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Octopus Candleabra Commission

 I was approached by a long standing client and family friend in 2020 and asked if I would be able to make them an octopus candle holder for their dining room table.  I was already fully booked with commissions and made some suggestions for other artists and blacksmiths to approach but luckily for me, this client was happy to wait.  


Just thinking about the project was enough to put my tool-making brain on overload and while I had a good idea of the style of piece I would make, the complexities of forging the suckers on the octopus arms and getting the texture into the work was at the forefront of my mind before I even put pen to paper.


With this commission, the brief was simple; an octopus that held 8 candles and would have a foot print and height suitable for a dining table.  Being somewhat land locked in Wiltshire and not very well travelled – I haven’t met many octopus in person and wouldn’t eat one, my first job was to watch My Octopus Teacher and get a better understanding of this extraordinary creature and how it lives.  The film was incredible and did inspire me in many ways, the movement and sense of essential self-preservation of the octopus stuck with me.

I started sketching from the film and online images as that was what I had available to study.  

From there I came up with a design that I hoped captured the movement and fluidity of an octopus.  I wanted it to be light and look as if it was about to scuttle off the table!  The use of shells as the candle holders was of course inspired by the octopus covering itself in shells as protection from prey and was a brilliant solution for holding the candles.  I spent around 5 hours researching and drawing for this project.

The process for making started with a wire 3D form that I could work from.  I then started to forge punches to make the suckers on the arms, there are approx. 2000 suckers on an octopus and that’s a lot of punch work!   Using a bit of plasticine to check each punch as I made it really helped and saved time hardening a tempering. 

Next I started to draw down the eight arms, these were forged from 20mm solid round bar to square tapers then swaged down with a hefty hammer using all the swage sizes in my block.  The tapers were around 750mm long.  The swage block and hammers got really hot through this process so I knew I was working hard.

Once each arm was drawn out I could then do the punch work with the bar supported in the bottom swage to maintain the half round section I wanted for the arms. All this is done in a straight line.  Once all arms were complete, I then started to form the 3D shape of the octopus following the wire template.  This took some time as I was also trying to get only 3 or 4 points of contact with the table to maintain the feeling of movement – everything was moving while I was making it!


The head was forged from 4mm plate starting with a card template and forming over a wooden block and the ring tools I use on the anvil for the bowls I make.  The eyes that stand up from the head on an octopus were punched through from the inside and then I forged the eyes from 16mm upset bar punching the detail in.  The underside of the head was the most difficult part as it had to come up and round and meet with the top half neatly without being to cumbersome.  The texture on the arms and head is purely from the forging process over the anvil.

With all the components made and thoroughly cleaned on a wire wheel, I then started to assemble and really build the octopus.  Each day in the forge made more character come out in the piece and she started to take on a life of her own.  Some arms didn’t work quite right and were re-forged many times to get just right.  

Each arm needed to be clear of the position of the tall candles and be balanced so the whole piece was fully stable.

The skirt was the next piece to forge, I made templates for each section and textured them as I forged them to shape.  I TIG welded them to the arms as this helped with the texture of the work and modern welding techniques are a modern blacksmiths best friend! 


I made a start on the shells and having never made these before either, had a few practice pieces to get the technique correct.  I really enjoyed forging these, they are fun to make and I will use them again in another candle holder I am sure.  I wanted them to hold night light or tea lights as well as tall candles and with agreement in the design phase, I did not put any spikes in the shells, the tall candles are secured with blue tac or melted bases.

The shape of this piece required me to clean each component prior to welding together – this made it much easier for me to keep the texture throughout and not mark it with an angle grinder.  The underside has two small extra pieces welded on where I forgot to put my makers mark and the Worshipful Company of Blacksmith mark on the arms as I forged them. 

 The total weight of the octopus is 7.6kg

I had always visualised this octopus on the ocean floor and the last component for this was to make the copper ocean floor.  I worked up my 1.2mm copper sheet to replicate tide marks in the sand.  Working with a big leather sand bag and bossing mallets plus the carved piece of horn and repouseé punches with lead blocks I trained on with my Dad Hector, the ocean floor really finishes the piece.  I patinated over 3 days to get the textured blue/green effect that gives a lovely watery feel to the whole piece.

I have spent approx. 97 hours making this lovely piece, learning new techniques and perfecting old ones.  I never thought I would make an octopus – what an amazing thing to be able to do!  This is certainly a one-off extra special piece of work that the client is over the moon with and I confess I am a little bit in love with and sorry to see leave the forge but know it has gone to an extra special home.


Melissa Cole 2021
Final photos by Mark Somerville




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