Repoussé is an ancient metalworking process that traditionally requires an artisan to use punches, mallets, and hammers. Using these tools, the artist works on the back of a piece of metal, pressing it to create a raised image on the front of the metal. A bowl filled with a gooey substance called “pitch” holds the metal in place during all the hammering. The counter technique to repoussé is “chasing,” in which you work the metal from the front, pressing and indenting it to create a pattern or image.
My version of repoussé and chasing substitutes a terry cloth towel for the bowl of pitch. I use various sizes of ball styluses and wooden clay-shaping tools instead of punches, hammers, and mallets. This technique works equally well on fired silver metal clay paper or on thin-gauge fine-silver or copper metal sheet.
- Metal piece (choose from):
- Metal clay paper: 2-in. (51 mm) square
- Fine-silver sheet: 24-gauge (0.5 mm), 2-in. (51 mm) square
- Fine-silver sheet: 16-gauge (1.3 mm), 6 x 2 in. (15.2 x 5.1 cm) (cuff)
- Metal clay slip
- Metal clay paste
- Metal clay syringe
- Metal clay toolbox
- Jeweler’s saw, blades
- Annealing station (optional): torch, fire-resistant surface (soldering pad, firebrick, or charcoal block), copper tongs
- Carbon or transfer paper
- Terry cloth
- Ball styluses: various tips
- Wooden clay-shaping tools
- Binder clips
- Bracelet mandrel
- Liver of sulfur
Preparing the metal
Choose either metal clay paper sheet or fine-gauge metal sheet to make this project, and follow the appropriate instructions, below, to prepare your metal.
Prepare metal clay paper sheet. Fire a 2-in. (51 mm) square of metal clay paper sheet in a kiln according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
NOTE: Do not burnish or tumble the fired sheet; this work-hardens the metal, making it likely to crack as you raise it with the shaping tools.
Prepare fine-gauge metal sheet. Use a jeweler’s saw and a 4/0 blade to cut a 2-in. (51 mm) square of 24-gauge (0.5 mm) copper or fine-silver metal sheet. If you choose copper sheet, be sure to anneal it periodically as you work.
Preparing the image
Images that have spare, clean lines work best for this project. Make a simple line drawing approximately 1 5⁄8 in. (41 mm) square. The image must fit within the dimensions of your metal piece, leaving about a 1⁄8-in. (3 mm) border.
As an alternative to drawing an image, you can modify a photograph, using photo-editing software. Uncluttered patterns like a simple Celtic knot, an Art Deco design, or the charming lines of a young child’s drawing are good candidates for this technique.
Carbon paper transfer
Prepare the transfer paper. Cut a piece of carbon or transfer paper slightly larger than your metal piece. Put the carbon paper carbon-side up on your work surface. Center the metal piece on the carbon paper. Use tape to secure one edge of the metal piece to the carbon paper.