The first Strongblade Free-Forge Contest brought in talent from across the world, but only one virtual blacksmith could be victorious. Meet Zachary Luna, who drafted one sword to rule them all. Zachary lives in Los Angeles, and, among other things, occasionally works “in specialty costume fabrication (building armor and superhero suits).” He’s had education in the arts, and has worked for years to perfect his trade. But, Zach, you had us at armor and superhero suits.
Strongblade: Can you tell us a little about why you designed the sword you did, and the process for drafting it?
I think we need more cool, functional falchion options out there. I even used my prize to purchase another big single-edger, a piece based on the Thorpe falchion in Norwich.
I sketched out the basic dimensions with a simple mechanical pencil, then defined all of the hard edges with a black pen line so that they would photograph more clearly. I took a cell phone pic under hard lighting and then cleaned up the color balance on a photo editor. I like the bronze-y tone because it looks like an image drawn on parchment or whatever.
Strongblade: It’s obvious that you have some mad skills in the artistic arena. How did you acquire those skills?
Zach: Haha, thank you! I’ve been sketching and doodling things as long as I can remember, but I also worked on a minor in studio art while I was in college, if you want an answer with more formal training involved. Like anything, it’s just a matter of practice over time.
Strongblade: What advice would you give to budding artists and designer?
Zach: I’d say learn as much as you can about the subject you’re working on, and absorb influences from all sorts of different places. And to just START trying and working on it, you’ll only get better. When it comes to designing swords, that means not just looking at game/movie swords and modern replicas, but also researching historical weapons and going and examining authentic artifacts in person, if possible.
I was lucky enough to get to examine a lot of historical swords in person, at museums in London, New York, and Paris. But you can easily get a copy of Oakeshott’s Records at a library or research historical swords on the Internet. Your imagination builds new concepts based on the breadth of influences it has already taken in, so the deeper your knowledge of previous examples is, the more freedom you have when playing around with something new. And your choices can be more informed when you decide to break or bend the rules.
The difference between thinking “I want this hilt to look cool, I guess it should be shaped like a dragon tooth/animal head” and thinking “we’ve got a long, single-edge blade with a deep belly, so the grip would tend to have a slight recurve, matched with a pommel that hooks foward, like a Chinese dao, Circassian shashka, Grecian kopis or Iberian falcata–I’ll start there and add some dragon ornamentation after the basic structure is laid out” is huge.
As for “just starting and working on it” you can begin designing even if you don’t have a lot of sketching and drafting skills at first. There are programs like inkscape that let you play around with blade shapes, forms and proportions without ever worrying about having to draw a straight line. Heck, I’ve had sword and scabbard designs produced by several big companies and I STILL have to bust out a ruler whenever I need to lay down a straight line. Just keep trying.