Paper daruma my husband made for me with a free pattern from Canon
Until now, the only use I’ve made of the pitch bowl in class has been to scrape out a little bit and attempt (once successfully, once not) to paint a bit of it on the back of moonstones to make them stand out more in a bezel setting. What it’s actually for is repoussé and chasing, and I wanted to give it a shot with some 20 gauge copper I’ve been carrying around for a while.
I might have gone with a simpler design for my first project, but I like to be a bit ambitious at first because there’s more to learn, and I’m not terribly hung up on the looks of the finished project because I know it’ll look like student work no matter what–and that’s good. It’s easier to experiment that way. So I picked a Daruma because I love Japanese folk art and because he’s a lucky little guy, and I could always use some luck in class.
The first thing to do was to heat up the pitch bowl to smooth out the surface, and then let it cool enough that you could touch it without getting tarry gunk on your fingers (actually, the very first thing to do was to turn on the exhaust fan, because as pleasantly woodsy as the fumes are, they’re not exactly good for you.) After that, bend your corners (two up and two down, so you can push two firmly down into the gunk, leaving two you can pull up later when you’re done.) I made a cardstock cutout of the basic design and traced it on with Sharpie, then placed the metal in the bowl.
Now for the repoussé, which is fancy talk for hammering out a relief in metal from the back. This is a bit tricky because you have to think in reverse. I had trouble making the mouth, for instance, because I really worked up a good line from the back, which just looked like a big pushed-out area from the front. In fact, the whole thing kind of looked like a tentacle monster (pushed-out face + belly ridges = Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) after the first day I worked on it, and I was a bit worried, even though I was told I was doing things right. I even got in touch with my old buddy Jane and we spent a pleasant afternoon earlier this week catching up on our various projects and working on things together in the studio. I really, really, punched out the belly that day, at which point I was ready for the chasing. And here you see the piece right-side up in the pitch, ready for some detailing from the front.
Two things I forgot to mention: (1) 18-20 gauge metal is good for this, because a lot of work on a thinner metal might tear it or punch through; and (2) pitch is a tarry, disgusting mess. When you pull your piece out of the bowl, you’re likely to take a lot of goo out with it. You can heat it with a torch until most of it slides right back in the bowl, but there will still be a lot of yucky cleanup, for which denatured alcohol is your friend. Oh, and there’s a third thing: annealing. You will be annealing your work, often, to keep the metal malleable. So, have fun with that if you can.
All right. So: chasing. This went better for me, I think. I had to fill in the back completely with melted pitch from a second bowl, let that dry a bit, and then place it as you see above. You do not want air pockets where you’re working. Working from the middle of the piece outwards, I did my best to pick out some details, and outline Daruma’s belly stripes and the edges of his hood around his face, and his body. You have to “walk” your tools around the outline, hitting them with a (duh) chasing hammer as you go, and bracing your third finger against the piece to steady everything. I really liked the way the body rounded up with all that pitch underneath it; very interesting to feel that happening! Now I think I’ve done all I can with the pitch bowl, and currently have this, cleaned, annealed, and straightened out:
I’m going to clean up some tool marks as best I can with the flex shaft, and use liver of sulfur to make everything pop. I’m not sure, but I’m thinking of engraving some detail, like eyebrow wisps and a firmer mouth, but I don’t know that I will any time soon. I’d like to practice for a while on scrap, because my hand is anything but steady. I also need to decide whether I’ll cut him out at the edges, or keep a bit of the background (make him a square/rectangular plaque?) Daruma was a lot of fun, and this learning process has given me an idea connected to a stone I really like but haven’t figured out what to do with, yet. Good thing I have some 18 gauge silver in my tool box . . .