Friday, April 18, 2014

Oh the beautiful patina

The next project and demonstrations focused on techniques used to add a patina to copper. A patina is the coloration that occurs on metals, and in this case on copper, when it is exposed to various chemicals processes and oxidation.

Harlan introduced us to a number of ways to add a patina to metal.  There is even a book, Patina:300+ Coloration Effects for Jewelrs & Metalsmiths, housing a whole bunch of formulas that can be used to produce different effects.

Above are two of my patina samples.  As you can see I continued on with foldforming leaves and turned them into my samples.  The bottom sample was produced easily by applying a light layer of salt to the copper leaf and then suspending the piece in a jar in which I had placed some ammonia.  It is important that the copper piece not actually be submerged in the ammonia, but suspended above it. Then I closed the jar and left it for 24 hours.  Finally, I washed the salt off, dried the leaf and coated it with a layer of clear coat.

The top leaf was produced by a chemical formula from the above mentioned book.  I did not actually mix the chemicals and cannot remember what went into it.  However, once the chemicals were mixed, they made a thick paste which was applied to the hot copper leaf (it had been boiled in hot water) and allowed to sit for 24 hours before washing the paste off and sealing.

Another patina which turns copper truly beautiful, is a heat patina in which the copper is rubbed with peanut oil and is then heated to create varying orange hues.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Prismacolor and Paint

The next class on my list was Color and Surface taught by renown enamel artist Harlan W Butt.  If you are not familiar with his work, please take a minute to check out his website and be prepared to be amazed by his breathtaking cloisonne vessels.  He is truly a master and I was thrilled at the chance to learn from him.

The Color and Surface class was focused on learning different techniques for treating metal.  The techniques covered were applying Prismacolor and Paints, Enamelling including cloisonne & champleve as well as discussion of plique a jour, Etching, Patinas, Keumbo and Reticulation.

The first project was to produce a set of 18 samples using prismacolor pencils, prismacolor crayons, and various paints including acrylics and metal paints.

I started with 18 copper squares of the same size. I thought that it might be nice if all of the samples were unique and so I played around with the squares before adding the color pigments.  I ran some through the rolling mill with pieces of twisted wire in between to create patterns.  I dapped, hammered and patterned some of the others.  I also drilled holes in some so that they might be used in jewelry pieces. Before I began applying color, I sandblasted all of the base pieces so that the colors would have a better chance of adhering.

Above you can see the various designs I came up with. I was most pleased with the look, feel and finish of the prismacolor pencil.  I especially like the center, top piece, as something about the movement throughout is pleasing to me.  I also love the way the two space vistas came out.  As could have been expected, the acrylic paint that I used, was easily peeled off of the metal. I was too impatient for the metal paints to get overly creative with them, although being specifically made for metals they adhered well.

Although they are not the best images, above you can see two necklaces created with primacolor sample components.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

End of the World

As a part of the metals club I had the opportunity to share ideas with others and help to spread the talent of the metals students.  One way to do this was through club participation in special events.   The "End of the World" brooch contest was one of these.  The idea was that each member of the club create a brooch sharing their idea of the end of the world.  I decided to keep on with my exploration of folforming and enamelling.

Here you can see the front of my completed brooch.  I first foldformed the copper base and then carefully applied layers of enamel.  My idea of the End of the World is when plants grow their own barcodes, which you can see emerging from the leaf.  I also used enamel on the back to trap the copper tubing and hook that would be the pin findings and piano wire for the pin stem. 

Foldformed, enamelled leaves

During this class I began to experiment with foldforming copper after a classmate brought in the classic book by Charles Lewton-Brain.   I found that I really enjoyed the process of creating leaves with varying patterns from copper sheet.  I then spent a fair amount of time practicing my enamelling skills by applying the enamels to the foldformed leaves.

You can see the progression here from just copper to covered with enamel.  I have continued to work with these two techniques as I love the variety of textures and colors that can be achieved.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Putting it All Together

The final project for this class was to create a vessel with a glass base.   The final vessel was to highlight each of the 4 technical processes we learned in class: electroforming, powder coating, machining and spinning.

 The glass element that I chose to use was a spice jar with lid.  There was a plastic stopper on the lid.  Since I have strong opinions and beliefs surrounding the use of GMO's (genetically modified organisms) in our food supply, I decided to use this project to make a statement.  The materials I chose to use included brass, copper, sculpey clay and heirloom Cherokee Red, White and Blue corn.

