Friday, September 18, 2015

Sabbatical: Planned & Unplanned!

Toward the end of last year, I was planning on taking a sabbatical from my craft for at least the first half of 2015. Our home was about to be remodeled, and we had to pack up and move temporarily to another Santa Cruz location. By the end of June, we moved back into our wonderful "new" home, and I was ready to get back to work. Also, I was getting ready to teach another woodcarving class at Cabrillo College the end of July.   Now for the "unplanned" part of my sabbatical: I "blew out" my back! After all the moving, I started to have severe back pain that laid me up for several weeks. I had to cancel teaching at Cabrillo, as well as cancel my own students here at my studio and cancel my appearance at the American Craft Council Show. I couldn't even go see it, much to my huge disappointment. Turns out I have a ruptured disk in my lower back. It is naturally healing now, and the pain is gone. However, it takes approximately 6 months to heal. I'm back in the studio again carving and woodturning and getting ready for Open Studios (see below for more information). I'm also finally finishing up another zither restoration (also see below), but I have to watch my posture and not do any heavy lifting. As the old saying goes, "time heals all wounds." But other than that, we are ecstatic about our remodeled home. New formal entry, larger kitchen, office nook, and, for Ron Cook Studios, a permanent gallery in the back of the house right next to my studio. Here's the before and after pictures of the front with the new formal entry. We waited a long time for this.

                                                 Before                                                              After
Onward and upward...

Open Studios Art Tour 2015

Yes, it's that time of year again. The Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour is coming up on the first three weekends in October. Events leading up to the Tour begin with the opening of the Preview Exhibit at the Santa Cruz Art League on September 26th, and the "meet the artists" reception on Sunday, September 27th from 3 to 6. At the reception you can meet many of the Open Studios artists, see a representative sample of artists' works, listen to live music, and enjoy tasty treats and libations. The Open Studios Art Tour happens throughout Santa Cruz County. This is a juried event showcasing around 300 of the best artists in the county. With so many to see, the tour is divided between North County and South County artists. I am in North County, and my studio will be open from 11 to 5 on October 3 and 4. I will also be open for the Encore Weekend, October 17 and 18. Note that South County artists will be open October 10 and 11. For information on all artists, with maps directing you to them, get the Artist Guide ($5) at locations throughout the county. The IOS and Android apps will be available soon. The guide will also be available for free in the September 30th issue of the Good Times. For more information, visit the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County website.

Cabrillo College Fall Arts 2015 Wood Carving with Rotary Carving Tools

Because students like my carving classes and consistently give me good reviews, I was asked to teach a new two day woodcarving class at Cabrillo College for the Summer Arts extension courses. Because of my severe back problem, I sadly had to cancel this class. I'm doing much better, so the Wood Carving with Rotary Carving Tools class is now rescheduled for the Fall Arts extension program on two Sundays, October 25 and November 1.

I will be teaching carving using hand-held rotary carving tools, like the one seen in the photo below. The class isn't full yet, so if you'd like to learn carving, or increase your carving skills, sign up on the Cabrillo Extensions Fall Arts web page.

In this 2-day workshop, beginning students will learn the fundamentals of wood carving using powered rotary carving tools, and intermediate students will be guided in additional power carving techniques and styles. Participants will work on small sculptural carvings using flex-shaft-style rotary carving tools. Topics covered are safety, types of carving tools, the best woods and materials for carving, styles, and finishing. After instruction and demonstrations on the properties and characteristics of different woods and materials, students will practice what they have learned on examples to be taken home. Cabrillo has a selection of rotary power carving tools and bits with which to experiment. If you prefer, you can also bring in your own rotary tools. Practice materials will be included, but bring your own ideas so that we may discuss them.

Class is limited to 12 students, so register soon!
Fees: $195, plus $25 materials fee (payable upon registration).

Meanwhile, In The Studio

Ch-ch-ch-changes. After moving back into our remodeled home, I had to start getting the new gallery space arranged, rearrange the attic for Ron Cook Studios storage, and lay new paving stones leading into the studio. I also planned to finish several small carvings and start several more, all for Open Studios, and finish a zither restoration. Of course, first I had to let my back heal, which made me a little anxious about being able to get everything done in time. Well, my back got better, so I finished the gallery, laid paving stones, got some carvings done, and I'm finally stringing up the restored zither.

