Sculpture Forging: SYLLABUS

James Garvey, 2017

~ acquiring a practical attention for conceiving and making an object that has a profound objective impression ~


Forge Platform

Forge Platform



An audience visits Tilted Arc, by Richard Serra. There is unanimous confirmation that the work conveys a profound affect. Can this work be regarded as objective artwork?  Additional examples for consideration: Sagrata Familia Cathedral by Antonio Gaudi, Water Lilies by Henri Matisse, the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, and the sculpture, Will by Marc DiSuvero.

In this course, there is a distinct channel of the creative process that will instill intuitive sensitivity. Individuals conceive a form-idea and make an object that has an innate affect upon the viewers. The ‘vocabulary’ of Sculpture Forging enables an inner dialectic to sort cursory ideas. Each person is obliged to sustain the quality of the impression during fabrication. Each student adds to their Journal of Conception at the end of the work day; and, all the members confirm that the presence of vitality is still present for each work. Throughout the realization process, the Sculpture Forging ‘methods’ ingrain frequent projection of the form-idea using visualization to recognize design issues that compromise the impression. The methods provide a practical means to resolve these issues.

The medium is ‘Hand Forged Metalwork. Forging enables metal to become a plastic medium that can be formed and finished with an immediate attention that is similar to drawing; one can realize a form that has exact correlation to an image in their mind. When ‘forging’ is compared to carving or casting, the momentum is not being compromised by a complex reproduction method. When ‘forging’ is compared to fabricating with found objects the creative process is not required to accept the homogenized taste of industrial manufacturing materials; the artist’s attention does not get kidnaped by an abstract perplexity that is devoid of visceral affect: sorrow, friendship, joy, loyalty, self esteem.



An immediate bond is established by making JG Hooks at an open-air forging platform. Making the hooks brings confidence. Once this is apparent, insight is called upon to sketch form-ideas. These ideas are sorted and momentum is held in check until there is a consensus among the class that the idea has an objective impression; then, with guidance introduced by the instructor, the scale along with specific techniques become the vehicle for the student’s realization of their work. Each participant learns to manage design decisions with Sculpture Forging methods. The instructor may give tasks that address obstacles particular for an individual, such as: “If you get stuck, try to sketch full scale and visualize an imaginary presence that includes the change you intend to make; then, pay close attention; try to measure, what is the relative affect upon your personal presence?” or, “If you focus on a silhouette of the negative space in the composition and refine that shape, will it relieve your frustration?” or, “Can you temper the ‘precious’ notion of your form-idea; can you take the vital affect that isin your form-idea and produce a series of eleven pieces?” At the close of each session, the members observe as each work is positioned in a place to be viewed and the individual adds to their Journal of Conception.


application screening    Prior experience is not required. An invitation to join the class is based upon the following:

Can the Student visualize?

The applicant is asked to use their free hand to draw a full-scale sketch of the other hand as they hold an object behind their back.

What is the Student’s biomechanical aptitude for this medium?   Forging is rigorous, fast paced, and ongoing. Students need to be agile and remain calm amidst equally determined members on the forge platform. The applicant needs to disclose any handicap that pertains to breathing, fatigue, and/or compromised attention. Also, they should tell the instructor if they have medical treatment that pertains to an active blacksmithing program such as susceptible to an infection, or light sensitive or heat sensitive skin that could result in burns. They will be asked to perform a simple exercise at the anvil to confirm that they have better than average dexterity and coordination; this is necessary in order to handle the rigors of forging without an elevated risk of injury.

Does the student have the Maturity to accept instruction?  
Can the applicant be “OK” with an approach that is far from exploration and conversation? The individual needs to ask the instructor questions about the Glossary and Policies; they understand that former students have been suspended; and, everyone needs to respect the program. Before applying, they should consider their history, was there strong resistance when they participated in a disciplined approach to training?


