It is a rainy day. The clouds are thick, dark and low. It will rain most of the day. I went out to the workshop this morning and turned on the lights. The brightness of the lights did not seem to chase the grey oppressiveness away.
My little boy Isaac is home with Grandma today. He just opened the back door and is looking out at the rain. He is putting his boots on. No, the rain isn’t going to stop him today. Life is too exciting to let a little thing like rain to stop his exploration of the world. I wish I were more like that.
There are pipes in various stages of development, but I’m not motivated to work on any of them. I don’t like to force creativity. I must tune in to a block of briar from the very beginning. That connection must be re-established each time I set it down and pick it up. I believe the creator’s soul and the creative medium must be continually felt as one. I can’t seem to connect this morning. I think I’ll write today. It is a good day to write.
The Power of Influence Over Style
We all have heroes that influence our ideas. At least I hope everybody has a hero. Since there are many possibilities of what a hero can represent, I’ll tell you the definition of the hero I am referring to. I am talking about real life, real time individuals that we look up to and like to model our self after. These individuals influence our thinking and actions. I have different heroes for different areas of my life. For example, I look up to my friend Jesse as an example of a good family man and a person of solid character. I look at his admirable qualities as something I want to incorporate into my own life. I ask him questions to better understand how I can develop this area of my life.
As a craftsman I have a different set of heroes, specifically in the pipe making community. I love JT Cooke, Bonaquisti and Roush pipes. I like everything about these pipes. The examples in my collection are of a larger size, classic in shape and exhibit great texture and colours. Holding one of these hefty beauties in my hand brings satisfying warmth to my soul. When I started to make pipes in 2oo2, I knew this would be my style. I wanted to make classical shapes, but I also wanted to let my imagination wander. Most importantly, I wanted to make pipes that the owner would want to hold.
I think there are several factors that guide a pipe maker’s style. Obviously, aesthetic preferences influence style. Paul Bonacquisti collected Castello pipes when he began making pipes. Although his pipes are uniquely “Bonaquisti,” they exhibit a Castello-like influence. I have a few Bonaquisti pipes, and the hours of time admiring and studying his pipes have rubbed off onto my own work. Roush pipes exhibit an influence of his early mentor Mike Butera. I like the meatiness of Roush pipes; therefore I like to make meaty pipes. Cooke pipes are Cooke pipes, and his constant experimentation on pipes encourages me to be an experimenter. Influences do not have to be restricted to individuals, however. Many times I have found a written article about such and such a pipe maker making pipes with a Danish or Italian flair.
Natural ability may affect style. There are pipe shapes out there I would never attempt to make. Michael Parks recently created a set called “Roots and Leaves.” These pipes are from the imagination of a true artist. The pipes required hundreds of hours to create. I have not the imagination or patience to make something like that. Knowing one’s own talent, limits, mentality and even weaknesses influence creative choice.
Time and practice are major influences. My first pipes were big ugly billiards. I had half an idea of what I was doing, and my fingers were uncooperative to my brains commands. As knowledge and practise increased, muscle memory began to control my movements. Muscle memory is a term a drummer friend of mine taught me. He explained that new or complicated muscle movements take cognitive effort. Muscle memory is when our limbs move independent of thought. The muscles “know” what to do because it has done the movement so many times. In the beginning, I had to summon enormous powers of concentration to coordinate my eyes, hands and mind. Now, I hardly think about it. I let my muscle memory and my creative juice do the carving.
Knowledge and experimentation are influences. As I learn and understand the nature of a shape, and the materials or tools that I use, new possibilities open up. Experimenting also reveals new ways of doing things. Every ten experimenting failures may result in one success, and the success is integrated into the style.
Tools may influence style. New tools can change the process of how a pipe is made. Once I began drilling and shaping on a lathe and starting using disk sanders, my shape index opened up and I began trying new things. Stains, rustication methods and sandblasting media can affect the style of a pipe. My style began to change with the introduction of these things.
Work environment may have influence. If I had to work in a basement or windowless garage, I would probably go mad. There is nothing wrong with these environments, and may work well for an individual in need of no distractions. Personally, I like to take lots of five-minute breaks to look at the birds or flowers through the window. I like the natural daylight; these things refresh my mind.
All the potential influences above may or may not change the way a carver’s pipe look. It could change only one aspect, or it could change many. It really depends on what the pipe-maker wants. I’m sure Larry Roush adds new tools and techniques to his craft, yet the pipes remain very Roush. Even the addition of a sandblaster a few years ago did not change his style, even though the style of the sandblast had evolved. Paolo Becker has gone through a metamorphosis in his style. Paolo pipes are very distinct from his earlier work, now producing many delicate, sleek and dark pipes. Brian Ruthenburg has changed the look of his rustication, but it didn’t change his shape style.
So there you have it. I’m sure these ideas will require some more thought, as it is likely some of the ideas are incomplete. It sure is fun to think about these things on a rainy day.