News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Advice to Young Me

This post has sprung from a reply I made to a young writer on a forum I frequent, regarding his hopes and challenges of someday becoming a fulltime writer.  Over the past 12-nearly-13 years of being a fulltime pipe carver, I've had lots of chances to talk to people getting into the biz, and have sadly watched many people also drop out of it.  Since I know there are a number of aspiring carvers who read my website, I thought I would repost my comments here in hopes that they might prove useful for anyone thinking of getting into the pipecarving business (or any other type of professional creative pursuit). 

This is not, BTW, going to be a post about secret techniques or methods of going off into the woods to find inspiration - If you want to be a working creative, you can figure that stuff out for yourself well enough, and most of what people tell you in books and classes about "Accessing your inner creativity" is frou-frou meant more to sell a book for them than to actually help anyone.   This is meant to be useful advice.

Advice #1:  It's a process, not a home run.  On reflection, I think one of the biggest differences between working professionals in creative fields, and the fall-away wannabes, is this - The acceptance of the reality that no matter what you've just written/drawn/carved, it's really only worth so much time in food and rent, and you've got to keep creating more stuff. The work isn't about the individual creations, it's about the process of continuing to work and being able to continue to produce stuff of a quality level that people will buy.....which is really a LOT harder than getting that "one big hit" that everyone ordinarily thinks will "make them". A lot of people have the idea that they can just do one big thing, and then coast on it forever, but that isn't the case. As hard as it is to get the first few breaks, it's actually a lot harder to maintain that interest, because it's really very easy to do something that gets attention and become the flavor of the month, but the trick is to keep that going once you're past being the hot new talent that everyone is talking about. It's a pattern I've seen in the pipe collecting market, where some new guy will do something wild and get attention, and then everyone will be talking about him for a few months and he'll be loaded down with orders, then someone else will come along as the new-new guy and previous guy will watch his business evaporate and a year later he's got all his workshop gear for sale on the pipemaker forum because he can't live off his intermittent sales.
All of this is a big caution that, hard as it is to make the first few sales of your work, it's ten times harder to carry it onwards into being a fulltime living. 

Advice #2:  Motivate yourself.  If you're not doing "it" in all of your spare time, and learning about it and honing your skills, you probably won't make it regardless of how many advantages you may have (Talent, starting money, free time, etc).  I didn't have any starting help -  My parents pretty much discounted my creative career aims with a typical, "Oh, that's funny! But when are you going to grow up and get serious and get a real job?", so I had to motivate myself (And I should stress that this is not meant to sound like an overall indictment of my parents, like one of those fucking, "We're all damaged children" whine fests, because I consider myself incredibly lucky in the parental department to have had two stable and loving parents with stable jobs who cared about me and provided a happy home to grow up in, which is more than a lot of people can say. It's just that they completely did not understand why I was "weird". When I told my uncle I wanted to go to college to become an artist, his sage advice was, "Be sure to take the 101 class on how to live on $1000 a year." Har dee har..)   The funny thing of it is, I sometimes think the lack of family support for pursuing a creative career translated directly into my developing a greater self-determination to do just that.  Over the years, I've seen a number of guys get into the business with lots of fanfare and starting advantages, and last about two years... not for lack of talent or support, but for lack of determination.  Surviving as a professional creative is tough.  Here's something that sounds like mythology but isn't - When I was learning my craft, I did it through trial and error.  For a number of years I worked in an unheated garage corner where I would go each night dressed up in several sweaters and several jackets and gloves with the holes cut out of each finger, and sit and work and learn while my breath misted around me.  I didn't have a college art degree on my side or a wife who was able to cover all our bills while I learned or a family offering regular encouragement.  What I had was an obsessive drive to do this thing, regardless of what the outcome might be.  If you want to become a working creative professional, the best advice I can possibly give is to get out in the shop/office/studio and work on your craft constantly, and be able to motivate yourself to do so.  And if you're thinking, "Well, I'd really like to be an artist but I just don't feel like spending every evening painting, I'd rather play video games"... then you need to be honest with yourself and realize that you won't make it as a professional.  A lot of people read about creatives and get so enamored with the lifestyle they perceive that they start wanting that, that sort of job, without actually having the drive to pursue the craft in question.  

