From the Studio: Ivory Illustrations

Welcome back to my piano art studio! I’d like to share with you the power of a friendly suggestion.

I believe you can do it.

One day a couple years ago my friend Adele approached me at church with a piece of piano art someone had given her. The scene was of a country road winding through the woods and beyond a small cottage—all this painted on an ivory keytop head, which measures less than 1 inch by 2 inches. I was amazed at the detail that could be captured in such a tiny painting. The setting was equally stunning, as the painted keytop was set on a background of black velvet and enclosed in a 2½” x 3½” frame. “I believe you can do this too,” she said.

Challenge accepted

I’d never painted anything so small before, but I rose to the challenge. At home, I got out a sheet of canvas paper, traced several times around an ivory keytop head, then set about to paint a variety of settings within the constraints of my small rectangles. I wanted them to be my own, not a copy of the one my friend had shown me. Each setting was from a place I had been. Several were from photographs I’d taken, but a few came from my memory.

When I had painted seven scenes, I chose four of them to duplicate onto the actual ivories. I decided to create eight copies of each of scene, so I fastened 32 keytop heads to a paper sack with a small piece of rolled painter’s tape under each one.

Right away I learned that painting on the smooth ivory surface is much different from painting on the canvas paper. It took layer upon layer of paint before the picture began to emerge. (Now I prep the keytop head with a coat of sealer before painting, as it gives me a better surface on which to apply the paint.) Then using my smallest (liner) brushes, I set out to create what I hoped would be masterpieces—or at least identifiable scenes from nature.

Putting them together

When the paintings were complete, I borrowed from the other artist’s idea of mounting the keytop head onto a piece of black velvet in a small frame. This size frame is easy to find, but finding one that doesn’t look cheap can be a challenge. I cut the fabric down to size and mounted it to a piece of sturdy cardboard, also cut to size. The glass that had come with the frame was set aside for a possible future use.

A reason for rhyme

In addition to painting canvases and repurposing pianos, I also enjoy writing poetry. That said, I decided to write a short poem to go along with each painting. Three of them came out five lines long, which stands in perfect proportion to the keytop head. But for my favorite scene, the Blue Angels and Pensacola Lighthouse, I wanted something different. I had recently been to a show, and my mind was still filled with national pride in the skill and strength of our military. No, this one needed more than five lines of poetry! So instead, I wrote a shape poem in the form of a jet with its gray/white streaming contrail. Then with a bit of trial and error, I came up with a suitable display of both the poem and its accompanying miniature painting. To frame it, the Ocracoke design by Better Homes & Gardens, which looks like shiplap, was perfect. (Note, this style has apparently changed ownership. It’s now carried at Walmart under the Mainstays brand and in other stores under the name of Philip Whitney.) I also added a flourish of shells collected off the Pensacola Beach.

With the exception of “Angels and Light,” my original designs that included poetry were framed as 5×7’s and mounted to either black velvet or unbleached canvas. I printed the poem onto cardstock and layered scrapbooking papers underneath. There was a flaw in this design, however. By taking these items to craft fairs, I learned that they don’t hold up well under the Florida humidity. I tried several different adhesives, and the only one that worked was fabric glue, which is messy to work with. But I’m constantly watching YouTube videos to see how other crafters work, and I’ve learned a new technique that will greatly improve my design. I look forward to implementing the new ideas in the coming weeks and months. And of course, I’ll share them here when they’re finished.

Making it personal

To date my skipped-over scene ideas remain unused. One of these days I’ll get to them.

But I have painted other settings on ivory keytop heads by commission. My favorite was a recent commission for which I painted a Denver skyline. This was my first mini painting done in landscape mode. It kind of scared me, to be honest, because I had to make it recognizable as the city of Denver, not just a random city with a backdrop of mountains. Evidently I did well, for my customer was pleased. I’m always happy to oblige, and I’m honored whenever anyone asks for a custom piece.

How can I make it mine?

Only a few of my original Ivory Illustrations remain: two small “Black River, White Sand,” and three large “Angels and Light.” As I paint more—and update the ones that include poetry—I’ll also add these to my shop.

If you have an idea for something you’d like special, by all means, let me know. After all, it was a suggestion from a friend that brought Ivory Illustrations to light in the first place!

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

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: Riff

Welcome back to my piano art studio! Today I have a series of questions for you—their answers too, of course.

Patterns? or random?

What’s your preference? As for me, I believe random is beautiful in certain situations, but my inclination is toward patterns. “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” right? This is why patterns appear in so many of the things I create from piano pieces. There is order in nature, there is order in music, and there is order inside a piano. Why not create more order from the pieces I find there?

How big is it?

