Research

Pile of necklace form dies

About 11 years ago I graduated from FSU with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree, ever since then I've come to accept there is a current of science that underlies artistic expression. I have conceded that I am a researcher creating and testing theories of expression overlaid on top of experiments in forms and materials. In looking at a retrospective for most visual artists, this can clearly be seen.

As time goes on, my research goes from a broad area to ever finer extremities of the medium. One year I spent the entire winter learning how to “stretch” a small brass wire without breaking it. Another year I learned how to draw with bronze rod and a torch. This year I'm learning how to do die forming, and I wanted to share what that looks like with you.

20 ton press set up for die forming

First off, what is die forming? It is when you take a form (a die) and use it to repeatedly shape metal. My true goal is not the repetition, but it is more geared toward creating complex forms in sheet metal. In order to do this process, you need a positive die, a negative die and something to press the two together with a lot of force.

For the compression part of this puzzle, I made myself a 20 ton hydraulic press a few months ago (yes, it takes the full 20 tons to do this). I then created a “chamber” and a “ram” that fits tightly inside. A thick piece of urethane that tightly fits inside the chamber becomes my “negative” to any die I decide to make.

Dies in their first stage of creation

Creating the positive dies is where the experimentation and curiosity really lies. First, I had to create a die that can take 40,000lbs of pressure repeatably. It also had to be able to be made extremely smooth so the metal would release after being pressed on. After a number of experiments I learned that steel reinforced bronze was the best suited to substrate material.

Dies getting refined

A plate freshly struck

Next I needed to understand how the die impacts the metal being pressed on to it. Immediately, the metal being struck started to rip and crack under the stresses. Finding the allowable angles and understanding their interplay as the metal is formed is incredibly complex and I do not want to claim expertise—I'm still learning and experimenting here.

After I muddled my way through getting the angles correct, I then had to start thinking about how these forms would work in a complex composition. Be it a fine art necklace, earrings, bracelets, etc—just because a form is struck does not mean it will look good in conjunction with a human. On top of that, a form can be cut, pierced and bent in innumerable ways after it has been struck.

This blog post is anticlimactic because there is no real conclusion. The research into metal forms goes on and on, but that is the point—understanding the language then using my voice to speak it, that is art. Thanks for reading!

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