Advice #3:  Do it for a reason.  I can understand the desire to write something that moves the audience. My own goal in pipemaking is simpler - I basically try to make relaxation and stress relief for people. It makes me happy to know that all around the world, people are coming home after a horrible day's work and are able to sit down with a movie or a book or whatever, and have a relaxed smoke with something I have made, and that in this way I'm able to put a tiny little bit of good karma into the world that helps people enjoy just a bit of peaceful personal time in the midst of modern hubbub. Being natural things that don't suffer forced obsolescence and need to be replaced every three years, people tend to get attached to pipes and keep them forever, and make them into personal comfort objects, which makes me happy. Not really going to move anybody emotionally, but sometimes a little bit of comfort in a hard world is enough.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

That e-Smoke Thing

I hope to put together a report on the CORPS show soon, but at the moment I'm still waiting for a couple of photos to come in. We stupidly forgot to take our camera and thus have no record of our weekend, other than some vague drunken memories of Jeff Folloder dancing in the fountain in fishnet stockings. In the meantime, lacking photographic evidence, I want to write a few comments about an odd new phenomenon, the e-pipe and e-cig. Here are mine:
These two unusual devices in the picture above are for smoking - Yes, smoking, but not of tobacco nor any other combustible weed.  They're e-smokes, part of a new wave of high tech toys that allow us to enjoy smoking in more places and without the health cautions of tobacco.  In the background is my Janty eGo, a sort of electronic cigarette/cigar that's simple, extremely convenient, and very reliable.  In the foreground is my DSE601 epipe, a more familiar but less likable device.  Both work just like pipes - You put them to the mouth, puff, and enjoy flavorful smoke, but that's where the similarity ends.  Here's a look at their insides:

The bowl of the pipe contains a rechargeable battery.  In the base of the shank is a tiny atomizer, which heats up when called to by a flow switch in the bowl that detects puffing.  Cartridges filled with mesh insert into the shank, much like a 9mm filter, and seat down onto the atomizer.  One buys blended flavors in liquid form from a variety of micro-blenders, just like in the pipe tobacco world, and drips droplets of these liquids into the cartridge mesh until it's soaked.  Then, the atomizer does its magic and the liquid becomes flavored vapor - Not smoke - that is enjoyed by the smoker.  The Janty is similar.  The long black part on the left is the battery section, then on the right we have the small brass atomizer and the mouthpiece components.

There is currently a great deal of media hype about these devices, with stories ranging from, "The cigarette smoker's solution!" to, "OMG! DANGER DANGER THEY WILL KILL YOU!"  In reality, the reputable blenders use FDA-approved flavoring ingredients in their FDA-approved liquid bases, which produce nothing but already-declared-safe vapor mist, the same you will get from fog machines.  It is true that you can put any liquid in there that you want to, and fry your brain smoking drain cleaner if you like, but you can do the same thing with any product from the local pharmacy, so the media scare tactics about the "dangers" of these devices are pretty facile.  

So what are they like?  In my opinion, pretty enjoyable.  I do not expect them to replace cigarettes or cigars or pipes, but I do think they are a handy alternative hobby/toy to enjoy in many circumstances where a briar pipe would be inconvenient.  I can drop the Janty into a shirt pocket without setting myself on fire, and pop it out to smoke for a few minutes without any need for filling, lighting, etc.  No ashes to deal with.  In fact, no by-products at all - The vapor mist dissipates quickly and usually leaves behind only a minimal scent of whatever flavoring you were enjoying (At the CORPS show, I smoked an aromatic banana-caramel-waffle blend, and our end of the table smelled like sweet breakfast food all weekend).  

