Making Octopus Rex
I love Octopuses. I’ve done all kinds of research into them. And I wanted to do something special about them. Something in 3D. And something in Plique à Jour.
My first attempt didn’t go as well as I wanted. Something we’re ALL familiar with, sadly. I used the technique of thin fine silver wire, soldered together with eutectic solder. Rolled out to 1.6 mm tall and 0.05 thick, you form the framework and solder every single junction. Once done, I did depletion gilding ten times, to bring the fine silver to the surface. Then enameled until the cells were full, ground it even and final fired. (This is a gross oversimplification. Amy Roper Lyons teaches classes in this technique.)
I decided to pursue my idea in the pierced technique (being taught by Merry Lee Rae and Lara Ginzburg currently) though I do some things differently. As with many styles of enameling, you have to use your own experiences and develop your own style.
If you want to see the photos of the stages of my Octopus, it's on Instagram: georgiaphilippe. Click on the image of Octopus and scroll through the images.
I took a piece of fine silver 16 ga thick and 4 x 4 inches square. I started with a paper pattern that I made to practice the form, to see what it would take to achieve the shape. That was worth the time invested. Once I had the flat pattern, I traced it onto the silver. Other artists transfer in other ways, some taping or gluing the pattern down.
I sawed the pattern out. I lost about 40% of the weight. At this point, I got out the pitch bowl and set the piece into the pitch. I took a large dapping tool and started depressing the center, which will be the octopus body. Removed it, cleaned it (setting it on fire) and then annealed it. I repeated the process three times, to get a significant bulge. Clean it again, anneal it again. I couldn’t keep doing this process or the metal would get too thin.
The next step was bringing the lower part of the body in. I sawed the excess away and brought it in, to make it more domed and rounded. But I didn’t want to use solder to join them, so I welded the sections with fine silver from the original excess metal. Welding silver (or any noble metal) is an acquired skill. I’ve worked as a bench jeweler for 40 years and ring sizing is sometimes done by welding, especially in Platinum rings. So I’m welding (melting) fine silver into other fine silver. I urge you to practice with scraps before working on your actual design piece. Once done, I filed away the excess metal, checking, and re-welding sections I didn’t think were strong enough.
Using a large dapping tool in a vise (a raising stake works too) and using a rawhide mallet, I formed up the shape, making it more round and even.
So now I have a rough octopus shape, but it’s solid.
I also soldered with eutectic a ring of silver at the top and two on the sides. These will hold the Amethyst cabochon and two Rose Cut Black Diamonds that I’m setting for eyes. Once soldered I drill through them so there’s openings in them.
Now I start bending the arms of the octopus. It’s got to be done with care, because you can’t risk tearing the metal under stress. Several of the legs have 3 to 4 curves in one arm, which is complex. Once I have the basic arrangement, I continue to bend the arms so that each arm is touching another arm. Then I weld the touch points, though you can use eutectic solder. I do this because the arms need to have additional structural support. The arms are as much as 2 1/2 inches long and will be highly pierced, so it’s not safe to leave them floating in space.
I begin the piercing. Most times people do this with saws, but I can’t do that with the 3D Octopus. I drill small holes as if I were going to saw, but use a Krause bur to rough cut the shapes, then use a smoother flame bur to finish the shapes. Once I have the body mostly done, I move to the legs. Then I take sanding discs and smooth the metal.
There is discussion about the maximum size for openings. 3mm is fine but I’ve done holes twice that size. Again, it’s something up to your design and experience.
The surface of the octopus is made up of irregular holes. When a tentacle twists to expose the suckers, those are drilled round with slight variation in sizes, but much more uniform.
At this point I have a 3D structure, pierced and stable. But I want it to be a brooch. So I have to solder pin joints and pin catches on the underside. Now I have to use either eutectic or hard solder. You have to use something that will be stable under enameling temperatures. I used both. I do NOT install the pin stems at this point. This piece is so heavy (it still weighs over 2 ounces) I decided it needed two pin assemblies. It’s intended to be a shoulder brooch, but it still needs added stability.
Try and put the pin findings where they won’t show. In this piece, because of the twisting arms, it was impossible to balance hiding the findings, putting the stems in positions that will keep it stable, and keeping them from interfering with the future fabric it will sit on.
Once you have the findings soldered on, you have to do depletion gilding, because of the solder. If you have access to a laser welder or possibly a Puk welder, you might be able to skip the depletion. Most of us do not have a laser welder, but if you do, good for you; no welding.
I do the depletion gilding 10 times. While it’s really only needed in the areas where the solder is, I do the entire piece, so that the surface is metallically uniform. In between several layers I brass brush to compress the silver. I use small brass brush burs to brighten the insides of the holes.
Now I can start enameling.
I’ve done test pieces, using scraps from the same metal. I’ve drilled 4 mm holes and tried different colors until I find the ones I like. I used Thompson leaded, Hirosawa, Blythe and Ninomiya.
The Surface is medium purple shading to light blue shading to teals.
The Suckers are yellow greens.
14 A purple
14 AA purple
N 49 teal
934 Chrome Citrine yellow green
N 36Pale yellow green
Applying plique à jour enamel is the most fun part of the adventure. Using distilled water with a small amount of Klyr-fire mixed in gives it some water tension, to hold the enamel in place. I urge you to take Merry Lee Rae’s or Lara Ginzburg’s classes on the exact techniques. This is my explanation of how I made my octopus and doesn’t intend to replace their teachings.
Once the enameling is done, you start grinding. And grinding. And more grinding. ALL excess enamel must be removed. Any left along the edges of the cells can expand or contract, and that will cause the enamel in the cell to crack. Because of the complex curves I used a variety of tools to get in them. I used diamond coated wheels and pads, and I used an assortment of diamond coated lapidary carving burs. Those were great because they come in different grits and shapes, so I had tiny points to get into difficult corners. Always used with water.
At this point I can inspect the Octopus. I find a couple of pin holes in enamel, which must be filled. Re-fire. And again. Then grinding. On this piece I think I spent 12 hours over two days, grinding excess enamel away. And I had tried to make sure I cleaned up excesses before it went into the kiln. Again, the curves caused problems by losing enamel onto other parts of the curves.
I’m finally at the point where the enameling is finished and ground away, final fired. At this time I can set the Amethyst and the two Diamonds, and install the pin stems. I used Very Fine Silicon bullets and Ultra Fine Silicon points to polish the piece. It never gets near a polishing machine. It has a shiny surface now. Some artists like a more mat finish, believing it enhances the colors. Again, your choice and experience.
Did I have problems to overcome? Of course! I won’t bore you (any more) with the errors and challenges I faced. You’ll have your own.
What I CAN say is that there is immense satisfaction is succeeding with a project that is so outside your skills. Stretching and improving gives you a positive sense of self, which we all need. I know he’s not perfect. But he’s better than I thought I could achieve.
Thank you to everyone who wrote a positive comment about Octopus Rex. It means so much to have the encouragement from other artists. It’s one of the strengths of our community.
And thank you to the numerous teachers I’ve had, with a special thanks to Merry Lee Rae.
To close, I’d like to quote Rebecca Di Filippo. (read her manifesto) I have this posted in my shop, and read it often.
“Today is not a good day to give up, tomorrow neither.”
Georgia Philippe is a GIA Graduate Gemologist with over thirty years of experience as a jeweler. As a custom jewelry maker, she enjoys nothing more than bringing people's visions to life. These contemporary jewelry pieces have a touch of classical, and a touch of modern jewelry design.