The main corn center is made from pierced brass.  The corn husk is made from spun copper sheet that was then pierced, forged, shaped and patinated.  The stopper was covered with electroformed sculpey clay.  The sign is pierced, powder coated copper and mixed in with the heirloom real corn are small, machined brass corns.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ponoko, Vector drawing & Natural Birth

The next project focused on learning to use Photoshop for vector drawing with the goal being to have a laser cut acrylic component produced by a company called Ponoko.  The completed project was to be a set of 5 brooches with each brooch containing one of the Ponoko components. This was a multi-step process that came, for me anyway, with a fairly steep learning curve and a series of setbacks.

The first thing I had to decide was what I actually wanted to make.  I was really working through feelings and emotions that were linked with motherhood and birth.  Not just the birth of my child, but the rebirth of myself as I moved into the next phase of my life.  Because of this, I chose for my acrylic element to be a baby.  And because I believe that we reflect ourselves onto those around us and we look for reflections of ourselves in others I chose a mirrored bronze acrylic for the material.  Once I made these design design decisions, then I began the computer part of the process.

Being a little older than most of the class, I had less previous experience with digital technology than most of the other students.  My first issue was learning how to actually use the program.  This involved many extra hours in the computer lab and and the repeated help of some of my classmates. The first completed drawing got lost somewhere in my lack-of-tech-knowledge and had to be redone.  This was actually very helpful in the learning process which led me to redo the drawing a number of times until it really was what I wanted.

Once the drawing was to my satisfaction, I used Ponoko's online uploader (which thankfully contained detailed directions) to submit my design for production.  For our class, the suggestion was to use acrylic because of cost but Ponoko offers a variety of material and color options.  The website was also very user friendly.  Once the drawing was uploaded to Ponoko and that part of the process was out of my hands, it was time to finalize the brooch design.

Earlier in the semester, as is evidenced by the last project, I had begun a study of foldforming and enamelling.  I felt a strong need to continue that thread and so brought it forward into this project.  I decided that my series of brooches would combine the foldformed and enamelled leaves with the mirrored acrylic babies.  From this point I began thinking about the best method of cold connection, how to attach the acrylic to the enamelled element, as well as how to attach the brooch backs.  I enjoyed this exploration very much and it was fun to play with ways of capturing elements within the enamel, which is ultimately how I connected the brooch backs and the partially the acrylic element.

Above you can see the finished, "It's Natural" Birth Series Brooches.  For me, there is no disconnection between us as humans and the natural world.  I wanted this series to reflect that point of view and for each brooch to be viewed in more than one way.  For me, these brooches hold the imagery for the literal birthing of a child as well as promoting the idea of a being growing directly from the plant/natural world.  The babies are attached in such a way that they are movable and can be readjusted into a different position if desired.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


The next piece of equipment I was introduced to was the machining lathe.  Initially, I was a little fearful of this machine in which you use sharp tools to shave metal, is loud and requires a face shield during use to protect you from potentially hazardous flying pieces of metal and metal dust.  However, after multiple tutorials from both the professor and my fellow classmates, I relaxed into the process.

Our sample project was to turn a rod of tool steel into four different riveting tools and fabricate a holder for them. This was such a great way to get familiar with the equipment and feel as if I accomplished something.  I appreciated that professor Thurman created a sample project where the end goal was to have a wonderfully useful set of tools.

I chose to make my riveting tool pouch mainly out of leather with metal and bead accents.  By incorporating the metal into the pouch I created a situation where I used my new riveting tools right away.  The beaded element is covering a magnet which adheres to the steel tools creating the closure.

    Above you can see the four riveting tools, each one was cut to a different angle degree.   This set has become one of my most reached for tools any time I have a need for cold connections.

Once we completed the sample project, it was time to move on to the machining final project.  For this project we were to turn a piece of brass rod into five machined pieces.  Once the pieces were made we were to use them to create a cohesive piece.

I made many brass samples while I tried to figure out what to do with them.  Finally, I chose to use a combination of enamelled, foldformed leaves with my machined brass pieces to create the jewelry set pictured above.  While the brass pieces are not all identical, I feel that they create a sense of cohesion from their similar shapes and they way each one is used the same.  I used copper wire to create the chain and the vining tendrils.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


The next piece of equipment I learned how to use was the spinning lathe. 

I had never used a lathe before and was looking forward to knowing that by the end of the class I would have learned how to use two different lathes (spinning lathe & machining lathe).  The spinning lathe allows a person to shape flat pieces of metal into a hollow vessel.  By using different wooden chucks (pieces of wood that have been spun themselves into the shape the metal will become) and pushing tools, the spinning lathes allows you to get a symmetrical, hollow vessel to then use as you please.

Here is an image of the spinning lathe I used.  You can see my aluminum disc (which I have already started to spin) and the wooden chuck.

Here are a few samples next to a flat disc like the one I started with.

