Saturday 2 February 2008

I'm flying up to Pretoria today and won't be back until Monday afternoon, so I'll be taking a short break from posting. Normal service will be resumed after I get back home and have had a decent cup of tea.

I'm shortly going to be launching a forum "dedicated to fine art metalwork and associated arts"; It'll be called Helicon. The site has been bought and now needs to be set up as we want to see it. I've press ganged a few "volunteers" into acting as admin with me so It will be a collaborative effort. We hope to create a space for serious and in depth discussion, instruction and interaction. I propose to allow posting in any language and would like to see the group evolve into a self regulating and mature society...we'll see. I have a few ideas that I think may go some way to helping stimulate this ideal.

Have a pleasant week-end, where-ever you are, and I'll be back next week. If you like to drop a note in the comments section, particularly if you are in some far away part of the world ( you all are, actually! ) I'd love to hear from you.

Regards, Ford

The ways of the chisel

The following 4 images illustrate a small range of the different possibilities in the way you can use a chisel and hammer. They were all produced using only a small "v" shaped chisel, a flat, mortice chisel shaped one and a little hammer. In the image above you can see a couple of them, there are some other essential tools here too but I'll get to them some other time. Incidentally, we call these chisels tagane, in Japanese. If they are cutting chisels they are referred to as kiri-tagane ( kiri- to cut ) and if punches, which don't remove metal, giri-tagane ( giri- to kick ).
This copy of a sketch by Da Vinci was a study in tones and texture. It's a copper panel, 8cm wide. I silvered and gilded the surface then engraved and scratched through the various layers. I wanted to capture something of the feeling of a sanguine drawing on old vellum.
A shibuichi panel with a few touches of gold and silver inlay. This is a copy of a design on a famous tsuba, any idea who the original was made by? This is classic kata-kiri bori. 7cm long.
Another Rackham design, this one is 6cm long. This is carved/engraved using the standard kata-kiri and kebori chisels. I wanted to see how closely this approach would emulate European hand engraving. I like this little baby dragon.
This copper panel is 1mm thick and about 5cm ( 2 inches ) long. It's basically a chip carving exercise, which is not a bad way to develop good control over your chisel. If you consider how shallow the actual carving is you can get an idea of the demands of this sort of technique.

Friday 1 February 2008

Hishio museum, Katsuyama, Okayama, Japan

In November of 2006 I spent a month as artist in residence in a small provincial museum in Japan.
While there I demonstrated my work, and technique, to the daily visitors. The event was actually an exhibition of my teacher, Izumi Sensei's, and my work. The idea was to celebrate our unique relationship as western student and Japanese teacher. We also had a small display of work by the celebrated metal artist, Kano Natsuo.

My time in Katsuyama was one of the most wonderful experiences I've had in Japan...and I've had a few;-) The interest that visitors showed in the exhibits, me included, was quite remarkable. Once or twice people were initially a bit taken aback to discover a "gaikokujin"(foreigner) representing what is essentially "their" tradition, but the acceptance I was shown and the heartfelt gratitude many expressed for my efforts in helping to sustain this knowledge had a profound effect on me.

I made many very special friends in Katsuyama and look forward to returning in the spring. Did I mention that their sake is especially good?
This is a shot of the museum that I first saw on the museums promotional material. I liked it so much that I took the same picture myself. It was very warm for November when I first arrived.
The white building in the upper right hand corner is part of the Museum. This is the alleyway to the Gozenshu Sake brewery, Tsuji Honten, my friend Hiroko's families business. And a very nice sake it is too.
The hillside above Hishio Museum shrouded in mist. This was taken about 5pm.
This link will take you to a brief description of the Town.

Thursday 31 January 2008

Falling ginko leaves tsuba - 2005

I made this for the NBTHK Shinsaku competition in 2005. It placed 5th, nyusen. I don't think it went down too well with the judges as my more sombre submissions had done much better in the past. Apparently, this style was considered a little too flashy. My brother-in-law, Jason, and my best mate, Steve, had both died within a week of each other and I just wanted to do something a bit more exuberant than my usual tsuba work. They'd have enjoyed it, so that was good enough for me.

The plate was hand forged from an ingot of copper I'd smelted. The two larger leaves were made from bits of antique metal I had salvaged from the bases of severely damaged Meiji period vases. A bit of environmentally aware re-cycling. The gold edges of the leaves were applied by fire-gilding and the smaller leaf is shibuichi, I don't remember the actual grade.

