Here are a few more engraving studies I completed last week, week 2 of the engraving intensive I’m working on at Le Arti Orafe in Florence, Tuscany. It was a challenging week!
At the risk of sounding like a woman wearing a rainbow shawl, I would like to share some realizations I am having through my experience with engraving. I am gaining an awareness of what Echart Tolle calls “The space of the present moment in which all things happen,” through a perception of my body, the tool, and an utter focus on all aspects of my movement that contribute to the one line I am making. Engraving usually happens one line at a time… Its similar to improv and a lot of other things I’ve tried in that when I lose touch with the present moment, projecting into the past or future, or standing outside myself in critical judgement, my work suffers. When I am struggling in spite of my focus on the line, it is usually either because some aspect of my body orientation is incorrect; my thumb is 3 mm too low, the graver is at a 45˚ angle when it should be 30˚, my fingers are too far back on the graver, or my opposing thumb is not positioned properly to give the control I need… There are many aspects of one’s physicality that are vital to proper engraving. After I have done this for a long time, I hope that the physical aspects of engraving will become second nature. But focus will continue to be very important… In addition to mindfulness of posture, in 2 weeks of the engraving intensive I have learned how important it is to “listen” to my tool. Is it sharp enough? Is it sharpened to the correct angle? And what sound is it making on the metal- am I engraving with enough speed for it to be a fluid line…? And is it oiled? Should it be oiled? (Depending on what bollino one is using, it should either be frequently oiled between lines, or not oiled at all.) I’m sure all of these considerations become second nature to the seasoned engraver, but as a student it requires my full attention to maintain control over all of the variables. When my mind wanders, especially to points of anxiety, I find that my work suffers immensely. Sometimes I also forget to breath!
Which is all to say there is something wonderfully Zen about engraving…. To do it properly I must be “utterly and completely here in this moment” as Eckhart Tolle talked about. When I am in the past or the future my engravings become horrible. Making something horrible never feels good… but I’ve also learned to forgive myself for moments of un-focus and move on, just being more mindful of my movement, tool and breathing from that point on. And suddenly my lines are beautiful again. Below are images from week 2 of the engraving intensive. You may notice some mistakes… Bepe, the instructor would say “Ah, normale!” and make a gesture to move on.