practice                   The student starts by making hooks on their own, see section 3. Note, these hooks are not expected to be functional. The instructor demonstrates techniques for making a hook until the student asks for the hammer so they can try. Primal scrutiny is an interior process used to analyze the action and train their body to execute the skill; the instructor returns often to repeat the demonstration. The student may also notice, the instructor is always tuned to the presence of this object as it is shaped. This is freehand forming, done without the use of a jig. The subtlety of impact force and ‘positioning’ is better learned without words; free-hand forming is understood as three-part harmony; it is a spontaneous combination of moving, feeling and thinking. They are reading the radiant glow as the bar is brought up to an appropriate ‘heat’ for a specific techniques: dark red for bending, orange for rounding, yellow for tapering, white for flattening or cutting on the hardie. He or she will be relieved of the hesitation caused by not knowing ‘how to do it’. As each ‘heat’ is brought to the anvil, there is an active visualization used to determine precise forming action. This is the advantage that freehand forming imparts to realize an impression that is free from lackluster craftsmanship. They must share the fire, the anvil, and the vice as they maintain a safe work environment. Acquiring confidence with a technique is like texting or typing without looking at the keyboard.


prospecting internal dialogue      “I am encouraging an inner attention to find an unprecedented form-idea that imparts an objective impression. I refrain from looking at existing sculpture; I can dismiss infatuating trends and ideas that haunt me. When I sleep, every recorded memory is being reviewed by my current interest.  A potential impression is being fused that is apart from spoken language; it has not got a name. Any form-idea that I visualize is significant. I sketch it without concern of how it will be made. There is a threshold to cross for my form-idea because the class needs to confirm it. Also, I have a responsibility to reject mediocre material of my classmates. In this way, we learn to sort out weak ideas, nurturing discretion for an objective impression. I respect the individual’s opportunity to proceed with his or her own struggle. Unless I am invited during the session, I refrain from the indulgence to blurt out my creative projection for their work.”


in-process work         The student will develop a rendering of their form-idea. There are complicated intentions that the instructor will avoid that can cripple development such as: heat treatment, jewelry scale expertise and, naïve details like rivet heads or the ‘beaten effect’.  In counsel, the instructor and the student arrive at a practical approach regarding scale and schedule. Specific technique is provided to interpret the form-idea such as: punching, twisting, upsetting, or repoussé. The participant practices; and, he or she develops confidence to perform without hesitation. “When I am making a new piece, there is a visual detail of the form that hovers in the margins of my attention. I am comparing the piece with this image; it is active as the guide. As the work advances, an internal process understands the potential at hand. I continually refine the fabrication process in order to optimize the impression.



journal of conception      At the end of each forge session, the individual reflects upon the visualization that was active that day.  The work is positioned for viewing in a place free from visual chaos, the place in process. Students record at least ten seconds in their video file as they respond to this question: “Considering the technique and tooling as a means to represent the character of the form that hovers in the mind’s eye, were you obliged to accept compromise?” The dialog is focused upon an innate response to the visual impression of the work at hand. Astute understanding of academic, aesthetic practice or theory is not what the class is about. Along with the interview, the instructor and student review several seconds of technique that was recorded during class to understand remarks about their skill. The work remains in its’ place-in-progress until he or she returns.  During this recess, it receives creative attention, both conscious and unconscious; this allows the individual to visualize the next steps. The anticipation of this refinement provides an abundance of energy to devise a simple tooling/method to manage the next move.  Also, there is an impulse to approach this unprecedented task properly and take time to practice before proceeding.



continuation   Each student shall be attuned to the presence of an objective artwork; the student’s aspiration to realize their own objective artwork is not self-serving. Compared to the insulated approach of cutting edge self expression, Sculpture Forging has the refreshing advantage to remain apart from self-conscious vulnerability and rationalization. A question continues, what is the significance of this quality of work in regard to the community?



Sculpture Forging: methods and class policies


objective artwork (def. by JG)  an art work that demonstrates profound anonymity has an aesthetic affect that we all share, an active dialog with collective unconscious.  It produces a physiological effect, a distinct sensation, and a barrage of impulses that fire across the synapses in many regions of the brain.  Examples: the Sagrata Familia Cathedral by Antonio Gaudi, Tilted Arc by Richard Serra, Water Lilies by Henri Matisse, the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, and the sculpture, Will by Marc DiSuvero.

