Floral forms and leaf work are among the most challenging types of metalwork. This is due, in part, to the visual delicacy that must be achieved in metal. Then there is the inevitable comparison with the ‘real things’ found in nature.
The range of leaf and floral motifs is as broad as the types of process that can be employed to achieve them. They can be incised, chased and made from sheet, plate, round or square bar, with processes that are hot in some examples and cold in others. This new series on floral motifs will cover the processes that produced everything seen here and more.
As you work through different leaf or floral forms realize that much of the leaf work seen in a historic context was the product of specialists. They were blacksmiths who just did leaf work in styles, and with tools, that they had begun to use as children in an apprenticeship. If they started at 10 years old, by the time they were 30, they had 20 years of focused experience.
Tips for Creating Such Patterns
As blacksmiths today, we are usually generalists rather than specialists so it may not be practical to focus and master the entire realm of floral process and effects. Instead, pick what you would like to master in the way of style and process, then learn the tools and techniques while doing test (practice) pieces.
Pay close attention to each step taken, each tool applied and the temperature (color) or annealing of the metal, so that specific adjustments can be made. Things to consider include a more polished, softer-edged tool to reduce tool marks; the need to anneal more often to end cracking, to use rivets instead of a weld or where to modify a pattern to make cutting easier.
Floral forms and leaf work, in architectural ironwork or furniture, need to be addressed at the drawing board before the first metal is cut or forged. Here are some things to work through at the drawing board, using a leaf as an example.
Purpose: What is the leaf supposed to do for the design? Is the leaf to fill a space, cover a joint between two or more bars, be a decorative flourish, add color?
This decision (“hmm, all of the above”!) leads to; Process choices: Will the leaf blank be repousse’ in sheet, forged and formed from bar stock or cut and chased from either a forged blank or sheet metal? Before this answer is chiseled in steel, one other consideration is…
Joinery: How will the leaf, as it fills a space, covers joints while adding a colorful, decorative flourish to the work, actually get ‘fastened’ to that work? In some cases, joinery can influence the choice of process. Hence, having decided the use or ‘purpose’ for the leaf, joinery and process are co-considered. What follows is an example.
The room divider shown above has bronze leaf work that covers joints in some places and serves as colorful finials in other places, such as on some scrolls. The leaves in both applications use the same patterns* and forming process. Where the leaves differ is in the joinery. The stem of the leaf that covers a joint is formed and then riveted onto the bar stock. The stem of the leaf at the end of a scroll is rolled into a tube and gas welded onto a forged bronze bar which is in turn brazed to the prepared end of a forged steel scroll. The leaf patterns had to bemodified so there was material in the right place for their respective joinery. Once these location-based joinery decisions are made, the process and pattern can be addressed.
Now it’s time to head to the shop. Full scale patterns with the joinery resolved and which are matched to the right materials, tools and process, will make floral forms and leaf work much easier.