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Harpsichord song board painting done

March 3, 2012

Well, the painting of the song board is completed. Johan came to pick it up this past week.

The etalage is incredibly empty. It was like having a friend there, a real presence,  waiting every morning. I’d look at the work of the past day and plan what the steps for today would be- and by some miracle, flower by flower by flower, it all got done.

It took close to 80 hours spread over 8 weeks, not counting the planning and design. Those hours aren’t all painting time, they also include drawing, transferring, some research,  and reworking some flower drawings.

I always have a bit of resistance to adding the final blue arabesques, those clumps of curls and swirls around the edges. I’d prefer a more streamlined look. But the blue decorations are trademarks of these Ruckers Flemish instruments from around this time (1638), so they are not optional. They are fun to do, and the artist can hide all kinds of inside jokes in the complicated strokes. You may be able to spot a few that are not just designs but contain figurative elements. Once I hid a bike, a mermaid, and even a boxer (dog).

The lines, scallops and arabesques are done with an applicator so that they will be raised in relief. Originally this was done with a mixture of cobalt glass and casein binder. I use gouache and casein with a smidge of acylic gel for elasticity.

Here are Johan and I, Johan has just finished playing air harpsichord, Bach’s flower concerto I think.

And now the instrument is back with its creator, Matthias, who will add strings, keyboard and base, several layers of paint (on the outside!!!) and  other finishing touches. All of us involved with the birth of this instrument are enjoying seeing it come alive as each person does his/her part. It is one of the most rewarding (and intense) projects  I’ve worked on. I’m so grateful it is safely back in Germany in Matthias’ workshop.

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7 Responses to “Harpsichord song board painting done”


  1. That is absolutely gorgeous! I’ve never seen a harpsichord painted like that. I hope the musician really, really enjoys that instrument.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Hi Julie,
      thanks so much for your comment. The musician, Johan who has commissioned the instrument has been dreaming about doing this for years. It is a huge undertaking on every level and he has followed and guided it every step of the way (while leaving me a lot of artistic room, lots). So he’s so excited he can hardly stand it, and I know he will just glow every time he plays it. He told the story of a friend of his who also had a Griewisch instrument made who still sometimes sneaks downstairs just to look at it and check that is it dong ok.

      I really enjoyed seeing your blog, I’m hoping to start a ‘square’ garden (raised bed divided into 9 squares mostly used for veg) this year for the first time, so I will check back with your blog I’m sure.

  2. decorartuk Says:

    You’ve done a great job! I like all the little details – everything’s so neat. I think this instrument would be a perfect example on how valuable hand made things are – I mean as opposed to all mass production that seems to be flooding our lives.

    Anyway, I’m still waiting for the video (not long now?) and meanwhile I’ll pop round to see the square garden. Gardening is one more passion of mine.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      HI Kristina, yes, you’ve pinpointed a core principle for me in the value of handmade things. It has felt so amazingly on track for me to be involved in this project and that is one of the reasons.

      I’ll let you know when the video arrives! hee hee.

      Yes, I love gardening too. We have rich clay here in northern Netherlands. Unfortunately, digging and weeding in heavy clay are very heavy work, and my shoulder and arm are rebelling. So I’ll have to find some garden faries to help me this year.


  3. Hi Sarah,
    you’ve done a beautiful job on that soundboard. I used to decorate harpsichord cases and always admired the delicate work of the soundboards decorations. I think songboard sounds much more poetic.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Hey Sonia,
      thank you. It is nice to hear from others who have knowledge of this area of work, your harpsichord decorating adventures sound amazing.
      I went to your blog and found it interesting. Looking forward to hearing more. Good luck with ‘Androula’s kitchen’.

      Ah, ‘song board’, before you pointed it out I hadn’t realised. It is actually a mistake, resulting from my bilingual life here in Holland. ‘Zangbodem’is song board in Dutch. I just got lost in translation, but I agree it sounds more poetic. I’ll leave it in.


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