Design is key to decorative metalwork. This may seem an obvious statement, but over the years I have found that many craftspeople are more led by training and technique than design, asking first ‘what can I achieve using this method’ rather than ‘what is the image I am seeking to create’, a question which leads the artist to find techniques that will achieve the desired result so that the final product is not compromised.
In many ways I have lagged behind many of my fellow smiths in my skill set and my technical abilities, all of which I have struggled to learn through necessity, having no formal training or the grounding of an apprenticeship. In fact many traditional smiths are unhappy about the free use of the title of blacksmith, adopted by artists and fabricators who choose to work in metal but lack many of the core skills. A rule of thumb for many is the ability to fire-weld, the ancient art of joining metals using forge and anvil alone and without the need for electric or gas welding. Fortunately I can scrape through this test with my limited experience of forging blades and a few successful welds, practised to justify the theft of my title. The title Artist Blacksmith, though worryingly grand, is an apt description, both to excuse the modern crop from the need to prove ourselves as farriers and nail makers, and to highlight this new attitude to the anvil, which in essence is design-
For me, pen and paper can never be replaced. I am not a luddite when it comes to new machinery and often make use of processes such as high pressure water jet cutting, led.
galvanising etc, but I believe that the authenticity of hand made work is lost when the perfection of the computer is involved in design. What people seem to admire about the blacksmith’s work is that every detail is individual, no two scrolls are the same and there is an organic feel, brought to life by the crude material we so love to heart and beat and bend.
Much of my work depends upon the eye to bring design to life. The hand and the hammer need only fulfill their roles in following the sketch. This is why I have to make my ideas work on paper before they ever enter the gloom of the forge.
The flat image on paper, though a vital step, often poses serious challenges. Initially I am content with the concept, but then, when the scrap of paper enters the workshop and I stand, tea in hand, staring at an empty bench, the puzzle of how this is going to be achieved begins.
In the case of this cockchafer beetle destined to be suspended between trees in a wood in Scotland, the sketch was transformed into a carved lump of oak wood, clad in a thin skin of stainless steel and then encased in a detailed carapace of copper. The final piece was hung between two mighty pine trunks at about 20ft above ground, using thin stainless steel wire cables and flexible straps.
The sculpture is now well known to the locals of Butterdean Wood in Scotland ans has been affectionately named Billy Witch!
David's book Artist Blacksmith Sculpture is available from Amazon