Jump to content
Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

Recommended Posts

Jim, I just want to say wow, on everything I've seen on here. You have blown my mind, I love how much detail and life and you plant into all of your pieces...

 

Thank you so much for showing the endless possiblities.

 

Brent

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jim, I just want to say wow, on everything I've seen on here. You have blown my mind, I love how much detail and life and you plant into all of your pieces...

 

Thank you so much for showing the endless possiblities.

 

Brent

 

Thanks very much Brent, but I hope nobody thought those photos just above were of my work. They are from Shoami Katsuyoshi.

 

Jim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jim, you said there was going to be banjos... :unsure:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jim,

 

first off, OMFG those Okama tsuba are unbelievable, the sensitivity of the first and the way it goes from line to form...

 

but anyway,i'm so glad that Don chose to interview you: you have pretty much been my favorite living artist since i first saw your work on a Lois Mills tanto. i love how you have incorporated your own surrounding flora and fauna into a tradition which is often seen as quite static, and, along with Andy Goldsworthy (not that i'm comparing you), yours is the work that has made me face and re-evaluate my relationship with nature and the environment around me.

 

i wonder if you might address a couple of questions (with my apologies to Don for hi-jacking his thread):

 

there is a great sense of serenity in much of your work - do you find the work itself to be meditative, or is it more of an end result? how do you get past the inevitable frustrations that metal work presents?

 

i've noticed that you are not adverse to using rotary tools, air gravers, etc in your work - do you feel there is a tension between modern equipment an traditional techniques?

 

can you talk a little about the specific techniques you use - do you envision a piece first, and then decide which techniques will best create it, or do you want to work with a certain group of skills and then design the piece to suit that? with your use of gold, for example, how do you determine if something should be inlayed, overlayed, or gilded/fused (i'm assuming from your avatar and the moth you posted earlier - i'd love to know how you did that...)

 

thanks,

 

jake.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jim, you said there was going to be banjos... :unsure:

 

Jol, thanks for reminding me. Things a little hectic now getting ready for the Smithsonian Craft Show. I'll try to find those this weekend.

 

Thanks Jake. Much grist for the mill there. I'll be back! :unsure:

 

Jim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jim, will you be attending the Smithsonian show yourself, or just sending in your work?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jim, will you be attending the Smithsonian show yourself, or just sending in your work?

 

Hi Christopher. Yes, they require that I be present. I have considered sending an alias, but Brad Pitt is busy. :lol:

Please stop by if you have the chance.

 

Jim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's my anniversary weekend, and I was hoping to catch a flight back home for it... I may have to make time to see you and your work in person.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Christopher, I hope you can make it.

Jol, I found some old slides of guns 'n banjos.

Here are two Colt recoil shields, a tenor banjo and a peghead detail of, I think, a 5 string, which was about the fanciest pearl inlay I ever did. The banjos are from the late 70s and the Colts from the early 80s.

 

coltrecoil.jpgcoltbuffalo.jpg

tenor.jpg

peghead5string.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
there is a great sense of serenity in much of your work - do you find the work itself to be meditative, or is it more of an end result? how do you get past the inevitable frustrations that metal work presents?

 

jake.

 

Again, thanks Jake for your comments.

 

The work can be meditative, usually after I get it to a certain stage. Before that, it can be very anxious wondering if it's going to happen. I know I'm on the right track at a certain point, when the composition is established, I can go into a kind of "soft-focus" mode and see what I should do next. There can be at this point, a palpable feeling of connection with the creature or landscape I'm trying to present. Hard to explain this, but it's about the coolest feeling of attunement I have felt. Maybe something like jamming with musicians when you're really in the groove.

 

The frustrations are part of the deal. Every piece is a little different. Sometimes more risks are taken and sometimes I need to do something that's fairly predictable. A difficult part of Japanese alloy work is that the patination/coloration is the absolute last part of the process, so you really don't know exactly how something is going to look until it's done. The colors, based on which alloys you choose, themselves are predictable, so familiarity and experience help. If it's a new composition, you don't fully know until it's all done.

 

I have a bucket, like probably most of us do with projects chalked up to "learning experience".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for taking the time, Jim. Ever since you mentioned that you did some inlay on banjos I've wanted to see 'em. They look great!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
i've noticed that you are not adverse to using rotary tools, air gravers, etc in your work - do you feel there is a tension between modern equipment and traditional techniques?

 

thanks,

 

jake.

 

To me, this sort of tension could only exist if I thought I was doing something at odds with tradition, which I don't believe is the case. My position on power tool use is very simple; if a tool is 1) useful, without sacrifice in quality, 2) comfortable both physically and philosophically, and 3) affordable, then why shouldn't it be used?