prospecting   (def. by JG)  I seek a new element in my vocabulary of forms. My interest is ignited by a challenge, in my mind there is an impulse that billows, swirling the contents in a prospector’s pan. I am groping through the visual impressions in my memory using my keenest attention to gather traces of profound relevance that have been demonstrated in my work. These are the catalyst for a process of evolution; it is not a process of discovery. I am fusing an unprecedented idea that will be apparent in every project that will be derived from this idea.  An example : a man pulling a sled conceives a pair of axels and four wheels.

form-idea  ( def. by JG),  each member of the class conceives a form-idea; it has an innate relevance to an individual’s burning interest; there is an objective confirmation by fellow students that it is not derivative.  It is an internal visualization akin to an object in a dream. It can be visualized during waking state; all the surfaces can be examined; and one can zoom in on details. It is used as a guide during work-in-process. JG Bend, Wing Surface Joint, and Ring on Ring; these are three form-ideas that my mind has fused while I was working at the forge:  


threshold I have a responsibility to reject mediocre impressions; I respect the fact that my form-idea has been confirmed; I refrain from creative exuberance for another person’s work unless they invite suggestions.

sketching (def. by JG)  a conversation with a unique attention inside me, a remarkablyeffective digestive process for visual impressions, a time sensitive opportunity to respect my current interest.

primal scrutiny     I can learn precise technique with a single glance. I use intense focus to flesh out the choreography of physical action. As I try to perform the technique, there is brief action video in my mind. I use the ‘vitality of not knowing’ to move beyond awkwardness as the task is underway; I practice and repeat, repeat, repeat. I invite this visualization to be continually refined ahead of the action.

work-in-process      I am working to interpret my form-idea. I can “taste” either confirmation or, compromise; I do not hesitate to use ingenuity to refine the approach in order to keep from diluting the objective impression.

freehand forming     I devise the most rudimentary conditions that enable me to have manual control as the material is being shaped; I anticipate the affect of thetransformation and refine the operation as it proceeds; I avoid devices or positioning apparatus that compromise my ability to do this.

taking a heat      a component may take as many as forty heats. During each heat, a visualization of incremental change is being continually updated as I work to hammer out my form-idea.

by-eye       I only use measurement tools to set the boundary; my attention can instantly determine proportions and alignment. I am continually measuring resonance within the composition.

full-scale      I only use a full-scale mock-up to study potential changes. I consider the affect of physical presence that I infer from the work.


negative space     I lay out existing components and sketch the negative space area to understand weakness in the composition.

anti-overwrought     when the canary stops singing, then it is a gamble to proceed.

Medieval poise ‘hand hammering method’    there is no arc in the trajectory of the hammer swing. I let gravity pull the hammer straight down. I visualize a straight line of impact that my body conforms to. When the action is smooth, I accelerate the force with torque action from the small of my back. I have upright spine; my lips are touching; and my jaw is relaxed. Every hit needs to be recognizable as effective…

place in-process   PIP   I position the work at a place free from visual chaos where it can be seen and where it can remain until I return. I take a snapshot and review quality of expertise; I formulate and record my response,  “Considering my work today, does it continue to resonate with the visualization of the original form-idea?

stalled     Vague is Vague! If the impression has become weak, it is better if I do nothing.

osmosis       I am in the presence of thousands of hours of experience that I have devoted to this craft. Rather than take it for granted, I sincerely wish to provide genuine specific insight in order to facilitate my active interest.

existing work   renowned form is like flirting with an interloper. I do not look at images or existing forms in this medium when I am prospecting. I only use new form-ideas arising from a current interest; also, I remain passive to “self significant ideas” that haunt me such as a mushroom form that I was not permitted to work on at some previous point in time.



“happenings”        if I wish to move on instantly, I can move to California and pursue form-ideas that use pure process art such as twisting a bar until it breaks. 

morphing       Often I become inclined to redefine the form-idea; this indicates that my choice was premature.

self-therapy        I identify subjective therapeutic form-ideas such as: anger/power objects or carnal/angst objects. I consider discretion before sharing these ideas.

hysterical/religious        I am suspicious of any impulse to realize form-ideas that are symbols for spiritual, esoteric, enchanted experiences such as: wreath of thorns, or lotus blossom of clairvoyance.

technical struggle         I avoid unreasonable form-ideas that oblige me to learn complex expertise such as heat treatment or forge welding.

