Chasing & repousse are two metal techniques in which you work one side of a piece of metal with "push" or repousse tools to move the metal into a particular shape and then flip the metal over to chase or harden the surface for durability.
These techniques are very old and have been used for centuries to create magnificent pieces of art from bowls, chalices, religious icons to jewelry. Each piece is unique to its creator, but the techniques have been relatively unchanged for thousands of years.
I decided to try my hand at it again... I bought a small collection of tools, a pitch bowl and some red German pitch about two years ago and had a go at creating simple forms like a basic flower, a pig and even attempted to create an abstract form. At the time, I had so many ideas I couldn't settle down on one in particular, but the last few days have culminated into a singular focus on a sea "monster" inspired by Disney's movie Finding Nemo.
I've always been fascinated with the deep ocean and decided that I'd try my hand at creating a lantern fish from copper that will ultimately become a belt buckle for my husband's leather crafting practice.
The first step was to actually have an idea of how I wanted the lantern fish to look - do I want straight on, profile or 3/4 turn? Well, a dear friend of mine, Shake Watson, helped me solve this problem. He's an excellent artist and we collaborated on the design over a period of a few days during the Thanksgiving holiday (2013). He drew, sent photos and we ironed out the first piece.
Now, I have my drawing and I transferred it to tracing paper and glued it to my metal for the first round of lining in the chasing & repousse process.
With the first side lined, I was able to remove the drawing, clean the metal and then flip it over to start the repousse or pushing process from the back side of the metal. This part can be tricky if you don't pay attention, so I made sure I had no distractions to take my attention away from the design. Trust me when I say this, most of the time you don't realize when a mistake happens until you've removed the metal and washed it, so it's important to stay focused and concentrate on your technique.
I'll be honest, if you're looking for instant gratification in this process, it ain't happenin'... This process is for the patient or those like me looking to learn about patience. Each hammer stroke moves the metal a little bit. Of course, you could hit harder, but the chances for mistakes increase relative to the heaviness of the hammer blow, so I took my time and continued to move the metal millimeter by millimeter until I was happy with the first course of repousse.
As you can see from the photos below, patience is definitely a virtue and will get you where you want, albeit slowly.
With round one complete and the metal cleaned and straightened, I was ready for round two. One tip I picked up from books and videos is to lubricate the metal where you intend the pitch to stick in order to remove it somewhat clean from the sticky pitch. I use lip balm my hubby makes because it's just oily enough to release the pitch, but inexpensive for my jewelry budget since he makes it at home.
On to round two... The second round for me was basically to deepen the design through repousse and to flatten some of the excessively raised areas through chasing to really pull the definition of my line work out. Of course, I spotted a few errors after the first round and tried to fix them, but to me, they're quite obvious. The only way to learn is through trying, so I can say I'm quite proud of my first attempt at a fairly complicated design.
The red and black staining around the fish is from the torch. I use a heat gun to gently heat the metal and remove it from the pitch. I take the piece outside and use a hand-held torch to burn the pitch from the metal for easier clean up. DO NOT do this indoors because it smells like a burning pine tree and smokes a lot of sooty residue.
After round two, I'm really happy with the result so I think I'll move on to the next phase of this project, building the sand mold for the belt buckle casting. This fish is about 2.5 inches tall and roughly 4.5 inches in length so it's fairly large. I'm thinking it will be a man's buckle, but hey, I'd wear it too, so maybe it's unisex.
Stay tuned for the pics from the belt buckle casting next time and if you have questions, feel free to contact me using the buttons below and I'd love to hear your feedback on my project. Share it with your friends too!