Sandblasting is about blown sand and stencil. Most of the time stencils are affixed to the glass, that is the standard method used by almost all sandblasters. This “restriction” is what gives the medium it’s recognizably distinctive look of ultra sharp edges and soft gradations between things. It wasn’t long after I started etching before I was, in some circumstances, wanting to break free of that. I believe that for most sandblast artists who encounter that urge to go beyond the standard look logically attempt “freehand’ techniques to bridge that gap between sharp and soft edges.
Those that can work comfortably in that extraordinarily difficult realm may have no need to experiment further. With fully developed freehand skills, as in no stencils, there are theoretically no more limitations. Personally I found no comfort zone in that approach and so I was forced to find other ways. In many of these techniques I’m still using stencils, but not affixed to the glass. “Hand held stenciling” is what I have come to call it.
Portraiture in terms of subject matter, requires a higher level of accuracy than anything else I can think of. To sandblast a human looking face is a challenge in itself. For that face to have the precise characteristics of a particular individual to the point they are recognizable as that person is really the ultimate sandblast challenge. Gaining through experimentation the ability to control gradations and soften normally hard edges has really helped me out in this area.