Category Archives: work in progress



Jackson Pollock - photo by Hans Namuth

Jackson Pollock – photo by Hans Namuth

Lately I have felt the need to reconnect with less traditional techniques, and to be a bit more spontaneous in my approach. In my “side-gig” as an art history instructor in our Jewellery Programme, I had been looking at the work of the Abstract Expressionists, namely Jackson Pollock. The photographs and film of the painter shot by Hans Namuth in the early ‘50s show Pollock at work. In these iconic images, Pollock is seen moving about the large canvas laid on the floor, leaping and dripping or throwing paint right from the can. He appears to be totally immersed in the act of painting, an intense, gestural process; at some point, saying: “A painting has a life of its own; I let it live”. I watched this clip over and over again and knew that I wanted to work in a more instinctive manner, to respond to the metal as it moves and shifts, to be more engaged with it. I needed to put the “action” back into my work. I should also mention the paint-splattered shoes and the dangling cigarette, oooh, so cool. I wanted that too, or whatever the equivalent is for a goldsmith (minus the cigarette, of course).

Jackson Pollock - photo by Rudy Burckardt, 1950 - Smithonian Institution

Jackson Pollock – photo by Rudy Burckardt, 1950 – Smithonian Institution

Taking Pollock and the Action Painters, and their direct and immediate approach to painting as a point of departure, I decided to tackle a series of brooches (brooches, being less constraining and offering a larger “canvas” so to speak). I would riff on a few abstract shapes and create three-dimensional forms based on them. Copper, a very ductile and malleable metal, was the perfect candidate. It also lends itself well to patinas and will take on rich colours, sometimes even quite painterly.


Detail of patina on corrugated copper.

Detail of patina on corrugated copper.


Bonny Doon Engineering micro-fold brake #115090

Bonny Doon Engineering micro-fold brake #115090

Using corrugation and fold-forming, techniques that are fairly quick and hands-on, I was able to shape the sheets of metal rapidly, in a gestural and energetic manner. I recommend Patricia McAleer’s book Metal Corrugation, Surface Embellishment and Element Formation for the Metalsmith, 2002, Out of the Blue Studio (ISBN: 0-9715242-0-3), a very thorough and handy manual on corrugation. Fold-forming, a technique developed by Charles Lewton-Brain (several excellent publications available, see: Brain Press Publications) is a process that is both technical and playful, where the material is folded and unfolded repeatedly to form three-dimensional structures. Both techniques only require a few tools and simple equipment. For corrugation, I used the Bonny Doon Engineering micro-fold brake #115090 (available at Fold-forming does not require any special equipment other than a rolling mill. Free tutorials are available on


D.Brechault, Crane No 6. copper, heat patina; corrugation, fold-forming

D.Brechault, Crane No. 6, brooch, copper, heat patina; corrugation, fold-forming


D. Brechault, Pod No 3, brooch, copper, heat patina; corrugation, fold-forming.

D. Brechault, Pod No. 3, brooch, copper, heat patina; corrugation, fold-forming.

D. Brechault, Zip No. 5, brooch, copper, heat patina,; corrugation, fold-forming.

D. Brechault, Zip No. 5, brooch, copper, heat patina; corrugation, fold-forming.

So, this is what I have been doing so far: These brooches are a sampling of a series of impromptu sketches or studies in metal. Rather than cleaning the metal by pickling it after annealing and soldering, I have left it in its natural state, oxidised, covered with a patina of warm, earthy colours. For me, this is a bit like Pollock’s paint-splattered shoes – evidence of the process of working the metal.

Rolling, folding, unfolding, shaping. Action!

Pollock's shoes - photo courtesy Pollock - Krasner House & Study Center.

Pollock’s shoes – photo courtesy Pollock – Krasner House & Study Center.

Acknowledgements: Thank you for your research, Andrew!











The Cure for (almost) everything

Last week a bird flew into the window. I drew it before giving it a proper burial under the cherry tree.

Last week a bird flew into the window. I drew it before giving it a proper burial under the cherry tree.

