There is simply no way to authentically duplicate those gorgeous surfaces with any modern short cut. The play of light and shadow on Chasing and Repoussé is striking and unique.
In the technique of granulation, tiny spheres of gold are fused onto the surface of a base piece creating rich and exquisitely detailed patterns that seem to float magically on the surface.
Not only do I love the results of these wonderful old world techniques, but I find the process addictive. Time disappears and I look up to find many hours have passed. I am filled with gratitude.
In the search to learn how ancient goldsmiths created such dramatic and detailed relief in their work, I discovered Chasing and Repoussé and suddenly a whole new world of design possibilities opened up. I studied with Valentin Yotkov in New York and Nancy Megan Corwin in Seattle, both wonderful artists and teachers that are fostering a modern renaissance for these rare ancient techniques.
Chasing and Repoussé
Chasing and Repoussé, (or more properly, Repoussage) are metalworking techniques that date back to the Bronze Age. Both techniques take advantage of the inherent plasticity, or malleability, of metal and use steel punches (a steel pencil shaped tool) driven by a hammer to push, pull and compact the sheet, allowing you to create a three dimensional piece from one continuous sheet of metal. Repoussé, is performed from the back of the sheet, creating depth, form and relief. Chasing is used on the front of the piece to define, highlight, add texture and detail. The terms can be confused because they are often both used on the same piece.
Part of the great beauty unique to these techniques are the finishes created by the tools. Most often in modern jewelry, any marks left by tools are carefully polished away. In contrast, the distinctive textures so valued in Chasing and Repoussé are the evidence of the various tools used to create the relief and they are deliberately left behind. There is simply no way to authentically duplicate those gorgeous surfaces with any modern short cut. The play of light and shadow on Chasing and Repoussé is striking and unique.
To begin a piece, one places a sheet of gold (silver or copper can be used) onto a bowl of heated pitch. When the pitch cools, the metal is held firmly in place and completely supported from beneath. The initial design is drawn onto the metal and then outlined with a lining punch, a sharp tool that creates a fine, crisp furrow that can be seen on the back of the metal. The pitch is then heated again to remove the metal which is cleaned off and turned over to be worked from the back. Working from behind, the design is raised and various depths are established. Again the metal is removed from the pitch, cleaned, annealed and put back onto the pitch with the front side up. Now the design can be refined by chasing, creating contrasting textures, definition, undercutting, and detail. You may continue to work the piece a number of times from the back and front in order to get the final result.
Granulation is an ancient metalwork technique found in many cultures around the world but best known for it’s high point in the works of the Etruscans around 3000 years ago. In this technique, tiny spheres of gold are fused onto the surface of a base piece creating rich and exquisitely detailed patterns that seem to float magically on the surface.
Fabricating jewelry to be granulated has unique challenges. The base piece to be decorated with granules cannot have any solder as it would flow at a lower temperature than what is needed to fuse the granules into place. In addition, the piece cannot be cast, as it must be relatively thin and of an even thickness, so the base piece is typically hand fabricated from sheet gold. Many of the ancient pieces that have gold granulation also feature stunning three dimensional relief formed from Chasing and Repoussé. These techniques are a natural marriage.
To make the granules, you wrap very thin 22k gold wire around a tiny diameter rod (a straightened paper clip works well) and then cut each loop, laying them out on a charcoal block. You then heat the tiny loops with your torch and melt them into spheres. When cooled, the granules are arranged into patterns on your piece of 22k gold jewelry using a very fine sable brush with a watery mixture of organic glue, flux and some form of copper. Once the granules have dried you heat the piece on a small open kiln and use a torch to gently bring up the temperature until you see the surface of the gold flash liquid. At that critical moment where the surface of the gold has melted and the granules and the base weld together, you quickly take your torch away.
This is a very delicate technique that requires much practice and experimentation. If you take the torch away too quickly some of the granules may not adhere properly and will fall off. But if you lag just an instant, you risk either melting the granules so they are not beautifully distinct, or ruining the entire piece that you just spent many hours fabricating. It is not a technique for the faint of heart!
I have found over the years that just because you can granulate something, doesn’t mean you should. Just like anything, it can be too much of a good thing. Granulation is used best when the design of a piece really calls for it or is enhanced by it. It is a stunning technique and one I love, but I feel it needs to be at service to your design, not dictating it.
Not only do I love the results of these wonderful old world techniques, but I find the process addictive. Feeling the metal move beneath the tool in my hand as I slowly sculpt and form is absolutely engrossing to me. I can get lost delicately arranging granules into intricate geometric patterns or organic swirling spirals. Time disappears and I look up to find many hours have passed. I am filled with gratitude.