A seemingly innocuous object rests before you, drab and dull. Suddenly the object springs to life, unfurling into a blaze of color in repeated forms. The transformation is stunning and leaves you speechless.

This key fob, engraved by L Todd Blaksley, easily evokes the image of a form unfurling, like a peacock spreading it’s tail feathers or an exotic flower’s petals. Rather than positioning his scrollwork in a perfectly symmetrical array, L chose to make his design dynamic by using asymmetry. Long-stemmed scrolls emerge from a tightly curled embryo in the lower left portion of the design, fanning out as they reach to meet each edge.

A variety of line-widths works beautifully in this context. Thicker lines give each scroll a strong background and add weight to the edges of leaves. Finer lines shade each piece, with slight hatching indicating darker areas. Dots accent the ends of some leaves, adding just a bit of extra decoration.

L finished the piece off by framing his scrollwork in a simple copper inlay border. The splash of color draws the viewer inside the frame to look at the engraved work. Thanks for sharing, L!

Architectural Inspiration

It’s been a little over a year since we shared Ben Bentvelzen’s stunning GRS 901 Handpiece, which featured inlay, set stones,and hand engraving. Today we have the pleasure of sharing some amazing new work created by this engraver from the Netherlands.

In April of 2015, Ben moved to Austria to train with renowned hand-engraver Martin Strolz. During this time, he was able to enjoy a weekend trip to Vienna and came back to the bench inspired and ready to work. He saw a lot of beautiful art and architecture, but it was the Gothic stonework in the churches, specifically St. Stephen’s Cathedral, that really grabbed his interest. He decided to make a letter opener inspired by the things he had seen.

Using photos from his trip and resources from Martin’s library for reference, he set about creating a design that would combine the larger elements of Gothic church windows with smaller details seen in the churches’ interior decoration. He reworked his sketches, receiving input from Martin until they were both pleased with the design.

He opted to use a stainless steel bar for the letter opener’s form and carefully filed and sanded it until it was the shape he wanted. Once the letter opener was ready, Ben drew his design on the face of the handle. The design has a window frame with a post running up the center. Iceland moss swirls around the center structure, twisting over and under as it reaches towards the blade. The moss is sculpted, adding another layer of dimension as it moves from foreground to background. The precise geometry of the window frame pairs beautifully with the organic, flowing moss.

The top of the window arches towards the blade, and a circle nestles in the apex of the arch. It has three identical forms swirling in the space, dividing it evenly. At the end of the handle, another circle creates repetition within the design, but also adds some new shapes. A snowflake-like shape is centered in this circle, and leaves spiral out from each point. Both circles have been inlaid with gold, creating two focal points that lead the eye across the design from one to the other. The background areas have been recessed, textured with a beading tool, and darkened. The contrast between the steel and darkened background emphasizes the pristine shapes and organic sculptural forms.

Ben’s letter opener is a fitting tribute to the architectural structures that inspired it. Carefully researched and designed, each detail speaks about the source material. Thanks for sharing!

Has your work ever been inspired by architecture? We’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

The Buzz Around the Bench: Part 2

Last Tuesday, we shared a glimpse of a mystery project created by Mitchell Lurth during 2013, while he was working in Glendo’s Artisan Alley.

This week, we reveal the form of his creation — a handmade, hand-engraved bee! Mitchell’s mechanical insect features ball-joint articulation at two places on each leg. The two wings on each side are joined together, but also have a ball-joint at their base. The wings are made of brown stained glass and have metal detailing across the surface.

The head has cutouts in the center and where the eyes would be on a live insect. The openings reveal a number of colorful gears and other reused watch parts.

Mitchell engraved flared scrolls on the head, abdomen, and thorax. The engraving on the head decorates the areas around the openings. The thorax provides a large surface for a large flourish that trails down to an elegant tail at the back. The segmented abdomen has smaller, wing-like scrolls. Two reach across each section towards each other, never meeting in the middle. This bee was an ambitious construction that serves as a unique showcase for Mitchell’s engraving skills. Thanks for sharing!

