News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
Talbert Pipes Website - Kentucky Fried Popcorn - My Web Comic.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

(Not) Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Biz News - I have just posted two more Morta Classics to the catalog. I think visitors will find them both a bit different from the usual Classics! I'm still hoping to have some new Talbert Briars this week. Alas, the Ligne Bretagne catalog has nearly emptied out on me in just the few days since I last filled it. Sometimes it feels like standing on a pile of sand... though this is a good thing!

Today's pic is a Talbert Briar sandblasted freehand I just finished for an order. I don't know if it will see the catalog or not, but thought I'd post one of the snapshots here for fun since it may sell privately. It's rather gnarly.

What do pipemakers do on lazy Sunday afternoons?

Answer a box full of email.

Photograph and post the newly-finished pipes to the catalog, and update the web pages.

Renew my domain name registration with my website provider.

Hunt around on the SNCF travel ticket website to see what prices and times I can find for a direct-shot high speed TGV train from here to Lille. I learned that we can shoot there from here in about five hours, then rent a car to drive to the Rheinbach show at the station, which sounds wonderful. Anything that does not involve changing trains in Paris sounds wonderful. Actually, anything that does not even include the word "Paris" sounds wonderful. (No offense intended to my various Parisian friends. I am simply a small-town guy and the size and chaos of the place freaks me out)

Check out and reserve some sort of rental car for the drive into Germany. I don't know how Germans drive. French drivers have two modes - full throttle and slamming on their brakes. Perhaps I should rent something very large and heavy...

Write "Thank you" letters to the two friends, one in China and the other in the US, who recently sent me two magnificent gifts - one was a set of original ink paintings by a Chinese artist, and the other was a box containing two S. Bang pipes! I have good friends.

Spend at least a half hour doing further small graphical and content tweaks to continue the website rejuvenation.

Make myself a reminder note for all future blog entries that good articles should NOT simply be "To Do" lists........

Friday, May 25, 2007

In the Summertime

Today's pic is another pipe preview, of a pipe that will probably be going up on the website with the next update. It was done for a special order which unfortunately seems to have fallen through, so the wee squat thing is now waiting for its own catalog page. Definitely the very definition of a pocket pipe! It will fit into a shirt pocket. I'm tempted to just send it to Jeff Folloder for his tiny pipe collection except that it isn't really tiny - the bowl is actually decent sized for a morta, but the overall dimensions verge on the silly.

My apologies for the lack of blog updates of late! Sadly, it's probably going to be a very slow time at the blog for the coming months. Between the usual wages of summertime (lunches at the beach, swimming, etc), the numerous distractions during June and July (visiting friends from all over Europe who seem to stop in daily), and the need to both make enough pipes to pay the bills AND make some extra pipes to take to the German show..... Well, I'm wondering just how much time I'll have to devote to the blog. However, I do intend to chronicle the trip to the Rheinbach show here, complete with pics, but it's likely to be a very slow couple of months between now and August.

We've just paid our yearly tax bill (750 €, ouch!! But, it's twice last year's which gives the promising hint that we're actually beginning to make money...) and nailed down our trip to Rheinbach. There's a direct TGV from La Baulle to Lille that's really quite inexpensive (I never realized we could so affordably take a weekend vacation in Lille!). I'll hop that, then rent a car at the Lille station for the 3 hour drive to Rheinbach. Lodging is still up in the air - One very nice fellow has offered me a guest room at his home, but I am slightly hesitant to inflect my weird American habits upon his continental sensibilities. Another alternative, a free unoccupied flat in town, seems to have vanished with the Welt-Der-Pfeifen forum, alas. It's a real tragedy that this forum was closed down so suddenly and inexplicably, and in the process I lost a large number of PMs regarding the show. What this means is that I now have no idea who I was supposed to eat, meet, greet with, etc!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why have grading? - The Pros

Biz stuff - I've posted a variety of new pipes to the site, both Talbert Briars and Ligne Bretagnes, and we still have a single Talbert Morta remaining. In relation to the discussion of grading, I urge anyone interested in the subject to click the Talbert Briar link and go check out the grade 5 smooth - the second such grade that I've made in my career.

Today's photo is another multiple exposure, this time of the 2000 Halloween pipes. I have got to use some of these pics as backgrounds for something..!

So, what is good about grading? Mark Tinsky once summed up the concept (and indeed, the nature of pipemaking as a business) by saying, "Pipemaking isn't like most craft businesses, it's closer related to gold mining." It's true. You can't count on getting money back equal to the labor hours put in, because of the randomness of the material in use. A lot of times, you'll have to throw something away after investing time in it. However, there is a positive flip side - The pipe collecting world spins on the concept of rarity... The more rare a piece is, the more desirable. Everyone wants the one of a kind, or the limited set, and the hardest thing of all to obtain are those perfect pipes blessed by Lady Luck with no visible surface flaws. So, this helps balance the scales a little - Sometimes you strike out, other times you get extremely lucky.

And it's here that grading comes in very handy both for the maker and the buyer, because grading, well applied, helps single out those rarified pipes that are worth their weight in gold. Like the pipe I just posted! Without some handy way of ranking the pipes this way, the onerous task would fall on the buyer (and many still do this anyway) of minutely examining every pipe to determine for themselves what they thought the pipe might be worth.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Grading part 3 - Where does it come from?

Biz Stuff - There are a few new additions to the website. The Ligne Bretagne catalog is no longer all sold out, as I've just added two new pipes, and there were three new Talbert Briars also... alas, two of them sold immediately, but there's still a quite nice natural-finish sandblast available. Full info can be found on the News page.

