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Harpsichord 2

August 12, 2007

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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

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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.

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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.