News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Unseen Goblin

Today's pic is a goblin that won't get posted to the Goblin catalog - a 9mm filter variation done for a request from a German friend. It's another fat, gnarly little beastie, and I thought it should at least get its picture posted somewhere to be enjoyed, even if not to the catalog. Working a 9mm filter tenon into that short horn stem turned out to be a real challenge, since the stem tapered too much to allow a very deep tenon insertion. I ended up solving the problem by adding a horn band/extension section to properly grip the 9mm tenon. Filter pipes are odd ducks - I can count on my fingers the number that I have ever made, and they often seem to present new challenges to make them work. Stylistically, though, the goblins are perfect for filters, with their really "fat by design" shanks, at least in most cases.

I think I will continue making goblins. They've been a blast, and I see no reason to confine them strictly to the Halloween season when I could be enjoying myself year-round with them. I guess it will mostly be a matter of how well they continue to sell, since the market for fat green pipes with claws can't be that large... or so I would think?

Next up are some special orders - horns, bulldogs, monster pokers... Except for the Goblins, the site will probably stay fairly quiet except for the occasional LB posting. We have a couple of cool mortas in stock, so I'm happy on that count. I'm currently in talks with a Chinese distributor to represent my pipes on the Asian market, so odds are good that the web catalogs may be going quieter than usual.

In other news, I type this today from Ubuntu, not XP. In past experiences, I've found Linux to be more of a curious oddity than an actual useful desktop tool, so I approached the latest Ubuntu distrib with some skepticism, but I've been pleasantly startled by... god forbid I say this, because I'll get mobbed by Linux enthusiasts... just how much it has become a real OS instead of a tinkerer's toybox. It identified all my hardware on install, with no problems. MP3 player plug-ins pop up on the desktop, as do camera cards. The printer prints. It's weird. This isn't the Red Hat Linux that I tried switching over to in 2000.

More and more, I've been moving my business work to open source software wherever possible, not from cheapness but for the sake of longevity and practicality - I think I've reached my limit of tolerance for the MS path of continual bloat, forced upgrade$$, abandoned older file formats, etc. We'll see how it goes. I already used open source for the bulk of my daily work (Open Office, AbiWord, Kompozer, Picasa) so the only crucial move-breaker looks to be Photoshop. Ugh, I'm going to have to deal with Gimpshop... Time will tell.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Hundred Colors of Green

Biz News - New Goblins are up! The site remains quiet otherwise, as I'm working on reducing my pile of special orders and requests to a somewhat more manageable level.

When I chose to make all the Goblins green, it spurred a great flurry of stain experimentation, because, let's face it, green isn't exactly a common pipe color and previously I could get by with just a couple of green shades and be happy. But, "needs must", as the saying goes, and so I've started creating multiple color swatches of stain combinations in the hopes of producing some really striking variations of green.

The color above is an early attempt at what I've begun to think of as "Froud Green", after noted fantasy artist Brian Froud, and his marvelous earth-toned fantasy artwork.

The trick, or rather the risk, is that a lot of the colors I'm working on are NOT what one thinks of as popular, 'commercially viable' colors for pipes, like the reds and oranges and browns that are so universally popular. Time will tell if the pipes will sell, and if the colors will be liked, though so far the reception seems to be quite positive. I'm certainly going against the current a bit, though, in searching out ways to create unusual colors and low-gloss finishes. While I'm pleased with the results so far, there still remains a lot of experimentation to do. One of my favorite "Froud Greens" (I can only hope that I or someone else will think up a proper name for the finish!) is this one:

(And yes, I realize that most people will think this photo looks the same as the first, but in fact they're quite different, and it's a trick of the lighting) This new combination of colors offers a marvelously rich, yet subtle, mixture of earth tones all blended into one overall appearance. Hints of earth brown and autumnal gold run throughout, and it looks quite nice on pipes even though it is a finish that is best appreciated through close examination and relaxed contemplation... It isn't at all the sort of eye-catching coloring that will grab people's attention on show tables, for instance. But that's OK, that isn't the goal. Amusingly, the base coloring in this version of "Froud Green" is a very deep purple!