I give the Janty much higher marks than the epipe, which is a very tepid piece of work.  It worked wonderfully in the beginning, but performance has degraded sharply with use, and I'm told that they tend to stop working after a month or two if used heavily.  The atomizers in the devices must be replaced periodically, because they wear out, but engineering is key here - The Janty atomizer is easily replaced for $9 and mine thus far shows no sign of wear, whereas the epipe's atomizer replacement costs $40 (!!).  When my epipe gives up the ghost, I do not intend to replace it, but I think my Janty is going to become a permanent part of my smoking hobby.  It's just my personal opinion, but I believe that Janty may well become the Dunhill of the e-smoke market.

This has run a bit longer than intended, so I'll sign off here for now.  If anyone has specific questions, let me know via comments or email, and I'll do my best to answer them in my next post on this subject, where I'll also talk a little about the various flavors, blends, DIY possibilities, and the very likely potential that there may be a handmade Talbert epipe in the future, done to my standards and aesthetics. 

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sandblasting again!

Well, after a month of no sandblasting, our company's new compressor has arrived and we just finished setting it up today.  This is going to be a technical blog post, at least somewhat, so if you're not interested in workshop equipment, this is a good place to tune out. 

After a lot of looking and shopping, we settled on this beastie, a BelAire "Quiet Performance" 7.5HP, 80 gallon, 2 stage model with a lot of bells and whistles.  The most obvious is the top cowling, which fully surrounds the motor and pump with sound insulating lining while including an extra air recirculating fan to keep everything inside cool and ensure good ventilation.  This was an experiment for me, but I'm glad we chose it, since I've now run it with the cowling on and off, and the difference is noticeable - With the cowling in place, we can walk outside our garage and the compressor running at full tilt cannot be heard over the sound of the window AC unit.  So, it should keep the neighbors happy.  It's still loud in the garage, but at least now it shouldn't drown out my headphone audiobooks.

This one has some extras I haven't had before, including a low level oil shutoff and an automatic tank drain - Something to make any pipemaker happy!  It also has a triple pass aftercooler that lowers the temperature of air compressed into the tank (rated at 175psi), to cut down on the amount of moisture present in hotter air.   And an oil filter the size of a Coke bottle...

The bit that I already dearly love, however, is this:

 Quite expensive in itself (It was more than all the usual filter/regulator combos you see at hardware stores), it's a precision dial pressure regulator that's extremely accurate.  Any pipemaker who has spent some years cursing and wrestling with those spring-top knob regulators, that you have to crank and crank and crank, and which are typically pretty vague on their actual pressure, would be delighted by this - I've barely used the system and it's worth the money already to me.  The dial is smooth and pressure drop-offs when dialing it down are nearly instant, and actually stop where you set the pressure.  It's going to make it a lot easier for me to change operating pressures to better match with different medias and different blasting needs.

I tried it out immediately, of course.  Here's the first test piece, a junk block that I had set aside due to way too many flaws.  The surface texture on here was achieved in about five minutes of blasting.  I'm hoping this will seriously increase our output, and have the first Ligne Bretagne bulldog blast lined up for finishing tonight.  With luck, I'll have it and maybe another couple ready to post in the next catalog update, which will be happening in a day or two.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Here comes Halloween

Jack-o-laternImage via Wikipedia
What a difference a month can make! As I write this, I am launching into full-time work on this year's Halloween pipes, which will probably take all my time for the next two months. It's a great way to work and enjoy the season, because I get my Halloween vibe stretched out for two solid months, instead of just October. I'm only doing a few pipes this year, don't have time for more, and am instead going to focus on making the best three or four pipes that I can, instead of trying to do a whole set.
This year's theme, as I mentioned elsewhere, is "Classical Pipes gone Mad" - Something that's probably my favorite style of pipe to do, anyway. I'm getting to this late, but this year has been nuts, and our August was full of surprises... Not least of which is that we finally took some time off, our first semi-vacation since 2001 (We didn't actually go anywhere, just collapsed here and didn't go into the workshop for a while). This coincided with finally getting the last of our French officialdom entanglements DE-tangled, so we splurged a bit by getting a Netflix subscription and just being lazy for a little while.  We've added some much-needed tools to the workshop, and tomorrow sees the final big addition to our work here with the arrival of a more powerful sandblasting compressor.  It's going to be very nice indeed to be back in the sandblasting business!
Here are a few Halloween pipe sketches so far:

