Today I thought I would share a little bit about the process for one of my watering cans made for a final project for my MFA in Jewelry and Metal Arts. This project is much larger in scale than most of my other work and the plan was to create functional pieces of art. Fortunately, the planning I did for the templates and the final cans worked beautifully and they are completely functional. Although these are small for actual watering of a garden, they’d be great vases for freshly cut flowers from your garden. They hold water beautifully and the rugged, antiqued look is just adorable — if I do say so myself.
To start this project, I spent some time on the internet looking up garden watering cans and printed out some of the ones I found to be interesting or at least not typical to start getting some ideas. I did this over several days and thought about how big I wanted to make these since I had only worked in large scale for one of my projects in the past, and it was a big one. I wanted these to be “mini” but bigger than my typical jewelry-sized projects. If you’re not a sketchbook or journal person, I just want to say — I wasn’t either until I went for my master’s degree, now I use one every day and I’m so happy it has become a routine and habit.
I buy the Canson XL Mixed Media spiral-bound books in the 9” x 12” size so I can draw larger and glue in inspiration images and make lots of notes. Sometimes I like to use watercolor and dip pens with black ink and these pages can handle the extra moisture fairly well. I highly recommend if you don’t do it, motivate yourself to start. You’ll be thankful a few years down the road when you hit a rut and can’t think of anything to make or have no ideas for a new series of work! Anyway, below are some snapshots of a few of the pages I put together while doing my research for these watering cans.
Once I had some ideas on paper I began cutting out my intended sizes from large card stock to visualize the cans. I figured at this point, seeing the size would be great because then I could decide if they were too small or too large before cutting up the copper sheet I had on hand. This is what is called making models or maquettes. It’s a very helpful technique and saves you a lot of time and frustration in the long run. Plus, you’re not wasting metal to get the proportions correct.
Next, I cut the basic shapes from the copper sheet and began the process of fold-forming each of the watering can bodies. Fortunately, I just purchased some of the Fretz Silversmith hammers and they made quick work of the process. All-in-all, it took me a little over four (4) days to finish these cans. Each of them has a hand forged spout and handle along with the fabricated and forged bodies. One thing I’ve learned is that taking your time to plan out the design with templates and models saves you a lot of frustration in the longer term.
The bodies, bottoms, spouts and handles are all separate forms soldered together to complete the cans. The hardest part was soldering the bottoms to the bodies and then cutting the excess off, filing the seams and making them leak-proof. Copper is such a beautiful metal, but the temperatures needed to solder theses larger forms presented me with a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, I have a torch big enough to handle this size, but… if I went any bigger, I would have had to invest in a much larger set up to get the solder to flow.
After all of the bodies were assembled and cleaned up, I used the chunk-form of liver of sulfur (LOS) to patina each can with the deep black to give them the antiqued look. Each one took on its own character based on the direction of the fold form and the hammer marks I intentionally left in each of the bodies. I wanted them to have an aged look to add to the charm. The final step was to seal the outside of the cans with Renaissance Wax to slow the blackening process over time. But, I think with use, these will look more and more rugged and that was my intent. These are likely to be shipped to a special family member soon!
The video below is a short clip of the process I used to solder the seams, the spout and the handle on the smallest watering can. I am really happy with how each of these came out and I think I will be making more of these soon.