October 9, 2010

Finely Decorated Copper Weights

I've been thinking lately that I want to try to get back into doing some engraving. If I keep my "chops" up it might prove to be a beneficial source of income on the side...plus, I just plain enjoy it so much that it would really be a shame to let my talent slip away.

The other day as I was bumming around on the NU website I noticed that there is an instrumentation shop where many task-specific gadgets can be made for labs and other research needs, and where students and faculty can pay to use big scary tools like band saws. "I wonder if they might have some scrap metal hanging around." I thought..."maybe some extra copper or brass that I could use to practice engraving." I know these metals are quite pricey, but of course it never hurts to ask. In the very least I figured they might be able to tell me where I could purchase sheets of copper on my own. I sent an email to the shop's operator and sure enough, he said he had a couple pieces of copper laying around that he'd be happy to give me.

So on Friday after brass choir rehearsal I hopped one of NU's free intercampus shuttles for a ride into downtown Chicago. NU's Chicago campus is where many of the medical school's buildings can be found and I wandered the hallways of one of them searching for the instrumentation shop. I passed through hallways of imposing labs with pictures of brain scans and diagrams of neurons and tumors plastered to the hospital-white walls. I really felt like I was somewhere I shouldn't have been.

Finally I found the shop. It was much smaller than I had imagined and was completely filled with all sorts of scary looking equipment squeezed into a tiny room about the size of my current apartment. I knocked shyly and a man came to the door. After I explained who I was he reached over to a table at the back of the room and handed me two heavy blocks of solid copper--about 12 x 3 x 1 and at least a good 10 pounds each. They were filthy...covered in adhesive residue, tarnished to a dull greenish brown, and significantly scratched up. I thanked him for his generosity and headed back to catch the shuttle back to Evanston...worried that I might appear a little suspicious while awkwardly carrying around such odd cargo.

When I got home I tried polishing up one of the blocks. The tarnish came off fairly well and an initial polishing revealed a brilliant rose-colored surface hiding beneath all the grime, but I decided I'd need to do some serious surface buffing and get rid of as many of the scratches as possible before I could attempt to engrave anything. I went and picked up some fine sand paper and steel wool from Home Depot and then got right back into the business of improving the quality of my canvases. The final result wasn't pristine, but I was pleased enough and eager to dig in!

I started with a really classic design. The copper cut like butter and I was invigorated by the feel of the metal beneath my gravers and the brilliant shine left behind in the lines...

Today I thought I'd try engraving a snake on the other side of the block I'd worked on the previous night. I had ideas about how to make the detail of reptilian scales really shimmer...and my plans ended up working quite well! If you handle the block under a bright light, the shine from the scales gleams in dynamic circular patterns...the movement is mesmerizing...

My plan is to show these to my fellow students here and hope the word starts to gets around that my services as an engraver are available...if anyone is interested that is. I know it can be scary to imagine one's multi-thousand dollar instrument going under the knife, but I'm hoping to continue my practice and be sure enough in my technique that I can convince people that they can trust their horns in my hands.


  1. You are so amazingly talented! I wish I played an instrument. I'd let you engrave it!

  2. What a great idea!
    I'll spread the word to my chicago contacts too?

  3. Wow, the snake is especially amazing. I love the scales and detail. And the head is so awesome! You did a lot of risky things here that definitely paid off.

  4. Hi Kelly. I really liked the engravings. Don't work too hard. Love Dad

  5. Nice work Kelly! Keep up the art. There are so few of us left in the world.