Archive for November, 2010

Keychest dancers 3

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. God is good, isn’t He?!

I got to do some more marquetry work on the dancers even after going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house [a 12-hour round trip] The Texas A&M Aggies beat their rivals, the University of Texas Longhorns, on Thanksgiving Day, so that was exciting.


How they look after a third weekend's work

The picture was taken at an angle to avoid flash glare, so the people look a little short.

Three of the dancers now have heads. The couple on the left is almost done, as far as adding marquetry pieces goes.  I may add hair to the back of the man’s neck and hair to the  woman’s forehead, instead of having laser-etched hair, which I had originally intended. Next, they will need to be cut out as one piece to their final outline, and inlaid into a matching recess cut in the keychest, sanded, and have the faces etched. All of that is no small task. On the couple on the right, besides a little hair on both, the girl needs her lace cap finished, and her left gloved-hand added on the man’s shoulder. The man needs his head, the rest of his hat and a tie. I replaced a couple of the pieces I had already done. That’s fairly common for me. Pieces that weren’t changed –like the purple apron– will look different, depending upon the lighting.

Etching dancers’ faces

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

dancers8I got over to the Texas Wood House this past weekend, and Sherry etched samples of the faces at three different power settings on the actual veneer I am going to use for the faces. It was neat seeing how they came out!  The top setting burned through the veneer. The lowest setting looked best for the shadows, but the middle one looked best for the detail such as eyes, eyebrows, noses and mouths. Somewhere between the first two may be best. I will try tweaking the images in Photoshop to lighten the shading but not the other features. I don’t want the girl to look like she needs a shave.

The assembly procedure needs to be changed from what I had originally envisioned. I had intended to put the pieces for the faces into the picture with the images already on them.  But the subtle etching would never survive sanding all the veneers in the picture down flat. This means that the faces need to be etched on after the marquetry is inlaid into the keybox side, and the sanding is done! I thought it would be too hard to line up the keychest side so that the etching ended up in the right place compared to the pictures, but Sherry says she can do it. If that can be done, we may just have the laser cut out the two couples from the scrap background, and also create the recess for them to go into on the keychest piece. I had been considering doing that by hand.

Keychest dancers 2

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Here’s the latest on the two marquetry dancing couples for the keychest as of Saturday night.  The pair on the right has gotten well into the act now.


The Breton dancers are moving right along!

Watched the #19 Texas A&M Aggies upset #9 Nebraska 9-6 while working on it. “Whoop!” The win was exciting, even though the only scores were field goals.

My original hurdy-gurdy

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

I got out my old, scratch-built hurdy-gurdy yesterday, since I was asked to play it at the office Christmas party again this year. I need to see if I could get it to sound half-way decent before agreeing to do that. Plus, I’ll have to practice, since I don’t really know any songs well enough to play, otherwise. Since it is so unusual, people overlook the fact that I can’t hardly play it, or that it squeals some.

The cat was being silly —he likes playing with the ends of the strings— so I got out my camera…


Dancers face detail

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

My plan to get the face detail is to have that laser-etched in the veneer I will use for flesh tones. Then the pieces will be cut out and inserted into the marquetry picture. To do this, the color pictures were converted to grayscale and the contrast was increased in Photoshop to totally whiten most areas, leaving facial features, hair, and light shading. I had to do some blurring to get rid of splotches in the low-resolution original images. I also darkened some features. Also, everything left besides the heads needed erasing.

This is what I have right now…

dancers6I am not sure how much of the shading I should leave — how it will appear,  if it will look too dark. I may need to make a lighter file, just in case.

Another issue is that the marquetry veneers are all different thicknesses, and will need sanding so they’re all flush with each other and with the keychest side. I have to work this out somehow so that I don’t sand off the laser-etching!

The Spell of Brittany

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

This is the title of an attractive antique book I got from eBay at a decent price, including free shipping. The author is Francis Miltoun and the illustrations are by Blanche McManus. This edition was published in 1927, but it has a copyright date of 1905 because it first came out then under the title “Rambles in Brittany.” It was later incorporated into a “The Spell of…” travel series.

Note the ermine design on the cover and spine.


