Sunday, January 4, 2015

An Artist Study 2015 (The Billiard)


Over the next few months I am going to be exploring both my own creative process and the depths of my craft.  I will not stop making other shapes during this time but I will be making 1-3 billiard pipes every week.  Ultimately I will make 20 Billiards, with the last 7 being a seven day set complete with a stand.  The purpose of this experiment, (besides making some great pipes) is to reinforce skills that will always be required, but also to do this with a very discernible outcome.

the Comoy 127 perhaps the quintessential billiard shape
The billiard is the classic shape, of all the classic shapes.  It is the tradition behind traditional shapes.  It is the most collected and the most popular shape.  Many shapes are based upon this one.  And it follows some very clear rules:

a Dunhill, considered by many to be the ultimate billiard
1. The billiard is symmetrical
2. The billiard's bowl has a slight (2-3%) tilt forward
3. The height of the billiards bowl from the top of the shank is equal to the length of the shank
4. The length of the stem is equal to the length of the stummel and shank, or in simpler terms the stem equals half the length of the total pipe.
5. The Billiard does not have straight walls but a very gradual belly to it.  This belly is largest just below half way, creating the most wood where it will be most needed when smoking.  This belly then gradually returns and rounds under to meet the shank.

The truth about the billiard is simple, you either did it correctly, or you did not.  It may be finished poorly, with an ugly stem on it, and have zero aesthetic appeal, yet it will still be a proper billiard.  On the other hand it can be gorgeously finished with some wonderful flair and originality and yet not be a proper billiard.  There is very little wiggle room here.  Which is why it is such an amazing study as a craftsman.  It will be done properly, or not and will be judged so.  This is a daunting challenge.  With many of my favorite pipes you can apply objective rules to them, yet they are very open to interpretation.  Not the billiard, so as a craftsman I want to challenge myself to make exactly what I set out to make.

Tom Eltang makes very elegant classics
But here is the big question:  If everything is preordained, if all of my choices are taken from me... how can I as an artist allow my creativity to flow.  How can art come from deliberate form and function.  How can I make a work of art, that is also a billiard.  The easy answer is with finish.  Color, texture and sheen can add magic, its true, but is there something more?  Is there something about my own hands, my motions, my emotions and my creativity which can transcend the design, and create art?  This is what I intend to find out over the next few months.  And I plan on sharing this adventure with you.  Every thought, picture and pipe along the way.

I hope you share your own thoughts along the way. And please, feel free to take part in the study by purchasing one of these works of my hands.