Each one of us is God’s special work of art. Through us, He teaches and inspires, delights and encourages, informs and uplifts all those who view our lives. God, the master artist, is most concerned about expressing Himself—His thoughts and His intentions—through what He paints in our character…. [He] wants to paint a beautiful portrait of His Son in and through your life. A painting like no other in all of time.Joni Eareckson Tada
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.
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!
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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!
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.
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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!
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?
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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!
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!”
(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.
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Welcome back to my piano art studio. Today’s tour features a piece known as “Keyed Up,” one of the longest-standing and most popular items in my inventory.
The first thing I ever made with piano keys was what I now call the small “Keyed Up,” a set of keys with their extensions cut off, leaving only the black and white parts we all recognize as piano keys. They were glued together in a staggered formation, rather than straight in a row, and I installed cup hooks on every other key. The first one utilized two full octaves, but I immediately reduced the length to 1½ octaves, not only to help me better meet the demand for this item, but also to make it more stable.
Making a “Keyed Up”
First, the keys have to come off the piano. This is usually easy, but not always. It depends on how the piano is assembled. I can generally figure out fairly quickly how to remove the music shelf, action, fallboard, and any other strips of wood that stand in my way of getting to the keys. However, one manufacturer in particular (Knabe) has me stumped on a rather old piano. I never was able to get the fallboard off because I couldn’t figure out how to access the screws upon which it pivots. But I needed the keys to fill an order, so I carefully maneuvered them up and off their pins then slid them out from under the fallboard.
As I remove the keys from the piano, and throughout the preparation process, I try to keep them in order. That is helpful, not only for creating the “Keyed Up,” but also other pieces in which I use keys together. They are always filthy dirty, so they get a bath in the sink with warm water and a special cleaning solution. I learned not to let them soak because soaking tends to loosen the glue that holds the ivories (whether genuine or not) and ebonies onto the extensions. Instead, I place them a few at a time into the water bath, scrub them on all surfaces with a grout/tile brush, then place them on wire racks to air dry. Drying time takes at least 24 hours, and preferably 2-3 days. Another hard lesson learned was that the “Keyed Up” can warp if there’s any moisture in the keys when it’s assembled. That happened to the set I made for myself. I haven’t received any negative feedback from others, so hopefully mine was the only one that messed up.
Once the pieces are thoroughly dry, if I’m making a small “Keyed Up,” I take the keys to my table saw and cut the extensions off. The extensions go into a bin for use in another project, and the cut ends of the keys get a careful sanding on the belt sander.
Using wood glue, I mount the keys to a piece of 1/4-in. lauan plywood. I purchase the plywood in 2′ x 4′ sheets and cut it down to roughly 6″ x 10″ and sand all edges. When the glue is applied and all the keys are in place, I then clamp it down very securely and leave it to set up for a few hours or overnight. Old extensions cut from other keys help me apply equal pressure to all the keys.
When the clamps come off, I drill pilot holes into every other key, then screw in the cup hooks. On the back I place a half-sheet story behind the art, including details about this particular piece, then add two sawtooth hangers across the top and two felt bumpers (felts from the piano) in each of the bottom corners.
From the beginning, I designed the “Keyed Up,” both large and small, as a place to hang your car/house keys—keys for keys, if you will. Then one day a lady purchased a “Keyed Up” at a craft fair and told me, “I’m going to use this to hang up my necklaces.” What a brilliant idea! Now I’ve done the same, as have several others.
A Fresh Idea
The large “Keyed Up” includes the keys in their entirety—extensions and all. The term extension may be my own word, and it refers to the bare wood portion of the key that extends into the body of the piano and interacts with the action. On diagrams, I’ve never seen any other designation than simply key to represent the whole.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that not all keys are the same. For the most part, the dimensions of the visible portions of the keys (the ebonies and ivories) are standard, but the lengths and styles of the extensions vary greatly, depending upon not only the size of the piano but also on the manufacturer. When I used shorter keys, I had no trouble leaving the bare wood portion “blank.” But when I began creating large “Keyed Ups” using the longer keys of upright grands, I received feedback suggesting that I come up with a way to fill in the negative space.
So I came up with an idea to fill in the space using a hammer from the piano and some hand-crafted lettered tiles (made from key extensions). I like it, but this isn’t for everyone. What if the buyer wants to hang something other than keys? Granted, “KEYS” could refer to the part of piano represented here, but maybe there’s something better—or at least different—that I can do.