The ura, or reverse ( obverse ) of the Falling ginko leaves tsuba. The little leaf is in shiro-shibuichi ( white shibuichi; 60% silver and 40% copper ). The inscription on the right is the date and that on the left reads; zuiteppitsu. It means "following the iron brush" in Japanese. I coined the term as a name for my studio and this was the first time I used it. I'll get round to writing a little explanation of how the term came about, where it originates and the meaning of the kanji.

Just a thought.

We humans have always made things. It's a part of what makes us human and is the very thing that is the engine of our evolution. Homo Faber, man the maker, that proto modern man, is still very much a part of us.

When we encounter the artefacts which were created by our earliest ancestors it quickly becomes evident that mere practical utility was rarely their only consideration. It would appear that, almost from the very beginning, man has derived some satisfaction from beautiful workmanship.

We could suggest the old adage that "form follows function" applies here and that our modern, "informed" tastes and aesthetic are being projected onto objects that are ultimately mute in terms of true, aesthetic, expression. But I wonder, does beauty for beauties sake not add something distinct, and valuable, to the functionality of a given tool.

a quick sketch after Arthur Rackham

Just a little doodle to provide relief from metalwork.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

one of the things I'm working on at the moment

A trial piece for an idea I'm working out right now. The dragonfly wing is 5cm in total length and is less than a third of a mm in thickness. That's a bit a cloisonne enamel work...the trick would be to do it pique a jour. It's resting on a pebble that is hammered up from a sheet of 1mm thick iron plate. That's also part of the exploration for a much more ambitious piece that I'm beating into submission this 2 months!

"I'll follow you into the dark"

This is another kagamibuta I made towards the end of last year. I named it "I'll follow you into the dark" after hearing the song of that name by the group "Death Cab for Cutie". I was already doing the piece at the time and the sentiment expressed was so beautiful I thought I'd name the piece in the songs honour. It's 4 cm across.

The disc of metal is of shibuichi. This is a classic alloy of silver and copper which develops a very appealing grey colour. It can also exhibit a very delicate grain structure called nashiji, if it's made the right way. This is a bit of alchemy that is not readily achieved so I was especially pleased that this bit is such a good example. I'll post a close up later so that the effect can be more easily seen.

The moth is inlaid in 62 separate bits of metal in what must be one of the most complex pieces of this sort of work done in the last 100 years. I'm not sure why I attempted this but once I got started it proved to be addictive and I think it was worth the effort.

According to people who have held it, the piece evokes a feeling of calm and refined elegance. What more can I ask?

This is the back of the metal disc, it's shakudo ( an alloy of copper and a small amount of gold ) This is the alloys characteristic black patina. It's really quite tricky to capture the depth of colour in a photograph so I've pushed the settings in photoshop a bit to better show the contrast. In reality it is a solid glossy black. The moth is depicted in the finest gold inlay but I'm not letting on how I do that bit just yet. The signature, or mei, reads; Fo oo do; Walking in the heavenly/kingly road. It's the go, or art name my teacher Izumi Koshiro, gave me 16 years ago when I first went to study with him in Tokyo.
I don't always sign my work in this way but on things that are more defined by the Japanese tradition it just seems to me to look right.

This is the back of the lacquered bowl showing the moon inlaid in mother of pearl and the clouds in a sprinkling of silver filings embedded in the lacquer.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

A little something I made last year

This little piece was made toward the end of last year. It's a metalworkers version of a netsuke. If these terms are unfamiliar to you they are basically small toggles that were used in pre-modern Japan to help secure various accessories to the sash ( obi) worn around the kimono.

This one measures about 4 cm across and is made up of the metal insert, the darker disc ( iron) which is set in a gold rim, and the wooden bowl, which acts as the frame.

The banana leaves are inlaid and carved brass ( well, variants of the alloy ) with a touch of silver depicting the rain streaks.

I've made about 14 miniature sculptures in this format and refer to them as the Metal Haiku collection. I think I've done enough of these, at least for now, and am now working on something quite a bit larger.

I documented the making of this piece photographically and will eventually get around to editing the vast record and making it into some sort of photo essay. I'll probably post it here.

Getting the attention of the Kami

I have yet to get around to really starting this blog but perhaps this photo of a little fella saying hello at a Shinto shrine will help motivate me. I spotted him while visiting a shrine complex with my teacher last year. He made such an appealing subject in that context that I couldn't resist. His mother seemed quite pleased that I'd seen him being so cute too.