A Personal First

Do you remember milestones in your engraving and stone setting journey? Can you look back at a piece and say, “that was the first time I did gold inlay” or “that was the first time I used bulino shading”?

These are just a few examples, but most artists could easily come up with a list of their own. There is an almost infinite number of “firsts” on the engraving journey, but which ones are important stepping stones to each individual will vary from person to person.

Andrew O’Donnell fondly recalls a piece that was a milestone in his work: this 14k gold pendant, which features a colorful boulder opal. “This was the first pendant I ever made in gold,” he noted. “It is still one of my favorites.”

He created the pendant and used the GraverMax G8, a 90 ° graver, and a flat graver to engrave the cubed border. The simple geometric pattern wraps around the edge of the pendant and continues up the bail. It is a nice detail that gives it a high-end finish without overpowering the natural beauty of the stone. Andrew also used his GRS tools to set the opal. The yellow gold beautifully complements the opal, with its patches of dark brown, white, orange, pale green, teal, and bright blue. The combination of warm and cool colors creates a lovely balance in the piece — It is easy to understand why it would be memorable!

Do you remember any of your engraving milestones? What new technique or material did you use? We’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

The Buzz Around the Bench: Part 1

Mitchell Lurth had the opportunity to do some really cool projects during the time he spent in Glendo’s Artisan Alley. He went beyond practice pieces, engraving everything including (but not limited to!) tech, guitars, vises, and motorcycle parts.

Mitchell now works professionally at Philip’s Diamond Shop in Marion, Iowa. He occasionally gets the chance to send us images of his current work, but we also have plenty of photos in the archive that have yet to be shared. Today we’ll delve into that archive, traveling back to visit a project that Mitchell worked on in 2013.

He built the object using various scraps and bits of hardware. Flare-cut scrollwork embellishes the form, following edges on the complex piece. The scrolls reflect light from the surface, adding another layer to this three-dimensional creation. There is a lot of detail to take in, both in the form and in the engraving.

Have any guesses about what this project is? “Bee” sure to come back next Tuesday to see the whole piece!

Other Applications

It can be a bit daunting moving from basic skills into more complex engravings. A little creativity in using the skills you have already learned can go a long way towards completing a more complicated design.

These knife scales, hand engraved by GRSTC instructor Jake Newell, feature a dragon with multiple heads and tails. The extra appendages allow the design to have a lot of twists and turns, doubling back on itself and slithering around the holes. Little sections of inlay add color throughout the design, highlighting eyes, forked tongues, and the front end of the handle. In areas enclosed by the dragon’s coils, the background has been textured and darkened, creating areas of deep contrast.

Intertwining lines and the shear number of scales might make a design like this seem impossible to a beginning engraver. A second look may reveal that elements can be broken down into designs that the beginner has already learned. Take the scales, for example — each one could easily be a piece from a running wheat border. On the dragon, there aren’t any notches along the edges, and the shape is just slightly shorter, but it requires very little to transition from border to dragon scale.

This is just one example of ways that basic skills can be useful when engraving more intricate designs. Look for new ways to use the things you’ve learned during your engraving journey; you may be surprised at which skills have other applications!

Have you ever used simple elements in a complex design? We’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

A Tiger for Infinity

What do tigers and infinity have in common? They aren’t generally paired together, but for this Infinity handgun, a tiger is the perfect embellishment.

Steve Dunn engraved this firearm with a variety of elements, including scrolls, chevrons, flowers, diamonds, and a tiger. Scrollwork fills the large faces on each side of the gun, framing the “Infinity” text on one side and an open area that features the face and shoulders of a tiger. Blackened backgrounds provide strong contrast and create outlines along each plane that is engraved. Short cuts and stippling define the tiger’s fur and stripes, layered together to create lights and darks.

The front of the trigger guard has a plain diamond pattern on both sides. The area in front of the trigger guard and the safety also feature a diamond pattern. In these sections, Steve chose to add tonal variety by alternating between empty shapes and dot-pattern filled ones. The rounded front of the gun has alternating stripes of chevrons. These have been shaded in the direction the line points, giving them a sense of urgency. The lines taper, getting smaller towards the back of the chevrons. The reversal of shape and width plays a trick on the eye, making it seem as though the form is a series of planes instead of a smoothly rounded shape.