Perhaps I could write a message across the key extensions. This seems like a good idea, but it’s been hard trying to decide exactly what to write on them. Should they all be different from one another? All the same? And if the same, what in the world do I choose?
Will you help me decide? If so, please complete the survey below. And if you like, you can go a step further by leaving me a comment with your own suggestion or feedback.
Most of my piano art creations have a music-themed name given to them. The key chains are one notable exception, for I have never called them anything but what they are. And that’s okay.
Welcome back to the Studio Tour. Today I’m going to share with you how to make key chains from piano hammers and ebony keys. The key chains are my most popular item, and I also use them as gifts for college graduates, personalizing them with their name and the year. In fact, personalization has become quite popular this year, with most online buyers requesting that a name or initials be written on the hammer. I have considered offering personalization at craft fairs. Perhaps this fall I will make it so.
The first set of key chains I made were constructed of piano hammers, an eyelet screw that also came out of the piano (technically called a letoff regulating screw), and a key ring. I bought a package of 100 key rings on eBay and set out to make 100 piano hammer key chains.
The process is tedious but fun, at least for me. I’ll share my process with you, and then you decide if you would also like to make piano hammer key chains.
- Remove the entire action from the piano.
- Unscrew the 264 screws that hold the pieces in place.
- Separate the pieces as necessary, releasing the bridle strap from the bridle wire. (These often show dry rot, depending on their age.)
- Scrub each hammer with a wire bristle brush to remove the dust and dirt that has accumulated over as many as 100 years. Be sure to wear a mask.
- Using a table saw with a jig saw blade, cut the hammer away from the hammer shank. While you’re at it, go ahead and separate the hammer shank from the hammer butt as well. Sort these pieces into their storage containers for later use in other projects.
- Scrub the letoff regulating screws while still attached to the letoff rail to remove dust and surface rust; trust me, it’s easier this way.
- Using a hook from a pick and hook set, turn out each of the letoff regulating screws from the rail. Allow the letoff buttons to fall off the end of the screw, then collect the buttons into a storage container for future use in another project.
- Secure one of the hammers in a vice to hold it upright and steady; drill a pilot hole into the top of the hammer, then widen the hole with a size 2.0 drill bit.
- Screw one of the letoff regulating screws into the hole on the top of the hammer.
- Add a key ring to the regulating screw.
- Repeat steps 8-10 ninety-nine more times, and you’re done, unless the key chains will be personalized.
- To personalize a key chain, first apply a coat of sealer to both sides of the hammer; let dry.
- Write the name/word/initials down the wood part of the hammer with a fine-tip paint pen that will contrast well with the color of the wood.
- Apply a second coat of sealer over the ink to keep it from smudging; let dry.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to make a batch of piano hammer key chains? If not, feel free to shop in my store for one that I made for you.
There is another design I created, one that does not use the regulating screw. Instead, I drilled a hole through the hammer near the top, using a step drill bit with long tapers. This design came about when I tried making my second batch of 100 key chains, but the first five regulating screws broke when I had them screwed almost all the way into the hammer. I concluded that those screws were too degraded with rust to be useful. They didn’t appear rusty, but they had obviously been weakened by time and the elements.
In one of the pianos, an 1866 Steinway upright, I discovered some 25 hammers that already had a hole drilled into them. It served no purpose that I could detect, but appeared to be part of the design. I took advantage of that pre-made hole to make more key chains. The hole goes from front to back rather than from side to side. This is inconvenient for the purpose of displaying the key chains on the peg hooks; but the design does enable the hammer to lie flat against your keys when you add actual keys to the ring.
However, I do prefer to use the regulating screw in the construction of my key chains, so I went back to eBay and purchased some brand new ones. That way I would know for sure that they were strong enough for the task. It increases my cost a little, but it also improves the quality of my product.
Next came ebony key chains. To date, I have not used regulating screws to make the ebony key chains, but only drill holes through the ebony and add the key ring. It sounds simple, but though there are fewer steps involved in making key chains from the ebonies, these steps can require more effort.
