Tag Archives: metal work

“Beyond the Precious” (searching for beauty in all the wrong places)

 

Automobile Junkyard on the North Bank of the Kansas River between the 12th and 18th street bridges. Kenneth Paik, 1973. Wikimedia Commons.

Automobile Junkyard on the North Bank of the Kansas River between the 12th and 18th street bridges. Kenneth Paik, 1973. Wikimedia Commons.

A few months ago, I wrote about the challenges of reconnecting with my creative side and working on three new pieces of jewellery I intended to submit to an exhibition. This post is a behind-the-scenes glimpse into my process and these challenges. Spoiler alert! I did meet the deadline and all three pieces were accepted in the show.

The first challenge was of my own making. I wanted to make rings; my previous projects had been mostly lockets and brooches, and I needed a change. Brooches would have been a more practical choice simply because they offer more space, a larger canvas so to speak, to express myself. But most of all, because brooches are not worn directly on the body, wearability issues are less constraining.

The theme of the show, “Beyond the Precious”, resonated with me because I had just seen an exhibition of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs. His large-scale pictures of industrial sites intrigued me. Looking at these richly coloured and exquisitely detailed man-made landscapes, I wondered how it was possible that I was made to feel both awed and repelled at the same time.

Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings #31, Sudbury Ontario, 1996.

Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings #31, Sudbury Ontario, 1996.

What I was interested in were themes of corrosion, rust and decay. For this purpose, I would use a combination of precious and non-precious metals and play on the contrast between these materials. As well, rusted metals would introduce a variety of textures and some colour. This was quite a departure for me as my work tends to be more figurative with a narrative unfolding around some kind of personal element, such as a memory or a place. For this project, the starting point would be the materials, and the focus would be on forms and textures. It was time to rummage through my boxes of found bits and pieces, my “Cabinet of curiosities” as I like to call it (more on that in a later post, “Confessions of a Hoarder”).

A sampling of found metal objects from my "Cabinet of curiosities".

A sampling of found metal objects from my “Cabinet of curiosities”.

 

Here is what I selected: a piece of muffler, a section of metal strapping and a washer – all nicely rusted out, of course, and with tantalizing patterns and textures. I was drawn to the muffler fragment because of the pattern of small slots repeated all over its surface. The piece of strapping, with its pierced circles of alternating sizes made a strong visual statement. As for the simple washer, I thought it could serve somehow as a setting for a stone. Now, could I just let these strong shapes inform the rest of the rings? Certainly, I wasn’t going to let myself be intimidated by concerns such as wearability! On the other hand (pardon the pun), these rings had to be worn without inflicting too much pain to the wearer. The solution was to use a silver sleeve (the part through which the finger could go comfortably), and to attach the found metal pieces to it. But how would I join the rusted steel pieces to the silver component? Soldering was not an option, so it would have to be cold connections, such as rivets or staples.

Dominique Bréchault, "Spilt". Ring, 2014. Silver, synthetic stones, found washer, patina. Cast, fabricated, stamped.

Dominique Bréchault, “Spilt”. Ring, 2014. Silver, synthetic stones, found washer, patina. Cast, fabricated, stamped.

For “Spilt”, I cast the shank of the ring in silver. Thick and wide, and darkened with black patina, it accentuates the industrial feel of the piece. A dome has been soldered to the top at a slight angle, as if about to “spill” out its contents (a green tube set cubic zirconium visible through the opening of the washer). The rounded silver tabs joining the washer to the silver dome contrast with the rough rusted texture.

Dominique Bréchault, "Exhausted". Ring, 2014. Silver, found muffler part. Fabricated.

Dominique Bréchault, “Exhausted”. Ring, 2014. Silver, found muffler part. Fabricated.

“Exhausted” is a wide silver ring wrapped with a fragment of rusted muffler. As simple as that seems, the difficulty here was to bend the fragile piece of crumbling metal without breaking it, and then to attach it securely to the silver band. I soldered silver wire posts onto the ring and bent them through the slots of the muffler to hold it in place. A thick section of silver plate, with an irregular side to echo the frayed edges of the muffler, holds one end of the wrapped piece in place.

Dominique Bréchault, "(W)holed". Ring, 2014. Silver, copper, cubic zirconium, found perforated hanging strap. Fabricated.

