills and experience of all kinds to our projects, which evolve through the collective vision of everyone involved.

Contact: Michael Bowman

Ice Worm

I was approached by the amazing Abby Becker to make a creature for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society‘s 2023 show: The Gold Night. The requirements were to have a few different scale worms: the size to bite off someone’s leg, the size to eat a person, and the SIZE OF THE THEATER! For years I have been trying to find an opportunity to create an inflatable, and this was my chance. With the help of a ton of amazing volunteers, we sewed a few smaller worms to warm up and once we were comfortable with the material moved on to the big one: a 40ft long, 6ft diameter inflatable puppet. To complicate matters, our budget was only $1000 and to stretch it we agreed to make a 2nd big worm for Ladew Garden’s Garden Glow event for a few grand more. Every step of the way was something new. Rip stop nylon, windows, painting fabric, building an “inflation station” box that allowed the puppeteers easy access from back stage while the worm was inflated. Special thanks to all the BROS volunteers, the brave Sew Circle gals and to our worm puppeteer, Album Shen, who had about 30 min of practice before puppeteering the first show.

Beam Stream

Our first international burn, L’osstidburn, is held around summer solstice in Quebec, right on the border of Vermont. We had heard good things from friends about this tiny 300 person burn in the woods along a stream. The art grants were modest, and our options for big art were limited driving 12 hrs from home. We applied for the Adopt-a-Road grant. The idea was to spend the full $100 budget on fluorescent construction marking tape (and bring $2500 worth of lights and generators). These we wove into the trees down a path by the stream. Three giant LED blacklight fixtures were mounted to trees covering a few hundred feet in each direction.

We left a few surprises along the way, fluorescent fish made from plastic bottles hung over head, cryptids hidden in the bushes, a little glowing spirit on a rock, and a secret message to de-cypher. Extra rolls were left along the road for people to add too and modify the piece. Each night it would evolve, devolve, and be reimagined by those who participated in the burn. Deinstallation took place in the pre-dawn hours by blacklight flashlight to remove even the tiniest specks of glowing plastic. All of this was kept for future blacklight art projects.

The Weirdifier

Formstone Castle’s Weirdifing Service is an exercise in applying a sliding scale for artistic labor. The more you give, the more [weird] you get. The resulting weirdness balances the labor and materials with the contribution. A $10 weirder car is a pretty normal car and a $10 weirder pencil is one REALLY WEIRD pencil. A $50,000 weirder car is going to blow people away. The sky is the limit and I will do as much as I can do for the amount given.

We’re going to make things weird!

So far I’ve mostly made some demonstration pieces to show what kind of things are possible:

Deep Cuts DJ Booth

Deep Cuts is like a DIY music festival where friends come together bringing what they can to add to the experience. This year we about pieces of various projects to build a DEEP SPACE DJ Booth. Complete with an alien abduction, blacklights, and a some pyrotechnics. Thanks to B.O.D. aka Lamp Daddy for the LED tube lights and all the other friends that pieces together an awesome weekend in the woods of West Virginia.

Formstone Castle Art Studio

This fall I upgraded our old backyard shack into a comfortable full time art studio. Now I can dream up and create art in my own dedicated space even in the worst of weather. This was paid for using the 2021 MSAC Individual Artist Award as well as funds raised by the Cicada Parade-a Holiday Special Edition sculptures sales. Thanks to everyone who supported our art in 2021! Big things to come in 2022!

I reused many of the materials from old art projects including the reclaimed barn wood, OSB, 2x4s and screws from Baltimore Fancy that had been stored since Light City 2019. Windows I found at Second Chance for $25 each!

Besides working daily to improve my art practice, dream up new ideas and create new pieces, I have cleared out a backlog of old Mindfreight™ allowing me to focus more on art, without having it spill over into every part of the house.

Halloween 2021 – Lord of Light

After a long year cooped up, Siri and I headed off to Santa Fe for a magical convergence: Dan Deacon was playing on Halloween at Meow Wolf. I have been watching way too much Marvel movies the last few months including the What If series. One episode really dove into the style of Jack Kirby. I wanted my costume to be an homage to Jack Kirby’s art, especially Lord of Light concept art which was used by the CIA to free hostages in Iran as well as some damn funky black light posters. I worked in as much Kirby Crackle as I could manage as well as some LED lights and, knowing Meow Wolf’s space was well lit in blacklight, a bunch of phosphorescent paint, materials and clothing. There is also some chrome and fuzzy repurpose packaging materials tying it all together. It must have worked because I won the Costume Contest. What a blast! Dan Deacon did not disappoint. We met some new friends and had a ton of fun.

