From the Studio: Coming Home to You

 

Christmas was approaching, and we put our names in the hat for the gift exchange. I drew my brother-in-law’s name, but had no idea what to get for him. He is a cross-country truck driver, home only on the weekends. I’m an artist, specializing in things made from piano parts. I decided to make something for him from the materials at hand that he could carry with him in the truck.

First, I went to social media and downloaded a nice photo of my sister, and cropped it to 5×7. Then I went out to the garage, to my supply of piano wood, and taking the footboard from the 1915 Kohler & Campbell upright piano, cut two pieces from it, trimmed to approximately 6×8, and sanded the edges nice and smooth.

The veneer was loose on one side of the wood, so I removed it completely on that side, then stained the cut edges of the wood and the exposed wood where the veneer had been removed, and set it aside to dry while I worked on the photos.

The original photo I kept pretty much as it was, with the exception that I applied a sepia filter to it in Photoshop. Then I copied and reversed it on the vertical axis, forming a mirror image of the original. I then made the reversed image transparent (like a watermark) and added over the top of it the words, “Happiness is having someone to come home to.” I ordered the prints through Sam’s Club and picked them up an hour later.

Back home, I used a spray adhesive to apply the photos to the inside panels of the wood, then let them sit several hours to dry. The next day I attached the two pieces of wood with two store-bought hinges and applied two coats of a clear polyurethane varnish to all surfaces, allowing time to dry between coats. Finally, I let it rest a few more days to cure.

When Christmas came, I was a bit apprehensive, wondering if Richard would like his gift. I didn’t need to worry—he loved it!

I can make one for you as well. Simply send me a photo and payment, and I will do the rest. The finished product may look slightly different from what you see in the photos here, depending on which piano gives you its wood, but the end result will be a unique and beautiful keepsake—made from the wood of an old piano—that you and your loved one will treasure for years to come.

Happiness is coming home to you!

From the Studio: Piano Headboard

headboard made from an old pianoIt’s always exciting when someone asks for a custom order. Such was the case with the headboard. I had made a mirrored coat rack from the music shelf of the Lyon & Healy piano and took it with me to a craft fair. A lady saw it, and it gave her an idea for something special she could do for her mother, who was a retired piano teacher. Her mother lived with her in her home, and she slept in a hospital bed to aid in her comfort. But the bed did not have a headboard. So the lady visiting my craft fair booth wondered if I could make a headboard from a piano music shelf. I told her I would try.

At home I looked at the other pieces I had from other pianos. Most of them were in poor condition, and I was inexperienced at that sort of restoration. So I began to shop around, mostly looking at the local listings on Craigslist. Pretty soon I found a piano near me at a price that I could afford, and I purchased it. So it was that I came across this beautiful Royal Cabinet Grand. Incidentally, this is also when I learned that the tallest of the upriRoyal Cabinet Grand (1)ght pianos are actually grand pianos built vertically—hence the term “upright grand.” I call this one a cabinet grand because that is the name so designated on the piano.

My sons helped me get it home, and I went to work right away to build the headboard.

The first question to determine was how long the headboard should be. It was going to be longer than the bed was wide, no question about it. I removed the music shelf and the side pedestals from the piano, laid them out on the floor of my studio, then took pictures of them to send to my customer to show her what I had found. I also wanted her opinion as to whether to include the pedestals as part of the headboard. They would add visual interest, but they would also add width to an already too-wide headboard. She liked the look, however, so the pedestals stayed.

piano music shelf to become a headboard

As with the coat rack I had built from the other piano, I flipped the music shelf upside down so the actual shelf would be up top.

On the piano, the music shelf had been hinged near the center, and the pedestal had been attached to the cabinet. In order to attach the pedestals to the shelf, I used key extensions on the back, which were secured with screws (from the piano action) and wood glue.

The headboard was not going to be attached to the bed, but was only going to lean against the wall behind it. Since the headboard had a gorgeous red mahogany finish, I went to the local hardware store to purchase a length of mahogany 2×4 wood to make the legs. They would be hidden by the bed, but just the same, I wanted them to suit the headboard. With a coat of stain for the legs and the key extensions on the back, everything was beginning to look quite nice. I attached the legs with antiqued brackets, and moved on to the finishing touches.

The next step was to conceal all the minor scratches and flaws. Then taking some green felt that I had removed from the piano and cleaned, I applied it to the places where the headboard would rest against the wall, to prevent any marks on the same. We bought a set of sliders to go under the legs, and the headboard was finished and ready for delivery.