Today's pipe photo is what you get when you create a multi-exposure of all of the 2005 Talbert Halloween pipe photos. Creepy. Could this be foreshadowing? I'll never say.

So, to continue on with the grading discussion - Where does it come from? I've already talked about why grades exist and the problems with grading, but haven't yet addressed just how these numbers and stamps are chosen. There's a good reason for this - Namely, that pipe collectors probably don't really want to know just how arbitrary the application of grades can be!

How many times are Ebay pipes described as "undergraded"? Isn't it interesting that none are ever "overgraded"? Where do we get these numbers? Aren't continual hypothetical questions annoying? But seriously... Grading scales don't emerge fully mature and perfect from the Elysium Fields; rather, they birth like vaguely-formed amoeba and mutate over the course of their lives to encompass all sorts of mutually exclusive ideas until eventually their whole framework collapses under the weight of their obfuscation. Some collectors absolutely love this - They live for the collection of trivia, and shiver in anticipation of each new nugget of information to add to their Total Pipe Trivia Package - an encyclopedic knowledge of strange stamps and limited editions that the makers themselves have long forgotten.

I got my grading setup in a very typical way. I started out with a simple division of smooths and sandblasts, and then learned very quickly that not all pipes are created equal in terms of grain, and prices must reflect this. Thus, the grading scale of 1 to 5 was born. All pipemakers like to have some sort of super ultra-high grade as well, and thus I dreamed up my M grade. This was fine for a while. It rapidly became apparent, however, that some of the shapes I like to carve were just too labor-intensive for my standard prices. How to price a complex shape with decent grain versus a simple shape with exceptional grain? Obviously, I needed a whole new grading scale to compensate for pipes with extra hours in them, so I created the Signature grade. And, of course, there are the limited edition pipes, the Talbert Yule pipes and Halloween pipes floating around. I'm just one guy and this is already overcomplicated, so one can see how people write entire books around deciphering Dunhill stamping.

But... HOW are grades assigned? Everyone has different methods. Some actually count sandspots and rank accordingly (A method for the masochistic, as someone is almost certain to eventually find a miscount and pitch a fit), some rank by grain quality, by size, etc. All of these methods have their weak points - Does incredibly stunning grain make a pipe with several sandpits worth more than a pipe with OK grain but a perfectly flawless surface? It's hard to lay the laws down in stone, and at this point we get vague, because I can say definitely that in the course of my career I have both undergraded and overgraded pipes. But that latter didn't arise from greed or cackling malice - instead, the rare times it's happened were usually just from mood. One finishes a difficult pipe and it comes out much better than anticipated. One is in a really good mood about this, very enthused, and thinks, "Yes, this is definitely a grade X". Then later, looking back more objectively, one thinks, "Hmm, that probably should have been one rank lower after all."

Much more common is undergrading, the case where you just can't decide what grade a pipe should be. My norm is to round down, which is to say, when I just can't quite decide, I mark the pipe to the lower of the grades in question. Such is the case with the natural Talbert blast in the catalog right now. A lot of people will automatically grade anything that can be left unstained at their highest, and that's a very nice pipe, but I wish the blasting could have been a bit deeper... I wish the briar had been a little more cooperative, and not quite so rock hard (A common problem with extremely old blocks). Ergo, I settled on a grade 3 instead of 4.

The key point here is that grades are based on some pretty vague keystones - the emotion of the moment (People with stamps are still only human), the enthusiasm for a particular piece, and a generalized set of guidelines for how the pipes are stepped. All pipemakers do their best to be as consistent as possible, but the reality is that sometimes it's just a roll of the dice that separates 300 € from 400 €.

Next time I'm going to talk about what's good about grading...!

Oh, and in case anyone is curious, I grade Talbert Sandblasts by the following exacting criteria:

1 - I don't make them because no one wants to buy them.

2 - The catch-all grade for good, well-crafted pipes that don't have really outstanding features of one sort or another (grain, usually).

3 - Excellent pipes with really nice grain, fun shapes, etc... Just overall what I think of as "better than usual". Any natural finish is automatically a grade 3 at least.

4 - Stunners. The pipes that you HAVE to have, that are just really exceptional looking. Grain, shape, over all, the best.

5 - A virtually mythical grade never produced in normal work. This is reserved for the sandblasts that I can't believe even exist - combinations of striking shape and amazing grain that would inspire even me to spend 700 € on one, and that's saying something.

So, there's my own grading breakdown in a nutshell! Highly technical, eh?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Another Intermission - Digital Art

My recent graphical work on the computer caused me to stumble over a previously-unknown (to me) feature of Google's Picasa - the ability to create multi-exposure pictures. One simply chooses the photos to combine, and Picasa melds them seamlessly into one image of shared exposure. This is a fun toy, and it led me to wonder what sorts of modern digital art I could create via multi-exposing some of my photo collections. This is the first multi-exposure of a set of pipe photos, the Talbert Briars and Mortas of 2003. It's a neat effect.

Following on from that, here are some images of France from our travel photos. It's interesting how each collection of (sometimes fifty or more) photos of the different locales lends each place a distinctly unique character in the final image.

The beach and coastline of Quimiac, not far from here, where we enjoy taking picnic lunches in the summer:

The stone, grey, ancient Breton riverside port of La Roche-Bernard, a short ten minute drive to our north:

The city of Nantes, in its somewhat nervous glory:

And, finally, our village of Herbignac in autumn:

Next post is back to grading again!