The camera can’t even handle all the glow

Test Pattern

Test Pattern is a just what it sounds like: a test pattern. This is in preparation for a much larger mural and lighting project called The Underline coming in 2022. The Underline is part of the larger Made You Look project led by MICA’s Center For Social Design and the North Avenue Rising project. The Underline is envisioned as a large public outdoor black-light mural. Here I am testing the effects of the harsh conditions found under the Interstate 83 bridge on pigments, hardware, and clear coats. In this unique environment The Underline may become the largest outdoor black-light mural in the world.

Black-light paint, aka fluorescent, paint is known to fade quickly in sunny and wet environments, but the unique 200ft wide bridge location should not see much sun, nor rain. This test wall will give us data over the next 10 months on just how much it fades in this environment. To test this I have created a pattern consisting of several different base coats, one to four fluorescent coats for each fluorescent paint color available, blends of base coats with fluorescent coats, layering order, and clear coats. There will be over 1500 different combinations tested in this small test mural.

Secondly I’m testing our lighting hardware, cabling, control system, and installation methods to see if they can withstand the environment under the bridge including temperature, moisture, and vibration.

Cicada Parade-a

Cicada Parade-a is a large-scale collaborative art project on display in and around Patterson Park starting in May and running through the end of summer of 2021. This project celebrates the re-emergence of Brood X, central Maryland’s 17-year cicada brood, which will return by the billions to Maryland during Summer 2021.

Emerging from the Dark
The last time Brood X emerged was in 2004—what feels like a lifetime ago by now. The Cicada Parade-a represents an emergence from a long period of darkness to sing, make noise and fall in love with the world again. This theme of transformative change will be explored in each piece, not just in the sculptures, but in a collection of stories about looking back and acknowledging the changes and transformations that occur in and around us over long cycles. as well as exploring deep cycles on different scales—cycles that repeat over and over in the rhythms of life, from the orbit of an electron around an atom, the cycle of blood around the body, the earth around the sun, the cycle of the tides in the Bay, election cycles, and even greater to cycles longer than a human lifetime.

Funding and Goals
Cicada Parade-a is funded by a MSAC Creativity Grant. The goals of the full collaborative project are closely aligned with that of the Maryland State Arts Council. We aim to increase the participation of communities in the arts as well as create opportunities to support multiple artists throughout Baltimore. This project was created in a way that can be enjoyed even while social distancing, should that remain necessary.

We have placed sculptures to increase traffic to places of interest around town from the streets to the parks, inspiring people to explore and find other cicada sculptures, creating joyful encounters that can spark transformative conversations and promote social change.

2021 MSAC Individual Artist Award Winners!

Zoom awards are still awards!

We’re happy to announce that Formstone Castle Collective has won a 2021 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award. With this year’s awards focused on visual and media arts, 2021 awardees represent a wide range of artistic talents from all across the state, from painting, ceramics, and works on paper to digital media, film, and installation. Click here for the full list of winners. This $2000 award will go toward upgrading the Formstone Castle back yard shack into a dedicated art making studio!

Baltimore Fancy – Light City 2019

Baltimore Fancy tells the story of the Arabbers, Baltimore’s traditional street vendors. It blends traditions of the past with a futuristic vision, to create a magical experience for the Light City audience, whether they have been Arabber customers for years or are just learning that they exist. Baltimore Fancy will be a truly collaborative project, working with the Arabber community directly. Its title stems from the unique harnesses of the Arabber horses (called “Baltimore Fancy Harnesses”), but also evokes the “flight of fancy” the project entailed—and the pride Baltimoreans have in their creative, self-expressive communities, in which we can all dress up however we like, and be “Baltimore Fancy”.

Arlington INSPIRE Garden Gate

Created as an entryway for Arlington Elementary’s INSPIRE garden park, this piece is an altar to the Sun which provides us with all we need to grow and learn.

Throughout this project FSC worked with community leaders to make a gate that would show the community that they too deserved something beautiful to enjoy.

A steel arch bends 15′ over head. In the center a child offers a flower as a thank you to The Sun.

Resembling stained glass, the light from the sun casts colorful shadows on the ground through acrylic flowers. The mesh panels feature hundreds of 5 sided plasma cut flowers. Originally cut to hold the ends of reclaimed 2L soda bottles, we adapted the design after speaking with community leaders to create something even more magical.

This was one of several major projects FSC took on in 2019. To pull off these projects we purchased a Sprinter van and brought on Thabo Letsebe to assist during the busy September-October crunch. In the end, I decided to title the piece Thank You For Helping Me Grow.

First Comes Love

What does an artist give as a wedding give to other artists? More art! This installation was done for our friends Becca and John at their wedding reception at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance.

This installation uses the LED curtains we’ve developed for several of this year’s installations. Great for selfies and for filling the whole room with light and energy.

