One of the Country's Finest Gun Engravers
No matter the primary subject, Tomlin injects her own style. The beauty and the mystery of the engraver’s art are somewhat elusive. It is revelation by reduction—by removing the superfluous, the engraver reveals the image hidden in metal. Tomlin is fluent with the English bouquet-and-scroll style of tiny flowers and tightly figured scrollwork common to many fine British shotguns. She still works in the banknote style followed by her mentor, Hurst, in which extremely fine lines are engraved so that the scene appears to have a photograph-like texture. But she has evolved a type of scrollwork that calls to mind the open tendrils and leaves and curling vines of the blackleaf style. “I like imagery that jumps out at you,” she says. “And American customers like big, bold contrast and depth that you can really see and feel. I think it sets off the vignettes, really pulls you into the scene.”
And it is with the vignettes and scenes that Tomlin makes her mark. There are elephants with ears pinned back in anger, Cape buffalo on alert, ruffed grouse and quail rendered in inlay, beating a retreat in gleaming gold relief. She can spend forty hours or more than four hundred hours on a single firearm. Adorning every available inch on a Parker might run $12,000 to $15,000. An over-the-top buttstock-to-muzzle job could top thirty grand. A client’s investment portfolio is the limit, but you don’t have to forgo retirement to afford a piece of Tomlin’s magic. Depending on the design, an ornately rendered monogram on a silver pistol grip cap might sneak in under $1,000 and set a firearm apart from every other.
For her clients, Tomlin says, “engraving is a way of showing their love of a particular rifle or shotgun. Even people who aren’t interested in guns or knives are enthralled by these embellishments, and the fact that they exist on an item like a rifle just adds to the intrigue.”
But for the artist, it’s simply an adult expression of a childhood fascination, and she never tires of its seeming simplicity.
“I enjoy every single day, doing this,” she says. “It really is pretty straightforward. A hammer, chisels, and a vise. I could engrave in a closet if I wanted to.”