“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
The process starts with research. This could be visual research or contextual research. In architectural pieces, we like to research the historical context of the area, explore the environment, and study the surrounding iron work to determine whether or not the piece will fit with the existing architecture. In some cases, we may look at existing work in the space as a springboard for updating the look or accurately restoring the existing ironwork. It is about ensuring the concept is not fighting with the building, rather is complementing and fusing with our work. If it is a commission base, then there is a lot of discussion with the client to find out what the client is trying to achieve with the piece. Some pieces, sculptures in particular, require going further, using primary research.
The design process is informed by the research. After taking visual cues and reviewing the information we have, we draft a design on paper. We then take that paper design and translate it into forged steel. Within the forging process there will be moments of serendipity. There are times the material moves in such a way that was unexpected which might change the design because we now know something the material is capable of that we didn't realize before. Because of this creative phenomenon, we try to leave room for growth within the design.
We like to make our own tools. As blacksmiths, we enjoy the unique ability to first build the specific tools that we need to do a job in the most accurate and beautiful way possible. We take great pride in the tools that we make, though many tools can be readily bought. Knowing we have the exact instrument needed in order to forge as precisely and flawlessly as possible, and knowing we designed and determined how to make the best tool for the job, lends to the confidence we have in our ability to create beautiful work. The extra time we take to ensure our tools are perfect gives me a sense of true ownership and pride in all the ironwork we create.
The forging process is when you actually manipulate the material and create the design. When we're forging metal, we want it to look forged – that is, we want the viewer to see that the metal was moved and shaped by hand. We don't want it to look as if machines did the work. We want to highlight the forging process. The part that we enjoy most about working with the metal is using traditional blacksmithing techniques to forge a design. we like to design our work to include as many traditional blacksmithing techniques as possible. The ability to see the hand-worked metal is key to distinguishing the work of a forging blacksmith from that of a fabricator or machine. Forging involves heating metal to around 2300°F and deforming or molding the material. Metal is a great material to work with because it goes through three different states: a solid, a liquid, and it also has a plastic state; which is somewhere in between. The plastic state is the malleable state; it is the state when the metal molds like clay. Because the window of time we have to work with metal in the plastic state is extremely limited, the challenge is figuring a way to execute the design idea within small snapshots of time while actually touching the material. If the metal has been twisted and squished and moved around, we want the viewer to know that happened. We don't want to cover it up. It is what makes the work beautiful.
Finishing is the final part of the job and is often overlooked. Finishing is taking a good piece and making it great. This is when an artist must have great attention to detail and patience, and although it seems like a small extra step, that little extra bit of love is what makes the piece truly complete.