A Guide to Evaluating Pipe Design – Part 1

A Guide to Evaluating Pipe Design – Part 1

For myself, there is nothing more pleasant than seeing the art within a pipe.

I love it that we know what a great pipe looks like the instant we see it. Because we have developed multiple (often unspoken) visual ques to evaluate a pipe, we are able to look at the whole piece, categorize it & make a relative judgement call on it. We define it as either a successful design or not. We have learned to do this but how is this process occurring inside our minds?

To begin with, yes, there will always be different views on this or that pipe. Some will say it’s magnificent while others will say it’s disgusting. What is interesting though is that there will always be a group of individuals who come together on either side of the good pipe/bad pipe debate and there are enough of these ‘similar opinions’ out there deciding on one or the other. Let’s define these visual standards many of us agree on and explore them a little deeper in some pipes.

Any pipe will always have numerous design elements incorporated within it, that allow us to gauge the pipe’s design effectiveness. We look at all these elements come together and we grade the pipe. A few of these design criteria are defined below.

Overall shape: The quality as found in some individual object defined as the pipes general body form.

Texture: The characteristic structure given to the exterior of the pipe. It has both a visual and especially tactile quality.

Accessories/Ferrule/Adornments: A subordinate or supplementary part of the pipe used mainly for convenience & attractiveness. Can sometimes contribute to a general effect of the pipe.

Stain Color: Coloration that penetrates the briar.

General flow of the lines: The consistent, orderly and pleasing arrangement of the general pipe parts. From shank to bowl and including the stem.

Balance: An even distribution of visual weight.

Nuances: A subtle difference or distinction in expression.

Intangible elements: Those items that are not definite or clear to the mind. Often accompanied by a distinct emotional response.

There are many more that can be listed but let’s leave the list at that for now. It is clear though that pipe-makers have a lot of design elements to choose from when making their pipes.

Each time you see a pipe containing multiple design elements, a whole bunch of them, in general we can assume that it is harder to execute such a pipe in a successful manner. Why? Because each individual element must interact properly, with all of the other elements. This is a very difficult thing to do. When applying multiple design elements to a pipe, if just one of those elements is “off” or executed poorly, that one element can “kill the pipe” and that item becomes the negative focal point on the piece. It is a difficult and slippery slope to apply and successfully engage, many of these elements together.

On the other hand, the fact of the matter is that even when applying the least amount of elements to a pipe, such as overall shape, lines and stain color. While technically a safe choice for the pipe-maker, even here it can be a very difficult thing to execute successfully. When done well though, the results can leave one speechless. Even simple designs can have breathtaking qualities.

There simply are not that many people who can execute a perfect bent billiard as in this example by Former. The shank in this shape must be a perfect swan neck like reverse “S”. There can be no visual interruption to that very important line. It has to be impeccable and more often than not, we rarely see this type of splendid execution. It is literally a difficult task to find 10 pipe-makers who can execute that design element in 9 out of 10 blocks of briar. It is a very challenging line to execute. Former however, with his years upon years of skilled experience, easily nails the composition.

Former, Denmark

Former, Denmark

Pipe-maker Poul Ilstead enjoys tackling the concept of general line-flow in his pipes. He applies numerous flat surfaces to a pipe & he is very good at executing these surfaces to perfection. One surface area will always be made up of at least two lines. Poul applies the same width to each of the six surface areas surrounding this shank. There are so many many lines flowing across this pipe with perfect geometric precision & grace. It is rare to see so many lines on a pipe and for good reason, this is another extremely difficult design element o execute effectively.

Poul Ilstead, Denmark

Poul Ilstead, Denmark

Poul is also a master at balancing the overall shape. Notice how the highly complex shank with multiple sides, easily extends from the bowl. It effortlessly acts as an extension from the main chamber. The pipe feels like one unit, even with so much going on all around it. So many lines to evaluate, so much information to process, so many visual cues to look at. All of that dynamic visual information creates the opportunity for multiple places for design error to occur. Yet with Poul’s work, he merges all that linear information with great success. Poul transitions the multiple lines in his pipe with masterful precision. He carves the wood from one area to another without us even acknowledging the difficult task. That is the effect of a good designer. They make very hard work – appear easy.

Poul Ilstead, Denmark

Karl Heinz Joura is another pipe-maker who has mastered the transition of design elements in his pipes. Joura often applies small nuances to the transition points in his work. In this piece you can see the addition of a hump, extending along the rear bottom of the shank.

Karl-Heinz Joura, Germany

It naturally starts at the bottom of the bowl and extends all the way up to the stem. A distinct feature placed throughout the entire spine of the pipe and it is a feature that completely alters the shank’s overall appearance.

Karl-Heinz Joura, Germany

Joura adds a whole new layer of ‘form’ to a space where the normal round performance would suit us just fine. This extra nuance adds a new & pleasant visual dimension to the piece.

