Harpsichord 5

August 31, 2007


The sound board is nearing completion.  The harpsichord itself, all 2 meters of it, is on my long worktable and the reference material is spread out all over the room. Most of my materials are on a rolling table.  I am enjoying the work but I’ll be glad to get my studio space back when it is done. Also, the instrument builder is waiting for it in order to continue construction. It has meant putting on a final push this week, and there were days where it seemed like the work needing to be done was never-ending. There are 40 hours invested in it so far.

At the end of a project like this there is an extra burst of energy that carries you through to completion. I do find, though, that being in the grip of it eclipses everything else.  It is a mixed feeling giving in to the drive to finish something; on one hand you are carried by the momentum built up over the weeks of concentration, on the other hand there is very little room for anything else (for instance, the rest of life…husband, puppy, other commissions, social life…. etc.).  

It is a great feeling though, after focusing on minute details for all those hours, to look out over the decorated board and see it as a whole. The painting process has been sensually pleasurable as well, I love working on the warm, live surface of wood, I can use drybrush technique to finish and blend colour layers subtly, and for instance, the peacock feather works particularly well using this method.

The legacy of Jane Kasriel

August 28, 2007

Today while painting the harpsichord, I put on a favorite CD of classical piano music. Immediately the atmosphere in my studio became high and clear and I felt the presence of the women on my mother’s side of the family. There is a story here.

My mother’s sister trained as a concert pianist but after a promising early career in London, stopped for various reasons, among them a terrible case of performance anxiety and pressing family responsibilities. Luckily she kept up with her playing, and 30 years later was persuaded to produce her first CD, ’10 composers, each in two contrasting moods’.

It is this glowing waterfall of music that I paint to. Pieces by Chopin, Haydn, Bach, Schubert, Scriabin, Grieg  and others remind me of the days when my mother played, as well as the privilege of hearing my aunt perform live in their living room.  At the end of the CD is a piece composed by Jane Kasriel which she used to play me when I was a child. Jane was my French grandmother.

So I paint flowers contentedly, listening to my aunt’s playing, thinking fondly of her and feeling surrounded by the artistic inspiration of the women in my family.

The thing is, ‘I’m too old to accomplish this’ can never be an excuse in our family. My mom was playing piano beautifully before she died of cancer at 76. My aunt recorded this first brilliant CD when she was 76 and is now working on her second one. And there is a recent CD of my Grandmère playing her own compositions when she was 86!

Harpsichord 4

August 26, 2007


Photo by Rende Zoutewelle

Working on some details now. It is nice to paint songboards in the spring and summer, I can use ‘live’ models from my garden. This is lobelia.

The simplest things can be the most rewarding. A friend gave me an atelier route booklet in which all the photos were printed in black and white.  It came with a pack of coloured photographs with self-adhesive backing that you could match up with the correct black & white photos in the book and stick in yourself.

I made this booklet into an activity on 3 different levels with 3 different residents today.

1 With Mr. M. who doesn’t understand the content at all, we simply matched two colour photos to the right black and white ones. He needed assistance with that, but he helped me peel the backings away, and after I placed them, he patted the corners down.

2 With Mrs. R. we talked about the various artworks pictured and easily matched up the coloured to the black and white photos.

3 With Mrs. B. who has excellent understanding, we discussed the route, the art and the artists, and sticking the photos in was simply a side issue. However, since she can’t use her hands well, we peeled off the backings together and stuck them down together.

I loved this activity, it was so elegant and simple and satisfying. I will have to design more similar projects where simple images can be matched up and stuck on, without scissors, glue or anything really!

Harpsichord 3

August 21, 2007


photo Rende Zoutewelle

The positions of the flowers are laid out on pieces of tracing paper. One by one I transfer them onto the board, then block in the main colours.

According to some historians, Flemish harpsichords of the 17 th century were painted exclusively in water-based pigments. This made the songboard exceedingly fragile, but when it comes to water, the whole instrument is vulnerable anyway.

I worked with gouache for the first 2 instruments I painted. Then one night, when I had a songboard in process, it rained and there was a leak in my studio. Fortunately, water only splattered near the board, but that was the deciding point for me. The next intrument I did was painted in egg-based tempera. It  looks like gouache, but it dries hard and mostly waterproof. Luckily it is available ready-made in tubes here in Holland.

So the painting has begun, it is very enjoyable work. My sable brushes are sharp and flexible, the colors used are vibrant, and flowers are such accommodating subjects.
Pictured is the underpainting of the rosette wreath around the sound hole of the instrument. The flowers and leaves are first painted quickly in approximate colours. Then when I’ve worked sketchily across the whole board, I’ll start to pull the colours together and work on details.


