Imagination Bodies Forth, Eastern repousse bound handmade book
Enveloped II (ring)
Eastern Repousse... Western Repousse... You can be anywhere as long as you know the secret.
Repousse is a French word, meaning to push out and refers to the technique of hitting metal alternately from the front and back to produce detailed sculptural relief. The term is often (rather redundantly) accompanied by the word, chasing, which means to hit metal from the front. There are 2 processes of repousse in the world, Eastern repousse and Western repousse, which, not being aware of the difference, most people in North America just call repousse.
Eastern repousse is the technique of the ancient
Egyptians and Greeks, which spread all over the Hellenized World. Since Europeans and Americans of the 19th century tended to call any area east of Italy "Eastern," the name seems to have stuck for the metalwork being excavated from what they called the Near East. Western repousse is the process currently used in Western Europe and, irrespective of biased geographical terms, in Japan, Thailand, and other parts of Asia.
Eastern repousse differs from Western in process, tool shapes, the angle the tools are struck, the delineation of the shapes throughout the process, and most notably the potential for height or depth. Examples of Eastern repousse from antiquity include famed objects such as the gold mask of Tutankhamun and the Vappheio Cups.
The peaks and valleys you see in my artwork are NOT the definitive indicator of what makes my style of repousse Eastern. They are my aesthetic and technical stylization of the technique and the direction (pun possibly intended) that I've chosen to take it.
Although I studied how to do both processes, I found Western extremely limiting. When I was lucky enough to study with artist in residence at GSU, Gia Gogishvilli, I felt like I was in the Way Back Machine, transported to said Near East circa 1230 B.C. Suddenly I knew the secrets of how to make anything and everything out of repousse from fish and foul to the wildest relief map of abstracted mountain ranges I could dream up. While the technique of Russian filigree (also rather misnamed) is forever close to my heart, Eastern repousse is the secret knowledge of how to get metal to do almost anything I want (except clean my house for me).
So how is it done? Watch the video above or read below (or do both, if you're really into it).
I use thin gauge sheet silver, copper, or gold, hitting
alternately from the front and back to create
the high relief you see. Traditionally, the process
of hitting the metal from the front is called chasing and may be
done alone or as part of the repoussé process.
THERE ARE NO MOLDS OF ANY KIND. Really, nothing
but my tools, my hammer, and my imagination.
first hammer my design on the front of the sheet
with a line tool, which looks like a dull chisel.
Next I hammer the metal from the back with oval
ended tools. By this time I’ve work hardened
the metal, so it’s time to anneal it (the
process of heating then quenching the metal to
make it soft again.). I continue hammering on
the back and front alternately, and annealing
until I have achieved the height I want. This
can be anywhere from five to ten rounds.
it is “puffy” enough (a technical
term), I begin hammering more from the front to
create the ledges, and swirls that are characteristic
of my style of repoussé. To achieve the
look of relief upon relief I return to hammering
from the back to further "puff" out
the shapes. It is a long but rewarding process
that cannot be duplicated by any other smithing
Unfortunately, there are many incorrect explanations
of these technique in art history books and
web sites. Many of them describe hitting the
sheet metal over a stone or wood form until
the metal conforms to the desired shape, a feat
that defies the laws of physics. The ancients
did use molds for repeating elements, such as
the small amulets placed
(Book spines are repoussé.
Bookcase doors are Russian
in a Masquerade" (detail)
Eastern Repoussé Cuff Bracelet
within mummy wrappings
in Egypt, or the acorn or other seed shaped
repeating elements in the Hellenistic and Classical
Greek gold necklaces, but in such cases, the
metal was pressed into these molds rather than
being hit over them as some historians have erroneously described.
one-of-a-kind, or larger works, such as Tutankhamun’s
mummy mask, the inlaid necklaces also of the
late 18th dynasty, and many of the unique Greek
and Scythian pieces of gold work were not made
with molds, but by the Eastern repoussé
It is fairly easy to tell the difference between
molded and not molded work. The repoussé
pieces have distinct tool marks on the fronts
which create much more definition in the relief.
There is also a third category of pieces that
were molded for efficiency and speed, and then
chased from the front to create beautiful and
All of the work on this page was executed using Eastern repousse and shows but a fraction of what can be accomplished with this technique.