19 September 2012

West Dean College

A weekend at West Dean is one of life's luxuries that I wish I could indulge in more often. Offer me a weekend at Spa with endless beauty treatments, or one with hours in a studio immersed in something arty, and the second would win hands down.

West Dean is a truly amazing place. It is based in a huge country house, surrounded by rolling grounds, in the Sussex countryside. It serves good food, has a great bar, and offers all sorts of courses, taught by some of the best tutors in their discipline. If you don't know West Dean, I urge you to take a look at their website here. I spent last weekend there starting to learn what I consider to be a dying art - hand engraving, taught by Wayne Parrot.

On past visits to West Dean, I have been doing textile courses, and this was my first time in the silversmithing studio there. It was really well equipped. Look at all this:

I was surprised to find the first bit of our course consisted of us making our own tools. We had to anneal, harden and temper steel, to makes rounded end and sharp scribes, and then we had to sharpen our gravers. To be honest, this was not what I was expecting, and I found it rather frustrating as it was new and difficult - but luckily Wayne came to my aid, and I now have the most precious set of scribes and gravers which can last me a life time!

We were a mixed bunch on the course. Some had done a little engraving, most had done none. A couple of guys were clock makers who wanted to engrave clock faces. One of the girls had raised a copper bowl that she wanted to engrave, someone wanted to enamel over the marks she engraved, and I was most interested in the ability to engrave text. (Which Wayne does oh so beautifully, and with the lightest of touches.)

We started with a really traditional heraldic design, which had lots of flowing marks to engrave. We had to scribe it onto acetate, rub conte crayon into the scratches, rub plasticine onto our metal plate, then turn the acetate over and burnish it down so the design was transferred to the plate. To make it more permanent, we then went over it very lightly with our rounded end scribe.

Then we were away; engraving our plates. I did the lion once, and found I was already a bit better when I completed it, than when I started it, so I turned my plate over and did it again. Much as I would like to share the pictures of the finished item with you - I have found that I didn't take a picture of it - so you will have to wait. Instead I'll leave you with some pictures of Wayne's work - and to be honest, they are much nicer to look at anyway!


  1. Looks like you had a great time! They do seem very well equipped. Your gravers look good!
    When I went there (years ago) it was to do an outdoor mosaic course which was great because I can cobble a street should the need arise :-)

  2. You never know when you will need to do that! Couldn't have done the gravers without Wayne - I kept blueing the steel and feeling overwhelmed! x