In Lynne Twist’s book, ‘The Soul of Money’, she poses the question, ‘What if what we have is already enough?’. 
She calls this ‘sufficiency’:

‘Sufficiency is not a message about simplicity or about cutting back and lowering expectation. Sufficiency doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive or aspire. Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources, and our inner resources.’

‘Sufficiency is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us that if we look around us and within ourselves, we will find what we need. There is always enough’.

What would it mean to my own life to let go of the ingrained idea of scarcity most of us have, and to accept fully that I already have what I need. Wouldn’t that be a form of resignation, sort of like saying, ‘This is as good as it gets’? 

The irony, according to Twist, is that as soon as one recognizes and appreciates the ‘this is as good as it gets’ in any situation, it gets better.  

It is subtle shift from, working to ‘get somewhere that will be better than where I am now’, to discovering the treasures   I already have and applying them to my highest commitments.  Then my goals shift from ‘making a success’ of my authentic business and ‘increasing my income’, to ‘creating wealth’ but in a context of sufficiency.
Twist writes:

‘Wealth shows up in the action of sharing and giving, allocating and distributing, nourishing and watering the projects, people, and purpose that we believe in and care about with the resources that flow to us and through us’.

Then you stop living in fear of losing your money;  instead, money becomes an expression of gratitude and purpose.

The Soul of Money

August 19, 2007

A friend sent me, ‘Secrets of  the Millionaire Mind’ by T.Harv Eker. And while it had some handy tips I felt it was still rooted in old ways of manipulating and exploiting with money. It didn’t move me to a new place in my own thinking.  Also noteworthy was that I was left with a feeling of scarcity after reading it rather than abundance and possibility.

But Lynne Twist’s, ‘The Soul of Money’, was an entirely different experience.  She addresses the fact that the money-culture drives us away from our more conscious soul-filled values. She asks what would happen if we began to turn our resources, our time, money, energy, the accumulation of material wealth toward our longing to make a difference with our lives.

Twist writes:

I suggest that if you are willing to let go…of the chase to acquire or accumulate always more and let go of that way of perceiving the world, then you can take all that energy and attention and invest it in what you have. When you do that you will find unimagined treasures, and wealth of surprising depth and diversity’.

Harpsichord 2

August 12, 2007


Applying the blue lines and scallops

Making the very first marks on a virgin sound board is always a little bit intimidating. The plain lines are the most difficult  because every little wobble stands out starkly. When the scallops are added, though, the imperfections seem to diminish. And by the time the board is completely painted, the whole effect is actually made more charming by the small irregularities.  

I read on another harpsichord decorator’s site not to get too perfectionistic, because after all, the strings will be added above the board, and then most likely over the months, a thin layer of dust will cover it all. And the whole effect from a distance is more important than the separate details. 

I remember working hard to make my first sound board painting as beautiful and perfect as possible. Then the instrument builder and I went to The Hague to see an original instrument upon which the replica we were working on was based.  IT WAS WILD! The blue lines were drunkenly weaving up and down, the scallops sometimes touched the line and often didn’t. The paint was just thrown on there, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  And yet, standing back, the whole effect was stunning.

It stands to reason that it was hastily done; I read that in the heyday of harpsichord production, a team of painters would complete a soundboard painting in 3 winter days or 2 summer days.

It takes me about  30-40 hours spread over a month, although it would probably go faster if I did more than one every 4 years!

Follow-up to Activity 1

August 8, 2007

At first Mrs. V. didn’t seem overly interested in the folder I made her.  But later in the afternoon she did become fully occupied in arranging the  contents. Since I was working with a group in another lounge, I could only look in occasionally.

Before I left, I peeked in again, and the folder was put aside. I opened it and perfectly placed among the papers, was…..a slice of fresh pear.

Well, at least it was being used!


Outside and inside of folder for Mrs. V

Mrs. V was a dressmaker in her life before being institutionalized. She is very neat and precise and likes arranging objects, folding cloth, smoothing wrinkles out, and squaring pieces of paper off against table edges.  When given sewing materials, she plays with them, but seems uninterested or unable to use them. For instance, she wraps the thread tightly around the needle again and again until the needle is hidden.

Last week she found a folder of mine and went through all the pages and organized them. At the end of the day I had to ask for it back, but it gave me an idea.

So I made the folder above for her. It is low-to-no cost and easy to do.

Here are the contents:  old business letters, colourful test sheets for monoprint making, a colour sample page from a brochure for laminated plastic counters, a few calendar pages from this year, etc. The pocket at the left was made by glueing an envelope to the inside cover and filling it with colourful postcards and scraps of coloured paper. There are 4 paper clips (only include these if the person is not prone to putting things in her mouth) as well as a large paper clip with rubber bands and the starfish gift tag.    The other gift tag is revealed by pulling the blue ribbon (see above image ).


This afternoon I will leave it on the table for her to find and see how she responds.