Once I finished with my sample pieces I moved to spinning copper.  The class assignment was to create a votive holder with top and bottom, out of spun copper.  The first step in the process was to cut my copper disc from a sheet of copper.  I believe it was about 20 gauge.  Once the edges were filed, I annealed to copper to soften it for working, then pickled, rinsed and dried. The next step is to center the disc on the chuck and lock it into place in the lathe. I applied wax to the outside of the copper, turn the lathe on and begin pushing the metal into a new shape.  After a few passes of the pushing tool, the copper was no longer malleable and needed to be annealed again.  There was a lot of annealing during this process. 

 I continued to anneal and push until the top and bottom of the votive were shape I desired.  I then decided to have pierced leaves for my design motif.

I enjoyed the process of spinning vessels very much.   

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Another technical process I learned was powder coating.  Which for this class was process of applying a colored powder onto a metal object and electrically bonding the powder to the metal.  Once the powder is applied, then you heat the object in a small oven to cure it.  Below you can see my sample.

Even though this process seems straight forward and like an easy way to add color to an object, for some reason it was difficult for me to get right. I had a hard time getting the powder to thoroughly coat my small object and cure well.  As such, since we weren't required to do a powder coat final, I chose not too and just incorporated a powder coated element into the class final project which you will see in a few weeks.

If you are interested in learning more about powder coating, check out this great video by  Michael Dale Bernard

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mirror, mirror

After finishing the electroforming sample it was time to move on to my electroforming final project.  The assignment was fairly open with the goal being to create a wearable that had been electroformed.  At this same time I was working in Dallas in homes with beautiful antique items.  I was struck by the intricacies of all of the ornate, gilded mirrors.  I decided to create my own.

For the initial trial of this process I covered a small mirror and created my design with wax.  The goal was to plate the wax with copper and then melt the wax out leaving a hollow form holding the mirror.  I followed the given procedure but once I removed the mirror from the plating bath I immediately realized two problems that I had neglected to address beforehand. The first one, which might seem obvious to some of you, is that once I melted the wax out of the form, the mirror would no longer be held in place by anything.  I would have needed a different design to make that work. And secondly, the copper just wasn't thick enough to support the delicate petals of the flowers and I was afraid of breaking. I ended up leaving the wax inside the copper plating which effectively made it unwearable in the Texas heat where it was created.

 Here is the first mirror in the series. I was unhappy with the way the copper looked on the wax and so my solution was to gild it with gold foil.  It added more texture and helped to define the floral design more.  I made the chain out of brass wire hammered into ovals.

My new plan was to cover the mirrors with sculpey clay and to adorn the mirrors with flowers and swags in the same manner as i did with the wax.  I figured that once the clay was baked on, the leaves and flower petals had a structure to keep them strong and to support the copper. I applied at least 2 coats of copper conductive paint being careful to try and cover all of the clay. This was a crucial step because any place that was not covered with the paint would not have copper adhere to it.  Once the paint was completely dry I suspended the mirror in the plating bath for many hours until the thickness of the copper was at the desired level.
 The mirror above shows what the copper plating looks like.  I can see some areas where the paint didn't cover and so there is evidence of the sculpey clay hidden beneath.

The round mirror above was my favorite of the set.  I used gun blue patina to paint the leaves and create color contrast with the copper flowers.  I made the chain from copper wire that I hammered into flat ovals.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

G is for Gems!

In the fall of 2012, I took Metals II: Technology taught by James Thurman, at the University of North Texas. The next handful of posts will be about the projects that came out of that class.  The processes we used in the metals lab were: Electroforming, Metal Spinning, Machining and Powder Coating.  We were also introduced to creating and using vector drawings which were then capable of being laser cut out of a chosen material to create design components.

For each technology I was responsible for creating a sample piece and a final piece, as well as a comprehensive final piece for the class that encompassed more than one of the processes we learned.

The lovely G below, is my sample for the electroforming process. Electroforming is a process by which you coat an object with metal particles, in this case I was essentially copper plating.

I started with a gem studded G that I made out of wax.  I then coated the wax with a copper conductive paint, making sure to leave at least one small space for wax removal, and allowed it to dry completely.  Once the paint was completely dry, I suspended the G into the plating bath for many hours. 

When I finally removed the G from the plating bath, all of the wax was covered by a layer of bumpy copper.  I placed the G into a pan of water and brought it to a boil coaxing the wax out of the now hollow copper G, and into the water.  Using an annealing torch with with pan below, I gently heated the copper to melt off any remaining wax before putting it in the pickle.

Once the G was cleaned, I used enamels to add color to the G and to create differentiation in the gems.