Featured Artist: Rick Simmons
BD: How are you doing?
RS: I am doing very well. I am a very busy artist and that makes me happy.
BD: You’re a phenomenal artist located in Texas how is the weather and season working for you so far?
RS: Thank you, I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. I currently reside in Houston, Texas. Everything is fantastic!
BD: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you originally from? How do you get started with art and how did you end up where you are at the moment?
RS: I am married to a wonderful woman who has supported me throughout my entire art career. We have been together since 1993. We are the proud parents of two awesome and artistically-inclined daughters. I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and the family and I have resided in Houston, Texas since 2006, after Hurricane Katrina. My engraving career began in New Orleans. My last job before moving to Houston was at Symmetry Jewelers & Designers as an Engraver/Designer. Additionally, I did freelance engraving work for many jewelry stores, antique shops and silver shops throughout the city.
Once I relocated to Houston, I started to cultivate a relationship with a few knife makers with whom I still collaborate.
BD: Your education in art has had some kind of impact with yourself today. Any pros and cons of what you’ve learned in the past when you were starting and now?
RS: I have been a self-taught musician for most of my life. I play multiple instruments (drums, guitar, bass and piano) and have played in bands since I was 13 years old. This experience gave me the confidence to pursue the visual arts when the opportunity presented itself in my early 20’s. When I was 16 I started working at a jewelry store as a finisher, which means I drilled, pierced, polished and packaged custom jewelry. The engraver at the jewelry store, my boss, introduced me to the art of engraving. Seven years later, I purchased my own equipment to pursue my own engraving endeavors.
My biggest initial influences and instruction came primarily from books – specifically Ron Smith’s book (Drawing and Understanding Scrolls) and James B. Meek’s book (The Art of Engraving), so you could say I was self- taught during the first few years. After meeting Sam Alfano at the Knife Makers Guild show in 2000, I was further inspired to pursue the upper echelons of this art form.
Louisiana is really a mecca of engraving. E.C. Prudhomme of Shreveport, author of the 1961 book The Gun Engraving Review (one of the only books of its kind at the time) taught engraving to both Sam Alfano and Pete Fonte. Additionally, Sam Alfano, Tom Mathis & Alan Hill (Symmetry) were taught engraving by the revered master engraver, Lynton McKenzie while he was living and working in New Orleans for Stanley Diefenthal. I am honored to have learned engraving techniques from all of these master engravers who learned their craft from such renowned predecessors.
RS: Interesting fact, the original engraving vise was called THE REX and was invented in New Orleans by L.W. GERY.
Though most of my education was self-taught, I did attend a “beginner’s engraving” class at GRS in Emporia, Kansas. The class was taught by Sam Alfano and he recognized that my skill set was a bit more advanced than a “beginner” and he took the time to teach me a few more “advanced” techniques on the side.
In 2010 and 2012, I was selected for the GRS “Grand Masters” program and was fortunate to learn Bulino techniques from Creative Art of Italy (2010) and Sculpting techniques from world-renowned engraver Alain Lovenberg of Belgium (2012).
BD: Amazing and great references! how did you make the transition from paper to metal? What sparked your interest in each medium, what do you find you like and struggle with on both?
RS: Actually, I transitioned from metal to paper before I realized that I had to know how to draw! The golden rule of engraving is “If you can’t draw it, you can’t engrave it.” I was so green with engraving, I did not realize how heavily the end result relied upon your art skills…..duh! But this is where my music experience came in. That little voice inside told me that if I could teach myself to play all these musical instruments, then I could learn to draw….I have been a work in progress ever since. Draw, draw, draw, practice, practice, practice.
BD: Any specific techniques for when it comes to your process and execution?
RS: Experimenting with techniques, such as Bulino techniques (fur on an animal), textures (skulls, thistle flowers), anatomical studies and different effects for shading.
