Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Take Five

Here's the theme for the experience.  After that, try this.

Why five?  Well, I've just completed five days of study with master silversmith and designer, Valentin Yotkov, on the art of chasing and repousse.  Hands-on study of the great archaelogical treasure of his native Bulgaria is the foundation of his art.  You see, the art of chasing and repousse is indeed an ancient one, and we were privileged to have a master teach us what he has learned in a lifetime of study and application.

Another reason for the theme?  Our workpiece was based on 5 part symmetry.  So as we executed our workpiece we got to repeat each motif -- if you look at mine, you can probably tell where I began; that would be the weaker part.  One improves with repetition and drill, as in calligraphy or drawing.  It is a very tactile art, but also one of reflected light and a sense of volume and motion.  I could go on and on, since it is one of my favorite things to do as a metalsmith, but let's just cut to the pictures.

This is an example of Maestro's work, which he provided for us to study as a guideline.

The five part symmetry provides many contrasts, as well:  high relief, lower, and flat; and the rope motif, which was saved as the last step, and the most demanding.

Chasing is a combination of working on the front surface ("chasing) with liner and planishing tools, as well as a matte tool for texture on the background, and using punches on the back surface to raise the metal ("repousse").  Good practice produces a design that appears to be much deeper than it actually is.

Here's a view of the back of the piece above, so you can see that just because it is the back, doesn't mean it shouldn't be beautiful and cleanly executed. 

Here is our most excellent master, who shared generously of his hard won expertise -- in five short days, we learned secrets of the art that took him years to discover.

That's because there are few people who actually teach this art -- I studied some of the technique in college when I took a silversmithing degree, but these last five days taught more.  I feel grateful and excited, and ready to make at least five more of the workpiece, as Valentin recommends.  It takes critical practice to learn to handle the hammer and tools in a way that produces work that has vitality and expression, just as it takes a painter long effort in the studio to capture  "effortless" beauty.

Not quite finished, far to go, my own pitch pot, with the tools Valentin makes and provides for use in his classes.  The difference in his tools and the ones I had left from student days can't really be described.  Handled properly, his liners move across the metal with a sort of buttery silkiness.

When I finally clean the workpiece, and add some patina, wax it and buff it to show off the high spots, I will imagine it as an artifact found in the sands of the silk road and after that, I will sit down with it and make it better the next time.

It's all about take five, which means to take the time you need.  I'll take five from feeling that each thing I do has to be ready for sale, from counting the time it takes to make something and weighing it against a price.  I'll take five from even thinking I have to be "good" at it, or from thinking about the other things I "should" be doing.  I'll take five to enter a meditative state and work mindfully.   Thanks to Valentin for teaching that went far beyond the scope of the task at hand!


  1. Ya, wow. Nice experience. Thanks for sharing.
    A pitch bowl with a handle too.
    It is hard to relax in the moment and just do when lack of finance looms.
    Good point, take five.