 

It seems to me there are basically three possible motivations for power assist: 1) speed*(see below, end of post), 2) control and 3) reduction of repeated stress injuries. Perhaps there are more, and not all power assist tools will offer the same degree of these aids. Any one of these aids, in my mind, could be motivation enough.

 

The potential downsides are 1) dependence on power, usually electricity, 2) cost and 3) potential buggering through over aggressive use or loss of control.

 

I do advocate that anyone should be thoroughly experienced and capable in the manual operations, such as filing, sawing and chiseling. There are clearly some operations where power assist is not helpful, and there is some grey-area here, but being thoroughly skilled with hand-tools will equip us to make reasonable choices. You will also be able to function if, for whatever reason, you find yourself without power.

 

Obviously reasonable people will disagree on what is personally comfortable for them, both physically and philosophically. This is only human and should not lead to judgement about what someone else is doing or not doing. Everything we make and do has a cost, and each of us will have to find their own way of balancing the variables.

 

Having said all this, I have to say that the most enjoyable processes to me are the sawing, hand filing, chasing and engraving that I can look forward to, having slogged through some of the earlier rough-out work. I would rather spend as much time as I can on the finesse work. In a way, I see the power assist as taking over the function of apprentices who used to do the tedious grunt work. I doubt that some of the more time consuming pieces I've done, would have been made, had the power aids not been available.

 

*Speed, mentioned above, does not mean haste, but rather the purposeful, efficient rate of working through initial processes. It's up to each of us to decide how our time is best spent.

 

Thanks,

 

Jim

Edited by Jim Kelso

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
can you talk a little about the specific techniques you use - do you envision a piece first, and then decide which techniques will best create it, or do you want to work with a certain group of skills and then design the piece to suit that? with your use of gold, for example, how do you determine if something should be inlayed, overlayed, or gilded/fused (i'm assuming from your avatar and the moth you posted earlier - i'd love to know how you did that...)

 

thanks,

 

jake.

 

Kerry also asked earlier if I had a complete vision of a piece before I begin working.

 

Most of my recent work starts with a concept that is a mix of the form and detail. These concepts can linger in my mind for years or sometimes spring forth unexpectedly. My wife Jean often will do a small drawing on her own or perhaps after I've mentioned a subject or maybe after we've seen something together. I have separate lists of form concepts and motif/detail concepts. I try to let the merging of these two "happen". Anyway, the end design sorts out in different ways as a mix of the above.

 

Always, I believe, technique should be at the service of artistry or your vision.

 

I've worked at developing a range of techniques that allows me to express a connected moment with nature in what I hope is sympathetic with the nature of the materials I have chosen.

 

The woods I use, the Japanese alloys and other materials are all chosen for a sympathetic effect. Sometimes a piece is driven somewhat by a choice of material when I am struck by a color or texture combination.

 

I always start with a drawing that is quite detailed. The actual work will dictate changes in the plan, because as things take 3D form, that form will suggest things that weren't apparent in the 2D plan. I like to go into a low-light, soft-focus mode often, as the work progresses, as things in the shadows can suggest themselves.

 

I'm attaching two photos: 1) of a contemplation screen which in Japan are called kenbyo, in Ebony and shibuichi. The waterfall and rock are in seven different pieces of shibuichi, in four different alloys, so there was a lot of planning and drawing involved. As the work progressed, the 2)photo of the design, shows how I changed some of the design so there are some variants in the mylar patterns used to transfer the design to metal. about 5" tall

best4130.jpg

drawing.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am showing the piece above because I had a good photo of the drawing and patterns I used.

I should add that I was inspired to make this piece by an ink and lacquer painting by the Japanese genius Shibata Zeshin.

This is another way that designs happen; by simulating an original painting in other materials. This was done often by the very best metalworkers and lacquer artists in Japan, and is not seen as less than honorable.

 

Here is a poor photo of the Zeshin screen which is several feet across.

 

ZeshinScreen.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This close-up of the waterfall kenbyo above gives an idea of the level of detail that develops while the work is in progress.

The drawing shows mainly the primary forms and a few of the grace lines, which are there to suggest how to proceed. The primary forms have to be right first. If mistakes are made early on with the primary forms, it can't be set right later on. So I move from the main design elements through progressively finer detailing. I do a lot of drawing on the metal and then sitting with it in different light situations before proceeding. The little splashy drops were last. There are three different sizes of those.

 

Certainly the Zeshin screen gives extremely helpful cues, but in the end, the piece has to work on it's own with all the grace lines and light carving contributing, being very careful not to over-do it.

detail.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jim, let me say that your eye for this stuff is amazing. And it got me to wondering, do you have a photo of something you're in the middle of now? A half-finished work, so we can peek in on the progress of one of your pieces? If you could share something like that, I think it would make a great capstone on what is already a wonderful exploration of your art. Thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Christopher. Sorry for the sluggish response here. I'm in the thick of it getting ready for the Smithsonian show.

