Plastic Metal: Chasing and Repousse

Metal appears hard, solid, unchangeable, maybe even stand-offish. As I got to know copper I come to understood how human it is: soft, supple, elemental. Literally plastic. Listening carefully, not pushing too hard or too fast, one can draw out amazing results. For my latest artistic endeavor I pulled from thousands of years of silversmithing traditions of hollow forming, repousse, and chasing.

These are some images bring this piece from a flat piece of copper to a two inch deep repoussed wall mounted sculpture.

Having drawn on the basic design of the piece, I will now draw the design into the surface of the copper with hand tools.

drawn on design with the tools to draw it into the surface

Having transferred the design I can anneal the piece and really start to push.

The results of my first go with my new pneumatic hammer. So much depth and power.

Traditionally Jewelers and Silversmiths had used tar pitch to create repousse works. However, in my own studio practice I try to find sustainable alternatives. Instead of using a tar based pitch as the malleable surface to work the metal against, I use a supper saturated wax and plaster mixture. The wax is paraffin and thus still a petroleum based material. it does not have the same smell as the tar so even though it is not a perfectly sustainable material, it is closer to being a "green" material. One could use bees wax but the price is prohibitive in my own situation.

The one potential draw back is that the wax and plaster pitch needs to be entirely melted almost overtime. However that allows for filling the forms as they gain depth. The mix separates easily can also be almost too flexible, as the metal fatigues faster than the wax. So long as I can actively listening to the metal, it works well enough for me.

At this point I have annealed and pickle the copper. Melting the wax-plater pitch, I prepare to re-imbed the copper into the mixture and hammer to create the secondary ribs of the design.

Using hand tools to repose to get the definition of the individual ribs as well as the points without creating further rips in the metal.

Having trimmed the edges with a ban-saw, I am now ready to finish clean up the metal and put a heat patina on it. More pictures coming soon.

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