Karl-Heinz Joura, Germany

You can see the stark contrast of this added design element very well when placed beside Former’s normal bent billiard. Former (on the right) has a fully round shank where Joura (on the left) has a mixed oval in his.

Karl-Heinz Joura, Germany & Former, Denmark

Karl-Heinz Joura, Germany & Former, Denmark

Joura’s hump could be seen as a minor nuance, it is actually a dramatic change to the pipe’s overall design. That single change in design direction must now interact properly with the other parts of the pipe. An oval shank has a very different transition on the top of the shank where the bowl connects. Same for the bottom of the bowl/shank connection. The design element forces a different relationship between the bowl & the shank to occur. Joura fully understands what it means to start such a line and he finds an elegant way to carry the entire weight of the oval forward to the bowl and the transition is not only smart but smooth as well.

Karl-Heinz Joura, Germany

Transitioning from one line of a pipe to another line in a pipe is never an easy task. The most common mistakes on pipes in this area is found between the bowl and shank area. Retaining fluid movement & avoiding any abrupt changes as the eye gazes over the pipe’s surface area is a key goal. Minimizing this abrupt change feeling usually occurs by allowing the lines in the shape to naturally play themselves out. Obviously this is much easier said than done. Extending a line naturally as opposed to forcing it in a new direction, is often much more pleasing to the eye than an abrupt ending or an unexpected change. I imagine that when we see the latter occur, it is usually a case of the pipe-maker thinking too much and not allowing the ‘natural’ to occur. The ‘keep it simple’ approach is likely a key ally to pipe-makers who execute these lines and their transitions successfully.

Starting a line on a pipe is easy. Ending that line properly & correctly however, is one of the most difficult things to do in pipe making. Ending a line so that it concludes in a visually pleasing manner, implies a line has gone through it’s transition and come to it’s end point, without you essentially noticing that much has happened along the way. Look back to Poul Ilstead’s pipe above. So many lines, over six main lines in fact & yet still, we hardly notice all the commotion going on. When executed effectively, the line(s) finish an interesting journey without giving people a way to critique it. It just looks like it fits. That’s a successful line, no matter how it travels. Straight, angled, curved or bumpy, it’s visual function gives an appearance of visual sensibility.

Let’s look at this Adam Davidson pipe.

Adam Davidson, USA

Adam Davidson, USA

Adam placed an off center, tear drop shaped shank into this pipe. From above, you can see the stark comparison between the two sides of the tear itself.

Adam Davidson, USA

On the right mostly round and on the left, a hard cut is seen that forms the top of the tear. Following that hard cut line along the length of the bottom left side of the shank, one can imagine the difficult task ahead of needing to finish that line well.

Adam Davidson, USA

Adam Davidson, USA

That solid, distinct, very noticeable and hard (visually speaking) line has to essentially find a way to vanish as it merges with the bowl. If it can do this, the line executes a graceful and unnoticeable transition. Adam successfully executed that line very very well.

Adam Davidson, USA

Adam Davidson, USA

As you glanced at Adam’s pipe you notice it’s heavy asymmetrical design element. Now the idea of balance in pipes comes into play.

How is a successful balance achieved? What if we look at a particularly difficult application of balance, for example in a pipe with an especially heavy visual nuance.

Let’s look at this Balleby quarter bent billiard/blowfish from the perspective of balance. In this pipe, Kurt applied a mirrored image or parallelogram effect. The opposite facing sides are matching.

Kurt Balleby, Denmark

Kurt applied a pleasant nuance on the left side of the bowl by bulging it out (blow-fish like) and he balances that bulge in a very unique way by going to the right side of the shank, with a rounded (bulging) edge. The round edged shank matches the bulging side of the bowl. The right side of the bowl has a normal appearance and Kurt balances that design element with a normal looking left side of the shank. We have Kurt applying balance from front right to rear left -and- from front left to rear right.

Kurt Balleby, Denmark

Kurt Balleby, Denmark

As you can see, the proper application of design balance can easily take an unexpected form and Kurt shows us how a criss-cross technique can be executed both very well & in a playful manner.

Kurt Balleby, Denmark

There are so many design ideas to evaluate. This is a very fun topic for me and hopefully a fun journey for you as well. Much more of this type of design evaluation to come.

If you have any insight to share on design applications, please let us know.

 

Copyright © 2014. TobaccoDays.com. All rights reserved.

Share This Post

14 Comments

  1. Michael William Addiego - February 28, 2014

    Up until this article I gave little specific thought to these individual pipe elements. Unfortunately I can not go back. Now these pieces are even more delightful. The intangible element of emotional response is greatly affected by the relation of the beholder to the object. Seeing it at a pipe show will be worlds away different than having purchased it as a new acquisition. Beautiful and enlightening article. Thanks

Leave a reply