Dominique Bréchault, “(W)holed”. Ring, 2014. Silver, copper, cubic zirconium, found perforated hanging strap. Fabricated.

In making “(W)holed”, I wanted the strapping to be the focus of the work as I felt it was so visually striking. Again, the challenge was to connect this large piece of rusted metal to the silver ring, and not only physically, but visually as well. The strapping is held in place by two thick strips of silver soldered to the shank – a tension setting of sort. Pierced holes laid out in a regular pattern on the double-layer silver ring mirror the holes in the strapping. A small white cubic zirconium lights up the deep dark rusted tones of the top of the ring.

All found metal components were sprayed with Krylon®, a clear matte sealer ideal for protecting these types of materials without being too obtrusive.

IMG_2957 (2) (1024x768)

The show is now over and, reflecting on the process of making these rings and the challenges I faced, I can appreciate how far out of my comfort zone I wandered. In fact, I am feeling quite adventurous again, so much so that I started working on a submission for another upcoming show. This time I will be making a series of brooches, and exploring new themes and materials. I will keep you posted on my “travels”.

 

 

 

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A blush of red in the studio

D.Bréchault. Bowl, copper, patina. Dia.: 9.5 cm

As I walk through the neighbourhood these days, I notice the first blushing trees. So many shades of red: burgundy, crimson, vermillion, even some magenta – and some rusty reds too. I enjoy these rich and vibrant colours and I always have the urge to run to my studio and add splashes of colours to my jewellery.

The palette of a metalsmith does not have to be limited to a few muted shades of silver and gold. Metals like copper, brass, and bronze lend themselves particularly well to a wide variety of colours (or patinas) and can open up all kinds of possibilities. Metal patination has been used in different parts of the world for a very long time. Years ago, Ayako Kuroki, a distinguished goldsmith and teacher from Tokyo, Japan, told me about hiirodo the red copper patina used in traditional Japanese metalwork. Here is an example of tsuba (sword guards) with a deep maroon red copper patina:

Tsubas (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco)Photo : Wikipedia Commons

Tsubas (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco)
Photo : Wikipedia Commons

Several types of methods can be used to colour metal, depending on the colours you want to obtain – heat or chemicals, or a combination of both. For now, let’s deal with these rich and vibrant red autumn colours (I will talk about the greens, and the blues in another post). Here is how you can incorporate them into your work. Note that these recipes will only work with copper.

Remember to wear goggles, and make sure there is sufficient ventilation in your studio.

– Heat up the copper with the torch to a high temperature (until the metal is red hot).

– Quench immediately in a boiling water and salt solution (Salt/water solution: 3 tablespoons salt to 3 cups water).

This creates a deep brick red patina:

Depending on the intensity of the flame, or how long the metal is heated up, you’ll get darker shades of red or purplish red. If the metal is heated up for a bit longer, this can produce a marbled effect of red and black,

or a smoky effect like this:

Heating up the metal and quenching it in boiling water without salt will produce some rich tones of red as well, but generally more on the rusty or orangy side:

Here is another recipe:

First, coat the metal with a mixture of borax flux and water, and heat up with the torch. Quench in boiling water. Usually the more interesting colours appear on the back side of the sheet. Depending on what type of flux is used (borax cone ground, and mixed with water, or liquid flux like “Batterns”), you’ll get various results, from a deep burgundy with streaks of orange to a more mottled pattern:

And for a different mottled effect, try sprinkling salt on the metal as you are heating it up. Keep the flame on only until the grains of salt melt, then quench in boiling water right away. Results vary. On this sample, there are intricate patterns of purple and rose tones mixed with some smoky greys.

Sometimes, I like to texture the metal before coloring it; it adds more depth and another layer of interest to the design. There are many types of surface treatments available. In these examples, I used etching and roll-printing:

Important note: Don’t pickle your metal, as the pickling solution would remove the patina!

This heat patina is stable and fairly tough, so it does not really require much protection, especially if the patinated metal is in a recessed area that will prevent scratches. Otherwise a thin coat of soft beeswax will work well.

Now, if you consider yourself a control freak, these techniques are probably not for you! As with most patinas, results are not always consistent, and are difficult to predict, but that’s the beauty of it, and for me that’s the fun of it too. Factors such as the gauge of the metal, the intensity of the flame, or the temperature of the water will affect the results, so keep experimenting!