The ebonies are attached to key extensions, long pieces of wood (usually 12″-14″), by means of a special glue used specifically in the construction of pianos. The glue does degrade over time, and sometimes the ebonies pop off easily. Other times I soak them in a warm soapy sink bath, and am able to twist them apart. And sometimes I am powerless to separate them from the extension. Those ebonies are set aside for a different purpose.
I decided not to paint and buff the ebonies that show age, for the natural wear and tear of use has its own charm. I simply wash them, dry them, and polish them with a lint-free cloth and a touch of linseed oil.
Drilling the hole in the ebonies also takes more effort than drilling a hole in the hammer because ebony is a very hard wood. Yes, I have come across a few pianos that did not use genuine ebony for the sharps, but painted a softer, cheaper wood. Another technique is to cover the wood with black plastic. These are also cheaper and hold up better to use when the piano is being played. I save these sharps for other projects, and only use genuine ebony sharps to make my key chains.
Genuine ebony does not need to be painted because it is naturally brown-black in color. I have found some that were painted, and have removed the paint to allow the natural beauty of the wood to show through. They are quite stunning when they have been polished with the linseed oil, and the grains of the wood are visible!
Recently I made a new batch of key chains to sell at the Sand Dollar Cottage, a gift shop/art gallery in Navarre that carries some of my piano art. This was the first time I ventured to write on the felt parts of the hammers, and it turned out successfully. Again, I sealed the surface before writing, and most of the pen colors came out nice and crisp. I made some “ebony” key chains for this purpose as well. These are not genuine ebony, but are actually made of plastic, as they came off an old electronic organ rather than a piano. These key chains will be available very soon at the Sand Dollar Cottage.
If you happen to be in the area, do stop in and take a look around. The Sand Dollar Cottage is a co-op of about 50 local artists. Here you can find beautiful art, home décor, and souvenirs to take home to friends and family. Christmas ornaments are also sold year-round because folks tell me that they collect Christmas ornaments everywhere they go. The Sand Dollar Cottage is conveniently located in the Sand Dollar Plaza on Highway 87, northbound, just off Highway 98.
Allow me to share with you the latest creation from the Encore studio, tell you why and how it came into being, and why it has two names.
Last year I had the pleasure of participating in a holiday craft show in Destin, Florida, where I met Carolyn Williams, the owner of Sand Dollar Cottage, an art gallery/gift shop in Navarre. She and several other artists were also vendors at the craft show, and we visited each other’s booths. Carolyn fell in love with my work and invited me to place some of my pieces in her gallery in Navarre. So in January I did just that!
Carolyn does an excellent job of organizing the pieces in her shop according to color, theme, etc., and not necessarily by artist. As it would happen, however, most of my things are all in one place because they are unique, being made of piano parts, and having nothing to do with beachy themes and muted colors. In short, they are their own theme.
So as time has allowed, I’ve been brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to combine piano art with beach art, to appeal to the musician who visits and/or lives at the beach. This was my first creation, but it will by no means be the last, as other ideas are simmering as well….
I went to work, collecting the keys that I would use to make the fans. I practiced my lettering, chose the pen that I would use to write on the keys, then went shopping for ribbon and shells. I thought about going to the beach to pick up shells myself, but I’ve been there, and I know it would have taken me a long time to collect the number of shells I would have needed, and time is money.
The next step was to figure out how to securely connect the keys to each other and mount them to the wall. I glued them together, but as very little of their surfaces actually touch each other, I reinforced the connections with mending plates at the top and wood plates toward the bottom.
Since I gave away my bow maker, I made these bows by hand, sewing them together with floral wire. Then I used a heavier wire to fasten them to the keys, tying off the wire in the back, and tucking it in between two of the keys. Using a hot glue gun, I secured the ribbon to the keys in front, so that it would not hang down from the weight of the shells, and I hot glued the shells in place on the ribbon. I also hot glued two round felts from the piano to the bottom of the keys in back, as bumpers to hold it off the wall.
The wood plate in fact serves multiple purposes: it reinforces stability, hides the floral wire, and displays the artist statement. After trimming the board to size and sanding the edges smooth, I applied wood glue where the board would go, then drilled five pilot holes along both the top and bottom, to attach it to each key using short screws from out of the piano. I also used a piano screw to attach the mounting hook.
Finally, I edited the story of my art to fit on the board, printed it out on labels, trimmed them down to size, and applied them to the board. With that, the project was done!