Student  with Turned and Hand-carved Whistle
During the late summer I had a new 12-year-old student who wanted to increase her woodturning knowledge. She enjoyed several lessons during her time between Summer camps and school. She's young, but already knew the basics of woodturning. Seeing her work, and seeing the results of her work, makes me believe she is a budding woodcraft talent. My other student is getting close to finishing a lovely tenor ukulele. She's at that long sanding and finishing process that will soon give the uke a very smooth surface.

Student Project: Ukulele. Lots of Sanding
Starting early in 2016, I will have space for one or two more students at my studio. I teach wood carving, musical instrument building, wood turning, and general woodwork. I encourage each student to develop his or her own style. Outside my studio the walkway and flagstone patio area was filled with small pebbles that always got scattered and caught in "waffle-stomper" shoe soles. After our front walkway of cobble stones was finished, we had quite a few odd sizes and shapes left over. I decided to use them to redo the walkway to my shop.

Sweeping Sand to Fill Voids
I used  special "filling" sand to fill all the joints and small openings throughout the cobbles. I also prepped the flagstone (weeded and opened joints) and filled them with the same sand. This type of sand has a binding agent in it that when moistened hardens like concrete. Turned out nice. Meanwhile, in the new Gallery, I finally finished and installed all the new instrument hangers. I designed them to include tracks for track lighting to help illuminate my pieces when showing them for Open Studios. I picked up some very nice 1 x 6 and 1 x 8 poplar that I ripped down and sized for each wall in the gallery. I'm happy with the results.

Old Instruments and Repairs

I've been embarrassed that my current zither repair has taken so long. Between moving twice during our home remodel and having my back problem, it's taken much longer to finish the zither than usual. I'm glad to say that now that my back is doing better, I've been able to spend some time finishing the instrument. I'm now stringing it up, and I should be done by the time you read this. Now I have to sit down and write the repair log!

Installing New Strings
I still occasionally get e-mails and calls from people who have recently purchased or found antique zithers, dulcimers, and other stringed instruments. Some were inherited from parents or grandparents, and some are from collections or are personal favorites. As old as they are, the instruments quite often need restoration or repair to make them playable again. If the instrument is only to be displayed, conservation is an option for them. I'm always interested in restoring, repairing, or conserving unusual and different instruments with a history. My basic fee starts at $350 for major work. For minor repairs, such as new strings, small crack repairs, cleaning, etc., contact me for costs. Please send photos of areas that are damaged or in need of TLC to me at my email address. For major repairs, I provide a complimentary repair log. If you have inherited a stringed instrument, such as a zither, dulcimer, or other zither-style instrument, or even old ukuleles, or know of someone who has, it is tremendously easy to have the instrument made a functional part of living history for a very modest investment, whether it is ever played again or displayed as a family heirloom. If you have old photos of family members playing the instrument, be sure to send them along as well.

Behind the scenes: roncook Etsy shop

My Esty shop is popular all over the world! I have been "favorited" by people as far away as Latvia and China. Sales have gone to Canada and Italy, as well as New Hampshire, Illinois, and Georgia! Here's how to reach my shop: You may set up a free account on Etsy to preview and purchase any other items offered for sale.

New Students

If you are interested in learning how to carve, learning general woodworking skills, or learning about the history and construction of early European (medieval) or early American (19th century) stringed instruments, please contact me at  During the instrument course, the student will learn about the evolution of stringed instruments, research a particular instrument, create working drawings, and build it. Open to all, especially interested high school and college students . All students choose wood from my wood stash!   E-mail me for more information.

Folk Art Corner: Items from special wood

If you have some wood that has come from a "special tree" or are planning to remove a tree that has played an important role in your life or your family's life, please contact me to see what we can create to memorialize it. Suggestions: spoons, small instruments, small stools.

Recent Shows

I said no shows this year, but  I was in three already, proudly showing my new sculptures and one new instrument, completed just before the remodel started. I also did not plan to do Open Studios this year as part of my sabbatical, but... I did apply and was accepted for my 14th year. I am Studio # 30, and open October 3 & 4, and 17 & 18. As I mentioned above, I will be at the The Open Studios Preview Exhibit Public Reception, Sunday, September 27, from 3 to 6, at the Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway, in Santa Cruz. Be sure to stop in to see my piece and say hello. There will be hundreds of other great Santa Cruz County artists there too. (All pieces are for sale at the Art League.) Get the Artist Guide  ($5 at many stores and galleries, or free in the Good Times September 30th) and plan your visits to view and purchase wonderful arts and crafts, and learn how artists work and create those pieces. Above all, get out and have fun!