As a first I will present my own journey that has started really recently:
I had the immense honour of collaborating with Dhillhi Instrument to decorate the base of my own first Celtic D Minor.
This is our very first collaboration and certainly not the last! Of course the art is nowhere perfect as I really had to reinvent and adapt to many constraints due to the surface, the shape, the fact that it was going back in a very hot oven and was going to be tuned after assembling…
Luckily Jérémie from Djillhi Instrument was very willing to share his process, explain the different steps needed to make a handpan.
He advised me to use an unfinished steel bottom as a first trial, so as not to waste a formed and tuned top if the metal got damaged in any way.
This was a very experimental process and there may be other ways to go about decorating an instrument, but here are the different techniques I tried:
For the blue waves and dots : Pebeo ceramic paint (by far the most satisfying as the colour seems stable and durable). Pebeo offer a good range of colours. I will be purchasing more of these and testing them soon!
For the black lines of the leaves : generic India ink. Interesting colour variations in and around the ink after finishing in the oven.
For the square around the gu : Jacquard Piñata alcohol ink. Not my favourite. Found it hard to use on the curved surface. The colour range is quite good. But the oven finishing modifies the original colour in an unpredictable way… I will not be using these again for this type of work.
- For the thin concentric lines and the circle around the gu : hand etching with a metallic point made for etching techniques on copper/zinc.
This was far more difficult than I had anticipated. The surface of the nitrurated steel is very slick and hard to mark. It really leaves only a very subtle design that can be viewed when tilted at the right angle.
Although it has its qualities, this is a lot of work for an almost invisible design.
I wish to try other tools, harder points, maybe a Dremel with diamond point.
I do recommend to be careful of damaging and fragilising the metal, maybe making it subject to rust.
! Before you try this, be aware that the piece will be baked again at several 100° and needs retuning before being assembled.
Choose your paints carefully! Never ever use acrylics or oils, or any paints that could melt or burn in the oven. Matter of safety!
Always handle the piece you are painting wearing gloves (thin latex gloves for tattooing are quite perfect) as you must avoid leaving fingerprints on the raw metal surface of the base of the handpan.
You can only remove such marks with alcohol and if you have already applied paint it will probably come off too. Fingerprints/grease stains will be permanent after baking!
Remember you can NOT erase once the paint is on the surface. Small corrections are maybe possible, but make sure you prepare a solid design in pencil before jumping into painting. Prepare mentally for a one shot, just like it were a tattoo!
First I placed all the lines for the design in pencil. Pencil is great as it leaves no trace after erasing. That was the longest time spent on the design process. Best to have your design all figured out before applying any paint.
I did the etching next as I figured it could not be damaged later if i needed to erase or lean my hand on it for the next steps.
I then worked on the leaves all around the outside with a very small brush and india ink.
I added the square around the gu (alcohol ink) with a larger brush.
Finished up with the blue ceramic paints, for highlights mostly, with a fine brush.
The piece was then given back to Jérémie to be made into the final handpan.
After the final assembling and tuning he varnished the base as extra protection to the design. Some brushstrokes are visible, but that will also be perfected with experience.
The final result is very satisfying to both of us, and the instrument has a very good sound!
I named her “Little Awen” in honour of the celtic concept of inspiration/creative flow.
What are your experiences in handpan decoration?
Do share pics if you make any customisations!