This one's for a request for a billiard or Zulu derivation. The one up top was actually the last idea sketched, but it's my favorite by far.  I rejected several of these for being too similar to pipes I'd made before - I hate repeating myself. The "insane blowfish" project is actually progressing much worse. Oddly, it's easy to take a recognizable classical shape and twist it into bizarre proportions and have it remain recognizable, but blowfish vary so crazily all over the appearance spectrum that making anything that is obviously a blowfish "gone wrong" is proving more difficult than I expected. Might have to wait till the next full moon for proper inspiration on this one...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Logo Change

I don't know if anyone has noticed, but the logo up top has changed - The "Talbert" part of the script is different.  Improved, too, in my opinion at least.  This is a classic example of the domino effect in action...  Make one change somewhere and suddenly it echoes through a dozen related pieces of work.  I spent yesterday working in Photoshop to come up with a stamp design for our new pipe bags, discussed here.  This brought up all sorts of problems, because the logo we had been using on our website and business cards was too complex for a good embossed stamp (Too many wiggly lines):

I pretty much had to toss that one together last year just after arriving back in the states, solely so we would have something to put on our business cards for the 2009 CORPS show.  I was tolerably OK with it but never fully pleased, as I felt it was too comic book-ish, and not serious enough for a line of very high end pipes.  It worked better as a website header than as an actual portable logo, for use on other things like promo materials and such, and was especially bad for making a bag stamp from.  Knowing that this logo would have to be radically altered to make a decent leather stamp, I had to choose between either changing it explicitly for the stamp, coming up with a totally different logo just for the bags, or coming up with a new logo that the bags and website could share.  I experimented with alterations of the above design but was never able to produce anything that I didn't feel looked too comical - Indeed, translating that logo to a black and white stamp gave it an entirely undesirable "Flintstones" vibe. 

After a lot of thought and comparisons of different ideas, Em and I decided to go all-out, and make a new logo for the bags that would be backwards-transportable to the website and all our promo stuff.  Some time later, and after LOTS of logo and font comparisons, we settled on our new pipe bag stamping:

I arrived at this after a great deal of "trimming down" - I tried out ideas with "Pipes" included, pics, circles, warps, etc.  The bag stamping very nearly became Talbert Pipes, but in the end I felt that putting the "Pipes" in there was superflouous on a leather bag that a pipe would ship in... If you bought it, you would know full well what was in it.  Using just the brand name makes for a simpler stamp and a stronger stamp - My hope is that this, rendered well, will look quite nice pressed into the thick green leather bags.  It was tempting to "fancy it up" with pipe pictures and such, but as any designer can tell you, the hardest thing to do is to pare something down rather than adding stuff on.  Yet, the simplest designs are usually the strongest.  I felt the scripted lettering above was ideal because it suggested artistry and creativity, yet rendered in a professional and more serious manner than the old "paint splotch" lettering. 

Once the decision was made, the logo went off to the stamping company to get the bag stamps made, and I went to work changing the graphics on this site to reflect the new logo.  I'll be changing our business cards as soon as I'm done posting this.  Some remnants of previous logos will remain, in our Cafe Press clothing items (Sure to be an instant collectible!  LOL), because I just don't have the working time now to devote to changing all that stuff yet.  Also, we'll continue using our original Talbert Pipes briar stamp for some time, but eventually I hope to have a new stamp made to match the new logo. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bag Quest 2010

Pipe bags.  One would not think it would be difficult, yet finding decent ones for an affordable price is a challenge for a small shop, since we don't buy in quantities of thousands required to interest the major leather goods factories.  I'm about to begin work on the new Talbert Pipes logo to be embossed into our new leather bags, but thought I would jot down this article as a brief tour through what has gone before.  (I should note that all the discussion below pertains solely to the leather bags that ship with Talbert Pipes.  Our lower grade lines get velvet bags.)

