All about designing and engraving the Mastermind Trophy 2011

Here we go again

It looks like there will be another Mastermind series this year (and another trophy trophy) and I am wondering whether to continue with this blog or start another one. Guess I’ll need to make up my mind very soon. Denis


There is a problem with writing a blog, You can either spend the time  engraving or writing aboutengraving. The trophy is finished and has been sent offand I never wrote the last page or so.  The last step qas to tackle the finer details such as hair, faces and hands and feet. I acquired two new diamond wheels (tiny wheels) from KMK in Germany. They were intended especially for these areas.It must be said that copper wheels do the job as well but diamond wheels keep on cutting as only a drip of water is needed to use them. Copper wheels need a constantly replenished supply of abrasive and oil applied to the edge for them to cut at all, that means you have to stop engraving to charge the wheel and that gets in the wsy of continous  concentration on the task in hand. The other side of the coin though is that diamond (even very fine grade diamond) cuts very quickly and leaves little room for error. I fin I change from one  to the other constantly depending on the area I’m concentrating on. In fact I also change the grade of abrasive I use with the copper wheels as both rough and fine grades have their place. That was definately the case with the faces. I say faces but in reality I concentrate on the heads, not the features. If I get the structure of the head right the face will look correct. Features will not look right if added on top of a badly structured head. after all it’s the bone structure of the head,eg. skull etc that determines what a person’s face looks like.I’m afraid I did not stop to take pictures at this point . Deadline was spproaching fast and engraving took priority. I took a lot of pictures when the trophy was finished though and I’ll post some of them soon.


This is taking me ages to do!! It’s now a case of making final decisions and then engraving all the detail more accurately. Having been away over Easter weekend I’m beginning to worry about time and the approaching deadline! These photos show the way the draperies will be engraved but please remember I haven’t even washed the bowl and the photos were taken at a very high magnification, it all looks very rough but that be removed in the process of  making sure all the shapes are correct and engraved to  my satisfaction. Engraving folds in material is no easy task and I have been using my other lathe (the old one)  and copper wheels to achieve the effect I’m after. The wheel I use is called a “strap or panel”  wheel. It has a straight profile and sharp edges, using it to run down the line of the fold  gives a clean crisp feel; at least it will when I have finished!

Made a start to getting the drapery to cover the body but still retain the form. Very rough at this stage.

To show the drapery following the body. The difficulty is not to obscure it all.


Having roughed out the figures I have to decide whether they should have any drapery added.  The main reason for doing so would be to add another decorative element that would link the elements together. I want the “background” and the figures to flow together as a pattern. I decided on a large flattish wheel and  ran it sideways, creating “scooped” shapes. Where these scoops meet the figures there is every likelihood that the cut will break into the line of the limbs and spoil the form. My first step (after a bit of experiment) was to skim very lightly round the figures and then add the scoop cuts, stopping them just short of the figures (I’ve marked round the area next to the legs where the skimmed area is most clearly seen.) At this stage everything looks very rough but all the “finishing” will come later.

Roughed out.

Gradually taking shape. The figures are roughly engraved and I have an idea of how the  figures are going to look. I do not think the figures will end up completely nude but it is a good idea to start that way as after all clothes fit on the figure.  Start with the clothes and it is more difficult to make everything convincing!

The Muses were a Greek “invention” but I don’t want to give them out-and-out Greek costume as the notion of inspiration is surely an universal one. A big part of my original concept was to use any drapery as a decorative element, exactly how I don’t know yet but at least now I can start to think about that.The second photo was taken of the back of the bowl.


Engraving at last

This post whould have been done two days ago but as I have been working till late actually engraving I guess I have a reasonable excuse.  However, they say a picture is worth a hundred words so this will mainly be pictures.

There is no point in drawing all the figures on at once as the water/abrasive mixture and the action of my fingers will rub them off. The drawing is very sketchy, it doesn’t need to be detailed at this stage, a waste of time in fact as it will be rubbed off as I work and will change a great deal before it’s finished.  Only when all the figures are present on the glass will I start to do the tricky bits, faces, drapery etc.

Working at the wheel.

