What Started All That

A gentleman I met yesterday complained about how the Internet has changed the way commerce is conducted in the world today. After I listened for a few minutes, I briefly outlined my progress with online sales in the last few years.


I said that about 20 years ago I had it in mind to do something I had thought about since I was quite young, and that was to simply plant a small section of Yarrow, a simple weed that I had read about inthe Wilhellm-Baynes translation of the I Ching when I was in High School, a weed grows profusely in abandoned fields around Austin, Texas. Yarrow grows all over the world, in fact, but it was when we were visiting friends there that I took a few roots home and placed them in a patch at home. “Why do you want to plant those weeds in our garden?” Martha asked incredulously. I told Martha, “One day I’ll sell the stems of these plants to people all over the world.”

Yes, I had been thinking about this a very long time, in fact I had almost bought home root samples on several occasions simply because it is a wonderful medicinal plant on its own. The leaves are a wonderful, ferny, soft and fragrant tapestry. That it does, in fact, grow up in early summer into tall stems with simple, white flowers is a detraction for those who prefer a tidy, restrained, picturebook sort of garden. There are more colorful varieties, too, that one buys at the local nursery with showy colors and restrained growth, hybrids that will grow for a season and die in winter. They do not come back, and their stems are too short, anyway- for my purposes.


I consulted the Oracle years ago. “Will it be a good idea to plant Yarrow, to offer to the world for the purpose of consulting the Oracle, in the traditional way?”

The Oracle replied, “One day there will be instant communication of words and pictures. This will great good fortune, when the wise engage in honest commerce in open engagements.”


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New Series of Disc Art -August 2015

I decided to work a little bigger with these drawings on plywood. They will be boxed later, and I’m still working on the thousands of layers of French Polish before I even build them. image The first of the series owes a lot to latter-day NA design, but I simply arrived at it by the same means of drawing out from simple geometric concepts. It has a lot to do with selecting the features that interest me, rather than any meaningful agenda. I have the whole world of multicultural design concepts to support me. The flat white gesso areas take on a warm quality under shellac. I believe the grain of the wood is so important, that a little slippage of the intense ultramarine blue into it has a dynamic quality. I don’t feel it is better if everything simply stays in place, so in the next one I definitely encouraged the movement of the ultramarine ink into the resin. image Yes, I could tame the process into an anal hard-edged monstrosity, but the flow is certainly more intriguing. The new addition of Gold ink over a red “bole” drew into the next piece, one that I am still not quite satisfied with. I am mulling over the space between the outer ring with the small vacant triangles. On the one side, the edge may be too week, image but I don’t want a strict connection with the inner area. I may opt for the rich black you can see in the next one. I’m very happy with the sketchy little lines that light up the center area – for me, at least. With the open wood areas and the sharp points the black Sumi ink neither separates or joins. So that may be a clue as to elwhere #3 will need to go. But I’m not pushing it. I have a lot more to do before I come back to it.


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Disc Paintings


When a new discovery was made in a Bronze Age archaeological site of a thin gold “Sun Disc” there was a general excitement among friends. At the Summer Solstice this year, the Wiltshire Museum added this penny-sized disc to their collection found in 1947 at Monkton Farleigh, some 24 miles northeast of Stonehenge. My suggestion was that it and all other grave goods should, once examined in detail, be returned to the site!

It was then suggested I try to recreate the idea in contemporary terms. At first, I was considering several ways to emboss the design in metal, but found myself going into an entirely different direction.



I have done a lot with pyrography in the past. But I didn’t have the sense of drawing with fire until I invested in some professional gear. Then I began an entirely new body of work that started with a series of sketches on wood. The pen can be very finely adjusted for temperature, produces heat almost entirely at the tip of the pen, and a variety of pen tip shapes are available for different purposes.


As I began to gain a certain confidence with the tool I began to think almost immediately about color and its application to these wood surfaces.


So when I began to work on larger pieces, there was plenty of open space and the detail was also much simpler to do.

I then embarked on a group of five 6.5″ discs that left much of the “Sun Disc” iconography strictly in the background, and the lines to stand on their own. These little discs are somewhat related to a series of large canvases I completed in 2010, three of which can be seen at the Blue Cross/Blue Shield collection in Dallas.


The first piece convinced me that the pencil lines were important, too. I left them, and used color pencils to create yet another kind of linear element.


A sense of the enigmatic is important, I suggest, to keep the viewer returning, to see again if something was missed.


Still maintains a suggestion of quadrants and the presentation of Light. The gesso areas accentuate the quality of the Birch surfaces.


This piece incorporates Taoist talismanic inscription that suggests the movement of incense spirals, or a wreath of energetic flotations.


