My First Pewter Workshop

The Artisans Republik studio officially opened on the 1st of April 2017. Joining the facilitator line-up for the first week of crafting was JHB-based crafter, Patricia Monk (Pat). Pat’s course for the first week at Artisans Republik included an ‘Introduction to Pewter’ Workshop. 

Getting Started with Pewter

Having never worked with pewter before, but knowing that its use as crafting medium goes as far back as Ancient Egyptian times, meant that I was really looking forward to working with this malleable metal…
Pat shows me some of the more complex pieces that she has made and then takes me to the table where I’ll be working on my ‘first-timer’ piece. There are a whole bunch of printed sketch-like graphics to choose from which will form the stencil base for the pewter sheet. Pat explains that there are two types of pewter that are common amongst crafters, she works with sheet pewter, a process of moulding flat pieces or sheets of pewter by ‘stretching’ it with various tools.
To get started we trace my selected image onto the pewter, only a small amount of pressure is required to create the necessary outlines because the pewter is incredibly soft. Once the full image has been transferred to the sheet of pewter the process of adding texture, depth and perspective can begin.

Working the Pewter

Working with pewter

Different tools can be used to ‘work the pewter’

In our box of tools are a bunch of metal and Teflon tools as well as paper stubs. These are used to ‘work’ the pewter. Pat explains about how working with pewter involves working on both the wrong and right side of the sheet, the wrong side being what is going to be mounted onto a surface when the art is complete and the right side being what faces you. I use the paper stubs and some of the Teflon tools to work the pewter on the wrong side and develop the 3D look that I’m after. When working on the wrong side the pewter sheet is laid over a piece of felt to allow the pewter to form its 3-dimensional shape.
Whilst we’re working Pat chats about what inspired her love for pewter and how she came to not only be an accomplished crafter in the medium, but also teach it too. Her background in scrapbooking brought her to her first pewter workshop about 15 years ago.
“Back then, pewter contained a small amount of lead so the process of crafting it involved gloves and was quite tedious. After my first experience with it I wasn’t too keen on the craft and it was only years later when I was introduced to the modern lead-free sheet pewter that I fell head over heels,” explains Pat.
“I love how you become so immersed in a piece when you are working – almost a type of meditation for the soul.”
As I continue to work on my piece, methodically turning the sheet from one side to the other onto the felt and then onto the board, I completely tune out from what is happening around me. The continuous working of the pewter in filling out the image and working in the negative spaces, bringing my piece to life, is as Pat suggested soul food.
When I’ve decided that I’ve worked my pewter enough – Pat cautions that pewter can be unforgiveable and that it’s possible to overwork a piece – wax is poured over the wrong side to fill the moulded shapes and prevents the pewter from further indentations.

Finishing my Pewter Piece

Once the wax is cooled the process of aging the pewter can begin, and no it’s not as time consuming as the same suggests. A very cool turquoise liquid called patina is used which reacts with the pewter and blackens it. Depending on the quantity of patina added and the length of time that its left on for will determine how dark the pewter goes. According to Pat pewter has a mind of its own as she explains that sometimes the patina-pewter reaction can result in a slightly pinkish tinge without too much application. Following the patina, polish is added along with a lot of elbow grease. Polishing away I can see my piece take on an identity, the risen pieces of pewter shining with pride and the ‘negative spaces’ remaining dark from the patina.
The finished result is quite rewarding and all done in the space of 3 hours, one of the other reasons why Pat loves pewter so much – it can be a quick and rewarding craft.
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