From the Studio: Quartet

Strings. Every piano has them. I’ve been learning a lot about strings lately, because I’ve been cleaning them for a new project, and I came across an anomaly that prompted a bit of research. But that story is for a different day. Today I simply want to tell you about one of the many things I make with piano strings: the Quartet.


The bass strings would have to be extremely long (like 30 feet!) to achieve the necessary pitch if they were not wound by copper to make them dense. Copper is a beautiful precious metal, and soft, but the steel core inside the piano strings is strong is difficult to bend into shapes. I have found shaping piano wire to be more challenging than the wire sculpting I tried in art class, but I do love a challenge!

Just how this particular project came to be escapes me now. Why did I choose four musical symbols rather than two or three? I think it’s because I purchased a set of four canvases and then needed to do something with them, but who knows?

Why did I choose these four symbols? Okay, I know the answer to that question. Of all the possibilities, I chose the treble clef, bass clef, half note, and eighth rest because they are both easily recognizable and artistic to reproduce. The eighth rest has proven to be the most challenging of them all, due to its sharp angles and opposing curves, but there is great satisfaction when it finally comes out right.

I can create an entire set of symbols from one piano string. First I clean the string, then wearing gloves (to prevent tarnishing from the oils in my hands), I begin my work. My tools for the first part of the project include a metal file (to smooth the cut edges), bolt cutters (because wire cutters just don’t cut it), needle-nose pliers, and slip-joint pliers.

Quartet WIP (3)

To form the soft bends, I use my bare hands; but when the curve needs to come in sharply, that’s where the two pairs of pliers come in handy. They do tend to bend the wire unevenly, however, so I go back with my hands and smooth out the finish. Arthritis is starting to set it, and I feel it after several hours of working with wire. But I’m not going to stop. Would you?

I work with the entire length of wire because I have no idea how long each piece needs to be. Perhaps I should cut off a length and experiment with it, but I’ve never done that. So instead, I simply work until I’m satisfied, then cut off the excess, sand the cut edges, and move on to the next piece.

The colors for the canvases have varied greatly over the years, as I experiment with one look after another. But just this week, while getting ready for the Riverwalk Arts Festival, I was looking at the yet unfinished canvases as they hung on the display below the clock made of piano keys. The canvases had been dark brown and teal (two of each color). I had determined that the dark brown was not to my liking, so I changed it to a cream color—dark titanium white, to be specific. As I sat there looking at the display, I noticed that the dark titanium white looked very similar to the aged white of the keys on the clock, and I wondered if maybe the other two canvases should be a brown-black to match the ebony keys. Since the piano string shapes had not yet been mounted, it was easy to repaint the canvases. So I took them down and went back into the studio. First they got a coat of burnt umber, then while the brown was still wet, I marbled black all over. At a distance they appear black, but up close, you can see the marbling. I did this because genuine ebony keys are not pure black either, but up close you can see the ebony wood grain. This is not my usual marbling technique, but it’s what I wanted to do for these particular canvases, because I didn’t want too much brown, I just wanted it to take the edge off the black.


The canvases sat overnight to dry, and then I went to work mounting the musical symbols to the surfaces. First I tried using regular hot glue, but they popped right back off again. Forget that. Then I switched to an industrial strength adhesive called E6000. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to call it. This stuff works really well in a variety of situations. Even so, I don’t put all my eggs in the E6000 basket. As an extra measure of precaution, I “sew” each musical symbol onto the canvas, to be sure it won’t come off. Using an ice pick, or similar tool, I carefully poke a hole in the canvas in two strategic places under the piano wire, where it won’t be noticed. Then I take a 3″ length of copper wire that I’ve unwound from a smaller (treble) piano string, form a loop, and push both ends through the hole in the canvas, looping the “thread” around the wire décor and effectively fastening it onto the canvas. On the back side of the canvas, I put a dab of hot glue, thread a button onto the wire, and press it down into the hot glue, then twist the wire to hold it firmly in place, and it’s done.

Quartet WIP (1)

Finally, I put the finishing touches on the backs of the canvases. First, I enclose them all with brown paper, then install a sawtooth hanger. Using some of the brown paper, I construct a small pocket and mount it to the back of one of the four frames. This will hold the sheet that tells the story of my piano art.

When the artwork is done, it needs a name. I have tried to give every piece of mine a name related to the field of music, for obvious reasons. 🙂 I have three different pieces that are sets of four, so naming them has gotten tricky. One of them is named “Harmony” because the pieces work together to form a cohesive whole. The second is called “Quatrain” because it has two sets of nearly identical pieces, so I think of it in terms of poetry (abba). That makes it easy to give this one the name “Quartet,” since this one is four different musical symbols that come together in one song.

And now this song is done.

Thank you for joining me on this tour of the studio. I look forward to seeing you on the next one. Until then, I invite you to check out photos of my other work in the gallery. Enjoy the rest of your day!

Music in Art on Display!

Tomorrow kicks off my very first juried art show! Here are a few photos of my display as it looked before I packed everything up, including close-ups of all the brand new items.

Setup is tomorrow, and the show runs all day Saturday and Sunday. Next week I’ll tell you all about it!


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