Sunday, December 21, 2008

"On a wing and a prayer..."

Friday December 19 was a red letter day for me. It was no less than a monumental consummation of artistic vision and angst, and a year's worth of energy and plenty of 'lack' thereof...never have I had a flute or project so both stymie and propel me, this one taking just over a year.

We artists can be a funny breed. I speak for many when I say we can only truly produce our best work when we 'feel' like it...sometimes we can turn work out without much inspiration, but the rule of thumb is you work when your fire is lit, and you don't touch stuff when it ain't. Whether it's waking and working at odd hours, or going for weeks, maybe months, with 'artist's block' that can be extremely frustrating. There is no real rhyme or reason why the ebbs and flows can be so changeable, and the complexities of day to day life can exact profound influences in this arena.

And so it was with this second special order flute requested by my friend Mike (if you remember way back to the "Jonah and the Whale" flute post, that's his, too). The basic idea was a prayer flute, and we talked about doves, praying hands, etc. being in the design. Mike gives me free reign on the designs, etc., and we agree on some basics before I let my creativity go hogwild. Or stop cold.

My initial thoughts were for the flute to be a closed-end flute and to carve the praying hands at the end...but then I thought I'd carve a dove in flight off the end and put the hand motif in the block...there's always a lot of sketching and thinking through not only the design but how to pull it off. Too, there is the all important wood selection, which can dictate what you can and can't carve given varying grain characteristics of woods. There is a lot of this mentally going back and forth before the first cut is ever made.

Mike wanted an F#, which in the energy field world is right around the heart chakra (and close to being a 'true' Native American key, if there is such a thing), so I began by making 2 flutes in case one 'messed up'. For woods, I opted for the main body to be Papua New Guinea Walnut, a shimmering light tan wood, easily worked, with a nice mellow tone. You may also remember older posts where some sacred woods I used to walk Mercy in were razed in an ugly manner, and I collected some of the Dogwood and Red Cedar from the wastage and vowed to incorporate it into some flutes to provide a 'healing' to the destructive mess that was made...well, I wanted to use the Dogwood in the flute for the block, and add a mouthpiece, too.

As my mind began settling on designs, I had this idea to do multiple stylized doves/birds flying off the end of the flute...don't know where the idea came from, it just did...and I thought how perfect to carve that out of Dogwood, as well. I had a mini sketch of a simple outline of a bird, xeroxed about 2o of 'em, and began taking them and layering them in different patterns and combinations. What looked best...2, 3, 4, 5 doves? I settled on an asymmetrical pattern of 4 doves for this reason: I view music from these spiritual flutes as 'arrows' in flight going out into the's healing music, as well. Mike's Christian faith is very important to him, and I remembered the sand dollar lesson (among others) where 5 doves tie in. Dogwood itself has religious tie-ins to begin with...and the sand dollar has the five 'wounds' or openings on it, and when you break a dried one in half, five little 'doves' fall out to fly away.

Why just the four doves, you ask? Because I immediately envisioned the flute player as being the fifth dove, making music that flies away in the wind. Mind you, Dogwood is a pretty hard wood to work with, but it has a really tight grain...taking a chunk of it and 'picturing the four doves from all angles, and then layering them one over the other as I worked the wood down...let's just say it was a huge challenge with a lot of stop-and-go work on it. Because the dove 'assembly' was to be added onto the end of the flute in an aesthetically pleasing manner, I wanted to design it where it was somewhat embedded into the flute, which was extremely tricky as it was going to effect the final key of the flute. Remember I had to land the flute at F#, and when you cut into a barrel's volume you affect the counter that, the bird design had myriad holes which were going to affect the pitch in an opposite was all rather undaunting as there are no blueprints to go by, only my knowledge and thinking through what knowledge I've gleaned from flute making thus far.

I taped the dove group in as I experimented on how to seat it, and as luck would have it it was already very close to F#...once I affixed the assembly on, I simply notched a "V" on the bottom side to bring the flute up to pitch. I liked the symbolism in name and color of Bloodwood, itself a rich crimson shade, that truly offset the PNG Walnut and Dogwood nicely. I added the spacer in the mouthpiece, and was thinking of a way to make it a part of the dove end, but there was no good way to do that. I decided it was worth the effort to countersink Bloodwood rings around the finger holes, which helped the aesthetics even more.

Let me tell you, the 'hands' block was a monumental stumbling stone for me...I am very comfortable drawing and carving animals, but I've never been able to do well with human forms. I am prone to eat elephants all at once, and told myself I was going to make the praying hands block...after 7 months I finally did. I wanted sleeves in there, and I wanted the hands together at a slight upward angle, but not too high...and because the chunk of Dogwood was so large, it was equally as heavy, so most of what you see 'behind' the sleeves was hollowed out (when you play it it looks like your peeking into a little cave of sorts!). Because I'd been dragging my feet for so long on this flute, I knew I had to make myself face my design demons, set a date for Mike, and attack it. It was slow work, let me tell you...the flute was in great shape, I'd tuned it up real I had to get the block done.

Less than 24 hours before I was to meet up with Mike (we did NOT want to mail this puppy!) I had one of those 'flashes': make a Bloodwood cross and put it in the opening in the hands. Within literally 5 minutes I'd grabbed just the right piece of wood, made the cuts with the bandsaw, sanded down to the appropriate thickness, then took my Dremel carver and roughed it up with first a cutter and then a stone, which made the cross look 'rugged'...with a small bit of shaping on the bottom, that cross slipped perfectly into the hands, and with a dollop of glue and an added pressure and twist, it snugged down in the position you see it in and for the very first time I felt a heavy curtain lift off of me. It was at that point 'done'. It was complete. It was finally where it needed to be to put my Soul at peace.

That's the Cliff Notes version of this flute. When I met Mike at a Food Lion parking lot in Wadesboro, I'd not yet taken pictures of I went prepared with a quilt, flute stand, and royal purple dropcloth and took the pics right there in the middle of the parking lot. Remember you can enlarge any of these pictures by clicking on them...


DAVID said...


Hope you all are well. I wanted you to know I am amazed at the work you have done on this flute. More than the physical work of crafting the instrument, which is truly beautiful, is the thoughtfulness you put into your work and the mindfulness by which you seem to live your life. I can understand the artist 'lean' times when nothing seems to want to come forth, and the times when there isn't enough time in the day to get done all one wants to do. I think your willingness to allow things to take whatever time it takes to complete the work in a masterful way speaks volumes to your soulfulness and willingness to be a vessel through which your work flows. May God help me be a more willing vessel. Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season, and I hope we can get to see each other sometime in the new year. All the best to you, my friend. Dave Cook

Bob Child said...

Ah, if ANYone understands all I went through it's you...and you could well add plenty more! Good to hear from you, and I'm sorry I couldn't make it by your 'home' pottery show days as, well, talk about being in 10 directions at once. Slowing down and taking stock is oh so important, and especially now when all can ramp up so quickly. Love and blessings to you and your family, and may your 2009 point you in a clear vision and purpose for your Soul's work.