The Spell of Brittany by Francis Miltoun

I’m trying to read it when not hurdy-gurdy building. One interesting thing so far is a couple references to the hobnails on the breton peasants’ wooden shoes. They fall out and litter the streets. Because of this, the author says, there weren’t many tourists on bicycles or in motor cars at that time — the turn of the 20th century.

Keychest dancers 1

Monday, November 15th, 2010

I made good progress on the marquetry picture of the left couple over the weekend while watching football. The man is done, except for the visible part of his head, and several pieces of the woman are done. My legs got a little cramped sitting on the hard tile floor at the coffee table, though.


Part of temporary work area set up on coffee table in the den

This photo shows [top to bottom]:

  • the edge of a piece of walnut burl used for most of the clothing,
  • the pattern printed on translucent vellum used for tracing shapes onto wood with carbon paper that will be cut out with an X-acto knife,
  • the printout of the pictures for reference, showing relative darknesses of pieces, shadows, etc.,
  • the scrap of veneer with the marquetry pictures that are progressively cut into it.

The magnifier is used for cutting out the small pieces to get good fits, and the wooden roller is used to make sure they are flat when glued into place with yellow carpenter’s glue.


Closeup of left couple after one weekend's work

The hat and shoulders look a little angular and blockish right now because the outer edges of the pieces are extended past the actual picture edges. The outline will be trimmed to proper shape and removed from the scrap holding piece after the picture is done.

You can see the wenge —the wood with the thin vertical stripes— that I used for the man’s hatband. His hat [if these inlays get used] will eventually have a wenge keyshaft sticking out of it, so this choice for the hatband is an attempt to disguise that as much as possible.

The man is currently 1 5/8″ high. That will be reduced about 1/8″ when the excess is removed from the bottom.

The Polar Express hobo

Friday, November 12th, 2010

‘Tis the holiday season, practically.  I thought I’d add to my series on hurdy-gurdies I’ve run across in films by mentioning the hobo in the animated 3D movie, “The Polar Express,” a 2004 Christmas classic based upon the Chris Van Allsburg children’s book. There is a scene where a hobo atop the train is interrupted while playing “Good King Wenceslas” on his hurdy-gurdy. The hobo – and several other characters – is played by Tom Hanks.

Only brief glimpses of the hurdy-gurdy are seen, and even less of it is heard. Interestingly, despite the way-too-short segment, people wanting to know what he’s playing is listed first under FAQs for the film at IMDb!

You can see this scene right on YouTube. Look for the instrument just after 1:30 and just before 5:30.

I discovered this behind-the-scenes story about the use of the hurdy-gurdy in the film by the person who played it, Curtis Berak:

I was contacted to play hurdy gurdy for this movie.
By this time they had already faked some kind of sound
for the hurdy gurdy.  I was told it was Tom Hanks who
wanted a hurdy gurdy in the film.  They wanted me to
play the tune Good King Wenceslas on Tom Hanks own
hurdy gurdy.  His hurdy gurdy turned out to be an old
Camac kit which he got from Lark In The Morning.  When
I turned it on its side to play it, all the keys fell
into the keybox as they had been made too short.  This
instrument had many other problems.  I worked on it
for a few hours and was able to get it playing.

So when I went to the recording session I brought
Hanks instrument and also one of my own,a beautiful
old Baroque vielle by Caron of Versailles.  The first
thing they did was film me with a process called
motion capture so they could have the correct way of
playing the hurdy gurdy.  The Camac sounded so dredful
that they wanted me to play my own one instead.  It
was really wonderful to work with the music director
Alan Silvestre.  When we were done we had some really
nice takes of Good King Wenceslas.  So then the
director Robert Zemeckis came in.  The first thing he
didn’t like was the trompette.  So we did it again
without trompette.  Then he said it did’t sound sad
enough and could I play it two and a half octaves
lower. There was no way to do that so that was the end
of the session.

I still haven’t seen the movie but from what I hear It
doesn’t sound much like a hurdy gurdy and they did not
bother to correct the improper image of playing.

If this movie is brought back to the silver screen in 3D over the holidays, I may have to go see it again.

Keychest logo

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Besides the dancers, I will likely also have something in the middle gap – normally the spot for the name and location of the maker. But I have no real interest in looking at my name all the time, so I’ve considered putting my name on the other side, underneath the key buttons. It’d be there, but not too prominent. I’ve seen pictures of a couple hurdy-gurdies done that way, though it is not as common. This would be probably done with laser etching. Thanks to Jerry, I have met someone locally who does this!