Measuring at 24 x 36 inches, “Riff” is the largest canvas piece I’ve created to date.

What was your process?

To begin with, I selected a variety of piano action pieces from among those I had previously cleaned, separated, and sorted. Then sitting on the living room floor, I arranged them in a three-foot circle. When I was satisfied with the arrangement, I placed them onto a 24×30 piece of plywood. I considered mounting them to the plywood, but changed my mind and went with the canvas instead.

Since the finished product would be rectangular rather than circular, I removed all the pieces that appeared beyond the boundary, leaving me with 196 pieces. The ones that lay along the edge were cut and sanded, to give the illusion of a continuous circle without having to show it in its entirety. I painted the gallery-wrapped canvas in a nice neutral tone, and also hand-painted every action piece. When the paint was dry, I glued the pieces down. To finish the piece, on the back I installed two sets of picture wire and D-hooks—one to use for vertical hanging, and another for a horizontal display. It truly looks good either way.

What does it mean?

The circle was divided in half, representing the two parts of a standard musical staff: treble and bass. To color the pieces, I used vermillion on side and turquoise on the other. The parts in the center of the circle bear the darkest hues of each respective color, and the “ripples” which extend from the center grow increasingly lighter in hue. Additionally, I created a wavy line of white running through one side and another of black on the opposite side, representing the ivory and ebony of the keys. These were accompanied by one piece each from the other side, to represent the harmony created by playing the notes together.

Where did the name come from?

This one was dubbed “Riff,” a term I came across while learning to play guitar. A riff is a repeated chord progression or refrain; a pattern of sound that forms the foundation for the composition. This piece is a pattern in the form of a circle, so the name fits, don’t you think?

How can I make it mine?

“Riff” is currently available for sale. If you’re interested in learning more, simply click here.

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

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: Fortissimo

Welcome back to my piano art studio. Please allow me to share with you the latest creation from the Encore studio and the thought that went into it.

One of my favorite things about creating piano art is getting to participate in local craft fairs and art shows. While not an extrovert by nature, I do love meeting new people, hearing their stories, sharing mine, and seeing the sparks that fly when we connect. Often I’ll meet someone who plays another instrument besides the piano, and several of them have asked me to come up with art that represents their instrument in particular, rather than music in general. That is a worthy need, and I’ve been brainstorming for more than a year now to figure out how to create art that appeals to other instrumentalists. (Forgive me. I’m slow.)

Granted, I have made a Hornist, and have plans to make other instrumentalists “holding” and “playing” their instruments. But those are difficult and extremely fragile. Frankly, they scare me.

My first Instrumentalist

The “Hornist” was made on commission, and someday there will be others, including a trumpeter, flutist, violinist, and guitarrist.

As an alternative to the instrumentalist, I wanted to come up with an idea to showcase only the instrument itself. My original idea was to use the piano pieces to form assemblage art, essentially “building” a two-dimensional instrument on canvas, using only piano pieces. The trouble with this is that most of the pieces are straight and angular, and most instruments have curves. How could I get the curves without a lot of cutting and sanding? And if I did cut and sand, would the pieces be recognizable as piano action when I was finished? I decided to ditch that idea and think of something else.

YouTube has become a sort of classroom for me, as I spend a fair amount of time watching other artists demonstrate their skills and then trying it for myself. I gather ideas for how to complete the various projects stored in my mind, including the hoped-for Instrument Series. It was while watching an abstract artist at SurajFineArts that I thought of an idea that might work. He drew several curved and overlapping lines on the canvas, then filled in each area with varying values of the same color. By the time he was done, we saw an image of a woman seated there. I thought I could do the same thing, but with musical instruments instead of a woman, and incorporate piano action pieces onto the canvas to make it a mixed media piece with some extra dimension. The video that inspired me is here:

More time went by, during which I practiced making line drawings of various musical instruments in my sketchbook. But before I had a chance to test that idea with paint on canvas, another one came to mind.

Much practice has made me adept at bending piano strings into various shapes, often with nothing but my two hands. That’s when I decided to think outside the box—or in this case, outside the instrument.

So, combining the original idea to create assemblage art with the second one to create line art, I shaped the instrument with a piano string and made the action pieces an integral part of the visual representation of music. With a 24″ ruler, I made sure all the non-round pieces lay along imaginary lines that all merged at the lower left-hand corner of the canvas. I wanted them to appear as though they were proceeding from out of the instrument.

Brainstorming a new idea

First I drew a rough sketch of a piano on a sheet of paper, then placed it where I wanted it on the canvas.

Next, I selected a variety of action pieces and arranged them randomly, though not haphazardly, on the canvas.