There may be a wide variety of elements in this design, but the use of bold contrast ties it all together. This firearm is a treat to inspect — in fact, you could even say it’s infinitely interesting! Thanks for sharing, Steve!

Do You Love Spurs?

Do you love spurs? If you do, this particular pair returns the sentiment with its unique heart-shaped rowel box.

Bob and Diane Scalese are a boot embellishing team. Whether you want form, function, or just to add a little jingle to your step, they’ve made and engraved spurs that meet a wide variety of tastes. This set of spurs was made for the Trappings of Texas show in Alpine, Texas.

Bob Scalese made the spurs from mild steel bar stock. No pre-cut parts here — even buttons and rowels are handmade! The arms are smooth and flow neatly into the neck and heart-shaped rowel box. An additional droplet shape extends beyond the point of the heart, providing more space for the rowel.

Once Bob finished making the spurs, Diane began to embellish them with engraving and sterling silver inlay. On one side of each spur she engraved the phrase “Trappings of Texas”. The text is a thin font, with just a touch of depth indicated by repeated parallel lines on the T’s. The word “of” is separated from the two main words by use of script lettering. A few breezy cuts underline and serve as a base for embellishment at each end of the phrase. A simple outline follows the edge of the rowel box, showing off the spur’s form.

On the opposite arm of the spur, engraved scrollwork and inlaid silver add beautiful tones to the design. The bright silver inlay stands out from the French gray finish on the steel. Large-leafed scrolls spread across a dark background in a section bordered by silver. The embellishment doesn’t stop there, however; a thin silver border edges the rowel box. A series of “S” curves create a second border inside the silver line, adding extra definition to the heart shape.

Whether you enjoy unique forms, beautiful tones, or delicate details, these spurs have a lot of features to love. Thanks for sharing!

Have you ever made and then engraved a pair of spurs? We’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

The 2016 Learn Project: A Hand Engraved Compass

The 2016 GRS Training Center course schedule was released this morning and enrollment has begun for next year’s classes! Appropriately enough, today we’ll reveal the 2016 Learn Project as well.

This year’s project — a brass compass hand engraved by Rex Pedersen — is especially relevant to the engraver’s journey. It functions to keep a traveler on course but is also embellished to inspire.

Rex engraved the top, bottom, and one side of the piece. The top features the word “Learn”, the year, and a compass star. Concentric bands start below the star and radiate out to the border closest to the edge of the piece. Parts of the star, letters, numbers, and some bands across the borders have been textured and blackened to make them contrast with the brass. As a result, the text is easy to read and the design has a very graphic quality.

The bottom has a more traditional slant, featuring scrollwork and a running wheat border. The central scrolls have radial symmetry and use repetition to create an endless circle of movement. Once again, high contrast separates the lines from the background.

One side features the GRS logo, given a texture treatment like that seen in the dark areas on top. This “Learn” project, with its bold contrast and concentric design, is another great addition to the series. Thanks for sharing, Rex!

If you’d like to take a course at the GRS Training Center, visit or call 800-835-3519 for more information. Courses fill up quickly, so don’t wait to enroll!

Relief for the Holiday Season

The holiday season is officially upon us, with Thanksgiving barely over and Christmas and New Year’s Day coming up fast. What better way to celebrate the winter holidays than with engraving?

This relief engraving, created by Bob Finlay, sets a scene deep in the winter months. The trees are bare and there is snow on the ground, but the image still has a sense of warmth to it. This is certainly due in part to choice of material; the copper block adds rich color to the piece. Lots of texture and a nostalgic glow only add to the coziness of the setting.

A mule pulls a loaded sledge across a brick bridge. Behind the sledge, a wheelhouse uses the river for power. Snowbanks along the river have slightly rounded edges, perfectly depicting the softening effect a layer of snow has on the landscape. A blanket of snow also drapes across the roof of the building. A smooth area creates a strong highlight at the front apex of the roof. It stands in stark contrast to the heavy texture surrounding it. A drip of snow hangs over the building’s bump out, ready to slide off at any moment. Dark outlines of trees, mountains, and birds recede in the distance, completing the design.