The last nine months have been quite intense. Starting a new job and dealing with a grueling schedule has meant almost no time for creative work. Now that the school year is over, I want to devote more attention to my own projects again, namely three pieces that I intend to submit to an upcoming show. The truth is, I am desperately looking for ways to reconnect with my creative side. Every teacher working in a creative field, dedicating time and energy to their students, ask themselves: How can I be truthful, and helpful to my students if I don’t live a vibrant creative life outside of the classroom? As artists, we want to freshen up our designs, and to keep exploring, and this requires sustained and undisturbed periods of time.

For this particular project, the themes I would like to explore are decay, corrosion and rust, using mostly non-precious metals or even non-metallic materials (in combination with silver). Visually, I imagine something in the spirit of Edward Burtynsky’s striking large-scale photographs of industrial sites and man-made landscapes. I know what I want to do, and yet I haven’t been able to design anything substantial so far. A fast-approaching deadline and the prospect of returning to my job in September (so soon!) add to the pressure.

Now, I may have been in this situation before. I always seem to forget when I am in the thick of it. But I do have a cure for this, and it is…drawing. Of course, we’ll all agree that drawing is a therapeutic activity that allows for self-expression, and that as such it is always beneficial to us, visual artists or anyone for that matter. When I was 9 years old and home sick in boarding school, I would confide with my trusty sketchbook and draw. When I was lost and lonely as a newcomer here in Canada, I would draw. When I was in a lot of pain – and afraid, stuck in a hospital for several months, recovering from a motorcycle accident, I would draw. Drawing has always been my salvation.

What I mean by drawing is not drawing with a specific project in mind, like the pieces I am trying to create, but drawing anything. I draw whatever is in front of me or whatever is in my head, doodles, life drawing, anything, and I draw often, no matter what. When I feel like an untethered balloon drifting away aimlessly, like I do these days, drawing is always the perfect remedy. This is why in the last few weeks I have decided to embark, once again, on a strict drawing regimen, filling several pages of my sketchbook every day.

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Tomato. Watercolour, pen & ink.

For me, the act of drawing – simply putting pen or charcoal to paper, moving my arm – is a truly tactile experience. As an artist, I feel compelled to explore and connect with the world around me, beyond just my feelings. In order to draw, to “see”, the subject, I must pause and focus. I need to be firmly grounded in the present. In the heavily mediated world we live in, with so many ways of removing ourselves from the immediate experience, slowing down and becoming aware of our surroundings is the first step for accessing our creativity.

The following are some examples of how I approach this. Please, be aware that these are simply exercises, not exhibition quality drawings, but I hope they’ll help illustrate and clarify my point, and show that you don’t have to be a Leonardo to benefit from this.

I like to draw early in the morning because I haven’t quite left the dream world and can still hang on to a few shreds of dream images.

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Flying Snake Docking Station. Watercolour, pen & ink.

I also like to draw late at night (I like to draw anytime really). Sometimes I draw what just happens to be in front of me. Any technique will do, charcoal, colour pencils, pen and ink, markers, whatever.

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Travel Plans. Pen & ink.

Sometimes I just doodle and draw whatever stories or characters show up on the page:

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The Sea Captain and the Siren. Watercolour, pen & ink.

Sometimes I like to pick a simple object, a pebble for instance, a flower or something I have found on one of my walks, and to sketch it from every possible angle:

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Sage flower, “Parcel Rock”. Watercolour, pen & ink, pencil.

I also like to “deconstruct” my subject, not to emulate Picasso or Braque, but just to find out how it’s made and how the various components (volumes, forms) are articulated and fit together – a process actually similar to what I do when I design a piece of jewellery.

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Copper pan from Normandy. Pen & ink.

Even if I am drawing without a specific plan, I am still amassing shapes, forms, colours, patterns, textures, etc. This visual “reference library” has served me well in the past, many times over.


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“Amour en Cage” (Japanese Lantern). Watercolour, pencil, pen & ink.


