Ever since I started posting my work online about 2005 I've always been asked how I get my lines so smooth, how I get my beveling so smooth and I get such depth in my work. Then the speculation begins, he uses a smooth beveler, hes an alien, he spoons his lines, hes using a 3 ton press with a giant stamp on it, hes doing overlays , non of which is true. Well I might look like an Alien , but I can assure you I'm not. I don't do anything different than anyone else, I just spent a lot of hours working on it. Every time I do work for a customer, I take close up shots for them to send over for progress pictures and approval. Im including some of them in this post to put the speculation to rest. First one is Popeye from a few years ago. Raw, just tooled, not even any oil. You can see its still damp around the back of his head and under his chin. Naked.
Here is Popeye finished.
When I first got into doing this I checked out the work of all the heros we all respect and admire. I came to one conclusion, I would dedicate my time to not only reaching their level but surpassing it as far as I could no matter how much I had to sacrifice in my social life and free time. And that's exactly what I did. Next is the totem seat.
This seat I did a year ago for Bruce, a cool cat from NY. You can see the depth clearly in this, As deep as it is its as smooth as it can be. No smoothing, no hiding, its all there for the eye to see. Light checkering, heavy checkering and back grounding is all there is to it. Tooling leather can be infuriating until you become one with your tools. Anytime I see a leather smith with a tool rack that's as big as a coffin, takes up half the room and is packed from end to end I always wonder why.
It reminds me of the drummer with the 30 piece set that couldn't make you dance if you threatened him. I know im rambling, I tend to do that but there is a point to this I'm reaching for. When you have so many tools at your disposal you'll more than likely feel the need to use them all, all the time. What that does is it stops you from becoming specialized with any of them. Basically, you should be able to , if asked or if you wanted to , pick one tool out of your rack and tool an entire piece along with your swivel knife and never be able to tell you only used one tool . Its about becoming one with that tool, until it feels like its part of your hand and fingers. Once you master one or a few, not stamps, I'm talking bevelers of different sizes, You'll be able to accomplish better lines, smoother tooling, greater depth and more beautiful shading, realism and power in your artwork. Experiment, the next time you sit to tool , grab 3 bevelers and hide the rest of your tool rack. Make yourself work that leather as if the 3 were 50. If you're not able to and find yourself sneaking over to the tools and grabbing turn backs, mule foots, 6 other bevelers, there is the crutch. and its holding your work back from improving.
I use only 3 bevelers on every piece I tool, and 2 backgrounders , One is a pebbler. All 3 of my bevelers are checkered. You couldn't pay me enough to tool an entire piece with a smooth beveler, they do nothing but push leather out of your way, they burnish which seals the surface off to dye, antique finish slides right off , and it leaves you with a shine you cant get rid of if you're looking for a calm finish. So why use a tool you have to fight with? They do have their place in certain situations if thats what you're looking for, accenting, tooling small features, and getting shine where you want it. But they should be used as an accessory tool. Thats just my opinion, and how I feel about them, I'm not here telling anyone how to do their work. I used one , one time 15 years ago and its still sitting in the tool rack crusted over and filthy. I never even touch it to clean it off. A lot of people use them and like them. I just never have. here we have a macro shot of hair and half an ear from the Day of The Dead Gas Tank I did. Same 3 bevelers, same swivel knife blade, same technique.
Next is some stamping, I push my stamping the same way I push my tooling. Tri weave can drive you out of your mind, especially if you end up with a stamp that's not even on all sides. If you find your basket weave is always leaning to one side and you have to start over constantly, grab a micrometer and measure the width of all sides, I'd bet the farm you got a lemon. It's happened to me in the past too.
And here it is dyed black.
So if you made it this far let me sum up the point of this post. Spend time with your bevelers, stop reaching for tools that will camouflage your work while your tooling is suffering. Its all in the time you dedicate to practice . If we do the same things over and over for 20 years nothing improves, our work becomes stagnant stuck in a time warp of the first year after we started. Its just a fact of repetition of old habits. Yes practicing sucks, its boring, it feels like it makes no sense, but to improve past the point even we think is possible we have jump out of the comfort zone, become uncomfortable for a while and stick to it. Dedicate, don't speculate. Speculation will only bring in excuses to justify the present state of what is. Dedication brings results, confidence and the power to create inside of your craft like you never thought possible. Once you free up your beveling it will also free up your creativity. The fear of taking chances will vanish. Keep hammerin and aim high!.
Raw Indian Chief I did for Asher a year or so ago. no oil, no buffing, fresh from being tooled.
If you haven't watched this yet either on YT or my site it's a great way to build power, coordination, finesse and control when beveling.