Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Low-Tech Die Forming

A few weeks ago, I spent several worthwhile days in a metal arts class at Oregon College of Arts and Crafts. Keith Lewis, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Art at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, taught five eager artists how to make their own tools from dowels and Dahlrin and use them to repousse metal inside a die made of MDF and plywood.
After designing the form and tracing it onto the wood block, a jig saw is used to cut through all the layers to create the die. A hole is drilled in all four corners of the form and this is lined up with two pieces of copper and a brass "shim". A copper piece, the shim and the die are all screwed together and the fun begins.
With the aid of a hammer, repeated annealing and a lot of elbow grease, the copper is hammered through the die to form one half of your design.
Keith was an amazing instructor - patient, knowledgeable and very skilled at communication with his students. Very generous in sharing knowledge that extended beyond the topic at hand and with a wicked sense of humor we all appreciated. I learned more in his workshop that I have learned in an entire semester of a metal arts class.

Keith's finished pieces are fantastic and all that he brought were enameled to some degree. After we begged him to demonstrate his enameling, he agreed to demo his version of torch enameling on copper. After he carefully sifted glass grit on both sides of the copper (done to prevent the enamel from flaking off the surface as a result of the metal warping), he placed it on a trivet held with a hemostat and applied the torch flame to the bottom of the trivet until the enamel was red hot and smooth.

In addition, he demonstrated how to draw with graphite on a piece prepared with white enamel (the graphite glows cherry hot when heated) and how to use enamel watercolor and black enamel to enhance the design when finished. I can't wait to try all this out....oh, and best of all, I came out of the class with a "finished" piece, all ready to prep for the surface design.

To take a class with like-minded artists, from an excellent instructor in such an inspiring venue (the college is surrounded by natural landscape and trees)...well, I felt like I had found my personal nirvana. And now to the bench to finish my piece!!!


Suzanne Reynolds said...

What an interesting process, Jan! I hope you'll have an opportunity soon to show us what you make from the class.

Keith Lewis said...

Hi Jan,
Thanks for the glowing review! You guys were a great class!!
Best, Keith

Phil Renato said...

Nice. Might want to work on the spelling of Delrin® though - or you could use the chemical name polyoxymethylene, or POM, or the quick and generic acetyl or polyacetyl (which is how it's listed in a lot of different material catalogs:)

Jen Crossley said...

Oh Jan How I wish I could of gone to this class I so want to do that sort of thing with metal.Your bird is just too cute