Actually, I skipped a step in process—naming it. I had been working on the piece while at the Blues & BarBQ Festival at St. Joseph’s Church in Pensacola. In fact, that was where I worked on making the bows, attaching them to the keys, and gluing down the shells. I showed one of them to a lady whom I had met at the show, and she purchased it on the spot. I was thrilled that she liked it, but I said, “I don’t know what to call it yet, or how much I want to ask for it.”
She replied, “Well, you’d better think about it. I’m going to walk around some more, and I’ll be back to get your answer.”
So I put up photos on Instagram with a plea for help in naming this piece. I like to give my works musical names whenever possible. I had been listening to Blues music for the past day and a half at the festival, and had come to realize how important that genre is to this region. It is in no way limited to Louisiana, but colors the cultures of southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and western Florida as well. And so I thought, “Beach Blues…” to reflect the region for which this piece was made in the first place. When the lady returned, I had a name and a price. She was honored by the name, but she said my price was too low, so I raised it at her insistence.
A little while later I saw that I had received a response to my plea for help with the name. A friend from Virginia had suggested “Ocean Sounds,” and I liked that equally well. Reading the name brought to mind soothing piano music with an overture of crashing waves, and I knew it would do the same for my customers. I decided to use both names. The piece will be called “Beach Blues” when sold locally here in the Florida area, but it will be called “Ocean Sounds” when sold online or in Virginia. (Yes, I am going back to my beloved Virginia later this year to do two shows!)
In honor of my friend who gave me the name “Ocean Sounds,” I would like to share a video of piano music with ocean sounds. I hope you enjoy it.
The creation of “Ocean Sounds,” or “Beach Blues,” whatever you prefer to call it, is somewhat symbolic of my assimilation with the place in which God has put my family and me. It was not easy making the transition from Virginia to Florida. Yes, I was born here in this state, but Virginia is my family’s birthplace, and the place that I call home. Yet I have learned to be content here. This is where God brought us, and this is where God wants us. It’s a good place to be—in the center of God’s will. Today that place, the center of God’s will for my husband and me, is Florida. Someday He may move us somewhere else. But until then I will listen to the Beach Blues—not forsaking the memory of the Ocean Sounds, but choosing to live in the present with contentment.
May you, too, find contentment in the place, and with the people, where God has placed you. God bless!
With more and more customers asking for a clock, I knew it was time to build one. To be honest, I don’t remember where the idea for this design originated, or how I decided to incorporate plexiglass, but I will say that the end result has been worth the risks of stepping out of my comfort zone. And believe me, I stepped out with both feet on this one.
This first clock would be very large, and it would be for me, for two reasons. First of all, my kitchen needed a clock. We have a vaulted ceiling that extends high above the kitchen cabinets. When the house was staged for sale, there was a large clock in that space. I made up my mind that if the clock did not convey with the house, I wanted to replace it. Well, the clock did not convey, so I was going to replace it with a key clock.
This clock would have sentimental value, for I was building it with keys from a piano I used to play at my church. It had suffered smoke and water damage in a fire when our sanctuary burned down. In fact, when the piano first came to me, the sooty white keys were as black as the sharps, though with some TLC, I was able to get them white again. The piano from the sanctuary was reduced to charcoal, but this one was in a classroom. So while it was ruined as an instrument of music, I was overjoyed to discover that many of its pieces were redeemable for art.
So I measured the space on the wall where the clock would go, cleaned up twelve of the keys, laid them out in a spiral on the kitchen floor to the dimensions of the space on the wall, and took a picture of the arrangement. I studied the keys to determine how and where to attach them to the plexiglass so I would know what size circle I needed to purchase. Then I shopped around both locally and online to find the best source for the plexiglass. I found it on eBay, already cut into circles. I also found clock mechanisms on eBay that could be attached to the front of the plexiglass so that I would not have to take the entire clock down off the wall to change the time or the batteries. That was my favorite feature of the clock.