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It was a happy day when I got to meet the lady who would enjoy this piano headboard. I put it in her room, and listened with delight to some of her stories of her glory days as a pianist and teacher. My friends, that’s what piano art is all about.

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!

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.

IMG_1188

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!

 

From the Studio: The Conductor

Conductor 2013The Conductor was the first creation ever made under the name Encore! Old Pianos with a New Song.

After spending days disassembling a hundred-year-old Lyon & Healy upright grand piano, cleaning away the dust, and storing the hundreds of screws in a container for future use, I began to move the pieces around this way and that to see what ideas would come to mind. When I held two sticker assemblies together, they seemed to form a man’s body—minus the head, of course.

So I cut the shank off a hammer, sanded it smooth, and voila! a head!

I decided to make him into a conductor because his hands were up in the air. So I gave him a baton (bridle wire).

Next, the conductor needed a music stand. The bottom of the stickers already looked like the base of a music stand with two feet sticking out on either side, so I simply (poor choice of words, I admit) constructed the platform on which to set the music. This platform was made from eleven flanges glued together,  plus one extra flange underneath to provide stability. They were then glued to the two flanges still attached to the “coat tails” of the conductor. So the entire conductor was fully assembled before being mounted onto the canvas, although he could not be a free-standing figurine like the Don Quixote I saw in the art gallery in Florida, because he was too top-heavy.

Conductor 01

As a sidebar, let me tell you my early process of freeing the flanges. If you’ll look in the photo above, you’ll see at the “feet” that they are attached by a small metal pin. There’s also a bushing around the pin to allow freedom of movement at the hinge. In the piano, the parts need to be able to move freely, but not too freely, in order for the piano to function properly. When they get too tight, you get “sticky keys.” To be honest, I’m not sure what the problem is when they are too loose. Perhaps they fall apart. But in my experience of taking them apart, being too loose is seldom a problem.

So, to get them apart, I pushed one end of the pin with the tip of a tiny pair of jeweler’s needle nose pliers until the pin was sticking out far enough on the other side to grab it with the pliers. Then I pulled the pin the rest of the way out and dropped it into a jar. I’ll probably never use the pins again, but I’m saving them and the springs for the fun of it, just to see how long it takes me to fill the jar with these tiny pieces. (For the record, at the rate I’m going, it may never be filled.)

As most of you know, there are 88 keys on a piano. That means inside the piano, in the action, there are 88 hammers, 88 whippens, 88 stickers (or the equivalent), about 78 dampers (the highest strings don’t need them), etc. But for every set of hammer, damper, whippen, and sticker, there could be 5 flanges. That’s a total of 440 flanges in a single piano! You can imagine the time it took me to push and pull that many pins out of their comfy spots! And let’s not say anything about how tired, sore, and dirty I was when I got finished.

On to the best part….

The Conductor needed a background. So I placed him on a stage with a crowd of listeners behind him and a spotlight which landed at his feet. I’ve made six of them so far, sometimes two at a time, and no two have turned out exactly alike. It’s time to make some more. In fact, the empty canvases are ready to go, and the photos will be added to Instagram as soon as they are finished.

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!


My Dear Readers

The first weekend of March I will be at my very first juried art show! That said, the next couple weeks will be dedicated to the studio, with less time given to my blogs. Some posts are scheduled, and I’ll check in from time to time to respond to comments, but please excuse me if it takes a little while. Thank you so much for reading! I’ll be back!


FOTD: Piano Bouquet

Yellow Hammers (5)

Each week I intend to participate in a photo challenge, just for the fun of it. I’ll spread my horizons, not sticking to any one challenge in particular, and soon I’ll create an album to collect the photos.

For my very first photo challenge, I’ve decided to do Cee’s Flower of the Day (FOTD) challenge. However, I’ve chosen a very special flower for the first photo from this blog: the Yellow Hammer. There actually is a variety of rhododendron called the yellow hammer, but this bunch was “grown” in my studio. 🙂

The green part in the center of the felt came to me that way, but I colored the remainder of the felt with a yellow color wash, and then had to carefully prevent it from shrinking as it dried. If they look dirty, it’s because they are about 100 years old, and at the beginning I was cleaning hammers with a nylon brush. Now I clean them with a wire brush, which works much more effectively.

This particular bouquet has found a happy home overseas, but I will make more as soon as I can find the right vases in which to put them.