And yes, as we all know, in order to hone observation skills and improve hand-eye coordination, life drawing is crucial. When friends are not available, or my partner has run out of patience, there is always the cat. Sasha is not the easiest of models because he is not willing to sustain a long pose, except when napping, his “default” pose, which I have drawn way too often!

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Sasha napping. Pen & ink.


So, this is some of what I have done so far. I have been diligently drawing in my sketchbook, and enjoying it. As for these new pieces for the show, as I was saying earlier, I haven’t accomplished much at this point. And yet, a connection has been made; these daily drawings have served as a bridge to my creative side. I have taken a few steps, like collecting materials and making simple models – baby steps. I am hesitant to say anymore at this point. This connection still feels tenuous. Drawing is the cure, but I am not quite cured yet.

I will keep you posted as to what happens next, whether it is successful or not.

(All artwork © Dominique Bréchault 2014)

Alchemist’s Travel Kit – Update

Dominique Bréchault - Alchemist's Travel Kit - Locket with chain.

Dominique Bréchault – Alchemist’s Travel Kit – Locket with chain.

In a previous post, I related the fabrication process of “Alchemist’s Travel Kit”, a locket I intended to submit to an exhibition. It was a long process involving several metalworking techniques, like die-forming, a technique I also described in that post.

I was under a lot of stress, trying not only to finish the piece, but gathering as well all the material and information needed for the submission, and all this, under a fast-approaching deadline. In the end, everything worked out: the piece was finished, the photos shot, the statement written on time… and my piece was accepted!

This juried exhibition called “Circle Craft – 40 years and Beyond” is a group show featuring 45 members of Circle Craft Cooperative in celebration of its 40th anniversary. Here is an excerpt of the Media Release: This show marks an important anniversary, a recognition of the past, but…is also a show about the future. Forty years ago, Circle Craft Cooperative was formed in Victoria, BC to support the viability and growth of craft in British Columbia. A measure of its success can be seen in the works created by today’s members, works that push the boundaries of “the applied arts”.

I have been a proud member Of Circle Craft since 1998, and I am thrilled to be part of this show.

The exhibition takes place August 6-23 at the Pendulum Gallery, HSBC Building, 885 West Georgia, in Vancouver.

Dominique Bréchault - Alchemist's Travel Kit. Locket. Sterling silver, 18k & 14k gold, patina. Fabricated. die-formed, cast, stamped, fused. (Shown with lid closed)

Dominique Bréchault – Alchemist’s Travel Kit. Locket. Sterling silver, 18k & 14k gold, patina. Fabricated. die-formed, cast, stamped, fused. (Shown with lid closed)

Dominique Bréchault - Alchemist's Travel Kit. Locket. (Shown with lid open)

Dominique Bréchault – Alchemist’s Travel Kit. Locket. (Shown with lid open)

Alchemist’s Travel Kit

Alchemical symbols

Alchemical symbols

February is my least favorite month. It’s just too short.

Typically, after I have attended to the usual chores, completed the required production projects for the galleries, finished any commissions, and prepared my classes, there is not enough time left for engaging in creative pursuits. And I am forever chasing those precious, but elusive, moments.

I’ve decided to submit a piece to an exhibition, and the deadline for this is …too soon. Now, this kind of situation stresses me out enormously, but it also spurs me to dive into the project. Let’s see if I am up for this challenge. The following is a synopsis of what I have been doing so far.

The exhibition will celebrate the 40th anniversary of a crafts organization that I belong to. Ideally, I prefer it when ideas have time to incubate a bit longer, but with a fast approaching deadline, efficiency is key. For this particular project, I chose to revisit some of my favourite themes: containers, lockets, pieces within pieces, journeys, symbols, transformation (of the materials and of the maker), and ultimately, the metalsmith as alchemist. I am in familiar territory. After much drawing, daydreaming, and more drawing, this is what emerges: a rounded, well-worn pouch, about palm-size – like something one would take on a journey, maybe to keep valuables or talismans. It’s made out of silver, with some gold details (we’ll see what my budget allows), and hangs on a long chain which has a decorative clasp (to be determined later). For now, I call it “Alchemist’s Travel Kit”.

