You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2015.

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There are times when I feel compelled to write about a certain topic.  Today I would like to share the story of my Treescape series.

On September 15, 2011 while I was at the Denver Gem and Mineral Show, Treescapes was born.

I purchase a number of my stones from Mark Lasater of The Clamshell.  On that particular Thursday in September, as we greeted each other, he was very excited about a new batch of Dendritic opals he had.  Mark knew this was (and still is) one of my favorite stones.  He said to me,  “You won’t believe what these look like”.  Each one had a beautifully shaped tree, formed by the black dendrites in perfect contrast to the white in these stones.  It was remarkable and this was the first of those stones he showed me.

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Dendritic Opal

The minute I saw this, I knew exactly what my design would be.  That was a first for me.  What I didn’t know at the time was I was about to find my artistic voice.

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The Inspiration

Treescapes has grown (yes a bit of a pun here) and evolved since then.  Initially I was just focused on the Dendritic Opals that had tree shapes in them.   The response to those designs was wonderful and I started to think I could use other stones whether they had any tree elements to them or not.

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Variscite with Orange Garnet tube set 

It’s in my nature to try to understand the ‘why‘ about things.  I wanted to understand why this series was becoming so important to me.

I love trees and that is the foundation of Treescapes.  My work has always been very organic.  While I find symmetry beautiful, you will rarely see that in my pieces, because I am drawn to the uniqueness of leaves, flowers, trees; those elements in nature where nothing is identical.  I explain to people that just as no two snow flakes or leaves are exactly alike, neither is any of my work.  Each pieces is designed and made by hand, my hands.  The goal with my art is to reflect that uniqueness found in nature.

In addition to that, my father was a landscaper, as was his father.  However, as I look back on the work they did, they were true artists.  There were many times I went with dad as he worked his magic with a landscape.  His father taught him how to create beautiful lattice work accents (bridges, decorative elements for buildings, etc.).  I watched, observing the care my father had for the trees and plants he tended.  I believe that is where my deep appreciation and respect for nature started.  This is the ‘why‘ behind Treescapes; my dad, his father, it’s in my blood.

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This is one of the last remaining works of my grandfather in the park of my home town.

As I create the pieces in the Treescape series, things just flow for me.  The ideas, designs come easily and it feels almost effortless.  Each piece is unique like my fingerprint.

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I am so grateful that this work still calls to people.  I will continue to make these pieces because they are my heart, my voice, my essence, my soul.  My dad’s birthday was this past Friday, January 23.  While he left this world in 2005, never seeing his influence on my art, I have this sense that my dad is happy with these works and smiles knowing his influence is there.  I have my ‘why‘.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

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Chasing Hammers by Saign Charlestein

I am officially resuming my Talkin’ Tools segment.  For this one, I would like to share my experiences with Chasing Hammers.   There are A LOT of  chasing hammer manufacturers and I certainly cannot give a comprehensive assessment, however, I can provide my insights and opinions on the ones I have and use.

Last summer, I had what I considered to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn Chasing and Repousse from Il Maestro Fabrizio Acquafresca.  It was a great experience and ignited a passion within me for this technique.  I’m pretty sure the chasing hammer Fabrizio was using was one that had been handed down for generations.  It had that wonderful aged look from use and care.

This is the hammer that came in our kits.

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Nice weight and it has rounded face.  I have discovered that I actually prefer a flat face because it gives me better striking surface. This picture shows the differences between a flat face and rounded.

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It certainly is not a high end, quality chasing hammer, but it does the job and is great for getting a feel for the technique of chasing and repousse.  One thing that happened  during the 5 day workshop with Fabrizio is the head of this hammer became loose with use. Fabrizio fixed it with the well placed insertion of a nail as shown in the photo below.

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Now I will never give this hammer up for many reasons, but it is no longer my hammer of choice when doing Chasing and Repousse.

I have a variety of econmonical chasing hammers ranging from $15 – $30 is cost per hammer; I also have some high end, quality chasing hammers that I will discuss toward the end of this post..  The reason I have a number of the less expensive hammers is because they are a good all around hammer for working with stamps, punches, dapping blocks and forging metal, like creating the frames for my Treescape pieces.

