A crown is one of those things that I suspect most metal workers idly think about as they wander through museums, looking at the metal work that has survived the centuries. There is a fascination with crowns, but it is one of those projects that one never really does.
A crown is mostly impractical, it’s really just a show piece. It’s a pretty significant commitment of materials and time, both of which are pretty closely guarded in the studios I know. Just what you do with it if you do make one? I figured that it was going to be one of those things that I idly daydreamed about as I sand my fingerprints off an almost finished piece. Sanding them off AGAIN, that is.
But artist dreams have a funny habit of materializing. Recently, I started working with a local theatre for a current production that requires not just some innovative costuming, but also a crown. As soon as I have permission and the proper links, I will include their information, but for now I can only record my journey as I build a real crown.
Like any good theatre, there is something different about the crown, but that is a reveal for a much later date.
With any commission, the process starts with getting ideas and images in front of the client and getting a basic idea in common. Then, build a paper mock up and have the client make changes.
Make those changes and build another stiff paper model. This really should not go on more than 3 times, but usually it will take three times to get to where you have the go ahead to cut some metal. Working in paper is really important for a few reasons; firstly that client can get a feel of the dimensional aspect of the piece and secondly, you will have a better idea of several of the challenges that are ahead. Things like how to join the elements, how much metal is needed, what tools you are going to need and any techniques that you will need to brush up on or just plain learn.
Time to play with a little more paper and make pattern pieces. The model will have had variations and not be as clean as the pattern needs to be, so once more pull out the rulers, compasses, protractors, pencils, erasers and scissors.
I did a complete layout of the five Flat Crescents to find out how much metal I would need to texture. I will need to texture before cutting as the hammered texture for the Flat Crescents deform the metal and I would end up with a lot of clean up if I cut first.
Time to cut. I have two jeweler’s saws, one with a deep throat which means that I can cut far into metal, although I will still not be able to get this completely cut. I’ll need to think of a way to get more access to the middle of the sheet which is a foot wide.
Usually, I can drill a hole along the line at a place where the angle of sawing will not be impeded by the edge of the sheet metal. This bought me a little bit more access, but I still had an area that my saw just couldn’t reach.
Since what I am cutting is the metal to be textured, I will still need to cut five Crescents that will be creased. Laying out two of these in places that will give me more access room seems to be the solution. The copper sheet metal is 1 foot wide and 3 feet long, so cutting these two Crescents is going to be a lot of moving me and trying to balance the metal so that I don’t snap too many saw blades.
A few notes on sawing. Paper templates are adhered to the metal with rubber cement in the WeaselWerks studio. Some people will use a scribe to mark out each shape directly on the metal, but I’m fond of the paper as I can write on it afterwards, which is sometimes necessary to remember which piece is which when doing fussy work. Sawing is done as close to the outside of the drawn line as possible. This can be a lot of turning, which can put tension and torque on the blade and snap it when you least expect it. This is why I buy saw blades by the gross.
Hurrah!!!! The copper to be textured has been liberated! Coffee time!!! Then – Fire Time!!!!
There should be a charcoal brick under the copper, but as I have not been able to find a number of my tools, I am using the asbestos pad, but have propped it up so that it does not sit directly on the desk top. I could also use a trivet that I have for torch enameling, but it has not been located as of yet either. I hate moving the studio! Annealing the copper with a torch will bring the copper back to a more pliable state.
It’s hard to see here, since the copper is so reflective, but there is some oranges, reds, blues and greens that show up after the annealing. Unfortunately, these will all fade rather quickly, but they are pretty while they last.
In regular light, the colors show up a lot better. Some artists will wax and seal copper at this point to try to preserve the flame painting, but even so, the copper continues to oxidize and fade into browns. This metal is sitting on a small steel block and some foam padding, waiting for me to beat the crap out of it. My neighbors are about to realize that I’m not really that quiet after all.
The round end of the ball peen hammer is used to mar the smooth surface of the copper. Every bit of the face of the metal gets hit, leaving a texture like the moon surface or scales, depending on whether you like to think about reptiles or not. The copper will gradually start to curve towards the steel of the hammer and this sheet will not be flat for very long. Additionally, the copper gets harder and harder as I hammer it, as well as brittle. It is possible to crack the copper if I don’t take it back and anneal it again.
A couple of trips through the annealing and cooling process has let me texture most of the sheet. I’ve even hammered this mostly flat twice and it is still curving a lot. This property of curving towards the harder steel hammer head combined with the copper spreading when sturck is how copper, gold and silver are “raised” to form bowls and cups from a single flat sheet of metal. I need a flat sheet though, so I will anneal this again and flatten it out by using a rawhide hammer on the back of the metal. The very center needs to be textured, but I can cut two Crescents at this point, which will make the annealing and texturing of the middle a little bit easier.
A interesting thing happened while I was doing the last bit of texturing to get to the picture above; the metal started singing to me. As I was hammering it, there was actually a musical sound being produced instead of just a metallic ping. This has to do with the curve that was being formed and the vibration moving along that curve. You can hear the same sort of sound by gently striking the side of a metal bowl, but I was surprised that I was hearing it so early in the forming process.
I think I will need to raise a copper vessel sometime soon. Maybe that would be why I bought three square feet of copper at one time!
I did get a lot of sawing done as well as some filing and sanding work, but I will post about that in a day or two.