On the Outlines of Crows

On a recent trip overseas I was fascinated by the crows who inhabit the cities we visited. Crows are interesting birds for a number of reasons – they are smart, tool-using, and, like sparrows or rats, are found along with humans. What interested me is the graphic qualities of the birds. Their blackness reduces them to a silhouette – even their eyes are black – but the graphic reduction to two dimensions does not strip them of their individuality or character. When I got home, I decided to make a series of pendants using crow outlines that I had photographed here and there. IMG_3312IMG_2265_2 - Version 2 My process for making the pendants was simple. The photographs, increased in contrast and reduced in size, were printed out and glued to a sheet of shakudo. I then cut them out with a piercing saw, glued these cutouts to a sheet of silver, and inscribed the outline with the point of a needle. I then pierce out the silver sheet on the inside of the line. The result is two pieces which almost fit, and I trim the silver one with small diamond burrs that I got from the dentist, and small escapement files which are hard to get now that the watchmaking industry is no more. The shakudo piece is then tapped into the gap with a mallet, and the whole thing soldered. I raise up the piece from the reverse with a ball-peen hammer and round the edges over a spherical stake. My idea is that the pieces should have a liquid shape, and an outline that looks symmetrical but is not. Next the piece is filed and sanded until it looks smooth: crow2 crow1 Then I solder on a bail (the loop at the top for the chain) and polish the whole thing. The shakudo, which starts off a pink colour like copper, is patinated using ammonia until it acquires a dark plum black. I use cloudy ammonia from the supermarket, dabbed on with a soft brush. Here are some pictures of the results. They are still due to lie around my workshop until any traces of fire-stain emerge, after which they will get another polish and patination. crow2 crow5 These guys were flying with vast flocks of starlings above the minarets of Urfa. crow3 crow4 This fellow was sitting on a gatepost near the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. crow1 crow6 And these were in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. After that I wondered whether crows weren’t a bit gloomy, at least in the many associations they have gathered over time. So I tried the same trick, using lapis lazuli instead of shakudo, to produce two blue birds of happiness. The first one uses an abstract bird shape: IMG_3648 Having succeeded with it, I tried a more detailed outline – an actual American bluebird, the image of which I lifted off the net. IMG_3655 I couldn’t really recreate the vibrant blue of the lapis with our camera.


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