Tag Archives: Charles Lewton-Brain



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 riogrande.com). Fold-forming does not require any special equipment other than a rolling mill. Free tutorials are available on ganoksin.com.


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!











My two cents worth

Two cents

Two cents

A few weeks ago, the Canadian penny was taken out of circulation. At a cost of 1.6 cent, the one-cent coin was obviously too expensive to make. Sure, as a taxpayer, I applaud this cost-saving measure ($11 million a year), but unlike a lot of people who are happy to see the penny go, I will miss it; the penny is invaluable to us metalsmiths. I always keep a few coins on my soldering table – and not just for good luck. 

Pennies can be really useful as soldering aids. Here are some examples of how they can help you:

Copy of DSCF6752

Copy of DSCF6753

Use them as spacers to prop up an object on the fire brick when soldering (use one or several depending on the height you need).

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Penny used as a heat sink

Or use them as heat sinks, for instance when connecting a small chain (already soldered) to a much heavier piece.

Since copper has very high thermal conductivity, the penny will absorb some of the heat and direct it away from a delicate object that needs to be soldered (but not melted beyond recognition). It can also shield a previously soldered seam and prevent it from reopening. And yes, it works like a (good luck) charm!

Check out Charles Lewton-Brain’s article “Some jewelry Soldering Hints and Tricks”, on the ever helpful Ganoksin website , for more details on how you can use heat sinks to your advantage by preventing the heat from traveling to a specific area.

There are of course other tools that are available to the metalsmith for these purposes, like cross-locking fire tweezers, pins or a third hand. However, depending on the size or the shape of the object that you are dealing with, they might not be practical to use.

Make sure you use older pennies for this as they need to be solid copper. Until 1996, these coins were made mostly out of copper (98%). After 1996, because of the rising cost of copper, they were made out of zinc or steel. These newer pennies look like copper but are only copper plated, and as zinc has a fairly low melting point, it could melt and stick to your workpiece.

Pre and post 1996 coins. The oldest one is on the left.

Pre and post 1996 coins. The oldest one is on the left. *See note below

Now at this point, and on my lawyer’s advice :), I would like to remind you that, according to the Currency Act and the Canadian Criminal Code, “no person shall melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is legal tender in Canada”. Yes, although it is no longer being made, the penny remains legal tender in Canada. It is true that the Currency Act does not mention explicitly metalsmithing techniques or soldering aids, but you’ve been warned!

No need to start hoarding pennies yet, though. In 2011, the Mint issued $1.1 billion pennies. So they’ll be around for a while. Meanwhile, those who feel a bit nostalgic can read “The Life & Times of the Canadian Penny” on the Royal Canadian Mint Website there is some fun penny trivia there.

*Note: This is a dramatized representation of the cross-section of pre and post 1996 pennies. No actual pennies were harmed in the making of this blog.

Copy of DSCF6738

Ode to a bench pin

My bench pin is no more. Reduced to a mere stump, it has come to the end of its life and has to be replaced. Still, I find it hard to let go of it. I look at the scars left by the tools and I reminisce about the projects I have lived with these past years.

old bench pin

Old worn out bench pin

A bench pin is a small wedge-shaped wooden extension of the workbench and, as humble as it may look, it is a very important piece of equipment. In fact, as Michael David Sturlin notes in his excellent article “Bench Pin Basics” (in Art Jewelry Magazine. September 2012), for us goldsmiths, “… the bench pin is the center of our world”. And I would add that it might be the most personal piece of equipment as well. Let’s explore how one can develop a better relationship with it.

Workbench with bench pin (centre) and cutting board (left).

Workbench with bench pin (centre) and cutting board (left).

To help you work more comfortably, the bench pin should be placed at the right height. When you sit at your bench, facing the bench pin, your back should be straight and you should be able to keep your head up, with the pin at mid-chest level. And since we are on the subject of ergonomics, you should always be connected to your bench pin while you work – remember, it is the centre of your world. This means that your workpiece, your hand or your tool should always be in contact with the pin, whether you are sawing, drilling, forming or filing. This will ensure you work efficiently and safely. To quote M.D. Sturlin again, no “air jewelry” please! For that reason, the bench pin must be firmly secured to the bench. Pins come in different styles, but regardless, if your bench pin is wiggly, you won’t be able to work with maximum accuracy and control.

You are going to work with your bench pin for several years, so make it your own, and make it work for you. Don’t be afraid to carve and cut into it to modify it. Here is a diagram of the modifications I made to mine, but feel free to customize your own bench pin according to your needs (if you are left-handed, you might want to reverse the diagram).

Modified pin - side

Modified pin – side

Modified pin - front

Modified pin – front

modified pin with diagram

1Depressions: carve with round burrs; great for holding rings when filing inside the shank.