Before beginning to build the first clock, I prayed and asked God for wisdom to know how to do it right. Yes, the Lord cares about everything in our lives, no matter how great or small those things may seem. Then I watched several YouTube videos regarding how to drill holes into plexiglass without cracking or scratching the surface. When I believed I was armed with enough knowledge, I set out to make key clock number one. As recommended in one of the videos, I bought a titanium step drill bit to use for the task and prepared my worktable by laying down two pieces of scrap 2x4s so my drill bit could extend beyond the plexiglass without hitting the table. Using a 24″ ruler and a compass, I marked lines on the protective cover on one side of the plexiglass, to indicate where the keys would be positioned around the face of the clock. Next, I measured and marked where I would place the screws in the keys, and finally, where the holes would go in the plexiglass.
Now came the crucial moment, the moment when it was time to drill the first hole in the plexiglass. The tutorial had warned that plexiglass heats up fairly quickly, and that you have to use your drill on high speed to prevent cracking. So no going slowly because you’re scared. It’s all or nothing. He also recommended leaving the protective covering on both sides of the plexiglass. If there is none, then cover the area to be drilled with masking tape before drilling. This also helps to prevent scratches and cracks. Apply firm pressure and feel the steps as your drill bit sinks into the material until you reach the desired depth. One… two… three… That’s it. My first hole is done! Only 23 more to go! I tested them with the screws (also taken from out of the piano). Some of them didn’t quite sit right, so I had to widen the holes a bit, but before long all the holes were drilled, and it was time to remove the protective covering. No cracks! Praise the Lord!
The next step was to drill pilot holes in the keys to prevent the wood from splitting when the screws were added. I could not use the step bit for that, so I used my regular drill bits and went up three sizes, effectively drilling 24 holes three times, for a total of 72 holes. Then came the task of attaching the keys to the plexiglass. I was using both “ivory” (not genuine in this case) and ebony keys in a chromatic arrangement, but since I was working from the back of the clock, I had to think backwards, not easy for this brain of mine. I messed up a couple times and had to remove some keys and start over, but eventually I got them on correctly. Another victory—all the keys were attached, and still no cracks in the plexiglass! Again, I praised and thanked the Lord.
The mounting hardware went on with one of the screws that holds the key at the twelve o’clock position. With that done, the only thing left was to put the clock mechanism on. I had not thought to mark the center (something I do nowadays), so I assembled the clockworks and laid it down in the center of the assembled face, then watched the second hand go around, making minor adjustments to its position as needed until it was centered. I marked the place with a Sharpie, then set it aside while I attached the mounting foam. This particular model came with a foam shell that attached with adhesive to the surface, and the clock slid into it. A 4″ round black face hid the foam pouch nicely, and it looked beautiful in the center of the keys.
Oh, yes. I learned the hard way to wear latex gloves throughout the process to keep fingerprints off the plexiglass. Dust is another matter. I did my best, but it is inevitable that some dust will get on the plastic. I wiped it carefully with a lint-free cloth, then hung the clock on the wall. This was no small task, especially since I had to use an 8′ ladder, and I’m afraid of heights. But it’s up there, and it’s going to stay up there indefinitely.
The key clocks I make for sale are not nearly so large, although they are not small by any means either. For my customers, I cut the extensions off the keys to produce a clock that is 21″ in diameter. The assembly process is the same, but I make the clocks in a variety of designs, both chromatic and symmetrical. Among the symmetrical patterns, sometimes I place the black keys (ebonies or sharps, whatever you want to call them) at 12, 3, 6, and 9, and sometimes I place the white keys (or ivories) in those positions. As with all of my creations, no two clocks look exactly alike. The keys will vary, depending on which piano they came from. The clock parts will vary, depending on my supplier. And the design will vary, depending on the whim of the day. I have also made some to order. In fact, one of my favorites was a clock made for a beach house. For this one I used distressed keys, old ivories that were still somewhat whitish but broken, and painted black keys that had turned gray after a good soaking in the sink.
Most of my piano art creations have a name that has something to do with music. For a while, I simply called this one “Key Clock,” but it too begged for a musical name. So I stared at the movement as it went around the face of the clock one evening and thought for a while, waiting for a name to come to me—Andante, “moderately slow tempo.” If you look at the metronome, andante doesn’t appear to be all that slow. But then again, neither does time, especially when you’re having fun. And I have fun making art from old pianos. Even so, time is steady, andante, as it marches along, never going backward, always pressing forward.
To date I have made six Andante Key Clocks, with four more ready for assembly. And so far I have not cracked any plexiglass. I still thank the Lord for success every time I finish drilling 24 holes in a new sheet, and I’ll do it every time.
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.