This is the first chasing hammer I purchased when I began metalsmithing.  It came from Allcraft and is a solid hammer with many years of service in its future.  It was roughly $30 about 8 years ago.  The handle needs a bit of smoothing and a tip from the workshop was you can use the edge of a piece of glass to gently smooth the handle.

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Pictured below is another chasing hammer I purchased through Thunderbird Supply during one of their overstock sales.  It is heavy and very solid.

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One thing you will find with the less expensive chasing hammers is the quality of wood used isn’t as nice, they are not as well balanced for hammering and the handle shapes are not as well defined.

You’ve probably noticed that all these pictured have a bulbous end.  That is designed for comfort and to help with how you grip the handle.  It reminds me of instructions I received when playing tennis; grip the handle like you are going to shake hands with it.  Not too tight, a nice gentle and relaxed grasp.

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Place the ‘bulb’ end in the palm of your hand.

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Wrap your fingers around the bulbous handle with a gentle grip.

Drum roll please.  My indulgence in a great, quality chasing hammer came with my purchase of this one from Saign Charlestein, owner of SC Studios LLC.  It has 4 ounce head.  Perfectly balanced.  Higher quality Osage orange wood for the handle.  Superb craftsmanship.

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You may think it is too beautiful to use, but that definitely isn’t the case.   You can find a variety of Saign’s hammers, chasing tools and tutorials on his website, Metalsmithing-Tools.com.  The design of the handle and the wood Saign uses is such that it allows for the correct movement/action when hammering.  This helps to prevent injuries that can occur with repetitive use of the hammers in metalwork.   Trust me, you want the hammer to do the work, not your body.  Correct grip, use your wrist.  This hammering technique is one best learned in a workshop or by watching videos put together by people like Saign or Fabrizio.

As with any tool, proper grip and technique are imperative for achieving the desired result.  At the end of the workshop with Fabrizio, he told me to keep hammering.  Practice is the key to success with anything.  I try to hammer every day, but that is not always possible with my schedule.  I will say that when you have a quality hammer, like the ones Saign produces, they do help you to develop the correct hammering action.

Remember posture is just as important.  Don’t hold the handle with a death grip as that will not only fatigue your hand and arm, but will result in your body absorbing some of the ‘shock waves’ from the hammer blows.  Gently grasp the hammer in your hand.  Move your wrist in action with the hammer usage.  It should be a nice flowing action.  For chasing, your work surface should be at chest level which requires the proper chair height and work table.  I am more comfortable when I sit more upright and do not hunch over my pitch while chasing.

This Christmas, I treated myself to the purchase of a set of Saign’s hammers.  I wanted the different weights so I could select the right hammer for working with my designs.  The lightest head here is 2 ounces for detail and texture work up to 3.5 and 4.5 ounces to get the job done.  These have become my work horses for the designs I create.

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Now you may wonder what size is right for you.  It just so happens that Saign posted a video discussing Chasing Hammer Sizing on this past Tuesday.  Please take a look as he does a great job answering the question.

Could I find comparable hammers for less money, no doubt.  Would I be as happy with them, I really don’t think I would.  In this case, my opinion is you get what you pay for.  I have a number of Fretz hammers.  They are truly beautiful.  I love the Fretz texture hammers I have.  However, the head on my Fretz chasing hammer  is loose.  In part, because I live in Colorado where it is very dry and the wood shrinks.  I’ve heard of a number of solutions, but I’m not comfortable trying any of them, so the Fretz hangs on my peg board above my bench.  I can tell you that it does not have the weight or balance the Saign’s hammers do.

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I also have a wonderful selection of N C Black Hammers and I am extremely happy with them; however, to my knowledge they do not make a chasing hammer.  If they did, I’m certain I would be very happy with the quality of theirs based on my experience with the others I have.

These are Japanese chasing hammers.  They look quite different from the others mentioned so far.  They are small in design to fit with the smaller, lighter Japanese chasing tools and chisels.  I do enjoy using these.  Their hammering action is quite different from the others, but I find them great for applying textures.  They also have flat hammer faces.