And then, of course, we have the greens that are eye-grabbing - Here's a test of a green contrast stain designed to produce a green version of the popular Danish red and orange contrast stains. In this case I still want to get the blacks blacker, and in this case remove the browns for a consistent overall green shade, but it's coming along quite nicely, I think!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Following the Strings

So there I was, just finishing up posting a single new sandblasted morta, and suddenly, the strangest creature scurried past! I caught a quick snapshot of it in motion, but before I knew it, it was gone...

I've just finished reading Stephen King's "Lisey's Story". I was looking for a good October scary story, but that was a pretty disappointing choice, being much more of a very sad romance than a horror tale. But it did have one really neat throwaway line regarding the process of creativity, or rather the various processes. The writer in the book describes his writing process as being like wandering through the grass looking for pieces of colorful string. When one catches your eye, you pick it up. If you're lucky, the string will continue and take you somewhere. Some strings are short, others are quite long, and still others terminate abruptly and unexpectedly - A metaphor that describes my pipemaking process perfectly.

I'm always fascinated by the different methods people apply to the creation process of their crafts. Emily, by comparison, is completely different from me in her approach to the briar. She will sketch elaborate engineering designs on blocks, cut out profile patterns, and generally have a design completely mapped out in detail before she starts to work. I don't work that way - In fact, I can't work that way... Part of why I have always had a tumultuous relationship with special orders is that I'm positively lousy at trying to hammer the wood into preset forms. Instead, I look for strings... An idea here, a hint of a shape there, an interesting arrangement of the grain over here. I hope they'll take me somewhere, and I start shaping. Sometimes along the way, the string just snaps and goes nowhere, and sometimes it goes to dull or uninteresting places, but sometimes it carries me somewhere positively magical. Those are the times that make it all worthwhile.

Even pieces that may, in the end, seem to be very complex and certainly elaborately designed, are created this way - As often as not, I have no idea just where I'm going and am only working on a quick sketch or doodle that just "feels" like what I want. It's true that I do a lot of drawings of pipes, but often people will find them strange, incomprehensible smudges or scribbles, and the best I can come up with is, "It's that curve, you see? I wanted to catch the *feel* of that curve."

Always an adventure, this craft...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Building a Grimoire

Biz News - New pipes posted! There are two new Talbert Briar sandblasts and three new Ligne Bretagnes, one of which is cool and green.

Today's pic is of an old favorite of mine that just got a new facelift - This was the first "expensive" pipe I bought when I started getting interested in pipes, and I still recall the trepidation I had over spending that whopping $75 for a Peterson system pipe, instead of the usual basket pipes I'd been smoking. I'm going to make a post on Smokers' Forums about it sometime tomorrow, probably, but I wanted to go ahead and toss the pics up so I could link to them.

I've begun assembling a grimoire.

My memory has never been the greatest, and in recent years I've been all too conscious of that old silly saying, that I can't remember all I know. Stuff goes in and either falls out the other ear, or gets lost in the inner-brain info-murk and I can't recall it when I need it. After the xillionth time of staring at an annoying pipe problem and being certain that I had something like this happen around two years ago, but now I can't remember how I fixed it then, I've finally decided to try and create a central assemblage of what I've learned about pipemaking.

So far, this process looks something like a delivery truck full of notepads has exploded in a stain factory - My workshop desk is totally covered in notes written on scraps of paper over the years, and I'm gradually going through and deciding what goes into the grimoire and what gets ejected. My idea is to document various sets of processes that I've found to be solid and reliable, in all areas of pipemaking from drilling to staining to sandblasting, and even touching on related subjects such as tips for better photography and website editing.

My hope is that it will give me a handy reference - if I want to make a stain that shifts from one color to another down the length of a pipe, I'll be able to quickly refer to what I found to be the best way a few years ago, and follow my own instructions. Once it's mostly assembled, I'll hand copy it out of my spiral notebook and into something leather-bound and black and sinister-looking, and hoard it. Muahahahaha! (Actually, the idea of adding some enjoyable text and illustrations and self-publishing it had crossed my mind, but I suspect the effort would be far more work than the proceeds would pay for, from the five people on earth who would buy it...)