Here is our original leather Talbert Pipes bag, made to my specs starting in 1998 and in use through 2002:

This particular sample is the last one I have remaining from this style - It was a reject due to a mis-stamped logo.  I had these made by a local leather goods producer who sadly went out of business during the collapse of the NC textiles industry over the past ten years.  It's a shame, too, as these were affordable (almost certainly undercharged) and of excellent quality.  I was not keen on the usual two-piece leather bags used by most, and designed this custom bag with side gussets as a way to fit all the unusual shapes I made - Most typical pipe bags were too narrow at the neck to accommodate my larger pipes, and especially my more exotic pipes, so the ability of this design to expand was a handy feature.  It had a lot of nice, high quality features - sealed edges, rings around the string holes, beaded cord ends...  It was just an excellent bag all-around.  For all those folks who like to moan for the best stuff being all gone, this is one case where it is true, as I simply can't find anything like this today for a price I can even begin to manage.

(I should mention here that pipe bag costs, for me, are low on the importance scale.  On the one hand, it is good to put forward a comprehensively high quality package, from pipe to bag, but on the other hand, when I have to apportion costs, I'd rather put a few hundred dollars of extra working time into the pipes themselves, than into buying fancy bags to go with them.  My focus is primarily on quality of product, not packaging.)

The next leather bags we used were these, from 2002 to 2010:

These were made for us by a German supplier once we'd relocated to France.  They were pretty similar to the first generation bags, though they lacked the cord rings and beaded ends.  On the plus side, they were cut a bit better and the fit and finish was more consistent overall (No discards due to bad stamping, for instance).  I tucked a spare stem in there to demonstrate the side gusset in action, showing how the bag can expand to hold larger pipes than normal.  Unfortunately, increasing costs plus the move back to the states have priced these out of our reach - With the dollar-to-euro ratio, these effectively became about triple the cost that most pipemakers pay for their bags, and too big of a bite out of the price of each pipe we sell.  I was reluctant to raise the prices of the pipes to accommodate the bag costs, so that meant going on another hunt for a bag supplier.

Today, after talking with numerous potential suppliers, I think (hope) we've found a good one that will work, both for our cost requirements and our quality requirements.  I am finally abandoning the gusseted bag design in favor of a more traditional look, but the bags will be a good bit wider than previous to allow for easy carrying of my larger pipe shapes.  The leather is heavier than it has been before, much thicker and more durable, and it should be better for displaying and retaining the details of our logo embossing.  Best of all, in my opinion, is the color change - We're shifting from the generic-looking black bags to a much more distinctive deep green, seen here:

Once I work out the logo, all future Talbert Pipes bags from 2010 onwards will be of this design (Assuming all goes well, no problems with the manufacturer, they stay in business, etc).  With any luck, I will have the first batch of them with me on display at the 2010 CORPS show.  Just one more step in the re-establishment and recreation of the Talbert Pipes brand back in the USA again...

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Making of a Morta Pipe

I recently got commissioned to make a Morta Cetacean pipe by a mutual friend FOR a mutual friend.  Looking for ways to add a little something extra to the project, I decided to photo the stages of the pipe's construction and make a "Making of" comic-style story to be printed on photo-quality paper and accompany the gift.  This way, the recipient not only gets a nice pipe, but also a couple of frameable pages detailing its creation, to decorate his smoking room with, if so desired.  Now that the gift has arrived, I thought I'd also post the JPG pages here, for the entertainment of our readers.  My only regret is that I didn't think of this idea until I'd already started on this pipe, and done the bowl drilling and initial rough shaping.  If I ever do this again, I'll start the photos with the selection of the block and go from there.

