A Rich Sense of Character: A Look Back at Patinas
The physical effects of dyes, pigments, and exposure to the elements have long fascinated us, especially with metals. It comes as no surprise then that patinas are always a popular topic at Interweave. Over the years, we have racked up an impressive collection of posts on this subject, from the blackest of black patinas to a range of beautiful greens and everything in between.
ABOVE: Copper, brass, and bronze acquire a beautiful verdigris patina over time, giving it a distinct feel.
What Exactly is a Patina?
The word patina can be understood in a variety of contexts. In one sense, a patina is a story — the history of an object “written” onto its surface, an accumulation of everything that has happened to it in its journey through time. For metal, this narrative includes corrosion (or more positively, oxidation) and other chemical processes, both natural and applied.
Metal can’t claim a monopoly on this term, however; it also applies to the aging of certain stones, wood, leather, and even varnish on paintings. (And metaphorically, it can refer to a person’s appearance or impression.) For the most part, the term has a positive connotation, regardless of the medium. Rather than detracting, an object’s patina gives it a rich sense of character.
Early Discoveries, Alchemy, and Chemistry
As far back as 1000 BC, people already had the knowledge to extract metal from ore, make bronze and other alloys, and create pottery, beer and wine, medicine, perfume, soap, and glass. These key discoveries laid the foundation for the field of chemistry.
In the Middle Ages, the obsessive quest to turn ordinary metals into gold greatly contributed to chemistry. Far from being a failure, alchemy drove intensive experimentation with metals. These experiments led to the discovery of a glorious number of pigments, dyes, and alloys. For example, a new red dye was discovered when carminic acid was extracted from female cochineal insects, and the color vermillion was born when sulfur was mixed with mercury.
Harness Patinas for Your Artistic Expression
In today’s world, we have so many options to create the colors, discolorations, and textures we love. In his book Patinas: 300+ Coloration Effects for Jewelers and Metalsmiths, Matthew Runfola takes us on a visual tour of how a variety of metals react to surface effects, from traditional patinas to metal coatings to anodizing.
Matthew recognizes that artists love patinas precisely because they are so closely tied to color. He writes, “Jewelers and metalsmiths have always considered color an important aspect of their work. Coloration, whether it is simply the raw metal surface, or achieved through natural oxidation or chemical patination, can be used to enhance the form.”
To watch the magic of a patina come to life, watch this sneak peak of Darlene Armstrong adding silver black to metal clay. Learn more in her series of workshops on Precious Metal Clay.
Interweave Blog Roll: Learn Patina Options for Your Metal
We have numerous blog posts to help you get started with patinas. Take a peek at these for ideas and tutorials:
Go be creative!
— Tamara Kula
Producer, Bead & Jewelry Group