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Hibiscus – Photo by Daniel Krucoff

…….things just click!

I’m happy to report that it happened again for me while I was working on this cuff.

Hopefully, all of us have experienced that moment when things just start to come together and work right. Something akin to when you learned how to ride a bike. Balance, turning, forward momentum and braking all come together in perfect, effortless harmony. It becomes second nature and requires little conscious thought.

Years ago, my primary medium was glass. Oh how I wished I could cut glass with ease, without thinking about it. That FINALLY happened after a ton of practice. What accelerated that perfect touch was many hours of cutting strips of glass for the fused bowls I was making. The mechanics of the right pressure just clicked.

In 2009, metal became my medium. In some aspects, I was starting all over again. In other areas, I was enhancing skills I had developed as a budding artist back in my teens. You see, I know and have found that everything we do develops a skill set that we can build upon. Some are fortunate to start early and stick with it. Others, like me, tend to bounce around until we find our true passion.

Over the past several weeks, I have returned to the studio to create new works for an upcoming exhibition.  All the work will be completed using the metalsmithing technique of Chasing and Repousse. I love working in metal and this technique allows me to create in a way I never imagined. In June of 2014, I took a workshop from the Italian Master, Fabrizio Acquafresca and found my true passion ~ Chasing and Repousse.

There are MANY important aspects to this technique. For me, the hardest part has been proper use of the chasing hammer with the tools. I knew it would just take practice. Fabrizio and others confirm that practice is essential. It is. I know it. My commitments have interfered with my ability to work on this technique as much as I want and need.

Now, as I’m preparing for an exhibit, I am in the studio every day working, practicing, striving to be better. Some days my muscles are unhappy with my demands. I take breaks, I stretch and do my best to give my body the rests it needs. Remember these breaks are just as important as the practice. When I am tired, my muscles fatigued, things don’t work well and mistakes will happen.

However, that moment I sought, when perfect harmony with hammer and chisel finally happened. It took place on a recent Sunday. I had finished the details of this cuff and now it was time to work on the non-raised sections; the border area. Fabrizio has a set of special square tools (pictured below) that he uses to complete a smooth, finished surface.

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I have struggled with this aspect ever since that workshop almost 2 years ago. This time, I was determined to figure it out, make it work and succeed. As I started to hammer, I could see the surface was moving as I wanted it to.  It’s a smooth ‘texture‘ if you will.  I realize that sounds like a contradiction, but these tools create a soft finish. Here’s a close up of one of the edges, showing the details of the cuff.

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The awareness that took place as I hammered was I was finally striking the tool with a purpose. Before I was ‘hammering like a girl‘….ya that old saying of ‘you throw the ball like a girl’. Whatever. I was using my chasing hammer like I meant it. The strikes were not this random flailing of mediocre blows. The hammer strikes on the top of my tool were direct, with intent. All the aspects of how to create this movement were coming together. I was holding the square chisel correctly, positioning it correctly on the metal’s surface and striking it with the hammer with forceful purpose.  I could feel everything was working together in harmony and that’s the a-ha key moment of revelation. I got this. I’m doing this. Yay me!

The reason I want to share this story and my thoughts are to encourage you. One of the worst things we do as individuals is compare ourselves to others. That serves no purpose. There’s always going to be someone who’s better at something than you are and you are better at somethings that others aren’t. Just be the best that you can be. If you are dissatisfied with something, work on fixing it. I was never happy with my hammer skills. Yet I persisted and practiced. Am I where I want to be yet? No. Anyone who is a true master of their craft continues to practice and work at it. Ansel Adams did, Picasso did, I know Fabrizio does and I know I have to because I want to grow and become a better artist. Practice, determination and persistence are my allies. If you want to be better at anything, let them become your allies too.

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

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Check out my latest and greatest hammers and forming blocks from NC Black!

This past Sunday, I was able to attend a demo by Andrea Kennington & Les Bryant of NC Black, which took place at Cottonwood Center for the Arts in Colorado Springs.