I should point out, however, that this is the sort of extra that DOES cost extra, as it adds about two hours and a few pages of high quality paper and a bigger shipping box to a project...  Just on the off chance that this post inspires a lot of people to write in wanting the same thing with their commissioned pipes!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Sandblasting Challenge

I've spoken often enough here already of the various challenges we've faced when putting together this new workshop in the US out of what donations and loaner tools we were able to scavenge, plus what equipment we could afford to bring over from France.  One of our biggest losses was our old sandblasting compressor, which was quite powerful and which was key to the really deep blasts I am known for.  We have a compressor here in the states, but it is a loaner, and undersized for blasting.  I am not complaining in the slightest about a gift compressor, because without it we'd be doing no blasts at all, but it did present us with a challenge - How to deal with the problem of less pressure?

Well, one simple way to do this is just to make a lot more smooths.  I'd been a bit frustrated by our low rate of output these first couple of months, even beyond the unfamiliarity with the new workshop, until I realized it was partly because we were doing so many more smooth pipes than usual, and they took so much more time.  Back when I first got started, I immediately identified that a good sandblaster was going to be the make-or-break linchpin of a profitable pipe business, and that factor hasn't really changed, even though we've gotten much faster at finishing smooth pipes over the years.  So, apart from any other solution, one of our most pressing priorities is to make enough money to buy a proper-sized compressor again.

That isn't going to be possible any time soon, however, so there was a pressing need to look for other solutions in the meantime.  The most simple of those is to find new ways to make our sandblasts interesting, without having to rely so much on gross horsepower to hammer the wood away.  Two possibilities interested me the most - Using finer media for finer surface detail, and applying some more complex grain-staining techniques to bring out the grain of the briar beenath the textured surface of the blast, as can be seen here in these photo examples. 

I haven't done this much before, since deeper blasts effectively remove all the stain and make any that remains virtually invisible in the maze of surface texture, but on a lighter pressure blast like this, it's very possible to apply deep penetrating grain coloring which can then be blasted away at the surface, leaving it to color the grain of the wood only.  This is particularly effective on crosscuts, which can normally make for rather dull blasts, but the example above shows how this method of staining brings out the grain itself, beneath the rings.  Also, the sheer detail possible with finer media at lower pressure produces a fascinatingly detailed surface, as can be seen in the first pic above.  The situation is something of a microcosm of life itself, really - No sense moaning about your current limitations, but rather, find something new and interesting you can do with what you've got. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

One Year On, by Emily

Today's blog post is written by Emily, who may be doing a bit more writing here in future.  There will probably be more chapters of this to come, from both of us, as time permits, since this is far too big and complex a subject to cover in the few paragraphs allotted to a typical blog posting.

It's been almost a year since we left Herbignac.  Even as I write it, it seems strange; I know that the time has passed, but it feels as though we've only been back for about five minutes.  And yet there has been time to reflect, time to remember, time to think about what we've learned -- if we did learn anything!  But how to sum it up, now there's a puzzle.....

For me, it has been very strange to return to Greensboro, the town where I grew up and where my parents still live.  I'm experiencing "deja vu all over again" because so many things are right where I left them twenty-odd years ago.  A great deal has changed, though, and I have been caught a few times by roads that don't go where they used to, or that weren't there at all (I-40/73 bypass, anyone?) when we left.   Entire neighborhoods and shopping centers have dropped out of the sky during the time we were abroad, and former landmarks have disappeared to make way for them.  But enough of the familiar remains to make me feel at home, something I am grateful for after seven years of having to pull out a map (or pull up Mappy) every time we had to go somewhere we'd never been before.

I'm staggered by North Carolina in the spring.  The blooming trees and flowers (and the pollen!) have completely overwhelmed me.  Several years ago a family friend sent me photos taken at this time of year in the Greensboro Arboretum, and while they were gorgeous, I couldn't look at them for very long because they made me so terribly homesick.  I'm profoundly grateful to be able to appreciate the seasonal beauties in person this year.  And of course, the birds!  Hearing and seeing familiar birds is a pleasure I savor every day.  Now I just need to refill the feeders.

I don't mean to imply, by the way, that Brittany wasn't beautiful.  We were fortunate to be in a lovely area, in a town surrounded by a mix of forested tracts and cultivated fields, and within easy driving distance of several beaches of widely varying characters.  As anyone who has seen our efforts at photography will realize, it was an amazing place.  In fact, one of our biggest gripes while we were there -- and a lingering regret now that we've moved -- was that we never seemed to have enough time to explore as much as we would have liked.