Bob’s relief engraving is a reminder that even though the weather is getting colder, there’s still plenty of warmth in the season. Thanks for sharing, Bob!

Have you ever done relief engraving in copper? We’d love to share your experiences! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

Practicing Scales

You’ve worked many painstaking hours on your design, drawing, erasing, and redrawing until every detail is in place. After all the work you’ve put in, you realize you want to try it out on metal before taking your design to the finished piece.

Richard Kramer experienced that urge, the need to try out his design after he finished drawing it. He engraved a practice plate so he could see the design go from paper to metal. “It was just a practice piece to see if the design would transfer from paper to metal and be interesting and engaging,” Richard described the reason behind the plate.

The preliminary drawing is highly detailed but has none of the shading that Richard added to the practice plate. These lines add layers of dimension to the scrollwork that aren’t present in the drawing. One could imagine where shade lines would be from the drawing, but actually seeing them in metal really solidifies the design.

Detailed scrolls cover the scale from end to end, flowing from one to the next. Some tendrils curl into little balls, providing perfect spots to set accent stones. The fine lines were engraved using a bulino burin. “I like to measure the artfulness of my engraving designs by watching people look at them and seeing how long and intensely those who view it are engaged with the artwork,” Richard explained. “This piece really pulls people in.”

With all the tiny details in the design, it is easy to understand why a viewer would be engaged when looking at it. Richard plans to modify his design and use it on some custom folding knives in the future. We’re looking forward to seeing the results!

If you’ve ever engraved practice pieces before beginning work on the finished project, we’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

The New Wave

The wave rolls forward, a smooth curve of blue and green accented by a frothy bit of sparkle along the front edge. A flash of warm color reflects through the water as it spreads thin over the sand and then recedes as quickly as it came.

This ring, created by Ron Finch of Finch Jewelers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, evokes the image of water in motion through the usage of both color and form. An asymmetrical band curves up and wraps around the large center stone. Clear stones trace the line, defining shape and adding sparkle to the piece. At the center, a large blue and green opal nestles in a snug bed of golden metal. The vivid colors exude calm, but draw the viewer straight to the center of the design. Thanks for sharing, Ron!

We mentioned on Tuesday that Bill Oyster would be teaching at the GRS Training Center in 2016. More exciting news (in case you haven’t visited us on social media sites lately) — Ron Finch will also be teaching here in the new year!

If you’d like to take a course with Ron in 2016, be sure to check the GRS Training Center website or give us a call at 800-835-3519 on Tuesday, December 1st. Phone lines to call and schedule will open at 8 am Central time.

Fishing, Engraving, and Teaching

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

But we’re talking about engraving here, so perhaps a slight amendment is in order. “Give a man an engraving, and he has a fine piece of art. Teach a man to engrave, and who knows how far he’ll go?”

Bill Oyster of Blue Ridge, Georgia, certainly knows about fishing, engraving, and teaching. He’s a career bamboo fly rod maker and has his own shop. He’s been engraving since 2006, when he attended a course at the GRS Training Center with the intention of adding even more value and beauty to his fishing rods. And teaching? Bill teaches 12-16 rod making courses per year at his shop. Starting in 2016, He’ll be teaching at the GRSTC as well.

This engraved rod is just a sample of Bill’s work. The sculpted fish adds an appropriate embellishment to the bottom of the rod. A fine texture across the surface translates the fish’s scales to metal. Finely varied cuts add detail to the fins, creating slight folds and ridges. A heavier cut runs from behind the gills down to the tail, indicating its lateral line. The background has curved, water-like forms that have been given a texture treatment similar to the skin on the fish. Thanks for sharing, Bill!

Curious about what course (or courses) Bill will be teaching in 2016? Be sure to check the GRS Training Center website on Tuesday, December 1st for all the details!

A Buckle and a Bouquet of Blossoms

If you’ve been around E.L. “Sandy” Popovich in the last year and a half, you may have noticed a consistency across many of his pieces. Looking through his work, it quickly becomes evident that he really enjoys engraving roses.

