Tag Archives: textures

Action!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“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.

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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”.

 

 

 

Shop Secrets Revealed – #1 Masking Tape

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In life, as in jewellery making, there are things that you can’t always learn from books or from taking a class; practical things like how to remove a broken drill bit stuck in a piece of metal, shortcuts to help you work more efficiently, time-saving tips, and tricks of the trade. These are things you learn from other people; people who have a lot of experience in the trade, people in the trenches. Of course, you could also find out these things eventually through trial and error – well, error, mostly.

Something I wish I could ask all the goldsmiths out there is: What are your favorite tools or pieces of equipment and why? There is a lot to be learned that way, and not just in relationship to their work, but about new and better ways of using these tools as well.

This is the first of a series of posts where I’ll be sharing my favourite tools and tips with you, and I look forward to hearing from all of you as well. What are your favourite tools, and what “life-saving” tips do you know that you could share?

High on my list of the must-have tools in the studio is masking tape. I have several rolls in different parts of my studio placed in strategic places. There is a roll on my bench, always within easy reach. Masking tape has gotten me out of several tricky “sticky” situations and has saved me a lot of time and frustration.

Something masking tape is good for, of course, is … masking.

In preparation for etching, cover the parts of your design that you want to “keep”; masking tape acts as “resist” and protects the metal from being eaten away by the chemicals. This works well when etching copper or brass with ferric chloride.

D Brechault 7280

On the finished piece, the areas that were covered with masking tape are smooth and slightly raised; all the recessed areas of the design have been etched. They show a beautiful texture, especially around the edges of the masked parts.

D Brechault 7273

Etched copper with patina.

Pieces of tape can be torn by hand or specific shapes can be cut out with scissors. You can see here how this produces different results. With torn pieces of tape, there is a more pronounced texture (“pull lines”) around the edges, whereas with the cut pieces, the etch is cleaner and sharper around the shapes.

More pronounced texture, with "pull lines".

More pronounced texture, with “pull lines”.

Cleaner, sharper lines around the edges.

Cleaner, sharper lines around the edges.

The same masking technique can be used for sandblasting as well. After finishing and polishing your piece, cover the parts of your design that need to remain smooth and polished. Whatever is left exposed will have a lightly textured and matte surface after sandblasting. For heavy sandblasting, duct tape or electrical tape might be more suitable, but I find that masking tape is sufficient for standard results.

The exposed areas are textured; the masked areas remain untouched.

The exposed areas are textured; the masked areas remain untouched.

It’s great for covering or protecting various surfaces.

Since rivets are put in and set after a piece has been finished and polished, it helps to protect the area around the rivets to prevent damaging the surface of the metal when tapping them in with the riveting hammer.

No matter how careful you are when setting a stone, accidents happen! To be safe and to protect your newly finished piece from scratches, cover with masking tape.

Setting a stone.

Setting a stone.

Cover a stone that’s already set, if you need to do some more cleaning around the setting.

Sanding around a setting.

Sanding around a setting.

You can use it to tape together a stack of sheets of metal.

This is useful when you need to drill through several sheets and make sure all the holes are perfectly lined up (for riveting for example).

Masking tape wrapped around 3 sheets of metal in preparation for drilling.

Masking tape wrapped around 3 sheets of metal in preparation for drilling.

Masking tape is quite sticky and can be used to make “handles”.

Use them to hold things that are very small, difficult to hold or slippery (like stones). With a “handle” it’s easier to put a stone in a setting, and take it out, to check whether it fits or it is level.

D Brechault  7257

To drill pearls. A pearl drilling vise is not really practical, because the pearl tends to slip out and worse, the tool can damage the delicate surface of the pearl.

Holding a pearl with a masking tape "handle" to drill it.

Holding a pearl with a masking tape “handle” to drill it.

Pearl drilling vise.

Pearl drilling vise.

D Brechault 7285

Life-saver. A piece of masking tape can be used to pull a stone out of a tight setting (works most of the time – more tips later on what to do when the stone is really stuck).

Pulling a stone out of a setting.

Pulling a stone out of a setting.

Finally…

Some people prefer duct tape. Yes, it is tougher and stickier, but I find that it tends to leave behind too much of a sticky residue once removed. Other people swear by green tape or painter’s tape. I find it not quite sticky enough and sometimes too flimsy.

To each her own.

Oh, and one more thing!

When a bandage is not available, guess what I reach for?

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Note: The idea for this blog post comes from Secret Shop Weapons, a book recently published by MJSA Press.

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.

1759 13 cherry branches DETAIL - Copy (2)

13 Cherry Tree Branches – Detail

Detail 2  13 cherry branches - Copy

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!

Stuck for an idea?

Frottage is a useful technique for finding inspiration when you have “designer’s block”. I learnt about this technique when I was studying jewellery many years ago, and I have been sharing it with my own students ever since.

This technique was developed by the Surrealist painter Max Ernst in 1925. One day, tired of staring at his blank canvas, he was looking at the wooden floor and daydreaming, and the lines and the marks on the floor started morphing into various images. He decided then to lay sheets of paper on the floor and to rub (frottage comes from the French frotter – to rub) the paper over the textured surface with a pencil. From these, Ernst was inspired to create a series of drawings, called Histoire naturelle.

Max Ernst, from “Histoire Naturelle”, 1926.
MoMA, New York

Here is how I channel my inner Max Ernst:

I walk around my studio, or I go outside and “collect” textures. I just rub the surfaces through sheets of paper, randomly. The key is to work fast, without thinking too hard. It does not matter if the patterns overlap.

Rubbings can be found anywhere: on a concrete walkway, a crate, a brick wall, a metal grate, etc. Natural materials (i.e., leaves, bark, etc.) work well too. Tools, kitchen utensils, lettering, anything goes!

Here is my favourite pencil for this, a very fat and very soft pencil (6B):

I use the frottage technique in different ways. Sometimes, I simply look at the patterns on the sheet, until images emerge; this can serve as a point of departure for some ideas or sketches for future jewellery pieces.

Or, if I want to focus more specifically on textures or surface ornamentation – which I love to incorporate in my work – I pick out areas of the rubbings that appeal to me. Almost any pattern can be translated into metal, using various stamping tools, or techniques like etching, roll-printing, cuttlebone casting, etc. So I grab pieces of scrap metal, stamping tools, hammers, and start experimenting. Or some other times, I cut and paste various areas of the sheets and start assembling them to form necklaces, brooches, rings, whatever inspires me. You could also scan the sheets, and manipulate the shapes further with your computer. Again, the key it not to think too much or to worry about how it can actually be made.

This really works. Thank you Max Ernst! Start experimenting, and have fun. And you’ll probably come up with more ways of using the frottage technique.

D. Bréchault : Brooch “Poppies on the Meseta” – Silver, poppy jasper.
Textures made using various techniques: roll-printing, reticulation, stamping.