At the same time, there is something inexpressibly comforting about being in the midst of an area that we have known all our lives.  We continue to be surprised by familiar pleasures: it sounds completely trivial to say it, but even after a year the excitement of going into a bookstore full of books in English hasn't worn off.  Trever has his driver's license again after seven years without one and is learning his way around Greensboro; so far we have found two traffic circles.  And of course, the fact that we're both within easy driving distance of our parents is one of the biggest enjoyments of being here.

Time has taken its toll; both sets of parents are older, and some of their friends and contemporaries have died, while many of our friends have moved away.  But our American attitude toward travel has quickly reasserted itself, so that driving several hours to visit someone doesn't seem as imposing a task as it did in France.  It is strange to think that it takes longer to drive to my parents' house now than it did to drive to the Leclerc in Guerande from our house in Herbignac!  Distance, like so many things, really is relative.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

The immigration process

Legally immigrating to France was a nightmare.  It consumed an entire year, and then a month of every year thereafter, simply to supply each year's requested paperwork.  However, it's not just France - for all our bluster about American can-do spirit and all that, I believe that government immigration workers really are real world versions of the Dilbert accounting trolls:

I just found this article on what it's like to immigrate (or TRY to immigrate) to the US from Australia, a supposedly friendly, trusted country, and there were so many parallels with our experience getting our French visas that I wasn't sure to laugh or cry...

The 5 Circles of Immigration Hell

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Personal Site

When I started work on the new website, I did not know yet what I was getting into.  Many smart people advised me to just pick up a simple web page creator, use a readymade site template, and throw a site up in a few days of work.  But I wanted the site to be more of a personal creation than that - Not just some pics plugged into someone else's layout, but my own creation from start to finish, including all of the graphics therein. 

It didn't quite work out that way100% - There are a few small pieces of clip art used here and there for decoration, and the site code that runs some of the adjuncts such as the Facebook and Twitter boxes was certainly supplied by them, but overall I think I have achieved my goal.  As I write this, the new site is slowly uploading in entirety over our creaky semi-broadband connection, and should be operational by this evening. 

There is a lot of new content in the site - Lots of social networking add-ons to allow people to follow our activity on Facebook and the like, as well as easy links to enable sharing favorite pipe pics and purchases.  I had to fast-learn a lot of new stuff along the way....  The last time I wrote my website, there was no such thing as CSS, for instance!  So, it was a challenging learning experience.  I hope the new site will bring us a bit more into modern times, and hold us well for a few years to come.  It's a great personal satisfaction to know that I wrote my site code from scratch in a text editor, and can work with it in future in nuts & bolts fashion, with a firm understanding of just what underpins everything.

Aside from the dull bits like the code, the artwork and graphics are as personalized as one can get - A lot of our lives over the past few years is literally laid into the graphical foundations of the website.  The green background, for instance, is a photo montage - a multiple exposure of a collection of our photos from Brittany.  A friend came to see us one (very wet) Spring and we had a great visit, touring local sites near Herbignac and going as far as Carnac and the oceanscape nearby.  These photos are laid one over the other, merging into a fine misty unity that collects the dominant colors and imagery from all to create the wispy, foggy background wallpaper.  Look close and you can see hints of stone castle walls, overcast Breton grey skies, and stormy coasts.  It isn't just a random wallpaper thrown together in Photoshop - It's a collection of experiences that we have actually lived.  

The same goes for every aspect of background graphics on the site, from the pipe drawings I've sketched for fun to each of the catalog header images.  The spidery, reddish, dark-yet-colorful background of the Talbert Pipes header?  It's a photo montage of pics from our Autumn Davidson County fair, taken just after we returned to the USA.  The header background for Ligne Bretagne is a photo I took of the standing stones of Carnac, while standing among them (They let you do this in the off season), combined with an old Brittany map and seen through a thin haze of brown Breton sea cliff pictures (again, combined into a multiple exposure and lightened to barely a tint).  The Goblins header?  Multiple exposures of a walk through a Breton forest one damp May evening, combined with half-seen pictures of past Goblins. 

