Breathing new life into an ancient decorative art

Repousse is a form of relief sculpture in which a design is pressed into the reverse side of a metal sheet to create a three-dimensional surface on the front. Chasing is the reverse of repousse - where the design is pushed back from the top surface of the metal. Often, the two techniques are used simultaneously to stretch the metal to extreme dimensions.

Repousse has a long history, having been employed by ancient Greek, Egyptian and Native North American and South American cultures. The technique also became extremely popular in the decorative arts in 16th century Europe. This project combines the processes of repousse and "chasing" to design a piece that looks as if it may have been crafted by an ancient silversmith.

Process

  1. Create a design on the box using a variety of firm materials. Bend Twisteez wires, cut shapes from WonderFoam or gather "found" objects such as paper clips and buttons, and glue them onto the box. Use glue sparingly and do not glue anything where the lid overlaps. Set aside to dry.
  2. Since boxes may vary in size, it will be necessary to size the metal to fit the box. Measure box dimensions and add 1/2" for wrapping and overlapping the metal. Measure carefully and double-check before cutting to aviod waste. You also may want to create patterns on paper before transferring them to the metal. For sides: use a tape measure and/or rule to determine box dimensions and add 1/2" on top, bottom and one end for overlap. For bottom: place the box bottom-side-down and trace lightly around it. Add 1/2" on all sides for overlap. For lid: place lid top-side down and trace around it. Measure the amount needed for the lid, then add 1/2" for overlap.
  3. Cut shapes from metal. To make the metal easier to wrap and give it a tighter fit, use scissors to snip cuts in the area reserved for overlap. This will form tabs that can be wrapped individually and overlap one another.
  4. Apply the cut pieces of metal to the box. Do not glue the metal to the box surface - it needs to be able to stretch as it is worked with the embossing tools. Loose edges may be glued down when the tooling is done.
  5. Use the boxwood tools to gently press and define (or "chase") the edges of the shapes on the box. The metal may wrinkle as it stretches, but this will further enhance its texture. Wrapped edges may loosen as the metal is chased; simply push them back down to secure them in place.
  6. Place the lid on the box. The metal may need to be pressed flat in order for it to fit. The fit will loosen after the lid has been put on and removed a few times.
  7. Add black ink to the metal to add additional texture and definition. Two methods can be used: 1) Use a permanent black marker. Cover the entire surface, working the marker into deeply recessed areas. This method is best for small boxes with less area to cover. 2) Brush the metal surface with India ink. This may require several costs. A few drops of liquid soap added to the ink will help it adhere to the metal if "crawling" is an issue. Allow to dry. NOTE: ink will tend to rub off on hands, even when dry. Spray with Blick Gloss Fixative (21707-1005) to prevent rub-off.
  1. To bring back some of the metal color and further enhance the texture, lightly buff the raised areas with extra-fine sandpaper until the black is removed.
  2. Paint the inside of the box with gold acrylic paint.
  3. To protect surfaces from the box's metal edges, attach a felt pad to the bottom by tracing an outline of the box onto a piece of felt, then cutting it out and gluing it to the bottom of the box.
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