Tag Archives: design process

The I Ching of the Goldsmith

Hexagram Qian: "Force", also: "The Creative Heaven", from the I Ching.  From top: mandrel, hand forged setting tool, dapping punch, square needle file, hand forged setting tool, hand forged repoussé tool

Hexagram Qian: “Force”, also: “The Creative Heaven”, from the I Ching.
From top: mandrel, hand forged setting tool, dapping punch, square needle file, hand forged setting tool, hand forged repoussé tool

The holidays at last! Time to unwind and have fun. My idea of a good time is reading a book, and for this, I chose Grain of Truth – The Ancient Lessons of Craft, by Ross A. Laird, a book I had read and enjoyed over a decade ago. Guaranteed gratification? Yes, and why not? It is the holidays after all.

In “Grain of Truth”, the author takes us through the process of designing and making a series of woodworking projects. This is not, however, a technical manual or a how-to book (although it is kind of, but in a poetic sense). Organized in eight chapters named after the eight trigrams of the I Ching (Earth, Water, Fire, etc.), and each dedicated to a different project, it flows elegantly and seemingly without effort from chapter to chapter. We follow the maker as he experiences joy and satisfaction or doubt and frustration. And although it deals with woodworking projects, it is quite universal and will resonate with any craftsperson, whatever their craft may be.

Trigrams of the I Ching

Trigrams of the I Ching

The book celebrates the importance of craftsmanship, the beauty of an object made by hand, but not in a sentimental way because, the “truth” is, this practice demands deep awareness and strict discipline. The process of creating and making something by hand, like meditation, requires us to pause and ponder often. “Working with hand tools”, says Laird, “teaches, in a pragmatic way, the art of stillness” (p. 28). When working with wood, or any other medium for that matter, one needs to be receptive, to watch and to listen. Observe the file as it glides on the edge of the sheet of metal. Hear the hammer as it hits the metal. When under pressure or facing deadlines, how many times have I felt the impulse to dominate the tools, to force them to perform a specific task? It is not, Laird adds, about will power, which will only bring disappointment and frustration. Instead, it “requires a purposeful surrender, a willingness to be taught by tools (…)” (p. 29).

This book, so full of wisdom, shows us that patience and humility, backed by concentration and deep knowledge of materials and techniques, will be rewarded with a sense of wonder. In the spirit of the Tao, Laird always starts afresh with each project, open to the possibilities and with “faith in the process and a willingness to be taken” (p. 50).

Happy holidays and best wishes to all for a creative New Year.

Ross A. Laird, Grain of Truth – The Ancient Lessons of Craft, Macfarlane Walter & Ross, Toronto, 2001. ISBN 1-55199-065-2

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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)

Seeds of inspiration

Winter is almost here. The November rains have washed out the last bits of colour from the garden. The view from the kitchen window is a quiet composition in a muted palette of greys and browns, perked up, but only slightly, by the dark outline of the bare trees. Under this drab exterior there are countless small treasures waiting to be found; just what a weary metalsmith suffering from craft fair fatigue needs! Armed with a sketchbook and a camera, I am ready to go.

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Drawing helps me focus on the various components of a pod or a dried flower; to analyze and deconstruct it. Sometimes I am more interested in textures, sometimes in the mechanics of a structure. Sketches are a visual reference, and they will also contribute to the design process at a later stage.

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The leaves have fallen, and with the perennials gone to seed, many forms and shapes that were previously hidden are now there to be examined and recorded – at least by the curious jewellery designer.  Seed pods, Nature’s containers, are a great source of inspiration for making boxes and lockets…or your own seed pod-shaped jewellery (made-up botanical names are optional):

D. Bréchault  - Seed Pod (Pisum regalis) - Pendant. Silver, 24k & 18k gold. Fabricated, etched, Keum-Boo.

D. Bréchault – Seed Pod (Pisum regalis) – Pendant. Silver, 24k & 18k gold. Fabricated, etched, Keum-Boo.

D. Bréchault - Seed Pod (Phaseolum sativum) - Brooch. Silver, 14k gold. Fabricated, roll-printed.

D. Bréchault – Seed Pod (Phaseolum sativum) – Brooch. Silver, 14k gold. Fabricated, roll-printed.

There are many processes and techniques available. Some seeds can be cast. Cuttlebone casting will work for things that are hard enough to withstand pressure (acorns, for instance); for the more delicate ones, organic casting is another option. Here is an example:

D.Bréchault - 13 Cherry Tree Branches - Necklace. Silver, patina. Fabricated, cast.

D.Bréchault – 13 Cherry Tree Branches – Necklace. Silver, patina. Fabricated, cast.

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13 Cherry Tree Branches – Detail

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Natural textures can be reproduced on metal in a variety of ways. Bark translates quite well, thanks to the reticulation technique:

D. Bréchault - Bark - Ring.    Sterling silver, reticulation silver, patina, moonstone. Fabricated, reticulated.

D. Bréchault – Bark – Ring. Sterling silver, reticulation silver, patina, moonstone. Fabricated, reticulated.

Bark - Ring. Detail.

Bark – Ring. Detail.

The intricate network of veins on lacy skeleton leaves can be transferred onto annealed metal with the roll-printing technique (Remember to use only dried leaves so as not to damage the rollers). My favourite are magnolia leaves.

Leaf roll-printed on silver.

Leaf roll-printed on silver.

These small treasures will find their place on the walls of my studio – seeds of inspiration – long after winter sets in and the garden goes dormant.

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Birch bark, magnolia skeleton leaves, Japanese anemone seeds, Japanese lanterns, etc.

So, what are you waiting for? Put on your rubber boots, and go exploring!