Repousse, chasing and hollowforming dialog. Introduction.

A Bramblebush Workroom Project


A compendium of miscellaneous information

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We have gathered together a series of related posts from the ArtMetal mail list which centers around the process of repousse` and the chasing of metals.  Included as well, is some information pertaining to hollowforming sheetmetal, a related but distinctly different process.

The format being used is very informal and will consist of edited posts with the relevant information extracted.  References will also be made to the archives of interviews extracted from our Thursday night chat sessions.

Taken as a whole, we feel that this project will contain a wealth of information that has been generously contributed by a variety of folks.  We wish to thank everyone for their submissions.

Chris Ray - editor

Dec. 28, 1998 - I will try to paraphrase Michael Angelo's definition of carving marble sculptures and use it to explain my idea of chasing and repousse.  There are countless shapes and designs hidden in a flat piece of metal. We just have to push it from the back to reveal the beauty of one of them. But repousse isn't just stretching and moving metal. This is only the technical part of it. Repousse is sculpting, it is giving life to what we believe is a cold piece of metal. An idea or feeling traveling from the heart or the brain trough our arms to the metal surface. If we aren't adept technically this trip feels to be too long and sometimes that feeling or idea becomes lost in the middle of the road, never reaching the metal.

Learning the technical skills is only a prelude, it is a labor and requires a lot of patience and dedication--the rest of it is ART. Once you are able to work without having to think about "how to" do this or that, you are focusing your attention on the artistic aspect of your work, the design. Chasing a repousse tools have become an extension of your arm.

Valentin Yatkov

Dec. 28, 1998 - Hello Diane, as well as Valentin and all interested in chasing. I too teach, and will be teaching chasing and repoussee this coming quarter...but I am far from an expert and will certainly be listening in on this thread to learn as much as I can.

About 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in a two week workshop with a Japanese master, Satsuo Ando. We explored the use of the Japanese tools over Japanese pitch, doing fairly high relief work, but only by chasing. We never hit the metal from the back, but repeatedly hit around the edges at the beginning of each course after annealing, in effect, raising the metal on the pitch. The other major difference between what we were being taught and what I always had been lead to believe, was that the surfaces of the tools were not kept smooth, but purposfully roughened so as to not slip on the metal.

We also made some of the Japanese chisels for engraving and inlaying.  What I now try to do in my class is to contrast Western and Japanese chasing, but I will admit, my preference is for the Japanese.

Mary Hu

Dec. 29, 1998 - Mary already introduced us to one of the ways to do high relief -- only by chasing from the front of the piece. Although I am not and should not be considered "the expert" in chasing and repousse I'll try to give you a little more information on the techniques.

One type of chasing is creating linear designs on the front side by compressing the metal using chisel shaped tools called liners. Liners can be straight (for chasing straight lines) or slightly curved (for working on a scroll) This type of chasing is usually flat or almost flat. It is not intended to create a relief, but well executed design can be a real beauty.

Rasing a high relief working only on the front of the piece is also called chasing. Mary gave us a very good description of the process. In other words chasing is creating a decorative ornament by compressing or moving the metal from the outside (front of the piece). Chasing is also the process of sculpting or giving more definition and a texture to a design, even if that design was raised from the back. As far as I know repousse' is a French word meaning "pushing from the back."  I can tell you about two types of repousse.

In the first case I chase the design on the front of the piece with the liners, mentioned above. Than I turn it over and I see those lines showing up on the back. Using them as a guide, I emboss the relief using different shapes and sizes of repousse tools, than turn the piece over again and define the relief by chasing it.

In the second case after transferring the design on the back side of metal I repeat the lines with a permanent marker. After that instead of first chasing the lines I proceed directly with embossing. The marker will remain on the metal until the work is completely done. When the embossing is completed I go to the front and finish with chasing.

Doing repousse on a closed shape (a bowl) is probably the most difficult one. We have two options here: to imitate repousse, creating high relief by the means of chasing, or -- to raise the metal from inside out by using a tool called Snarling iron. This process requires an excellent control of the tool and some muscles, too. Do not recommend it for beginners. I personally prefer the first option. It sounds unbelievable but impressively high relief can be achieved by chasing on the outside of a bowl.

Valentin Yatkov

Dec. 31, 1998 - My first repousse tools I bought from a jewelry supply. I quickly discovered that they were too sharp for my taste and cut into the copper. Rather than file them down, (thinking that they were made this way for a reason) I started making my own.

First I forged them from 5/16" coil spring, finished the working ends and heat treated. It then occured to me that I was working on annealed copper (very soft) and didn't need tool steel for the tools. Made some out of mild steel that worked well.

Last month I needed a "last minute" shape for smoothing down the background inside a grapevine design.  Picked up a piece of white oak, cut it down to size, filed and sanded. It worked too. I find the oak tools work well for the final steps of pushing out from behind, and putting everything on the correct plane from the front. So now I have repousse tools made from auto valve stems, spring steel, mild steel, cut nails, and oak.

Shapes: No matter how many you have, there is usually one that you need that you don't have...make another one.

Chris Worsley

Dec. 31, 1998 - So why don't I give this thing a little push since there seems to be a little > shyness on starting this discussion. My first question or observation is that > sometimes a design is first drawn on the face of a sheet and then started with > a liner tool, reversed and then bossed out from the back. There seems to be > another approach that starts the design directly from the back. Now, what are > the reasons and advantages of each approach? Is there a decision to be made > initially which way to start, based on the design? What is a liner tool > anyway and how is it used? (as if I didn't know).

My approach: If the drawing I'm using is complicated, like the knotwork reference posted below, I'll xerox it and tape it to the front of the metal. Using liners, I trace the drawing onto the metal by hammering along the lines. This often cuts up the paper, hence a xerox.

If I'm doing something simpler, a piece of vine, 2 leaves and a bunch of grapes, I just draw it on the back of the metal, and start there. It is the precision of the drawing that dictates this first step for me.

My liner tools are dull or VERY small diameter chisel edges in a variety of lengths from 1/6" to about 1" long. I work on a large hard rubber pad 1/2" thick that supports the whole piece. It was a piece of conveyer belt from a concrete plant. (Works well under power hammers too)

One note on the posted reference photos: The relief on the flowers is about 1/4". The piece with 2 scrolls is 5/16", and the knotwork is 1/2".

Chris Worsley

To make clearer to everyone what repoussé and chasing might possibly look like, I have put up a single image of the work of Lucinda Brogden, another person who has more or less agreed to participate in a chat at some point. Please feel free to take a look at this image at

Keith Farley

...and I am still looking for a copy of the collaborative iron Chest that Latane' and Dixon made for Alfred, (George Dixon was the author of the repousse' tool article at:

Gene Olsen is a piece in iron and wood done mainly in chiseling and chasing. the Corners are forged , the castle may be. The Lion is probably repousse'.

Gene Olsen

....This Repousse stuff sounds like what I do. Gene put these pictures up for me,they visually explain the steps.

Wray Schelin


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