Sandy’s fascination with the flower began last year when he engraved the “Rose Bond”, a Bond Mini Girl Derringer. Since then, he has incorporated roses into many of his designs. In fact, you could even say that the rose is one of his favorite motifs.

He began work on this brass belt buckle during Diane Scalese’s Drawing and Engraving Western Scrolls course at the GRS Training Center. He didn’t complete the buckle during that time, but we got a photo of the work-in-progress while he was here. Many of the background leaves and flowers have been shaded, but the roses remained simple outlines.

The finished buckle has been shaded in completely. Curved lines indicate the shape of each delicate rose petal. The layering of shaded petals and the slight curve of the buckle add a lot of dimension to the design. The blackened background makes the bright brass stand in high contrast, keeping every detail sharp. Thanks for sharing, Sandy!

Do you have a favorite motif? How many ways have you found to incorporate it into your designs? We’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

Making Beautiful Art with Beautiful Tools

The heavy door is tugged open, just enough to allow access to the furnace of molten glass within. A wave of heat rolls out of the gap and a warm glow lights the space. An artisan steps forward and inserts a metal rod into the furnace, rotating it to gather material.

The artist pulls the rod out, a ball of glowing glass lighting the end. The glowing orange glass is mesmerizing as he continues to rotate the rod, dipping it down to let gravity lengthen the piece. He rolls it across a metal table and reheats as necessary until the glass has been shaped into a smooth cylinder. Continually spinning the piece, the artist settles on a bench and uses tools that look like large tweezers to tug and shape the cylinder until it has the hollow form of a cup. Satisfied with his work, he takes the piece to a kiln where it will be cooled slowly so it won’t break.

Now that the fascinating process has reached a pause, you take a better look around the space. You notice once again the metal tools the glass artist was working with; small flourishes of scrollwork beautify the giant tweezers.

Mitchell Lurth embellished these tools for a fellow student during his time as an engraving major at Emporia State University. He engraved fine line scrollwork on one pair of tweezers but used flare-cut scrolls on the other pair of tweezers and the jacks. The fine-line scrollwork serves as an accent to the manufacturer’s markings on the pair of tweezers they embellish. The pair of jacks also has branding that Mitchell’s flared scrollwork curls beneath. This design is echoed on the opposite side of the handle and scrolls find their way to the top of the jacks’ tines. The other set of tweezers has flare-cut design in the general area that the user would hold them. Thanks for sharing, Mitchell!

Have you ever engraved tools for artists working in a different medium? We’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!

A Tale of Textures

Visual texture is a good way to separate elements within your engraved designs. But which textures will achieve the effect you want? Sometimes the best way to see what works is to try out a few options.

This monogram was cut by professional hand engraver and jeweler Todd Daniels. He used the same design on two different pieces, giving it slightly different treatments on each.

Both designs feature a monogram with the letters ‘T’, ‘B’, and ‘D’. The letters overlap and cross under each other, carefully layered together. The ‘T’ is the largest letter and is covered in a pattern of horizontal lines on both pieces. The lines are spaced out a little more on the key tag than on the brass plate, but on both it creates the darkest tone in the design. The ‘B’ is nearly identical on both pieces, featuring rounded ornamentation in the corners and an otherwise smooth surface. On the key tag, the ‘D’ has been given a finish like that of the ‘B’, but with simplified lines. The brass plate’s ‘D’ has been cross-hatched, creating a a mid-tone between the darker ‘T’ and the brightness of the metal itself.

On the brass plate, the usage of three different tones makes it easier to pick each letter out of the monogram. On the key tag, the letters become a little more abstract, but are still readily identifiable. If you wish to use textures within your designs, think about what you want a texture to do for the piece. Will it separate elements or help them blend together? Consider trying a few of your ideas out on a practice piece to see what the textures look like side-by-side. Thanks for sharing, Todd!

Have you ever tried different textures in a design? Did you experiment with it in the drawing stage or did you go ahead and engrave a few versions of the design? We’d love to hear about it! Send photos and story to — your project could be featured here!