Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Raising Iron Pebbles

This is what I've been wrestling with recently and why I've not posted anything for a couple of days. I'm raising steel sheet into a large pebble! The early stage was shown in the photo of my newly made stake and stump a few days ago. This particular pebble is only 9cm long and was made a couple of years ago as part of my search for a meaningful "canvas" for my work. Placing one's design elements on a pebble to create some sort of sculptural piece is not a new idea in itself. I've seen wooden pebbles and even real rocks with lacquer work applied.

As an artist working in metal though I felt the need to make the entire piece an expression of my approach to my work and my aesthetic sensibilities. The idea of forming such an intractable material in this , almost, counter-intuitive way excites and challenges me. To create the stone-like surface I use a somewhat damaged hammer and the countless rounds of hammering required to coax the steel into it's ultimate, rock/pebble form leaves a very honest and subtle skin that is, in it's own way, natural. It's an odd thing but even though it is a hammered piece of metal it manages to convince people of it's "naturalness".

The positive, and quite intimate, reaction to this first little experiment, particularly in Japan, convinced me to pursue this format. Despite the effort required to make forms like this I am really enjoying the work. There is something calming about having to apply oneself for days on end, with progress only being seen in very gradual changes in shape. There is no rushing this sort of forming, any attempt only results in wrinkles and distortions. It's a gentle and steady application of controlled and precise hammer blows that ultimately yields the form I'm looking for. In some ways this reflects my own journey to this point in my career as a craftsman cum artist.
The finish you see in these photos is just the scale from the iron being heated to a red heat, to soften it prior to another round of hammering.


Anonymous said...

thats just fantastic. The kind of dimpled waxy look really gives it the feel of a jade river cobble. Really, impressed with that.

Ford Hallam said...

Thanks Dustin, the fun part is that although it appears to have a good weight to it in fact it is remarkably light,... and amazingly strong. I'm making good progress with the new one but it is quite a bit bigger so is needing a lot more "encouragement".

Fred Zweig said...


Have you considered how you will treat the underside of the pebble/stone? Cold forming iron/steel is not an easy task.


Ford Hallam said...

Hi Fred,

"Cold forming iron/steel is not an easy task." oh, yes, I'm getting some very stern lessons in patience. ;-)

As for the underside, on the piece I'm making now ( the pebble I've just shown is the trial I made a couple of years ago ) I'll be fitting an inset base within the turned in rim.

I'm actually forming 3 pieces now. It makes better use of my studio time as I have to leave the steel to air cool after normalising and by having them all on the go at once it means I always have a piece of metal ready to work on, while the rest are cooling or pickling.

The largest stone form , the one I showed at a very early stage, on the stump, will have an inset base and in fact will be a container. A bit like a box but with the real focus of this concept piece protected within.

One of the stones, a bit smaller than the box/container one, will have the rim turned in but with the base essentially left open...but that will be for a very specific reason, another concept I'm exploring. You'll see it here first too.