Here is the paper model of the pouch, more or less to scale (6 cm/2 ¼” x 5 cm/2″). It will include three main parts: front, back and something in between to hold the two sides together and make the container roomier.

Paper model of locket

Paper model of locket

Now that I have a fairly clear image of the piece, I try to figure out which techniques will be best suited to make it. Die-forming is a technique that works well for creating three-dimensional, hollow pieces. The press, powered by a hydraulic jack, pushes a sheet of metal through a matrix die to form it. It’s perfect for making two matching halves for a container. And I really like how it bends the metal without leaving any marks on the surface, forming a soft-looking, smooth structure with pleasing curves. Also, I wanted an excuse to “play” with my custom-built hydraulic press (Thank you, Mike!).

First step: preparing the matrix die

I drew the shape of the “pouch” on graph paper (I prefer metric), to scale.

Drawing on graph paper

Drawing on graph paper

I transferred the drawing onto a sheet of acrylic (about ½ “or 1.2 cm thick) with a scriber. With a saw frame and a wax spiral blade, I pierced the acrylic sheet to make the die, then filed and rounded the edges slightly.

Acrylic sheets

Acrylic sheets

Transfer of design on acrylic sheet

Transfer of design on acrylic sheet

Acrylic die

Acrylic die


Next step: forming the metal with the hydraulic press:

Hydraulic press

Press frame and hydraulic jack

Safety alert! Please wear the required protection gear and follow carefully the safety instructions regarding the use of a hydraulic press; it is extremely dangerous when not handled properly. Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths, by Susan Kingsley, is an excellent reference (20-Ton Press, Carmel, California, 1987. ISBN: 978-0-9635832-0-8). Because a hydraulic press exerts an enormous amount of pressure (up to 20 tons), safety is crucial. There is not enough room here for more complete safety information, so please see my notes below.

Here is how the different layers that were pressed together were stacked up: matrix die (only the outer part), annealed sheet of metal (22 gauge/0.5 mm), and urethane pad. The urethane pad (similar to very hard rubber) pushed the sheet of metal into the die and formed it.

Stack placed between two platens of the press

Stack placed between two platens of the press

For this, I used a yellow urethane pad (with a hardness of 60 durometers). Available at Rio Grande.

Urethane pad

Urethane pad

 Hydraulic jack (8 ton):

Hydraulic jack

Hydraulic jack

Safety alert! Please follow carefully the manufacturer’s instructions. A standard hydraulic press comes with a jack. I had to purchase mine separately, as the frame of the press was custom-made. Bonny Doon Engineering is a well-known and reputable supplier of hydraulic presses for metalsmiths. You can check out their catalogue here. The how-to section of the website includes detailed safety instructions.

After every 5 pressings, I took out the stack, and annealed the metal. I repeated this process 4 times to get the desired depth. Of course, with a more powerful jack (10, 12 tons or more), the same depth would be achieved more quickly. Here is the result. This piece will be the front half of the pouch:

Front half of the container (inside)

Front half of the container (inside)

Front half of the container (outside)

Front half of the container (outside)

Die-forming with a vise:

Now, for the back of the pouch, I wanted a different look, flatter, a bit more angular – as it would be the side resting on the body, when worn as a pendant or carried in a pocket. For this, I used another die-forming technique, very low-tech, much simpler and much less scary. Yes, a simple vise can be used as a press as well. With this method, both parts of the acrylic die are needed.

Stack set up in the vise

Stack set up in the vise

The sheet of metal was placed between the two parts of the die (outer and inner parts), then I added the urethane pad, and pressed all 4 layers into the vise.

It took about half a dozen pressings, with annealing every time, to get a deep enough form. Here is the result:

Back and front halves of the pouch

Back and front halves of the pouch


The piece formed with the vise is on the left.

The two halves are ready for assembly

The two halves are ready for assembly

The next step will be to finish constructing the pouch. And there is much more to think about, such as the design of a closure, the fabrication of the pieces that go inside the pouch, and finally the chain and its clasp. Now I’d better get back to work, February is almost over!