We meet Dorset Blacksmith and Artist Alistair Butcher
Thanks to the realm of social media we often get to hook up with some rather interesting people. A good while ago a young Photographer; Leo McEwan from Dorset reached out to us to see if he could shoot some of our Otso wears. He came across as enthusiastic, friendly and professional so we took a chance and sent him a big box of garments down to photograph for us. Leo's since done a fantastic job and took us some great shots.
On his pursuit so find suitable models for us he met up with and put us in touch with artist and blacksmith, Alistair Butcher from AB ForgeWorks. Alistair was kind enough to model some of our clothing and we also commissioned him to create this beautiful Otso bear inspired sculpture for us.
We had a chat to Alistair about his business as a Blacksmith and this is what he had to say:
Q1. Blacksmithing could be seen as quite an ancient art form and craft, how old where you when you started it and what attracted you to it?
I’ve always been completely fascinated by ancient crafts, history, problem solving, creating things and anything physical so blacksmithing just ticked all those boxes for me. The freedom you have in the ability to create and mould the steel to your will and the connection that it has to our ancestors and the progression of humanities technological and social advancements is truly an incredible and an honour to continue in my own style.
I got into blacksmithing when I was 18. I was looking for something to dedicate myself to that would bring me disciple, self-respect and real satisfaction. So, I looked into colleges in the country that offered blacksmithing diplomas and threw myself into it!
I was also inspired by the fact that my mother’s side of the family had a lot of history in engineering, metalwork and blacksmithing which just added to drive to make this a reality for myself.
Q2. You create a broad range of items from art to tools out of different metals - what’s you favourite thing to make and what material is the best to use?
I really love making axes, being able to punch a hole through a block of steel to make the eye of the axe, or to forge weld two different steels into one piece and the skill to harden and temper is quite the combination of strength, skill and finesse! Although I always love working on the copper scenes as it is a completely different style of work and it gives a great balance to my work life. In terms of the best material for axes, I would say an EN9 tool steel which is an all round great high carbon steel for tools, knives and axes -although it is fairly tough to work!
Q3. We love our Otso Bear scene you’ve created for us - can you explain a bit about how you made this for us?
So, to create the copper scenes I first draw and design an image that will look good as a silhouette, you have to take into account that you wont be able to see much detail of the faces or texture of the bear, for instance, but it is all about the outline and how well it will come across as a silhouette.
Once I have refined a good design, I trace it and attach the design on to a piece of copper. I use copper sheet at around 1mm thickness and cut my design out very carefully using a piercing saw with very fine blades. It takes a while to get the technique right to cut such fine detail but once you are used to it you can really go for it without ruining the piece as a few ill placed, or too hard, cuts could ruin the effect so I usually have some relaxing music to get me in the zone. I then mount it on driftwood I collect locally from Swanage beach. It is an enjoyable process and I take pride knowing it is all made by hand with no electricity using recycled materials that can be made into something special with real character that expresses wildlife, history and the environment we live in.
Q4. Blacksmithing looks like a tough trade to get into - Is it something that requires a lot of patience and technique or can people have a go at and pick up the basics easily?
Blacksmithing is a hard craft to start and it continues in that fashion even as you progress as there is always so much to learn and a lot of blacksmiths have very different techniques and ways of approaching it. That being said, it couldn’t be more satisfying and rewarding as you are quite literally putting your blood sweat and tears into your work and I think that really connects you to it which is something that is very much missing from our current society. It works well as therapy for the mind and soul. With a good teacher people who have never even touched a hammer can have a really enjoyable experience creating something beautiful from a lump of iron and seeing people’s reaction to that is really great - It really does become addictive – there is so much to learn and some really incredible blacksmiths out there to draw inspiration from – past and present! If anyone reading this is thinking of having a go or even looking into training in this craft, I would highly recommend trying it and connecting to our rich history of traditional crafts.
If you'd like to see more of Alistair's work and perhaps commission your own artwork then see his website here www.abforgeworks.co.uk