Imagination Bodies Forth

Eastern repousse front cover of a one of a kind, long stitch book with calligraphic hand lettering over a giclee printed montage of original collages, and an acid etched copper back cover
Copper sheet, handmade and photo papers, Japanese stick inks, gouache
text: William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene i, lines 2-22

6″ x 6″ x 2″, height of repousse on portrait is 1″

There is something truly magical about creating, about making things. It makes me feel like a conjurer, summoning up an object from an idea. Of course between the inspiration and the manifestations can be ages of what is sometimes fun and sometimes grueling work.

This one of a kind book took 14 months to complete. It encompasses perhaps my most involved Eastern repousse piece to date, the copper front cover portrait of my son, Skyler. I snuck the photograph on which it was based while he was gazing out the ferry window on a trip up Puget Sound in 2011 when he was 11.

I first drew the portrait with Prismacolor pencils on goatskin vellum. Before it was complete I knew had to hammer it in metal, and that instead of being a framed piece, it needed to be something rather more intimate and interactive, a view to his thoughts on the inside via my perspective from the outside.

Skyler had recently become a Shakespeare fan (no one does bawdy humor like The Bard), so I began researching passages that would fit my perspective of his thoughts and dreams as he stood on the edge of childhood, looking toward his teens. Hamlet (my personal favorite) was too obvious, and The Tempest was tempting, but when I found Theseus’ speech from Midsummer Nights Dream, I knew it was perfect even if I did rip it out of context just a bit.

The speech was taken from the 1600 First Folio held by the Bodleian Library with contemporary English spelling applied. The breaking of the lines into this layout was inspired by the Bard but was, alas, subject to the whims of the artist. The calligraphic lettering is a broad edged hand that I began developing in 2012 and is inspired by a particular style of Arabic writing from antiquity.

The images in the book block behind the hand lettering are original collages and drawings and a few NASA photos that I digitally manipulated into giclee prints to form a continuous set of pages.

The Eastern repousse process on the copper front cover involves free hand hammering 24 gauge sheet metal alternately from the front and back with specialized tools. When hammering from the back to puff the metal out I supported it with plasticine. When hammering from the front to countersink areas or create the details of the features I supported it with pitch. Eastern repousse dates back to the ancient Egyptians (such as Tutankhamun’s mask) and is a technique I’ve revived for contemporary use in jewelry and functional objects.

I used pointed pen and ink to create a resist on the copper back cover then etched it with ferric chloride. I wanted the back cover to be as tactile as the front yet be structurally flat so the book would open well. I bound the book in the long stitch style with copper leaf paper on the spine.

The greatest challenge of the book was bringing together these rather disparate elements of Eastern repousse portraiture, timeless language, surreal images, and cryptic lettering to create a sense of visual depth worthy of Shakespeare’s text and equal to the literal technical height of the Eastern repousse. Together these elements of depth reflect my fathomless love for my son as I watch awestruck, his metamorphosis from child to teen to adult.


Book text: “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Act V, Scene i, lines 2-22

More strange than true: I never may believe
These antic fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

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