Here is a piece I made a year ago in homage to Spring. I'm preparing a web page that shows some of the details about it's progress.

IMGP0429.jpg

IMGP0436.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

~

Fiddleheads are right up there with peepers and the first motorcycle ride of the year...

 

Heard geese last week and saw a robin yesterday, Jim!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
~

Fiddleheads are right up there with peepers and the first motorcycle ride of the year...

 

Heard geese last week and saw a robin yesterday, Jim!

 

We had a robin too! And some tiny peony shoots. Should be some wicked mud over the next days.

 

HERE's a link to the fiddlehead box process photos.

I'll try to get the rest of the text up tomorrow.

Edited by Jim Kelso

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
with your use of gold, for example, how do you determine if something should be inlayed, overlayed, or gilded/fused (i'm assuming from your avatar and the moth you posted earlier - i'd love to know how you did that...)

 

thanks,

 

jake.

 

Jake, I didn't forget you! The choice of which type of gold and how to apply it is the same as any material choice and is dependent on the "look" you're going for and how that meshes with your skills. All materials have physical constraints.

When applying gold as on the moth or this box lid, I would prefer to use mercury amalgam (kinkeshi in Japan) which I researched rather thoroughly (see Untracht), but decided in the end that I'd rather stay away from it's attendant hazards. I've settled on using high karat (18) paste solder which is actual karat gold so fuses at quite a high temperature which makes it unfeasible for certain alloys (high-silver shibuichi i.e.) It is also limited in situations where a number of alloys are present that will be adversely affected by the high heat.

 

Alloy pieces that are are hard-soldered will develop oxides that must be mechanically removed, not pickled. Pickling will change the surface alloy as the copper will burn out quicker.

 

Here is a shot of the box lid with flux and 18k gold solder in place.

 

I've finished the text at the page with other details on the box HERE

DSCN5147.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
~

Fiddleheads are right up there with peepers and the first motorcycle ride of the year...

 

Heard geese last week and saw a robin yesterday, Jim!

 

 

I heard the peepers, and it was on my first motorcycle ride of the year last weekend! Spring is on the way!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Hooded Mergansers are down at the pond. The are really cute.

 

OK, so I think I'll wrap it up. Any more questions?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you sharing Jim. It has been a wonderful. Now you have to choose the next victim.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the opportunity Don. I've really enjoyed it and the interaction with the gang.

 

So who's next :ph34r: ?

How about ta-daaa...... Louie Mills!

 

Louie and I made a few tanto, wakizashi and one katana together and spent more than a few hours together behind knife show tables, but we were both kind of the quiet type so I don't know much about how he got his experience.

 

So Louie, I'd like to start off by asking how you got into blacksmithing, what led from that into knives and then to nihonto. Also, I wonder if you had any other background making stuff, what were early influences and such.

 

And awaaaay we go.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jim, thank you for asking me to participate in the interview series. How I got started. Wow, life story coming up. Not really ,but my first interest in knives was as a kid having the usual pocket knife collection. Nothing fancy just cheap folders and a couple fixed hunting knives. I still have most of them some where I think. My first intro to Japanese culture was also when I was about 7 or 8. My parents loved the junk shops ( I think that was all they could afford ) . Me being a kid , I had absolutely no interest but was drug along anyways. At this one shop I stayed in the car while my father went in. In the window I noticed a whole lot of round metal objects with a slit in the middle and some had small rounder holes to the side. I asked my father what they were when he returned and told me they were Chinese belt buckles. It was about 30 years later that I realized they were Japanese and not Chinese. The Chinese never wore belt buckles. I sure wish time travel was perfected because I sure would love to see what else was in that shop. Fast forward to the late 60's. When I got out of the Air Force and bought my house I got interested in working on cars. This led to learning how to arc and acetylene weld. The cars and welding solidified my desire to work with my hands and working with steel was facinating to me. My sister at the time was involved with a local art group and artistic things had always tweeked my interest. She suggested doing some metal sculpture and off I went. I joined the group and started on a junk sculpture endeavor. I found it very satisfying to be able to create pleasing forms out of scrap. I did mostly the usual ( what is it?) sculptures,and a few candle holders tables and lamps. This was very enjoyable for me , but after a while it seemed that something was lacking. Most of what I was doing did nothing. All it could do was sit there and had no use at all. I had also developed an interest in guns and knives again and started going to those shows. The luger collection came and went but I still have enough other hand and long guns to start a small war. I started reading about damascus knives and Japanese swords ( This was early 70's) and became utterly facinated. Already working in steel I decided I would like to learn how to make Japanese swords because the books all said they were the best ever and the highest art form in the medium of steel. I was eager to face the challenge so again, off I went.

Time is out for me today I will have to continue tomorrow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...