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Building Lego is Work we Love

As a kid I thoroughly enjoyed building Lego.  I would work hard doing random things to try and make some extra spending money – which generally went to Lego sets.

I spent many summers traveling out to the mine with my grandfather.  We would ride the backhoe up some haphazard switchbacks he had scraped in the side of a steep colluvial fan.  Sometimes my grandfather would have us switch sides and basically use us as ballast so the backhoe would not slip.

I spent many long hours on a ladder leaned against the cliffs.  I would carry a three foot hammer drill up as high as I could get it and spend 20-45 minutes per drilled hole.  The difficult thing was the cliff was only a foot away.  In order to hold the hammer drill I would have to lean back two feet and hold that position while trying to maintain some kind of pressure.

Once we had made Swiss cheese of the cliff face we would then stuff each hole with dynamite and C4 detonation cord.  My grandfather carried a blasting cap inside his pocket – tinkling with his Wriggleys gum and prospector lens.  He really was an old-time character.  He would take a stick of dynamite and break it in half over his knee.  Then he would dig out the sawdust and nitroglycerin innards with his trusty old timer pocket knife.  He would then tape a blasting cap on the end of the detonation cord and shove it into the hole.  Electrical tape it right and use the end of a broken shovel to ram it down into the hole.

I just imagined how if the cliff blew, I would only hear a slight muffle and then there would be complete and utter blackness.

I mention mining with my grandpa because it was an adventure (We mined Alabaster).  It was a way to truly feel alive.  And that’s how I earned a lot of my spending money that went to Lego.  I loved how each set was created out of so many pieces that had the possibility to be anything I could imagine.  The possibilities were endless…  And so were the options I created to make money. From mining to selling cherries with my dog, there was always something to get me a few bucks in my pocket.

I have since looked back on my childhood and I realized that my days were full of work I enjoyed.  It was fun, creative, and hard.  But it never really felt like work.  I know have boys of my own and I have introduced them to the addiction of building Lego.  Lego is a toy I’ll gladly buy for them (and myself).  I have had many odd jobs from inventory to switch gear design over the past fifteen years but my favorite has been the hardest work that does not feel like work.

I have spent the past fifteen years designing and growing my Wowflutes until it has become my main focus.  I am passionate about making products that can be enjoyed, and ones that never get old.  Like Lego.

My goal with Wowflutes is to show that you can love what you do and be successful to.  I feel that too many folks are focused on earning money as their primary goal.  This is not a bad thing, but what they do not know is that the most successful individuals are those who are doing what they love.  The work does not feel like work but rather play, just like those long hours spent in my childhood working, playing and building Lego.

(see more of my Toy Photography)

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Do More, Be More

This morning I have been thinking about the word become.  This word is wrapped around ones potential to do and be.  It is being and embracing who we are at our core.  That is, we are children of our Father in Heaven.  This is our huge potential that we all share in this life.

There is no fear when you think about what this means.  To really be a god in adolescence.  I think this is why there is such an innate desire to create within the human race.  To create makes us feel alive and like we are actually doing something to become better.  There are those words again, do and become.

Henry David Thoreau wanted to experience life.  He wanted to truly understand what it meant to live.  He spoke of this:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

This is a good measuring stick for what you should do and become – when I am old and soon to lay down to rest in the grave what will I have accomplished?  What has life offered me, and what have I done with it?  Life is a gift and should be enjoyed everyday.  If it is not enjoyable then  something must change.  People can become what and who they want to be through effort and hard work.  They become through not giving in or settling for something mediocre from life.  Life is to live each day, and make each day a little better than the last.

by Joseph Cowlishaw

to be me
Heavenly Father
He knows me more than
I know me
He has masterfully equipped
Talents that make up me
Gifts and righteous desires
Those gifts from Him
When not used then lost
At being me
Being me is tricky
I am the only one
There is no example to follow
When the spirit guides
Me works
Me is masterfully equipped
To be

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Ideas are Things

This Blog is devoted to awesomely designed toys.  I define toys rather loosely to include dual-functionality products that have a fun aspect to them and could be considered toys for the bigger kids (myself).

I absolutely love to inspect and admire well designed products.  I also really enjoy toys.  They make life fun for everyone.  Who does not have a toy that they played with and remember most from childhood?  My favorite toy growing up was Lego because of all the possibilities from just a simple set of snapping bricks.

