Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Lost in Negative Space
In metal smithing we call designs with open areas cut into a pattern “piercing”. It usually involves careful thought, a lot of tricky cutting with a jeweler’s saw and much patience. I always loved piercing. I enjoyed the methodical process of drilling, setting the blade and the way the metal pieces fall away as you cut and the pattern emerges in the silver. But I always had a hell of a time figuring out the design because I had to think in terms of “negative space”. In other words the design was developed by thinking about what wasn’t there as opposed to what was there.
This serving set (A), which I made many years ago, is a good example of the process. Piercing, like most decorative steps, is done near the end of the project. I made the serving set almost completely before I set about to pierce out the spoon’s bowl. Piercing before forming the bowl and fabricating the handle socket and ebony handle could have resulted in the bowl shape becoming deformed as it is hammered into shape.
So the pattern for the piercing had to be carefully planned and laid out prior to any cutting. Failure to plan properly could result in days of labor creating the serving set being wasted if the pierced pattern, cut into the finished piece, wound up uneven or distorted because of poor planning. I spent a lot time sketching possible patterns. Here are a few sketches (B) I found in my design book from the 1970’s. You can see that I did not use this exact pattern for my final piercing but this will give you an idea of how the design is derived on paper before cutting begins.
Another reason for not piercing a piece before it is nearly complete is that the work always takes on a shape and character which may not have been planned for so the silversmith must be sure that the decoration chosen is in harmony with the final shape and proportion of the finished piece.