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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pipemaking without a Net

There are many different ways to approach making a pipe. There is the safest way, to pick a popular shape profile, sketch it on the block, and cut that shape out of the wood. You know going in that, assuming some unseen briar flaw doesn't cause the pipe to be rejected, the conventional shape that pops out the other end will almost certainly sell. There seems to be a buyer for every billiard, bulldog, and poker that a maker can crank out. This is fun work, because even when I'm working on something extremely familiar to me, it's a comfort to be sure I'll get paid for my labors and I can relax and basically just put my brain on idle.

Another approach is to be calculatedly artistic - That is, to look around at the popular freehand shapes that are hot and do something freehand-ish along those lines. This, too is a comfort, because you can be sure that your end result will likely be something that is widely seen as "OK", and someone will probably buy it. This isn't quite as much of a guarantee as doing a classical shape, because your eye might suck and your Snail design might end up looking downright clunky, but it's a pretty safe route.

Option three is the terrifying one. I don't actually do this regularly simply because I find it too trying on the nerves. The pipe seen in the pics was done with no plan whatsoever, only a very intense mood (I'd say "fit of passion" but that sounds awfully poncey). I didn't sketch it, I didn't plan it, I just picked up a block that had a beautiful grain pattern and started freehand grinding, letting it shape itself. A little off here, a touch there, flatten this, follow the flat plane of the bird's-eye here. Working like this is actually almost terrifying at times because you have to be wide open to your intuitive feeling of what looks right and what doesn't, and where the energy needs to go in the form. It's a matter of almost closing one's eyes and "feeling" one's way along the shape, trying to feel invisible lines of tension that say, "There needs to be a countering curve here", and, "The flow of lines pulls this way, this part is struggling and being pulled along". It isn't about looking at a ready-made pattern and trying to get as close as you can to that pattern, but rather trying to capture a transitional emotion in sculpture - almost the Impressionist school of pipemaking.

It's scary for a lot of reasons, one of the chief ones being that any pipes done like this almost always take three times as long to make and thus have to be expensive, yet at the same time you'll be presenting people with something they haven't already seen before - a risky sales proposition at best. Working with Pipe & Pint has made this a bit safer, though, and allowed me more creative freedom since they're ready to snap up anything, and seem willing to even take risks on the more avant-garde pieces. People ask me, "Why do you send everything to Pipe & Pint?", and I say, "Because I can make exactly what I like to and have an easy sale". So, this pipe will almost certainly be traveling overseas next week. If anyone wishes to buy it in the meantime, it is here and available for the moment. It's hand-signed, with tight sandblasted grain and bird's-eye splashed over the smooth surfaces, and costs 605 €. Anyone interested can email me!

Oh, and before I forget, I also have a bent, sandblast Morta Classic in squat poker shape here, should anyone be in a morta mood.