The next step in the process was to decide how to paint the background. Lately I’ve been watching quite a few fluid art demonstrations, and I considered using one of those methods for this one. However, my most recent attempt was pathetic, so I decided to stick with a tool I’m familiar with, the brush, but to use it more abstractly than what is usual for me.

Another YouTuber I’m particularly fond of is Molly of Molly’s Artistry. She usually does fluid art, and particularly Dutch pours, but once in a while she’ll show us an abstract brushed painting, often combining the brush with fluid art techniques. She did just that in one particular video, and I loved it! However, I thought the balloon kisses that she added toward the end would be too much for what I wanted to do, so I watched her paint the canvas several times, slowed it down and watched again, then paused the video at 1:28 and on a scrap canvas attempted to duplicate what she had done up to that point. Here’s the video I modeled:

When I was happy with the result and had gotten plenty of feedback from my family members, I watched Molly again, then painted a fresh canvas.

Another decision was whether or not to paint the action pieces. I liked them unpainted, but ultimately (obviously) decided not to leave them that way.

To add emphasis to the piano, I filled it in by applying heavy body black and white paint with a palette knife. I wanted this to also be textured and rough. When the paint was dry, I applied two coats of gloss varnish, then glued the action pieces in place, and finally “sewed” on the piano string using lengths of wire for “thread,” reinforced on the back side of the canvas with buttons and hot glue.

Oh, yes. . .the name? “Fortissimo,” because my mind hears the music loud and clear when I look at this canvas. Future pieces in this series will likely be named after their featured instrument, but for this one, “Piano” would never have sufficed. Don’t you agree?

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

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: Monster Mash

Welcome back to my piano art studio. Please allow me to share with you the latest creation from the Encore studio, and tell you why and how I stepped outside of the box for a change.

In our family, the time between dinner and bedtime are often spent watching a couple favorite TV shows or a movie. I’ve taken to cleaning piano parts while I watch, as a way to “redeem the time.” It’s fairly tedious work that requires no mental exertion whatsoever, so it’s the perfect thing to keep my hands busy while my mind is at rest. Anything that cannot get a water bath gets a good scrubbing with a wire brush. Then I separate the many pieces with a pin extractor built expressly for this purpose. The pins are collected into a jar, and the pieces are sorted and stored. Some of them after separation, if they don’t have felt on them, can get that water bath, which gets them cleaner than brushing alone.

One night as I scrubbed, separated, and sorted, I ended up with quite a few wippens that still had a flange glued to them. The glue was stubborn, and I wasn’t able to break them apart. I held one of them up and said to my 19-year-old daughter, “Hey, this kinda looks like a zombie.” She agreed. Now, if my children’s fascination with zombies is any indication of the general popularity of these mythical undead, then I thought perhaps I should look into actually using the zombies in a painting.

My paintings all get musical names. It’s a thing I do. Sometimes I use a single term that describes the theme or purpose for a particular piece. Sometimes it’s a song title. Naturally, my mind went straight to the song “Monster Mash.”

With Halloween fast approaching, I pushed myself to get this project out of the “do” stage and into the “done” stage. The hardest part was deciding which colors to use and how to use them. I listened to recordings of the song and learned that it came out in 1962.

“What if I used a color palette from the 60’s?”

“Great idea, Angela!”

“Thank you!”

(Don’t mind me. I’m just talking to myself. Lol)

Not all wippens look alike, and only one piano has given me a set suitable as zombies. But if I put 13 zombies on each canvas (Yes, I chose that number deliberately.), I have enough for five paintings. In my Google search of 60’s colors, I also found five patterns I could use in the background. In that way, although I employ the same color scheme for each one, changing up the patterns will allow me to present five one-of-a-kind paintings.

It took four tries to get each color just exactly as I wanted it, neither too psychedelic nor too understated. I have no formal training in art, so mixing paints is more a matter of happenstance for me than science. But I learned a lot in the process, including how to judge what the color will look like when dry. My math skills were put to use in determining the angle for each ray and its placement on the canvas. I used a protractor and ruler to measure the angles and mark the lines; but when it came time to paint, I used only a three-quarter-inch flat brush and a steady hand. After all, this is a party, so I didn’t want it to look too sterile. At the same time, I had confidence that I could paint in straight lines well enough to make this look professional.

The first painting is complete, and that’s probably as far as I’m going to get for now. At this point I plan to release #2 in October 2021, and #3-5 will all be released in October 2022, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the hit song for which the painting is named.

“Monster Mash” #1 of 5 is currently available for sale on Etsy. Please check it out. I offer free domestic shipping on everything in the shop, and I’ll work with you for a fair price on international shipping.

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

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!