Some folks think that when you grow up you should not play with toys anymore because they are for children…  Well, to be brutally honest, they can go be sad grownups who work their lives away hoping to save for some kind of retirement so they can enjoy toys again.

Toys do not just appear out of nowhere.  They are being designed and created and tested and manufactured using highly detailed engineering techniques and practices which include various high-tech technologies in manufacturing and design.  It never ceases to amaze me when I look at a clever toy such as an action figure or puzzle that has numerous joints and detailed parts.  Each one of those parts were thought of and sketched out then taken through the conceptual design phase.  Then being created individually inside an injection mold and assembled with skill to achieve the proper movements and quality.

Through my experiences as a product designer I have learned every aspect of this process.  My own cool toy – the Swirl Wowflute has been such an enjoyable experience to work on.  It has been in the research and development phase for nearly fifteen years and may not ever leave this phase – there are always ways to improve upon an existing design.  I find it rather interesting when I compare some of my year old handmade Swirl Wowflutes with newer ones I made last week.  They are completely different!?  I did not intentionally change the design, but it gradually morphed into what works better and better.

I finally decided to make a manufactured version of the Swirl Wowflute in 2012 as part of a University capstone project.  I spent many long hours attempting to use Autodesk Inventor to make a digital replica of my popular handmade flutes.  I look at the design process as a form of art – even when you are designing a manufactured product.  That product was a concept, an idea – that suddenly becomes tangible in the real world.  This is the purpose of art, is it not?  Producing some kind of physical product from an idea.

I got to use the $10,000 3D printer on my project to print out prototypes for testing.  In this capstone project I was not able to produce a working prototype that was tuned because the time was limited in class.  I did get a functional prototype that whistled though and played it as part of a presentation.  It was not enough for me to just make something that was just there.  I like interaction, and dual-functionality.  I wanted an end product that would build on someones creativity.

Onward and upward.  After I graduated college I had the desire to make this manufactured Wowflute a reality.  I could see the prototypes that were once just simple ideas in my hand – it gave me a sense of excitement and awe.  Ideas truly are things!  It was an ah-ha moment I will not easily forget and it’s worth repeating – Ideas are things.

During my final semester at Southern Utah University I had decided to throw out all my required classes and took what I wanted to learn about.  I took a marketing class from a talented Professor Ellen Treanor who knew how to make a subject interesting and exciting.  I always looked forward to her classes.  One class she introduced us to a website called Kickstarter.  The opportunites I saw almost made my head explode!  I saw the potential to make the manufactured Wowflute a reality in a simple project based platform.  After graduation I took a boring job to make ends meet all the while selling my handmade Swirl Wowflutes on the side.  I soon felt the urgency to quit my well paying salaried + commission job and pursue the dream of bring my Wowflutes to a much larger audience.

I acquired some investments from an awesome friend of mine and started on the process in making a quality manufactured version.  I spent the next five months finding a manufacturer and a product designer who knew how to design for injection molds.  I created a high resolution prototype using the SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) method and tried it out.  It worked well but was way out of tune.  I asked my designer to make the walls thicker and the holes 25% larger.  This would effectively reduce the chamber size and increase the change between holes.  I had another SLS prototype made and to my great astonishment – it sounded better than expected!  It was in tune perfectly.  The many years of making the handmade Wowflute (30,000 of them) had paid off.

I then took that prototype and ran with it on kickstarter.  My kickstarter project was a success and the Tritan Wowflute was brought to life.  This did not appease my appetite – for I had tasted it, Ideas are Things!

So as you pa-ruse my website, know that I am passionate about design in general and I beleive in making ideas reality.  Optimism is key in anything great.  You will always have the naysayers and the haters who are really just jealous.  You can feel sorry for them.  You can use their negative energy to instill what I call “the Oh Yeah Factor”.  The “You wanna make a bet?”  The “I’ll show him”, this is powerful stuff.  I use it all the time.

Thanks for taking the time to read to this point.  Now I will reward you with some pictures of awesomely designed toys that I like:

The Creepy Face Woody Doll:

woody - ebe whistle wide

The loveable, babylike Baymax:

Endurance is patience concentrated. – Thomas Carlyle 

A photo posted by Joseph Cowlishaw (@joecow) on

Pixar’s Carl Fredricksen from UP:  

Good timber does not grow with ease. The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees. – Thomas S. Monson A photo posted by Joseph Cowlishaw (@joecow) on

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Story is King

trooper chef

I just recently listened to the book Creativity, Inc. written by Ed Catmull, who is a computer scientist and is the current President of Pixar Animation Studios.

