Drawing on Metal

Susan Brooks' blurred lines

The story of my tools has a kind of romance to it. They belonged to my father and to other artisan chasers, sculptors and designers before him, going back over 100 years. Though we were in different artistic fields, he a sculptor, toy designer and model and mold maker, I a painter and jeweler, we used similar tools. When it came my time to use those tools, he gladly let me have batches of chasing tools and hammers and let me “pillage” his workshop. Some of the tools he made himself as needed for a particular project, others had been passed down to him. For over 25 years I have been using these tools on an almost daily basis, and still manage to find something I’d never seen or used before.

I come from a bohemian family who put their artistic skills to work.

Creative endeavors were pretty much the family business.  Art was all around: life sized figures of hammered copper, lead and stone sculpture by my father, floral and landscape paintings by my mother. Textiles, costumes and antiques, plus the work of family and friends, and quirky vignettes filled our home. What I saw around me would become lifetime inspirations for my work.

I have always loved the face and figure and repeating patterns. Negative/open space that exists between objects and people has always intrigued me, and often shows up in my work.

I came to making jewelry in an organic way. I was always picking up trinkets at flea markets and antique stores, buying and selling them, handling and examining them. One day it all became clear: In addition to my painting I could, and should, be making silver jewelry. 

I would figure out a way to transfer what I’d been doing in my paintings and drawings onto metal. Chasing and engraving would be just the thing.

Jewelry seemed right: after all, I had a lifelong love affair with it, acquiring my first real “jewel” at the age of six, a Victorian, cut glass bauble with paste embellishments. I was hooked.

I move freely between my mediums of figurative painting, drawing and jewelry, utilizing similar motifs and patterns in both. In jewelry, I might start with an idea based on a small part of one of my paintings or drawings, but mostly I just go directly at the metal as though it was a piece of paper. Years of drawing have loosened my hand into knowing where it wants to go. Sometimes, I’ll “draw” with an engraving tool or use a liner tool, then cut out the shape and negative space, and finally begin to chase my pattern and details in the metal. The ornamentation begins to reveal itself on the silver, one blow of the hammer on the tool at a time.

An important part of my process is the patina. I use liver of sulfur to completely blacken the piece, and then carefully remove some of it, in a subtractive manner. It gives the depth that I am looking for, as if it were a shadowed drawing.

These days the lines are blurred between painting and metalwork, and I no longer know which one informs the other.

For more information, visit susanbrooks.com.

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