I thought I'd try something different - A little slice of first person life here...
In the workshop, I read over the year old commission order again. “A smooth green billiard, canted exactly 3 degrees forward, with a shank no longer than 2”” I sigh, leaning back in the chair and staring at the block I’ve picked out. It’s a beautiful piece, a tall slice of plateau from Italy, and it looks like it might be a decent candidate for Mr. Smooth Green Billiard’s order. I turn it over in my hands, examining the grain as I wet it and look for problem areas. Hmm, there’s a bit of a bald swirl there, but that’s low in the block, I can cut the bowl above it and it won’t disrupt the final grain. I run my fingers over it, feeling the wood and weighing it by hand. “Might be a good block”, I think, and then I’m off to the grinder to start some basic shaping. My headphones play me an odd selection of music, the opening track of “Porco Rosso”, the movie soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi. It’s a beautiful but varying album, with soaring heights and blues cafe sadness, and it always reminds me of our last few months in France. In my fingers, the block starts to take shape with the music. The gentle, balletic curve of the front of the bowl as it flares outward with the flow of the grain… A broad, wide-brimmed top that provides a mushroom-like rim to show off the tightly clustered bird’s-eye there… As the music dances, so does the shape, gaining a flippant shank curve that widens also, mirroring the bowl rim as it laughingly follows the grain of the block. “Tighter at the bowl join”, I think, rolling it around and cutting inwards, entirely focused on taking out everything that doesn’t need to be there.
Then, a flaw. There’s a split in the wood on the left side of the bowl - Just a tiny line, but there. I pull out the needle. It doesn’t go in. “Surface”, I hope, and grind a bit further in… the bowl reforms, moving from a round vase with a flared top to a tighter, more dramatic flare with a smaller bottom. The flaw is gone, I’ve cut past it. I’ll need to use a smaller bowl bit now, more tapered than I’d planned, but as I sit back to contemplate the design, I like it - The unexpected reshaping has actually made it a more dramatic form than I’d planned, and as usual, nature’s taken her own way to a design that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. The wide rim ripples organically and should look stunning when polished to a gloss. I move my fingertips over the surface, feeling the curves as gently as I’d caress a lover, picking out ripples and uneven spots. On the sanding discs, it tightens - Wood flattens and turns smooth as scratches and cuts vanish. I touch it constantly, going by instinct, doing my best to just let the pipe “be” what it wants to be, not what I force it to be.
Minutes pass…Hours. My music player has shuffled though my Miyazaki collection, reacquainting me with those spirited characters of strange lands. Kiki, Totoro, Chihiro, and I’m back to Porco Rosso again, the one I identify with the most in its wistful tale of alienation, love and acceptance. Finally I’m holding the pipe in my hands, nearly finished. The organic shape curls and twists with a slinky beauty. This one’s more catwalk model than kitchen homebody, I think. But it looks happy, and that’s what I was chasing - It looks just like what it wanted to be. In a few days it will be done, once the fine sanding and drilling and stem are finished, and I’ll be proud of it and proud to see it wing its way off into the world. I’m content knowing that somewhere out there, someone’s going to have a bad day years from now, and that evening he’ll come home and sit in his study and decompress from the stress, and he’s not going to pick up a cold iPad for comfort. He’ll pick up this pipe, and load it with his favorite tobacco, and light it, and then for an hour he’ll relax and let the weight of the day melt away, maybe with his favorite book. I’ve put a little good out into the world, and that makes me happy. It’s not a life saving good, it isn’t going to change the direction of rivers or forge amazing new advances in science, but it’s a tiny little good and that’s what I enjoy doing.
Then I notice a printed pipe order lying forgotten on the workbench and I curse and think that I’ve just proven yet again how much I utterly suck at making pipe commissions.