IAMU Skybar Tower

The orchestra plays the tower.

When I heard some critiques of the IAMU / Skybar tower lacking art, I contacted their leadership and we hatched a plan. We met in person at Catharsis in DC and I got to hear all about the history of the camp, where our paths had cross before, and how this gift could be implemented. IAMU stands for It’s All Made Up… and that’s how we had to do this. If we didn’t know how to do it, we had to make it up.

Earlier in the journey out west, I did some back country camping in the Painted Desert. I put a blinking bike light on my backpack to make sure I wouldn’t lose it in the dark as I wandered around. I realized the importance of a beacon lighting the way “home” which guided me through the challenges of installing this in the dusty desert.

What an opportunity to do an installation among so many other amazing pieces. We were so proud being able to point it out from two miles away in a sea of other lights art.


ARTSCAPE Baltimore 2019

The View-Scaper is an interactive and kinetic piece allowing us to view our human family photos from our amazing TRIP TO THE MOON. 

Each View-Scaper “eye” displays one of 7 specific scenes per disk, selectable by pulling the giant lever on the side. Looking through the eye pieces with one disk in place, the viewer sees iconic images of the Moon landing superimposed onto the real background of their Baltimore City surroundings. On other disks, the viewer will see fantastical images of what NASA didn’t want us to see: Alien Pyramids, Robots, and maybe even The Dreamlanders faking the whole thing?! Blacklight effects inside the ViewScaper and lighting on the outside transform the images for nighttime viewing.

The View-Scaper is not merely something to look through and marvel at the scenery—it is a truly participatory, interactive installation. The wheels the participants turn to pan and tilt the View-Scaper are located far enough from each other that each action requires the collaboration of several members of the crowd (or for one person to move around to each wheel). Big toys require big muscles, and kids may need the help of an adult or several friends—working together to create magic is an important part of the participatory art experience. 

Collaborating artist: Justin Duvall

Media coverage:

What Lies Beneath:

Light City Baltimore 2018

What lies beneath the waves has always been mysterious. In the darkness of night, the mysteries intensify. Everyone who has swum in a lake, ocean or river in the dark knows this feeling—it is a feeling so ingrained it most definitely has followed life from prehistoric times. Clearly, there are creatures just below the surface, but what kind? Are they friendly? Are they big? Small? Are they trying to tell us something? Will you find answers or more questions? Will illuminating these mysteries help you to understand these feelings… to understand WHAT LIES BENEATH?

Collaborating Artists:

Original animation by Andrew Dixon, Justin Duvall and Kate Haberer

Original score by Adam Rush

Media Coverage: WJZ did a great behind-the-scenes peek at this project! 


Kinetic Kauchii/ DekoSofa:

Light City Baltimore 2017, BLINK Cincinnati 2017

The DekoTora truck craze began in Japan during the 1970s, around the time Americans were having a similar craze decorating their vans. The Japanese created wildly decorated trucks outfitted with gratuitous chrome, lights, murals and decadent chandelier lit interiors. Films pushed the craze into the mainstream and within a generation the trucks had evolved to the robotic, hypnotic light shows they are today. Their visual appeal has crossed the ocean, with dekotora trucks woven into the background of feature films by Ridley Scott and Gaspar Noe. The visual aesthetic of DekoTora and these films is the inspiration for Formstone Castle’s Light City 2017 entry, the Kinetic Kauchii DekoSofa—an evolution and transformation of our already proven 2016 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race entry, the Kinetic Kouch.

A second Japanese inspiration for the Kinetic Kauchii DekoSofa is the works of Studio Ghibli. The celestial mystical creatures embodying nature in Miyazaki’s underlying critiques of the relationship between humans and their environment are the source for our vision of the pilot of the DekoSofa. This mysterious swamp creature has emerged from the Chesapeake Bay into the Baltimore Harbor as a cryptid: a manifestation of a cautionary tale of bay and harbor sustainability. It has found our Kauchii and is delighted in its own exploration of LIGHT CITY, taking along those who wish to explore by couch. Who or what it truly is remains a mystery. Perhaps a captain lost in the bay, trying to find the way home? Over time, the line between human and nature has been lost with natural flora and fauna from the harbor entangled with trash… merged together embodying the inseparable relationship of humans and The Bay.

Collaborating Artists:

Mural: Katlyn Wyllie

Costumes: Charlotte Hager

Music:  Adam Rush

Check out the DekoSofa in person at its current home in the taproom at Charm City Meadworks

Media coverage: For a video and art education materials related to the Kinetic Kauchii/DekoSofa, check out this PBS lesson.

photos of the DekoSofa by Katherine Gaines/