Another sample of old keychest artwork

One idea for between the dancers was a scroll with a Breton motto on it. I like the French motto and story behind it, but may use it elsewhere, like on the wheel or keychest cover. I might end up using my name, for lack of a better idea. It might be on an inlaid wood veneer scroll, instead of a drawn geometric shape, as on the old examples. I’ll pass on including where I live, since I’m not a professional manufacturer needing to advertize my business.


One initial idea for the name and scroll

Still thinking about what to put in this area.

Keychest figures

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I would have had the keychest glued together by now and who knows what else completed, if I didn’t want to decorate it some. That has to be done beforehand while the pieces are separate. I have put a lot of effort into deciding what to put on it and where, and still haven’t finalized any of it!

A lot of the old French luteback hurdy-gurdies have illustrations of two couples that appear to be snobbishly showing off their fancy Parisian high society fashions. I think I read somewhere that these are decals of some sort. They look hand-drawn with pen and ink. I’ve only seen photos, not ever looked at one in person.


Example of an old French keychest design

This, of course, is on the player side of the keychest. The center between them has some sort of seal with the maker’s name. I thought I would like to try to do something similar. But in keeping with the Breton theme, I would need couples in costume bretonne. They wouldn’t be drawn in ink; it would be done in wood veneer – marquetry inlaid into the keychest side, which I think would look neater. Whatever it was, it had to be something I liked looking at, because it will be always facing me while I was playing.

There is no telling how many pictures I have gone through online to try to find something that I thought would be inspiring and work in the limited vertical space available! The old intruments seemed to have more decorating height, partly because the keys were skinnier and closer to the lid, I guess. I’ve also considered doing several Breton coastal landscapes. But since people are traditionally shown here, I wanted to continue that practice, if possible.

I think I have narrowed it down to the finalists! One way to do that was to limit my looking to one region of Brittany. I had already decided that the peghead was going to be carved to look like a woman from Auray in the Morbihan region of southern Brittany. So, I wanted the other figures to match. Besides, a lot of Breton women’s headcoverings are very tall, and wouldn’t work. Another thing I like about the Auray costumes are that they are usually fairly plain – if you can call a lot of lace and velour trim plain – and primarily black and white. The only color may have been a bright apron. This fits my Breton black and white theme.

I’m a big fan of traditional female dress, including headcoverings. Imagine wearing an apron and gloves to a dance – or to church – today! Alas, now they come to church in faded blue jeans. I’d better not get off on that subject…


Collage of pictures for possible marquetry design on keychest

I’ve combined six photographs to make the two couples. I wanted them to be dancing, happily engaged with each other – not just standing there stuffy and aloof, like they were total strangers, which is how the old illustrations tend to strike me. I wanted one to show the man from the back, and one to show the woman from the back, to give a more “3D” idea of their costumes. The left woman wasn’t dancing with anyone in the original picture. I introduced her to her new partner by adding a woman’s arm from an old postcard to the man’s shoulder, and creating an extended right arm for her as well. The man on the right got a new head.


Pattern drawn on computer with Corel DRAW of pieces to be cut out

To make my master pattern, I traced the outline of these figures using the vector drawing program Corel DRAW. After that, I add the major internal lines for the marquetry ‘puzzle’ pieces. Some tweaks were made to the original photographs. For example, I made sure the man on the right had the proper standing collar and  rounded crown on his hat. I may give him a bow tie, or go back to the straight one.

Notice the two couples are about the same size/height. However, the keychest slopes downward from the wheel to the peghead on the left. To get the left couple the same height as the right meant raising them up into the area where the keyholes are. Since the holes are further apart on that end, I was able to strategically place the wide, dark hatband of the man’s hat exactly where the first keyshaft sticks through the keychest. Since these keyshafts are made of wenge, a very dark wood, it should be camouflaged – especially if I use wenge for the hatband.


Planned position of figures on keychest side

The couples are not only the same height [only about 1.5"], but also the same width, as well as evenly spaced from either end. That took some doing, matching their heads to the slope of the keyholes. I am going to work on the marquetry pictures first, before doing anything drastic to the keychest side, to see if they come out nicely, or not. A replacement part would set me back $150, so I want to be sure it will look good.