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Wrought Iron Trinket: Design Process


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A couple of days ago I made quite a score with some antique wrought iron. Some friends of mine are moving, and they very generously gave me about 15 links of an ancient anchor chain that was decorating their yard. To say thanks, I made a small pendant from a slice of this wrought iron for the lady. Here's the design process I used, with the design and carving all done in one afternoon.

 

The chain was fastened to a large rock, and I had to use a cutoff disk in an angle grinder to get it loose. The chain is about an inch in diameter, so I had to cut a link in two places since it was far too thick to cut once and then bend the link open. I cut a slice off of the resulting wrought iron rod to make the pendant from.

 

My aim was to provide sort of a memento for my friends time here on the island, and have sort of an appropriate theme of the anchor chain, our maritime history, and the natural history of the area. Since mussels are a big deal here (the home of Penn Cove Mussel company) I chose mussels and a starfish. Cramming all of that in a misshapen one inch "circle" took a bit of wrestling.

 

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I sanded the back of the slice flat (to solder a silver backing to so the iron won't be up against skin), then scanned the top surface (first image on left side). In Adobe Photoshop I deleted the background, then selected the pendant, added a new layer and "Stroked" the outline. (Second image from left). That gave me an outline of exact size to work from. Duplicating that several times, I printed a page of them out. That gave me multiple copies to sketch in my design - the four versions on the right. Once I had a design I liked (far right image), I inked it in and scanned the page. Cutting and pasting, cleaning up and darkening gave me the pattern I needed.

 

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Above is the pattern, printed on a laser printer. The image on the left is as it would appear to the viewer. The others are flipped horizontally to apply to the iron slice. I make a few since I often screw one or two up in the pattern transfer process. To transfer, I cut out one of the patterns, lay face down (the reason for the horizontal flip/mirror image) and sparingly apply a little lacquer thinner to the back of the paper. That dissolves the black plastic stuff from the printer, and transfers the design. Get it too wet and the design will run, hence the reason I print out several patterns.

 

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Here's the pendant, ready to hang. A quick and dirty little trinket, hope she'll enjoy it. Much of the texturing you see on the surface is from a ferric chloride etch. Wrought iron (not manufactured anymore) had lots of slag and impurities in it, so if etched has almost a wood grain pattern in it - hence the reason I wanted it.

 

Yes, I could just as easily have traced around the iron slice with a pencil, but I do much of my work like this on the computer. Sometimes there's a fair amount of time between my design work and execution, and I find it easier to find it where I left it in the confuser box than a bunch of loose papers getting lost here and there.

 

Also, it's often useful to have a bunch of designs available, since I could easily take what I scanned in here and use at least a part of it on another pendant of somewhat similar shape. Many times, I select a group of different designs, cut/paste/scale/rotate/distort and have a choice that can be quickly worked up for a given piece of metal, at least as a test of concept. If the existing design doesn't quite work out, it's at least a start for the sketch process.

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