BD: I really love the work you do with your flourishes, it’s beyond breathtaking and beautiful, the amazing tiny detail you capture from flourish to portraits, there's a sense of life engraved into it, is it something that came natural or something that you were inspired by?
RS: It was all inspiration. The animate- type work takes a lot out of me, more than the ornamental work. The ornamental work just flows out of my being naturally, but animate drawing has been a point of focus for me more over the past five years.
BD: What are the materials you mainly use when working on pieces and doing art in general?)
RS: For engraving, the primary tool I use is a graver (it’s called a burin in Europe). Specifically, it is point graver that is a high speed steel, 3/32” square blank that I sharpen to different geometries depending on the metal and design. This is the main tool that I use for all of my line engraving. Flat gravers are utilized for special techniques – cutting channels for gold inlays, square lines and background removal for relief engraving. Additionally, flat and round gravers are used in sculpting metal.
Other types of gravers that I use are knife, onglette and a special tool for Bulino techniques.
All flat and round gravers are high speed steel. Other types of gravers are made from cobalt, carbalt (cobalt and carbide alloy), Tungsten and other alloys of carbide.
I utilize both pneumatic hand pieces and traditional palm push tools depending on the technique, effect and the metal that I am engraving.
My engraving bench is equipped with a positioning vise that was designed to be used with my surgical stereo zoom binocular microscope. I also have a power hone with many different grit diamond laps that are used for sharpening gravers. The harsher grit laps are used to rough out the initial shapes of the graver and the finer diamond grit laps are for finishing. Finally, a ceramic lap is used to put a shiny cutting heel on the graver.
All of my tools have been purchased at either GRSTools.com or AirGraver.com.
BD: What are some techniques that you consider a must when it comes to your art work, also some you’ve tried that were that you figured were not really your thing?
Patience & Tenacity
Drawing in general
Anatomy of animals and people
There really hasn’t been a technique that I have studied that I haven’t utilized in one form or another.
BD: You also build tattoo machines which measure surely with some of the best out there, how did that come about, do you enjoy it and being part of the fine art as well as the tattoo culture altogether?
RS: I have arranged collaborations with some of the best tattoo machine makers in the US including Infinite Irons, Joey Desormeaux out of Boca Raton, FL and Robie Sayan’s bespoke single coil machines in D.C. They make the machine frame, I engrave it, then the rest of the machine is built, kind of like a gun. The first tattoo machine that I engraved was a custom commission from a tattoo artist at Black Hive Tattoo in Jacksonville, FL who had an Infinite Irons machine. This job was a referral via Eye Candy Tattoo in New Orleans, LA who commissioned me to engrave four custom sterling silver loupes for needle inspection.
Doing exhibition-grade engraving on tattoo machines has been something that I have wanted to do for years. Being in bands, being tattooed myself and having friends that are tattoo artists, I have felt a part of the tattoo culture for a long time now. It’s just now that I am participating and contributing to it.
BD: Where do you see yourself going in the next 5 years?
RS: I want to continue to push the tattoo machine scene, the tactical knife scene, the art knife scene and expand into graphic art from my original ornamental designs. I have a copperplate printing project I’m working on where folks can have a print on fine handmade paper printed directly from my engraved plates. There will be different size prints available. I’m months away from this as yet, but I’m working on it. I’m also working on an art installation project for hand engraving that, eventually, I would like to see tour the world in the fine art galleries, bringing the fine art of engraving into the spotlight and into actual art galleries. So far, much of engraving is overlooked as a contributor to the fine arts, so I want to help change that. In my humble opinion, engraving is THE finest art out there and it hasn’t seen its heyday in the fine art world. There is no erasing, you can’t just paint over it like a painting, you can’t just add or take away as in sculpture. So, yeah, I want to take engraving all the way from the tattoo scene to the fine art scene.
BD: If people want to find your work, buy anything you may be selling or contact in general where may they find you?
RS: You can contact me through my website, www.BespokeEngraving.com or follow and send me a DM on Instagram @bespoke_engraver.