multiple components        I am cautious of form-ideas that have moving parts; these tend to absorb enormous design development.

cliché free      I remain an outsider to form-ideas that represent graphic font: hearts, emoji, and treble clef…
tools     forging tools, tongs, and hammers are stored in canvas bags. They are laid out on view individually for each session; regular handling keeps the tools from becoming rusty and it reinforces the vocabulary for expertise.

forge attire    participants are urged to wear safety glasses and heat resistant garments: gloves, hat, and footwear. Appropriate fabrics include: leather, wool, cotton, or carbon fiber. Warning: open cuff boots catch hot embers; synthetic fabric melts and causes burns; loose hair tends to be singed by the end of class.

instructor’s assistant   a well-qualified technician is employed to lead during two-man forging, and provide metal fabrication tasks such as welding, cutting, grinding, drilling. 

forging materials     mild steel, titanium, stainless steel, or silicon bronze. No galvanized metal, aluminum, or recycled industrial metal.

finish      forged patina,  ‘hand filing’, or plating by others.


tongs     firm positive grip, never pivoting. Please ask the instructor to re-forge the jaws to fit the work.

hammers    new handles when they split, face of hammer has burrs trimmed; no taping allowed.

anvils     are secured with chain onto JG Anvil Stand.

working heat    heating is essential… it needs attention, the right color for the technique, no burning.

two-person forging      the instructor shall approve any person before they can do two-person forging. 

foresight      when you reach the anvil, there needs to be an internal visualization, a pre-emptive video that is playing just ahead of what happens during the heat.



torch      never put the torch down on the forge or table.  Lines are stored in a specific place that is off the floor; hoses and cords do not get stepped on. Even during the class, turn off the valves at the Oxy-Acetylene tanks whenever the torch is not in use.

extinguishers      are available; and everyone understands their use. Buckets of sand are always at the ready.

canteen     is available any time: drinking water and snacks: popcorn, dried fruit, and nuts, a place to wash hands, a first aid kit with burn cream, bandages, aspirin, eye wash flushing system, hand cleaner, Neosporin, and a blanket. Gloves and face shields are always available.


injuries     stop working; have someone examine the injury; always, formulate why it occurred.

bad air    is not allowed: paint spray, sandblasting, acid or base surface treatment, galvanized steel, brass with zinc, recycled metal with synthetic coatings such as: Teflon, epoxy, zinc, or any coating that has toxic fumes that will vaporize and be ingested.

no power tools       no welders, no grinding, and no drilling.


make it go away      maintain a scene that is free from visual clutter. Return inactive tools to the plank with the other tools. The litter stand has a designated place outside the area of activity. The visual scene of the entire forge platform needs to be free from visual distractions such as wrappers, paper packaging, and shiny containers...

chores    burnable material such as leavesare cleared for up to 25 feet out from the edge of the forge platform; clinker buckets emptied; quench water is fresh; service the litter stand; sweep the platform.

demonstration    expertise is best introduced by the instructor, not by fellow students.

ingenuity       please,  resist the impulse to be a volunteer; do not compromise the opportunity for another

interruptions     email, texting, conversations… attend to these when you are off the Forge Platform

rapport      please, respect the focus that fellow participants apply to their work;  if someone likes to talk, be sure to start to chat and leave them hanging in mid-sentence.  

endorphins    can be dangerous. If I become aware that I am ‘in your way’, it is time for you to take a break!

let it fall      if something slips, let it fall; never try to catch it.

accident prone  the participant may be suspended if they are having physical accidents, or taking unnecessary risks.

blind prospecting   the participant may be suspended if their interest is critically compromised; if they begin to express frustration and resistance toward prospecting.

‘leavies’       the participant may be suspended if he or she is unable to focus on their own work; if they burn things up in the fire because they are too often available to solve problems and assist fellow participants. His or her performance is compromised because they may get nervous in a group; they may be unable to ask for assistance; they may be shy about the performance of learning a new skill.

self-fulfilling mentality     the participant may be suspended if he or she is locked into a creative bent of their own, irrespective of the instructor’s direction or the effect that it has on the class.

incorrigible     the participant may be suspended if he or she assumed they could adhere to the policies but they begin to act upon an impulse to usurp the instruction. Eventually, they argue and take offense.