As many of you know, I love tools.  I have wanted to explore some additional metalworking techniques ever since Annie of NC Black did some demos at our Colorado Metalsmithing Conference this past July.  Now I have what is considered a starter set of their mini forming tools and I will be practicing….a lot!

The techniques that I will be exploring and learning are called shell forming:   anticlastic raising and synclastic metal forming.

Michael Good is probably best know for his anticlastic work.  Betty Helen Longhi’s work shows more beautiful examples of the synclastic style.  For a good overview on these metal forming techniques, visit these Ganoksin links:

Right now I’m not sure how I will incorporate these techniques in my work.  I love  learning new things.  It is good for me to challenge myself and see how these techniques may be applied to my future works.

Andrea is one of my Facebook friends, so it was great to meet her in person.  She shared a number of things about herself and the company she formed, that added to my respect and admiration of her.

I would like to share a bit of Andrea’s story.  She apprenticed under Betty Helen Longhi and was a production jeweler for many years.  She would teach a few workshops each year.  For those workshops, she made the tools the students would need to use and those tools would be part of the student’s kit that they would take home after the workshop.  She said she never set out to make hammers.  She made a limited number of them each year for the workshops she taught.  But demand for those tools increased and she really didn’t have the time, people or facility to produce hammers.  That all changed….

When the economy took its toll on a few of her friends (they were laid off), that became the impetus for a partnership to form NC Black.  The tool manufacturing company started 31 months ago and  today employs around 18 people.  Impressive.

There is a direction that many artists in the United States are advocating and that is buy American made products.  Andrea is supporting that cause with NC Black, using steel and wood from the US.

Here are a few examples of the work Andrea and Les demonstrated for us.

I shot a few video clips so I can refer back to them as I practice.  I wanted to share this one as an example of one of the techniques they demonstrated.

Next March, they will be back in Colorado Springs at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts to teach a workshop and I am ready to sign up.  One of the encouraging things Les told us was that one could pick up these techniques in about 4 hours.  Now, mastery of them comes with a ton of practice.  We all have to start somewhere, right?

I definitely like the quality of their tools.  An added bonus for me is knowing the people behind the company.  It was a pleasure Andrea and Les!  Looking forward to spring 2012 when you return to Colorado Springs.  I am an eager student.

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

One of the vendors that joined us for the Colorado Metalsmithing Conference was NC Black Hammers.  I have had my eye on their  hammers for a while and at the conference I was able to watch demos, hold the different ones they had, and try to decide which one I wanted.

As you can tell from the photo, I chose this beauty.  It’s called an Engraver’s Hammer.  However, I’ve been using if for a few other metalworking functions in my studio.  As silly as it may seem, I was particularly drawn to the way the head is shaped.

Not only do these hammers have beauty, but more importantly, they have function.  The one I purchased has wonderful weight and balance.  I am happy I chose it.  It also looks great with the rest of the hammers on the peg board above my bench.  Again I need to thank my dad for instilling a deep appreciation for tools….good, quality tools.

Annie Grimes Williams, of NC Black Hammers, did the bulk of the demos I saw.  Not only was I impressed with Annie’s skill with the hammers, but her patience and friendliness were a real plus because there was no pressure to buy.  I like that.  The products spoke for themselves.  Thanks Annie!  During one of my many stops at their table, she was showing how to use their Micro Closing Hammer with their forming stakes as she was creating a nice copper bracelet.  Fun to watch and of course, that Micro Closing Hammer with the Purple Heart Micro Forming Block have gone on my tool wish list.

I imagine many of my metalsmithing friends are familiar with NC Black’s products.  If you aren’t, I would definitely recommend trying one of their hammers.  Great quality and value.

Please take a moment to check out their Fan Page on Facebook too…you will see some pictures they took at the conference along with more info about their hammers and workshops.

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

Kathleen Krucoff


Artist and Metalsmith

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