It was a very insightful book and really allowed for a sneak peek into the working gears of Pixar creativity solutions.  When describing the process of making an awesome 3D Animated feature length film – the phrase Story is King was very prominent.  I think that is the creativity of Pixar – storytelling!  They know how to bring the audience into a story and captivate them.  The audience doesn’t seem to know how much work went into a certain shot – they are just involved with the characters and story.

While reading this book I decided my instagram feed was kind of chaotic and had no theme… No story if you will.  So I decided to switch it up by adding several story lines intertwined throughout the feed.  Boy is this fun! Focusing on the story and following “Story is King” really makes the process much more exciting!

So far I have three characters: Frank Hughenot – the Stormtrooper Lego Minifigure that aspires to be a great chef (food pictures),  Carl Fredricksen Funko-Pop who finds himself in the wilderness often, and Orvil Brickers – an old prospector hunting for glittering gold!

carl desert

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The Great Southwestern Suzuki Adventure Kickstarter

et hwy

My brother Nathan and I just finished up our video for his Grand Southwestern Suzuki Adventure project campaign that will be launching soon!

It has been a real blast to be able to travel the first leg of his trip to get the footage for the Kickstarter video! We left cedar city early (around 5:30am) and were able to get to Pioche, Nevada to watch a brilliant sunrise. I brought my Gopro and set up a permanent mount on Nathan’s Suzuki Vitara front bumper.

The footage was excellent. We went from Pioche to Caliente where we explored some rural back alleyways where we were greeted by a friendly bunch of ferral cats. They will star in a section of the video.

Then from caliente we drove on to Alamo, Nevada and nearly got stuck behind some huge semis hauling dump buckets for the massive mining vehicles in gold mines probably near Ely. They were so huge that each truck had a police escort that would go before and clear the road of traffic. So yeah, smart thinking for Nathan to race to get on the road before them!

Then it was off to the Extra Terrestrial Highway and some ET Fresh Jerky!

That highway is a wonderful sight. There is just something inspiring to see such a long stretch of highway that seems to go on through eternity – it sure makes one want to drive a bit faster if you know what I mean!

We stopped at several cattle signs and got some wonderful time lapses of the valley.

We drove a dirt road for several miles that suddenly became paved and took pictures of the entrance to Area 51. The posted signs say you can’t take pictures, but we had the GoPro rolling non-stop and when we paused for a bit at the gate it was really just to get a good look at things, wink, wink!

Traveling back to the highway we found an almost perfectly preserved skeleton of a cow in a most desolate spot – photo op time!

et hwy long


When most people come across something dead in the wilderness they try to avoid it, but Nathan and I are not most people. Most people avoid looking like wackos by introducing the idea of a Utah UFO Fest, but Nathan and I are not most people. Most people take a road well traveled – the Cowlishaw bros like to be adventurous and pave their own.

After the stench of the cow got to us we were off to the desert metropolis of Rachel, Nevada. Seriously though, Rachel doesn’t look like much. The size of the valley and the endless road makes it look that much smaller. I can see how those who live there and thrive there could fall in love with the place and never want to leave. It would be hard to get used to such wide open spaces. Even a small city like Cedar City would start to feel claustrophobic compared to that! We got to speak with Connie and Pat who run the Little A’Le’Inn, and they were nice enough to listen to our experiences and be excited about the UFO Fest. We may even get them to bring the World Famous Alien Burger to the fest.


One of the most interesting sights at the Aleinn was the ceiling in the bar, it was covered in cash and currency from many countries.


In a way I am kind of jealous of Nate… He gets to do this huge adventure throughout the desert southwest, and meet so many awesome people. It is really about the people and is always about the people. People are awesome! I’ve found that if you listen to someone long enough, it doesn’t matter who they are, they will surprise you. I think Nathan will really be able to generate some genuine friends on his journey and will have a blast. Someone needs to hold down the fort here though, and I would hate to be away from my wife and four kiddos for more than a few days.


We had a blast on this first leg of Nathan’s adventure and we hope he can continue on through Texas and on to Louisiana and Mississippi and capture some real landscapes that include the element of real people.