From the Studio: Bach Yard Chickens

Raising backyard chickens has really taken wing in the US. Sorry. Was that a bad pun? Okay. I’ll stick to piano art and leave the comedy for the comedians. 😉

But I wasn’t trying to jump on the bandwagon when I created “Bach Yard Chickens.” I simply saw the hammer butts and thought they looked like chickens. Period. End of story. The little girl, as hard as she was for me to paint, seemed a little easier than painting a barn. Not only that, but for each of my creations, I try to come up with a music-themed title. So… “Bach Yard Chickens” or “Old MacDonald”? Which one would you have chosen? I thought so. Me too!

Bach-Yard Chickens 10
Bach Yard Chickens (2015)

The painting above was my first ever “Bach Yard Chickens,” completed in 2015. It was done on a 16×20 stretched canvas, unframed. I used uncooked quinoa for the “seed,” and all five “chickens” came from the same piano. In fact, they came from the 1906 Lyon & Healy, my first piano. (At the time, it was my only piano.)

Spreading My Wings

I had been really nervous about creating this particular piece because I had never painted a person before. I was working off a photograph, and the girl didn’t turn out exactly like the image in the photo. But I figured it was okay; she was good enough. And I guess she was, for this painting was the first item to sell in the craft fair that year, which was very encouraging to me. In fact, it sold within fifteen minutes of the show’s opening.

So why did it take me another four years to work up enough courage to make Bach Yard Chickens #2? I honestly couldn’t tell you. But the second one is done, and it’s pictured here.

acrylic painting of girl feeding chickens
Bach Yard Chickens (2019)

This one has some obvious differences. One variation you may not notice in the photos is the size, for this one is an 11×14. I decided to try a smaller size because the piano parts themselves are so small by comparison to the canvas. I also have two more 11×14 paintings nearly finished. However, I do prefer the larger size, and will make the future paintings in the original 16×20 format.

Another difference is that the “chickens” now come from different upright pianos, to represent the reality that in a brood of backyard chickens, they will not all look exactly alike.

The Process

Hammer Key Chains (20)
Various hammers from upright pianos

Here are some representatives of the hammers I’ve taken off the pianos. When I remove them, they are dirty. I have to scrub them clean with a wire brush, then separate the various parts. Each individual piece has a name, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll call the entire “chicken” part the hammer butt. It has a flange attached at the chicken’s “eye,” made of either wood or metal. I have a special tool that helps me to quickly and safely remove the flange, which I save for later use in another project.

You may also notice a string coming off some of the chickens. That’s called the bridle strap. Sometimes I can pull it off, but other times I have to cut it off with a box cutter.

For the next step, I take the hammer to the garage, where my power tools are set up. One of my table saws is equipped with jig saw blades. I use this one to remove the hammer shank (long stick) from the hammer (where the felt is) and hammer butt (a.k.a. chicken). The hammer shank goes into a storage container for some future use which I haven’t figured out yet. The hammer is set aside to be used as a key chain or as a head for a Conductor or Instrumentalist.

Finally, with a little sanding, the butt is ready to be used as a chicken. This process takes about 45 minutes to an hour for 5 chickens, not counting the time it takes to remove the hammer from the piano. That stage can vary greatly, I’ve come to learn, depending on the manufacture of the piano. The new flange removal tool has shortened the time by a good 15 minutes. Before I got that tool, I used any sharp tool I could find, such as an ice pick, to push the pin partway through, then I would pull out the rest of the way with pliers. This was tedious and made my hands hurt after a while. I’m very thankful for the new tool!

Art for Arts’ Sake

One of my favorite things about Bach Yard Chickens is getting to paint the background. I love what I do with old pianos, but above all, I love that God gave me the ability to paint. I don’t have much training in that area, but I do long to develop what talent is there by practicing. I want my work to be more than a craft—I want it to be an art.

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!

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