Saturday, May 11, 2013

obsessive chasing desire

...the process in which the metal artist yields to their need to strike one piece of metal, with carefully shaped tools, for a very long time. Chasing is like drawing but usually in 3D—creating lines and relief to sculpt an image into a metal surface.

My Obsessive Chasing Desire isn’t a problem. More likely, it’s a functional necessity since I have elected to learn to chase, to really learn to chase, to work at the level of artists that I admire from history, and in the present…

Sample “Iris” study, drawn and chased on a sheet of flat 18 gauge copper, 
3.25 x 3 inches, 2013.

It was with some trepidation that I approached multi-media artist and mega-chaser Jeff de Boer, hoping for mentorship on this journey.

Jeff lives in Calgary, and he has created lots of fabulous public art around this city, such as 2009's "Light, The Universe and Everything"; he maintains a busy studio just a few minutes from the downtown city centre. But why would he agree to teach me, anyone, who will just take up his time and make a mess in the studio? During 25 years of very successful studio practice, Jeff has frequently employed or mentored other artists, offering them the opportunity to learn his specialist techniques of metal forming, construction, and chasing, used to such sublime effect in his armour for cats and mice. All he knew of me as a student is that I desire to be very good—eventually—and that I am committed to try.

I have been working with Jeff since January (hence I’ve been massively distracted from writing blog posts), and have loved seeing the changes in my work. It’s still early days, and the forms are small-scale—for jewellery or small picturesbut lines are starting to flow smoothly, forms are more generous and details are more likely to occur where I want them to be.

I’m a teacher myself, so I can’t help but analyse the “how” of a teaching situation, and this isn’t rocket science: it’s all about regular practice, being present in the work, noticing what the tools and materials do, and taking on increasingly tough challenges. Alongside the massive over-excitement caused by stepping into Jeff’s studio every fortnight and seeing his work in progress (yep, kid in a candy store), I am really aware of bringing a beginner’s mind to work: facing risk, letting go of precious samples with 20 hours work invested, and embracing the likelihood of failure in order to learn. Everything is about inquiry.

Sample Celtic design, an abstracted form of “King Solomon’s Knot” * chased on a 24 gauge copper dome, 2.25” wide, 2013. 

I really want to get to the next level, and I’m quick to notice if I feel my technique isn’t good enough—yet. By investing my time (obsessing), I’m loving that with increased skill comes an ease of working, and that delicious feeling of “flow” pops up too—those moments when we seem to find ourselves grinning as we work, for no apparent reason. In this case it’s because however hard/intriguing/seemingly unnecessary it may be to get that really tiny piece of metal to move just a fraction of a millimetre over there, I’m really, really happy to be doing this.

Visit to see a wide range of Jeff’s work in cat and mouse armour, large-scale installations, space art, sculpture, and lots of “how to” pages.

*See Chapter 11 of “The Celtic Design Book” by Aidan Meehan. Published by Thames and Hudson.

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