LEATHER REPOUSSÉ by Charlie Davenport
Repoussé is the decorating technique of raising a design, or select portions of it, above the surface of the leather, by working the leather from the back side and giving them three-dimensional form. Using this technique in conjunction with flat modeling or carving enables the artist to make leather a viable art medium. Unlike carving, tooling, or stamping where the leather is only worked from the grain side, repoussé is a process that combines working on both sides of the leather: the flesh side is worked to give it volume and form and the grain side to outline and define areas with detail.
Repoussé is done on vegetable-tanned leather. The most suitable type is calfskin, especially 3-4oz (3/64 – 1/16th inch) thick pieces, although some artist prefer thicknesses greater 5oz (5/64th inch).
PATTERN: Repoussé Project Pattern
- The design is drawn on paper, velum, or tracing film.
- Moisten the leather on the grain side with a sponge or spray bottle. The first time water is applied to the leather, it must be moistened evenly over the entire surface, and this is to prevent water stains appearing when the work is finished.
- Transfer the design to the grain side of the leather by placing the design paper down on the dampened leather, then trace over the entire design with a stylus to the grain side by applying sufficient force to make an distinct impression on the leather.
- Remove the design paper – Note: to ensure the design is entirely transferred prior to completely removing the design paper, by lifting one corner of the design paper to inspect the leather.
- These lines must now be impressed more deeply into the leather. To do this place the leather grain side up, on a slab of marble, glass, or any hard working surface. Holding a small ball-end modeler as you would a pencil, increasing the pressure as you go over the outline of the design several times until the lines are depressed to the desired depth. Be sure to keep the depth of the depressed lines uniform. This should give a clear outline of the design on the flesh side. If water oozes up behind the modeler, let the leather dry a little. If the leather is, too damp it will not hold an impression well. If the modeler tends to scratch or break the surface of the leather, dampen the leather lightly on the grain side with a sponge. Dry leather will not take a good impression.
- Now work the leather from the flesh side to raise areas from the back to give it volume. Hold the leather in one hand with the flesh side up which acts as a cushion. Using the ball-end modeler , work the leather from the flesh side by pressing firmly with the ball modelers while sliding it along the lines of the design. Use the modelers with different balls-tip sizes depending on the areas that need to be worked and the level of relief wanted.
- The process continues by working both sides of the leather alternately, using different tools until the desired figures are achieved. To get good results with this technique, the leather must be somewhat flexible; therefore, it may be necessary to re-dampen the leather several time during the process.
- Once the desired volume/depth is achieved, apply white glue on the flesh side to harden the leather and to make the leather hold its shape. Let the leather dry for about twelve hours. When the glue has dried it turns into a resistant and flexible film that helps maintain the desired shape also making it easier to continue working on it.
- Mark the lines of the design with a spoon modeler. Press gently on the grain side, modeling the outline of the body of the design. To do this, use a modeler with a very fine/narrow spoon end with a slight curve.
- Re-moisten the leather if needed.
- Mark the small details of the design on the grain side, using the narrow point-spade end modeler and pressing firmly over the areas with very narrow spaces.
- The rest of the designs outer contour is marked from the grain side, following the outline of the design and flattening at the same time, the surface of the leather that surrounds the design, to do this, use the spoon-end modeler with a medium-round tip.
- Mark depressions of the design, outlining them with a spoon-end modeler to give it volume. The central depression of the design is deeply marked, while adjacent depressions are modeled from the inside out. This should give the piece a greater feeling of volume.
- Now continue working the repoussé from the flesh side. Work on each of the areas between the depressions separately following the design in such a way that the central section will have the highest relief, while its sides will have less, decreasing toward the outside. The work always follows the sinuous shape of the design. Use a modeler with a small ball point.
- Outline the interior lines with a round spoon-end modeler, pressing firmly on the grain side over the needed areas.
- Go over again with the same modeler, flattening the area between two lines. Continue this process over entire design.
- Allow to dry.
- Stain or color the piece.
- Finished repoussé.
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