I use both diamond wheels and copper wheels for engraving. The tehnique is exactly the same whatever wheel is used but there are sublte differences in the appearance of the finished piece.  I tend to use diamond wheels at his stage as they cut faster  and  it is not necessary to continually feed an abrasive mixture to the wheel ( copper alone cannot cut glass but the abrasive /oil mixture applied to the wheel does). The first objective is to rough out the figures. I like to really push on and  carve deeply into the glass to establish the basic forms.  Only when this is done can I have a feel how everything is  going to look. It’s no fifferent with other forms of sculpture.  Using the word “sculpture” may surprise  many people as they think  of engraving as drawing, and existing  only on the  surface,  but with wheel engraving nothing could be further from the truth!!  My aim is to carve something like 5-6mm into the glass,  wheel engraving is definately a form of low relief sculpture!!!  

This stage is going to take a few more days, but how how many I don’t know. The old say about a length very much applies here!

Gail came round yesterday as she wanted to be there when I started engraving. Her help has been invaluable and though she is not an engraver it seemed appropriate that she should have made her mark; literally; on the bowl. It would seem that the next person I am going to be teaching wheel engraving is Gail!! By-the-way I often teach engraving at North Land Creative Glass. the next time will be this June.

Organised and ready?

Surprise, surprise It looks as if I am just about ready to transfer the drawings to the bowl.  As I have to space out the figures carefully round the bowl (to get them all in for one thing) this is just about the only time I use carefully prepared tracings to transfer my ideas  on to the glass. It is normally too restrictive.  I like to allow the engraving to “do its own thing” as I find that once I am working with the wheels the design changes (normally for the better!) . I only use very sketchy marks on the glass as a guide, not a detailed drawing. A drawing on paper looks very different from a piece of engraved glass!!!!! Even with the mastermind the design has a tendency to change as I engrave and I always allow this to happen.

However, as I transfer the drawings there’s every likelihood that I’ll change things. Again it’s a case of a drawing on paper may not look right at all on a curved glass surface. I usually leave a few days if I can between finishing the work on paper and starting on to the glass. That gap gives me time to have a rethink and in the worst case scenario, change everything. You see things differently after a gap.!!    So tomorrow I fancy a little fishing.

The next stage

Once I’ve made the first sketches and have some idea of how the design might look the next stage is make drawings with my model’s help and check out whether my ideas of pose are realistic and possible. I then scale-down these large studies and make tracings from the scale-down drawings. The purpose of all this is to discover a way to link the poses together to create an overall pattern. Having cut out all the  traced figures individually I  lay them out on a white piece of paper to see how they could relate to one another.  It’s only then I  have a notion of how it’s all going to look. If it doesn’t look too bad I can try this strip of paper round the bowl.  (The way I am thinking at the moment is that the figures will encircle the bowl) If it’s too big or too small then that is  bad news!  Back to the drawing board!!.

It’s a case now of assessing everything and deciding if if looks ok or do I need to make changes; replace some of the poses  or do I need to start again????.

Trial lay-out of the traced figures.

When Caithness Glass went into liquidation I bought as many bowls as there were available at the time. My stock is now running low!. This photo shows Jim blowing  some trial pieces from the old mould with a view to producing some more. The smoke is the mould coating being burnt off.  It looks a lot more dangerous than it really is: let me assure you Jim didn’t get burnt!!

Jim with the blown bowl, looking unusually serious!

With every trophy there are several things I have to decide about fairly early on in the design process. These decisions are flexible though, because as the work progresses I might very well have a complete change of mind.  One of these  choices is how to organise the figures  round the bowl. It’s a matter of creating a satisfying pattern. In the first place the figures really need to be seated as standing figures mean they must perforce be quite small and then when it comes to engraving the faces that means trouble!  If all the figures are drawn in the same sitting pose it makes for a desperately boring frieze and that is where Gail’s help is  invaluable. If you do not have the help of a real model it’s so easy to end up with really stilted and unnatural poses. But I also have to find ways of  “knitting” the figures together to achieve a design that leads the onlookers eye round the bowl without awkward breaks. Here again a model is very helpful. Rarly sketches

Here are some of the hundreds of quick sketches I made in my search for the best approach to this year’s bowl.

The next stage is to firm up on these first drawings and decide on the exact poses that I’ll use

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