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The making of heirloom quality treasures with my favorite metalsmithing techniques

4 min read

Previously, I gave a little studio tour.

Today, let's dig into how I use some of the tools I showed in the tour to make my sculpture and jewelry.

This 4 minute video shows techniques I use to create meaningful, high quality art that will last for generations. 

Prefer to read? Scroll down for that version...

 

When I was getting my BFA at Rhode Island School of Design, I fell in love with metalsmithing. 

The first technique I got most hooked on was holloware - the very slow process of hammering sheet metal into sculptural or vessel like forms with a lot of texture and pattern. 

It's a very time consuming labor of love, but the results are worth it. 

Catherine Grisez raising and hammering copper vessels at CG Sculpture and Jewelry

By combining hammered metal with other techniques like electroformed or cast wax carvings, chasing and repousse, or enamelware, I’m able to capture a wide variety of feelings and emotions within my work.

Like this piece, called Bound. 

Bound, hammered copper and vitreous enamel vessel handcrafted by Seattle artist Catherine Grisez for CG Sculpture and Jewelry

Let's talk details...

I mentioned chasing and repousse.

Chasing and repousse is the process of hammering defined texture and pattern onto sheet metal. Sometimes this is achieved by containing the metal in pitch (sort of like tree sap) so the metal only moves where you hammer it, and other times this works over steel and/or wood forms. I tend toward the latter for large pieces because it's cleaner and the amount of pitch needed for large work is often not feasible. 

Here is an example of hammering undulating waves and folds into a piece of copper using this method.

hammering waves and fold texture into sheet copper at CG Sculpture and Jewelry

And then there is electroforming…

This is the process of plating a substrate with metal, then removing the substrate. In my case, I carve wax forms that I then turn into copper. 

Once carved, I coat the wax with electrically conductive paint, then immerse it in a chemical solution with electric currents that draw copper from bars onto the wax piece turning it into shiny copper. 

 tank for electroforming copper art at CG Sculpture and Jewelry

Once I melt out the wax, I’m left with hollow copper forms that I combine with hammered metal to create solid looking sculptures or vessels that marry smooth hammered forms with detailed texture. 

Below, mixed in with the mayhem of a busy work table, the black parts to the left and on top of the hammered copper form are the waxes I've carved and will electroform for the piece below. 

work in progress - wax carvings to be electroformed for Dignifier sculpture made by Seattle artist Catherine Grisez

In this piece, called Dignifier, I sandblasted the electroformed parts to make them matte and combined them with the hammered sheet metal vessel forms to make the whole.

pink and red hammered and electroformed copper vessel with drooping folds, handcrafted by Seattle artist Catherine Grisez at CG Sculpture and Jewelry

Color and Scale...

I change up the scale in which I work to give my body a break. Here I’m making small bowls that make excellent functional art for the home. 

 hammering little copper bowls for salt cellars or spice bowls CG Sculpture and Jewelry

I use a lot of the same hammered techniques I use in my larger work, but just on a smaller scale. 

sifting powdered glass onto hammered copper bowl for salt cellar handmade by Seattle artist Catherine Grisez

I coat these bowls with powdered glass which is fused to the copper in a 1500 degree kiln. This process is called enamelware or vitreous enamel. I build up each bowl with 6 coats of glass to ensure depth of color and very high quality.  

 fusing glass to copper bowls in 1500 degree kiln for salt cellars handcrafted by Seattle artist Catherine Grisez

I make some of them in solid colors.

colorful enamelware salt cellars handcrafted in copper and glass by Seattle artist Catherine Grisez

Sometimes I paint and draw on the bowls using special paint and pencils and fuse it between the layers of glass. In this way, I can tell more of a story in each piece, like this bowl from my Landscape Collection. 

one of a kind drawing and painting on copper and glass enamelware bowl handcrafted in Seattle

 one of a kind copper and glass enamelware bowl, functional art for the kitchen, handcrafted in USA by Seattle artist

It’s very important to me that my work is timeless and made with exceptional quality.

I want your kids and grandkids to be able to enjoy these pieces, for them to be passed down generations along with the stories your family creates to go with them. 

 

So far I've talked about making sculpture and bowls, but now let's switch gears to a different kind of adornment...

Jewelry 

This final piece wraps up many of the techniques I use on both a small and large scale. 

I start by cutting out the parts in sterling silver and yellow gold and filing the edges. 

filing obloid shaped sterling silver part for one of a kind necklace

Next, I hammer the small parts in similar ways as that first sculpture I showed. This is raising and planishing on a miniature scale, the same techniques I use on large work to shape and smooth the metal.

 work in progress, making small silver hammered parts for one of a kind necklace

Hammering out leaf shapes uses a technique called anti-clastic raising, a way to get complex linear shapes I can combine with those that are smooth and round. 

 anticlastic metal forming, making silver leaf shapes to be used in necklace design, handcrafted in Seattle WA

I carve wax on a tiny scale as well. This small leafy bezel part will be cast in 14k yellow gold at a friend’s casting shop. 

On the left are my favorite carving tools, old dental tools I got many years ago at a flea market. 

wax carving tools and work in progress, making little bezel with leaves to be cast in gold

Once I have the part in metal, I continue to carve and shape it using my flex shaft with a variety of burs and shaping tools.

 carving and sanding gold leaf bezel with flex shaft at CG Sculpture Jewelry

After I’ve made all the individual parts, it’s time to start combining them, by soldering and welding them together, including a tube for chain and smaller parts to bigger parts.  

 Catherine Grisez soldering necklace parts

silver and gold necklace parts being combined to make one of a kind jewelry

The final stage on this piece is setting the rock.

Here I’ve got an antique rose cut stone from the 18th century, a wonderfully old  diamond being given new life.

I love using recycled diamonds and metals above newly mined to minimize my impact on the environment. 

setting antique rose cut diamond from 18th century in one of a kind silver and gold necklace

And there you have it!  

one of a kind recycled silver and fair mined gold necklace with 18th century antique rose cut diamond handcrafted by Seattle artist CG Sculpture and Jewelry

A silver and gold necklace using many of the techniques I work with on both small and large scale.  

Since I make everything by hand, besides ensuring very high quality lasting objects, I can also customize some aspects to best suit your world. For example, I made this necklace with an adjustable 18-20” chain, but I’d be happy to shorten or lengthen it according to your needs. 

 recycled silver and fair mined 14k yellow gold one of a kind necklace with 18th century antique rose cut diamond

It’s a pleasure to get to use my skills as a platform to bring unique art to your life. 

I'd love to hear what you think! 

Comment below...

Catherine Grisez


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