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Ideally, if you can ‘test drive’ a hammer before purchasing it, that’s the best route to go.  Everyone’s hands are different and some may fit you better than others.  I’ve been pretty fortunate with the selections I have made.

For more information on the topic of Chasing and Repousse, some resources I frequently use are

When you have the right hammer and practice practice practice….the joy of moving metal into beautiful shapes is absolutely magical.

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This is one of my latest Aspen cuffs.  I think the reason I enjoy these so much is the Aspens in our back yard have served as my models.

I hope you have enjoyed the return to Talkin’ Tools.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

 

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Celebrate 2015

There’s an exhilaration with the start of a new year.  The anticipation of what the year holds in store for us and what changes we may make in our own lives.

One of the first things that Dan & I did to celebrate the arrival of 2015 was to have an Art Date.  We went to see Brilliance: Cartier in the 20th Century at the Denver Art Museum.  What a treat.  It took a little over 2 hours to see the exhibit of Cartier’s work.  A feast for the eyes and a delightful glimpse into some of the past eras where tiaras where the norm for the wealthy, fanciful tributes to Egyptian artifacts as people were caught up in the excitement surrounding the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, wonderful timepieces, and stylish cigarette cases when smoking became the fad to name just a few of the highlights.  While I don’t even come close to working with precious gems and the type of clientele like Cartier did, I do have an appreciation and admiration for the designs, works and craftsmanship.  If you live within a 100 mile radius of Denver or even a tad further, I think it is well worth the trip to see this feast for the senses.  The exhibit runs through the middle of March 2015.

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The jeweler’s desk is very messy.  It has to be that way.”  How true!

I think this bench at the exhibit is one of the most photographed by those of us who are jewelers.  I have an ongoing battle with the state of my bench.  The more the creativity flows, the messier it gets.  However, it reaches a threshold where I have to clear and re-organize.  Yet I find this quote such a wonderful affirmation.

As I’m looking at this bench, it is a confirmation of my thoughts at the end of 2014 that I needed to resume the Talkin’ Tools segment of my blog.

Talkin’ Tools Revisited

A number of years ago I started a segment called Talkin’ Tools.  To this day, those posts generate the greatest number of visitors to my blog.  My first post was on the purchase of a KnewConcept saw.  However, the idea for this actually came from my husband, Dan.  We were talking about one the most popular posts I had; it was related to the purchase of my Cliff Carroll anvil, which I called 35 lbs of Pure Metalsmithing Joy.  Dan suggested that I have features where I discuss my experiences with the tools I use.  From that, Talkin’ Tools was born.

The idea for tool reviews had been on my mind, because of my frustration with the lack of independent reviews on jewelry making equipment.   I wanted to provide helpful information about the equipment I use in my studio.  With the continued visits to that post on the anvil, it was as if people were telling me to write reviews.  So I did for a couple of years and then it lost momentum with me and I stopped writing my evaluations.

After seeing this work bench at the Cartier exhibit, I felt like it was time to revisit sharing my experiences.

In conjunction with that, I would also like to introduce you to a fellow metalsmith and friend, Melissa Muir.  Some of you may already know her, follow her blog, enjoy her Tool Time Tuesday posts and YouTube videos.  If not, I encourage you to get acquainted because Melissa freely shares her knowledge and skills, along with her evaluations on jewelry making equipment and how to use them.  I think our respective blogs are a nice compliment to each other.  Plus we both want to help others with the information we share in our posts.  Here’s a link to Melissa’s latest Tool Time Tuesday where she discusses bench shears vs guillotine shears.  Check it out, I think you will enjoy it.

So stay tuned because Talkin’ Tools resumes on Friday, January 16, 2015.  My topic will be chasing hammers and how I use them for Chasing and Repousse work.

Know that I will continue to share my experiences in this fascinating world of metalsmithing.  Please join Melissa in her journey too.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and person.

Kathleen Krucoff


Artist and Metalsmith

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