I like to have a "practice" piece around the shop to work on at my own leisure and use as a warm up piece in the mornings, or a distraction if I need a quick break and change of pace from another project I'm working on. This week I decided to do a hobo nickel featuring a big horn sheep. We have a photo of this guy up in our home and staring at it one morning over coffee, admiring the animals beauty and various textures, I decided he needed to be on a nickel! So, I started out on my most detailed coin work to date and wanted to try what I would define as deep relief semi-sculpted bulino...
I started out rough sketching his outline on paper with a target style grid so I could wrap my head around the scale and positioning within the circle of the nickel. In an effort to make him as large and detailed as possible I kept the edges of the horns to the outer diameter of the coin and "under" the wording pre-existing on the nickel. First, I scribed, by hand and eye, the outline of his head and shoulders on the nickel and cut it with a 116 graver. Next, I wanted there to be a good amount of dimension, so the background was removed using gravers along with the NSK rotary tool. This was followed by stippling with a very sharp carbine needle point to darken up the background. For sculpting, I cut the outlines of where his head meets the neck, the crease in the shoulder area, and where the horns meet the skull, then removed some material at each of those points to create dimension. A small punch was used to smooth out the areas that were removed, and also to smooth out the remaining contours of the original bust stamped into the nickel.
Now the fun part! Bulino! I really enjoy this type of work and was originally guided into it by the very talented, Alvin Chewiwi of New Mexico. Alvin was kind enough to introduce me to several different graver shapes to try out, and also showed me castings of his beautiful work to study dot placement and how to capture the eye of the animal which is most important! Bulino engraving is the process of creating an image in metal using small "dots" and sometimes lines or crosshatching to create darker and lighter areas of contrast to form the picture. It can be tedious and time consuming, but I'm just the right person for those kinds of jobs! Call me crazy, but I very much enjoy staring through a microscope for hours on end picking microdots out of metal hoping that the image, or in this case animal, I'm trying to render, doesn't come out looking like it had a stroke, or, mirroring a Salvador Dali creation when you're going for realism. On that note, I've found that changing the microscope zoom and frequently checking on the work with the naked eye helps to keep things on the right track. Also, having your image blown up and close by to refer to is an absolute must! It's easy to get lost while you're working at this scale so referring back to the original image for references on shades and textures is extremely helpful.
There's no way to know how many dots or lines I actually put in the animals head, but in the thousands for sure. I used the same 90-ish degree bulino point for all of the bulino work and crosshatching, all of which was done by hand, not under power. I did use power and a small ongellete graver to create the striations on the horns, then went back in and used the bulino point to darken up areas and create the shadows/curves in the horns. I hope you enjoy it! It will be listed for sale in the online shop later today. Thanks for reading and sharing in my work!