Materials and Processes etc...
I employ many materials and techniques, some more challenging than others. Typically I start with a piece of timber, stone or metal that attracts me. These are found, gleefully, from a wide range of sources and have usually been sitting in the studio for a while, making suggestions.
I like to explore the material a little before a form comes to mind, then I might sketch ideas, refining my vision before further shaping. When the outer sphere has begun to show the nature of its inner, for example, I begin the complementary element.
There are always part formed pieces, on shelves and benches, even toolboxes and machinery, any spare surface, all around my work space. Most wait for over a year, some much longer, with various partner materials in or on them. Some because a decision has been made and a process is awaited, others are trying out. A few procrastinate, until I despair, when the thing they needed usually appears. Then it seems obvious, as if it had been there all along and I launch into what is regularly a long night of obsessive fervor! I love little more in life than to sit down in my studio, with no particular plan and spy a thing that inspires me; makes me smile, look closely, see in a new way, jump up and start work.
In no particular order, here are some details of work in progress...
I love metal. I play with it, often when it is liquid, which is a remarkable thing to behold at close quarters. Whichever way it is done, it takes a phenomenal amount of power to melt metal and when it pours, one feels it.
There are several traditional Japanese 'precious metals' I make for Iro-gane (coloured metal) and Mokume-gane (wood grained metal), here I am making both Kuromido (Copper and Arsenic!) and Shibuichi (Copper and Silver). Roll over for more...
One begins by melting metals together in a foundry (most often gas fired these days, although I still like my traditional solid fuel and bellows unit best and get it out for special recipes : ) The desired ingredient is usually poured into a traditional Japanese water casting sling, producing a rounded ingot of delightful proportions.
The ingot is then hammered, heated and hammered over and over, until its crystals are compressed together and it will eventually fit through the rolling mill.
Then it's annealed and rolled, over and over until the desired thickness is reached. These sheets of alloy are cut into pieces that fit between the torque plates and (after insane amounts of cleaning) are clamped together in layers, under great pressure, before being cooked in the kiln to their eutectic point (hot enough for the whole thing to fuse into one big lump of metal).
When the billet has been cut and cleaned up, it can be hammered again and checked closely for imperfections. If floors exist, which they will if one speck of dust got onto a plate, its a thousand dollar lump of scrap. If no floors exist, it is ready to be annealed and hammered, over and over again, until the whole thing fits through the rollers once more. Then I finally have a plate of multilayered material I can carve my pattern into.
When the pattern has been carved and rolled through the mill enough to become a flat surfaced plate, the piece can be shaped. Often I raise mokume into a part sphere, usually to fit another material. Here I have inlaid a carved, wood grain patterned dome into wood (it still staggers me that in four hundred years of the Mokume gane tradition, I can find no other examples of matched grain).
If the size of the piece allows, I usually just hold the stone in one hand and attack it with a diamond tip grinding blade, simply taking off the corners, until it's round, as in the photo on the left. In the middle is a shot of me hanging onto a wee sapphire with all my grip while doing the same with a pendant motor (I must have dropped it twenty times!) On the right, much more peaceful, but actually more nerve wracking, was shaping a piece of lunar rock! I rubbed it gently against the diamond wheel. It was very soft, very crumbly and very expensive. It was also a very big moment for me, not just because had I wanted to do it for years; it is truly awe inspiring to hold a piece of the moon, let alone shape it.
Trees are beautiful individuals, the pieces of timber they produce are too, I love this medium as much as metal, I think. The process usually starts with me, out in the world, scavenging around likely trees or wood piles. I know tree surgeons, furniture and boat makers and various other woodworkers who groan when they see me coming and shake their heads at me for rummaging in their off cut bins! I've even grabbed piles of burning beech from a builders bonfire! My lover (and future wife) once brought me the charred remains of a teak transom and said, "I was at a party and they were burning this and I thought..." It was ancient heartwood teak from an old vessel. You actually can't buy that! It became a thing of glowing beauty. Thanks love.
So, when I've been lucky enough to meet a piece of timber, I grab a saw, cutting off bits that are not included, yielding a piece of wood I can shape further.
Depending on the scale of the piece, I might work with an arbortech, before mounting on a lathe and or moving to a surform and then rasps and eventually sanding. With special pieces I avoid power tools all together. On the left I'm gouging an inner dome from some cherry (I often have a bruised inner thigh but I haven't cut myself yet!) In the middle I'm using an arborech. I've used them for twenty years and they still scare me.