Repoussé is a very ancient technique. Skilled craftsman from the early Etruscans onward have made incredible objects using this process.
Repoussé is the direct forming of metal to create sculptural reliefs. Here, you actively work the metal to create forms and images. This is done with the use finely shaped tools and a specialty hammer called a chasing hammer. The metal is held in a substance called pitch which allows you to develop the image by hammering into it with use of these tools. Forming on the back side, repoussé, is the beginning. Working on the front side is called chasing, and it begins the refining process. This back and forth procedure goes on until the image is complete. It takes a long time develop the form, starting with a very roughed out shape, then slowly capturing motion, detail and feeling.
The end result is a piece of metal that has been transformed from a cold machine-milled surface to a sculpture that has texture, form and personality, where every millimeter has been worked and reworked. The manipulation of metal, the ability to move and control it, has captivated repoussé artist Linda Kindler Priest for many years. “I have sculpted in gold and silver all sorts of wonderful birds, bugs, beasts, fish and flowers.”
Repoussé is the process that I use to sculpt my reliefs. It is an ancient one, where you can achieve interesting forms and fine detail. You can form anything from pyramids to porcupines. The part that I like about it is that it is so direct. I am actually pushing metal itself, with the use of finely shaped tools and a wonderful strange shaped hammer called a chasing hammer. The technique is simple, but is extremely time consuming. The metal only allows you to move it a little at a time, before it needs to be soften, annealed. Because I am working in a small scale and need both hands, one to hold the tool/ punch and the other to tap the back with the hammer. It is necessary to sink the sheet of metal into something that will hold it and support it. I use non toxic pitch, in a bowl that is a hemisphere. This bowl allows me to get into areas that otherwise would be difficult.
Basically I start by working on the back stretching the metal to acquire the placement and the volume that I need. This might take a few times in and out of the pitch. Then I turn the metal over, I begin refining the image. Working on the front is technically called chasing, even though you might be doing the same sort of stretching as you did on the back. Refining an image takes a long time, it is the subtle difference that are important, it can mean that a king rail might look like a plover, with a missed placed tap. Other details such as feathers, fish scales and fur all are time consuming. They also might require special tools, punched to be made. At this point I have made or acquire over 100 tools, each different, some with only very subtle difference. I still am refining, reshaping tools as I work. This is a wonderful process, it is personal because it is so direct, I feel a bit of me becomes embedded into each of my sculpted reliefs.