Home

Harpsichord 5

August 31, 2007

peacock-feather-web.jpg

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.

Advertisements

Harpsichord 4

August 26, 2007

img_8921-pframeweb.jpg

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.

Harpsichord 3

August 21, 2007

img_8895-p-resized-for-web.jpg

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.

img_8903-resized-for-web.jpg

Harpsichord 2

August 12, 2007

img_8804-p-resized.jpg

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!

Harpsichord 1

August 7, 2007

img_8794-aweb-47.jpg

Photo by Rende Zoutewelle

This case with soundboard is on its way to becoming a musical instrument. My job is to decorate the soundboard in the tradition of the 17th century Flemish Ruckers’ instruments. 
This is the 5th harpsichord decoration job I’ve done; the first one was in 1993.

The instrument’s builder is Herwil van Gelder and he lives just down the road. The customer is also coincidentally from the village, so it feels like a community kind of project.

blue-swatchesresized.jpg

After determining which flowers will be painted on, the next step is mixing the classic blue for the blue lines, scallops and arabesques.  I’ve opted for a cobalt-blue based mixture. The original material used was ‘smalt’- cobalt glass in a casein suspension.  After experimenting a bit I’ve arrived at a mix of gel medium, designers colour and casein. This goop is applied with a fabric painting applicator and is like decorating a cake.