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Chasing and Repousse Copper Tray

Learn how an artist creates sophisticated copper designs using a rare form of metalworking.

Chasing and repousse are metalworking arts that had almost totally died out until a few artists brought it back to life. Valentin Yotkov is one of those artists, and he has spent the past 25 years in Europe and the U.S. bringing them not only back to life, but also to popularity. His students have only kind words to say — "Valentin’s knowledge and skill are unsurpassed both as an artist and a teacher." Valentin learned these techniques in his native Bulgaria, apprenticing with one of the last masters, and he willingly shares that information with his hundreds of students every year. He creates elegant and sophisticated work in these raised and detailed copper designs.

First, Valentin comes up with a design he wants to work on, then decides what kind of vessel the design should go on. When all the decisions are made, it is time to get to work. A sheet of copper that is the right size for the piece is selected. Then, using a wood trunk with a curved hollow and hammers, the depth of the tray is created. The curve is literally hammered into the piece by hand. Different hammers are used until that curve is smooth and perfect. Then the design is transferred onto the metal with carbon paper or freehand drawing. This is when the chasing process begins.

A combination of materials called pitch is laid out. This is what will support the metal and allow carving. Pitch supports but has give to it, allowing the chasing tools to bend the metal and create images raised on the other side. Chasing is done from the front; tracers (chisel-like tools) and hammers are used to indent every line in the design. The pitch is heated, removed and cleaned out, and the tray is flipped over. Pitch again is used, filling the depth of the tray, and the repousse work begins from the back. Punch tools and hammers are used. This raises every part of the design that will be elevated when looked at from the front. Again, the pitch is heated and cleaned out. The piece is flipped one more time, and this time pitch is added to all the raised portions from the back. Final chasing detail work is done, redefining lines or adding lines on top of raised portions.

At this point, the front has been worked on at the beginning and end, with the back being worked on to elevate the design. The piece is complete after it is polished and waxed. His work is stunning, exquisitely detailed and complex — all from an art form that almost disappeared.

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