2Vertical grooves: clamp a board on the side of the pin, and drill holes of various diameters perpendicular to the top; good for filing the top of tubing sections.

3Nub: cut with a saw, and then file; good for holding a coil of wire while sawing the jump rings (push the coil onto the nub to stiffen it and secure it). Can also be used to cut a ring shank when sizing a ring – for that, slide ring over nub, and saw safely.

4Notch: saw first, and then file, carve one or several in different sizes. Great for forming (brace object in the notch).

5Slanted edge: useful for filing or when using a ring clamp (when setting a stone on a ring, for example).

6Tapered groove: for filing evenly the tapered end of a piece of round wire.

In addition to these, you could make a V-shaped cut for sawing. I prefer to use a separate cutting board for that, but it can be done on your bench pin as well. In that case, make sure you install the pin with the flat side up. For more suggestions, I recommend Tim McCreight and Charles Lewton-Brain, metalsmiths, teachers, and best-selling authors of way too many technical books to mention here, and of course, the Ganoksin Project (search in “bench tips”).

The beauty of the bench pin is in its simplicity; you can personalize it to your needs. Start with a few basic modifications, and then customize it further for your next project. It’s easy. Simply use a file, a saw or a burr and shape it as you like. As Rick said in Casablanca, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Cat wrangling tips for the small studio

The working life of a studio jeweller is pretty much a solitary one. Now that the hectic craft fair season is over, and another crop of students have been sent on their own jewellery-making journey, I am back at the bench. Clang – clang – saw – saw – the studio is alive with many sounds. No human voice is to be heard though; except for the occasional swearing (yes, sometimes metal can test your patience). This being a one-woman operation, my only companion in the studio is a tuxedo cat named Sasha.



Sasha is not allowed to be in the studio by himself. When he visits, he usually likes to sit on the window sill or on the stump that I use for hammering. From his vantage point he watches and listens. Movements, activities, sounds, nothing escapes him. He loves the rhythmic scraping of the file on metal, and the whirr of the flex shaft. He is fascinated by the torch, but because he is a well-behaved cat (generally), and because I have trained him to stay at a safe distance, he has developed a healthy respect for it, and keeps well away.

Our partnership would be perfect, except for the fact that I cannot always keep Sasha entertained or interested (Is my work not good enough?). When he gets really bored, he jumps on top of the bench, and starts pushing everything off the edge – pieces of metal, small hand tools, stones – and then lands in the scrap drawer; his paws now nicely coated with shiny silver filings. To make matters worse I sometimes let things get a little messy in my studio. In-progress pieces left out on my work table are allowed some “breathing space”; they can evolve more freely somehow. I might also leave out samples of textured sheets that could spark some ideas for a new project later on. And I find that not putting tools away encourages me to “play” with them and use them in a more creative way. There are always sketches spread out on the table, and various found objects. A little bit of mess provides a more stimulating environment and helps creative juices flow more easily. This, unfortunately, is also a very stimulating environment for a bored cat.

Good cat

Good cat

Bad cat

Bad cat

In a small space with a lot of tools and equipment, things could quickly get out of control and compromise your pet’s safety, and yours. In a jewellery studio, safety should always be a priority, for everyone’s sake.

There are areas of the studio that should be off-limits to your pet: soldering station (don’t leave the torch unattended, the tanks should be secured), polisher, flex shaft, ultrasonic cleaner and pickling pot. All chemicals should be stored safely in a cabinet, all containers labelled clearly. Small parts should be put in bags or containers. Sharp objects should be stored away when not in use. Chains or spools of wire (Sasha’s favorites) should be stored safely as well. Be careful with magnets (used in clasps for example). Some are very powerful and can pose serious health risks if ingested. With etching, make sure your pet is not around. Period.

Charles Lewton-Brain has written extensively on studio safety. He has published numerous articles on this subject; several can be found at: www.ganoksin.com.

His book, The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report (ISBN 0-9698510-4-9), is very comprehensive and deals specifically with safety in the goldsmith’s studio. And don’t forget to consult MSDS sheets (Material Safety Data Sheets) to find out how to handle and use products and chemicals safely. They are available online.

The holidays are fast approaching. So what to get the cat who is not on the naughty list?

What about a Charming Collar for a Lucky Cat?

Dominique Bréchault - Charming Collar for Lucky Cat - Gold plated copper, silver, crystals. Fabricated, cast.

Dominique Bréchault – Charming Collar for a Lucky Cat


Dominique Bréchault - Charming Collar for Lucky Cat - Gold plated copper, silver, crystals. Fabricated, cast.

Dominique Bréchault – Charming Collar for a Lucky Cat – Gold plated copper, silver, crystals. Fabricated, cast. Charms: Fish, bird, food bowl, number 9, yarn, cheese and mouse)

Best wishes to all for a prosperous, creative and safe New Year!

Nice cat

Nice cat