I used to bemoan my lot when I didn’t have a big project to get my teeth into. I felt it was a barrier to my creative development and also to the development of my skill level. How was I to advance if my projects weren’t getting bigger all the time? Then I realised every project was a chance to move on, both creatively and technically. This was not some epiphany but rather a gradual understanding that every project that passes through my forge is an opportunity, regardless of its size or nature, to advance my skill base by perfecting the techniques I already know and developing new ones. It’s also an opportunity to develop new sculptural forms.
A case in point was several small business card holders I was making this week. It’s a very small job but very small jobs are sometimes what keep the wolf from the door. I approach each job, be it tools, architectural iron work, functional iron work or sculpture, as a piece of sculpture. This job was no different and I applied my own set of sculptural ideals to it.
Firstly, as with all my work, it must be fully-forged. I’m just not interested in fabrication, this is why I became a blacksmith. This, on the face of it, can seem to a lot of people as though I’m limiting myself. I don’t see it that way, for me working in this way leads to a greater level of creativity. I see it with my students all the time: by teaching them a few forging techniques, then challenging them to design anything using only those techniques, their creativity is boosted, not diminished. After all, necessity is the mother of all invention, so I hear.
Secondly, for me the cardinal crime in art/craft is creating a piece that blends into the background. I don’t want my work to be something you can just walk by without noticing. For me, it should be tactile, inviting people to touch and handle it, commanding attention. All too often I feel artists and craftspeople are trying to be stylish, to create a “classic” design. I don’t believe you can create a classic design by following styles or tends. I try to please or amuse myself and hopefully what I create will speak to other people. I hear people talking about adhering to the brief, I say “Feck any brief!”, if you have a good idea it will appeal to people. 90% of my customers are coming to me because they like my work and the way I make it. Usually their brief is as simple as “it has to fit into this space” or “it has to do this job”. In fact very few of my customers even ask to see a sketch of what I intend to do, they trust me and my response to their particular need.
So, this very small piece of functional sculpture – a business card holder – has to hold cards and those cards need to be easy to access. Other than my own preference for using forging techniques, I’m free to do whatever I like. I wanted the holder to work in conjunction with the cards, not against them. The point of this piece as I saw it was to bring attention to the cards, not overpower them. So I kept the form small, using simple techniques: hot cutting, pointing, necking, drawing out and bending a bar of steel 50mm wide, 6mm thick and 160mm long. These are all skills I’ve used before but as I’ve said, this presents another chance to improve them. To move forward in my chosen medium. To understand that medium a little better.
To make lemonade from my lemons.