One of the most challenging things for an artist, I believe, is to be fresh with their creativity and keep it new and interesting to the viewer from one year to the next. As TCAA members, we are required to create the three best pieces we have ever made each and every year. This task can be daunting at times. However, I had had this bit in my mind for years, well really shortly after I got started engraving I thought this technique would make a great piece. The problem was I didn’t think I had the ability or the market for such and undertaking. It wouldn’t be easy to execute and the time table would be extensive.
Sculpting, first of all, is anything but easy. Thinking in dimensions is very difficult to me for some reason, but the challenge of creating a three dimensional leaf structure in the steel was very exciting! The next part, inlaying silver beneath the upper surface of the steel, was a mystery. Extra amounts of material would have to be removed requiring more time, more money. My age, or a lack of creditability seemed to be a problem. Whether I was capable of creating a piece likes this or not was yet to be seen, but I certainly wasn’t confident that my market would accept me asking the price it would require to finish the job respectfully. However, an opportunity presented itself with the CA’s having their 50th anniversary show. Many new people would be coming and I thought it was time to jump off and see what I could do.
I wasn’t scared of the execution process. Making mistakes doesn’t really bother me too much because in order to get better you have to get started. The next one will be better for sure and the first one won’t be exactly how I have it envisioned probably, but no time better than the present to start the process, right? The price and market thing, well I couldn’t wait forever. The last couple of years were good and it was time to stretch everyone’s comfort zone, including my market’s. The realization was I could very possibly not sell it, and that was ok. Financially my business was wiling to take the risk.
My first step was to consider a canvas that provided me the space to make my statement. I wanted large leaves and scrolls so that visual impact could happen from across the room or from across the pens if it gets in a horse’s mouth. I didn’t want it being too small. This would also prevent me from spending excessive amounts of time on microscopic details. The time was already going to be uncomfortably large. The Santa Barbara shank is one that has large amounts of tradition and history. It also provides a canvas of size and elements of flow that lends itself to a very elegant design. It seemed like a fit to me.
Shanks were decided and now came the mouthpiece. The Santa Barbara shank is used with many different mouthpieces, so possibilities were great. The presentation in a show is important, so I was thinking about something that matched the occasion. I didn’t want a simple grazer but on the other hand I wasn’t really wanting to go as far as a spade. Making something that folks can relate to is always a goal of mine as well. People need to be able to relate their story to my work so that they can feel ownership in the piece, even if they have never been on a horse. They need to feel like a part of the West when viewing the bit, a mouthpiece that was easy to look at, one that didn’t make them feel like a level of understanding was needed. With this all in mind the Barqueño gained my interest because I love to forge metal and it gave me an opportunity to play with this old skill.
During all this “thinking” that had been going on I had been drawing, a lot! I used newsprint, which is a very cheap paper that allows me to sketch ideas. I’ve got to get it clear in my head how I’m going to tell the story. Getting something down on paper is the first step. Each morning during my daily drawing time I would sketch an idea. Things develop from one day to the next and I try to build from one day to the next using things I like and removing the ones I don’t. As refinement happens I move to a higher quality paper that allows me to be more precise. When I get a drawing that is comfortable I will scan this image into my computer. AutoCad is used to make a technical drawing using the scanned drawing for reference to again refine the architecture of my bit. If I don’t start with a good drawing then I have to correct in the next steps. Each step is critical to get right so that the following process is easier. A good drawing starts me off on the right foot.
At this point the foundation of my project has been laid. Elements could evolve and develop as I work in the steel, but for the most part I had figured out what I was creating. The nuts and bolts or brush strokes make the paper drawing a reality. That part is a new topic for a another day! I hope this little window into the creation of a major project was insightful.