This disc has, more than the others, more if the suggestion of wood grain, so it became the ground for a more coloristic approach. The Solar quadrants still exist, but bloom outwardly and are then bound up by the painted edge.

There is still a great deal to be explored by burnt lines. Perhaps in the next series, some broad areas may be filled with fired areas to determine a kind of relief for painted areas. So far, the pyrographic lines seem a unique way of drawing.

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A Ruan – based Silk Strung Instrument


I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, that I need an instrument om which to test my longer Real Silk strings, so I combined a long-necked and rectangular design and tuned it to the common scale of the Chinese Yueqin, or “Moon Lute”

As I had only built one ‘necked’ instrument many years ago, there was much to learn in the process. Design innovations came forward as I selected a box to base my sound upon.
I actually began with the pegs, which I had been carving out of Vitex from the garden. Vitex actually carves somewhat like soap when green, then dries quite hard. I left the bark on.


I find the peg placement on the old Chinese “Moon Lute” intriguing, and graceful, so I placed mine at similar, ‘radiating’ angles. I presumed that this would make it easier to reach them, as well.


An Old Moon Lute

One thing for certain was the need to reinforce the combination of a very thin and light soundbox with the neck added to one side. In my earlier instruments, I had simply passed the neck through the box so that tension was primarily secured by it alone. The strings pressed against what was basically a drum, with the neck as a counterforce.

My concept of a thin wooden soundboard was cautioned by an earlier lyre I had built with an unreinforced wood face. The pressure of 8 strings applied considerable force to a small area, and the face was soon quite concave. The lyre still has a very sweet sound, but the shape is a little disconcerting.

So for my latest instrument, I provided some reinforcement similar to the strutting under a guitar face, and the bridge provided with a leg that reaches to the back.


The back is also reinforced against excess pressure, but is able to flex considerably in counter-point with the face. The box is meant to “breathe” as it is perturbed by the strings through the bridge, and being quite thin, does not get in the way of the sound of the strings.


I also passed a support through the lower part of the box to be attached to the reinforcing curve of the neck, and becomes the anchor point of the string attachment on the other side. These measures provide all the support for the tension of the strings and allow the box to be thin and very light. The finish on the very refined surfaces are French Polished.


The instrument plays very well indeed.
It is currently tuned G D g d, the traditional tuning for Yueqin. It is a little folksy and easy to work with.


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Marco Polo Movie on Netflix uses Yarrow Stalks from Texas


Yarrow from Texas

How surprised I was last year to ship not one, but 3 sets of stalks to Maylasia, where I later learned a bio – epic concerning Marco Polo was being filmed.


When the series aired on Netflix I watched several episodes, but became impatient, finally and fast-forwarded through the rest to discover what scene or scenes they might appear. It turns out only the final episode of the first series had a quick scene with a Taoist Oracle declaring “The I Ching does not lie…”

Never mind the absolutely ridiculous declaration, but for authenticity ‘ s sake, would ‘ he better use the term “Yi Jing” and show a few more moments of how they would be handled? So I was disappointed with the whole series, except for the last few scenes of Mongols sitting around their encampment playing Horse Fiddles  (Morin Khuur).



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Wet Paint Class

I dreamt I was in school. It was just to pass the time, an evening watercolor class, but it was really packed with students. The instructor carried a very important air, but suggested we all try to paint something of a grassy landscape, just to get started, and it was meant as just a simple exercise. I found myself in a kind of search for materials around the room, while everyone seemed to going full-tilt with whatever they could lay their hands on, leaving me with nothing at hand for myself to use.

I made furtive attempts to collect just SOMETHING to paint on, and with, while I watched some people going crazy with huge highway-sign sized monstrosities and bejeweled backdrops. A lot of it seemed really great, and I was excited for moments, just to find no one was really looking at what they had, but so very confident what they were doing was really great.

I went from room to room and then out into the street to scare up paint and paper of ANY SIZE or color, just so I could get started. I had seen so many great ideas working out in the other’s paint, only to see them lose it again because they didn’t know when to stop with what there was. I tried to catch the ear of the instructor, who wasn’t listening, but he chatted on, also with no one else listening. I said to no one, “It’s really so much about just stopping at the right moment. But then so many times it’s too soon or too late, isn’t it?” But then all the ears seemed deaf and self-satisfied in mutual congratulations.

After an odyssey of attempts to extract some materials through my scavenger hunt, and many near finds and slip-ups, in desperation I returned to find the whole lot of them had folded up and abandoned all their work, now dripping color all over the floor. So I took up some of those abandoned materials, folded some paper and made a little painted yellow hat and inscribed it with a few wet umber strokes.

Along came a very fashionable lady, who declared she LOVED it and wanted to show it to some of her other folks. I couldn’t quite make out what I’d written in block letters, but I think I wrote, “This HAT is NOT for general USE.” Or maybe I just wrote “NOT A HAT.” It just seemed a good idea, right?