The personalized theme carries to even the smallest details - the "Join our Email List" image is a clip-art postcard lettered with text colored by another montage of green Brittany pics, just to create a texture for the type, and decorated with a stamp of a past Talbert Briar.  I even made our own 404 error page, which I hope not many people will see! 

In summary, our new site, like all our work, is my best attempt to create as personal and enjoyable and distinct an experience as possible.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Preview of New Stuff

.....How's that for a highly sophisticated headline?  I haven't written much here lately because I've been busy round the clock in the new workshop, an activity that is divided equally between making new stock, customizing and modifying our shop setup, and running back and forth to the breaker box to reset tripped breakers (Must get that improved eventually, once we have money).  As the workshop goes, we're now in "Stage 2", where we actually use the setup and find all the things we don't like about it, or that seemed OK in theory but don't work very well in practice, and have to modify and tweak as we go.  The electrical load situation produces a very zen environment, where Em and I must constantly work in a state of careful balance - The mini lathe and the vac can be on, but not along with the sanding motors, or the bandsaw can be run, but not with the vac AND air cleaner, and the big lathe has the amusing habit of tripping its own breaker every time it is started, EXCEPT when its connected vacuum is switched on first.  Go figure. 

In any event, all electrical quirks aside, the new workshop is a very nice place to be.  I can't begin to describe how much more pleasant it is to work in than the Herbignac workshop, where looking out the windows usually presented us with a view of French teens starting in at us in fascination when they weren't loitering on the village pathway outside playing with their cell phones.  Here, it's just a nice enclosed back yard and the hundred birds that Emily is attracting thanks to her many feeders.  I've just finished my first audiobook in the shop while sanding the three new LBs pictured below (The book was "Into the Storm", a wonderfully cheesy SF/fantasy tale very much in the Edgar Rice Burroughs vein, about the crew of a US navy destroyer that accidentally slips dimensions and lands in a primitive alternate Earth.  I can recommend this if you grew up enjoying pulp entertainment of the "Land that Time Forgot" variety).  If progress seems slow, that's because a lot of this initial work is trial and error and tool adjustment.  But, we're accelerating already.  The first three Ligne Bretagnes took several days to get finished - the next three should take half that.  The pens are great fun to make, as well.  Most of the pens so far are hand-turned morta, with careful sandblasting to give them a nicely textured grip.  I wasn't sure I would like a non-smooth pen, but I've actually come to prefer these to my smooth ones, just for the way they feel.  In this work, our less-powerful US compressor is actually an advantage, because the one in Herbignac was strong enough to occasionally blast holes through the wood surface to the pen bodies, whereas this one's gentler output is more controllable. 

Here is a group photo of some of the newly-finished stock:

A few pens can be seen in the background - also, there is a morta tamper with a meerschaum tamping end, an idea I wish I'd had long ago.  The black and white materials go together nicely.  For this first set of LBs, I have sorted through all our stock to collect some of the best grained stummels I could find, so the majority will probably be smooth and pretty exceptional in grain.  These three could put many more expensive pipes to shame for their hundred dollar-ish pricetags.

Happily, the Oom-Paul will even pass a cleaner from bit to bowl!  Not always an easy or even possible task with this shape.  And I was quite happy to be able to work with these horn stems again, as well.


So, now it's on to work on more LBs - I plan to have at least six or eight available for the opening of the site, but may have a small show/sale at Pipe & Pint before then.  Outside of a possible P&P expo, these pipes are not for sale until the site opens, this is just for preview purposes.  As for when the site will be open, my only answer to that remains, "It will be open when it's open."  I want at least six LBs, six or more pens, some tampers, at least two or three Goblins, and I'd love to have five or six high-grade Talbert Briars to open the site with, so it's just a matter of time until I can get all those made. 

Back to the workshop....
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