Any way, I felt the sense of helpless desperation leave me, just the way all the paint in the abandoned art was flowing across the floor, (and the little hat on the way out the door!) while I picked up the paint again, off the floor with a good brush and some nice clean paper.

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Etsy listing available in my shop

Check out this item in my Etsy shop https://www.etsy.com/listing/246227315/taoist-water-talisman-disc-in-felt


Water Talisman in sleeve

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Tea Dream

I had a dream, too. I had just come into a harvest of tea leaves. I decided that I needed to toast them before a carefully prepared fire. When it was done, it was WONDERFUL. At least to me. A huge harvest of beautiful, rich tea.


Roasting tea leaves, traditional

So I shared a cup with someone regarded as an expert, whom I really trusted. He quietly told me it was not as good as I thought it was. He said I shouldn’t try to do things I wasn’t trained to do. That only people brought up in a Tea family should do such things. He just said “It is impossible, you fool only yourself.”

When I recalled this dream later, I laughed out loud. I had just seen this person inhale my cup of tea with deep, secret satisfaction.


Raku Chawan

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Real Silk Strings for Guqin now available in US


I have been making Real Silk strings for Lyre and Guitar for several years. My very favorite instrument, however, has been Guqin, one of the oldest known stringed instruments. The requirements for Guqin strings are much more exacting than any other instrument, too. They are commonly stroked and pressed against the surface to produce a sliding tone, so they must be very smooth and exceptionally hard.

With the experience and feedback from satisfied users of my Lyre and Guitar strings, I have developed strings of length and smoothness that are now on a par with strings made before the Cultural Revolution in China. The Cultural Revolution nearly caused the extinction of this wonderful old instrument. The craft of making Silk Strings was, for a time, lost and Nylon was used instead. Now there are possibly 3 Silk string makers including myself in the world.

I like to de-emphasize the elitist trend that seemed to make it appear necessary for the Chinese Cultural police to force the Literati tradition underground. An unfortunate effect of exclusivity is that it often manages to isolate Taoist practices from the common population. I personally consider it a misreading of the Tao Te Ching to raise the Cultural standing of gifted individuals to such a level that persons in support roles are undervalued. The Old Man (Lao Tzu) never denigrated the average person. To the contrary, he recognized frequently in attributed quotations that it is indeed the day-to-day activity of steady labor that raises a culture to sustainability.

Silk has been preferred for centuries in heirloom or reproduction instruments, especially appropriate in Asian and Tribal music for which loudness isn’t the important thing, but rather, rich harmonics.

I have been making Silk Strings for several years, and have perfected my way of working with silk, based on Japanese and Chinese methods. As far as I know, I am the only one that makes silk strings that are available for purchase outside those countries.  Instrument makers and ethnic musical instrument enthusiasts have expressed a strong interest in my work with silk.

Standard Guqin Strings

In order to make it easier to choose a size I am posting the string sizes separately. Keep in mind, too, that I can create custom diameters specifically for your instrument.

My process owes a debt of gratitude to the notes of Alexander Raykov, who pioneered many methods that I have distilled to what I believe to be the best blend of what I have learned. After spinning the plies to the correct twist I harden them with a special vegetable based glue, I then treat the string with a proprietary resin formula that is unique to my work.

My resin formula is a combination of beeswax, shellac, Copal, and other plant-based poly-resins. These are all-natural and renewable materials that I have used in different combinations for many years.

Why Silk Strings?

Real Silk strings are kinder to your fingertips, and are easier to press against a fretboard.

Real Silk strings are unusually resilient and do provide richer reverberations; a crisp pluck and harmonically rich finish.

Real Silk will give your vintage or traditional instrument a whole new voice of distinction and complexity.

New Real Silk strings do require several days of tension and frequent re-tuning at first.
After 3 or 4 days the strings will stabilize and hold tuning better than gut strings, either real or simulated.

You should bring up the tension of any new strings slowly over several hours with sensitivity to whether it is within  an approximate 1/3 of their breaking point –(a point at which the string begins to sound more like a metal string!) Yes, if you tighten a string beyond a certain point it will break. Use discretion.

Strings will slacken over several days and stabilize to your local humidity. I like to keep a hygrometer close to my instrument to observe objectively the changes over time.
Each string comes over 92″ long; this is enough to re-tie the string as the first 6 to 8″ wear.
The average lifespan of a good silk string can be 7 to 10 years if properly maintained. A stable environment for your instrument will be stable for the strings.

Order a Custom Gauge and length for your particular needs. This may take up to two weeks to produce.


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Netflix uses Texas Yarrow in Marco Polo Movie


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