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How to Make Colorful Metal Jewelry Designs: 7 Ways to Alter Metal

Our latest issue of Create Jewelry magazine is out, and it's a beauty! I'm inspired to scoot all my metalsmithing stuff to the side of my worktable and break out some thread and artisan beads. I have a growing collection of lampwork glass beads, Green Girl Studios metal beads and clasps, Nunn Design charms and other components, gemstone beads, enameled beads, and too many more to list–all just waiting for me to string 'em up into gorgeous necklace designs.

Nothing inspires me to make jewelry like looking through a magazine full of colorful projects by all kinds of different designers, and this issue is packed with color! The projects are categorized by color families–jewel tones, vivid hues, earth tones, chalky tints, pretty pastels–but you can adapt any of the projects into your own color palette of choice, which really makes for a limitless variety of designs! And speaking of color, there's a handy feature in the magazine about coloring metal. Here's a sneak peek at that.

7 Ways to Alter Metal
Compiled by Danielle Fox

Spray Paint
Brenda Sue Landsdowne

You can use spray paint in all sorts of variations to achieve the cold-paint enamel look, which was popular in late-fifties to mid-sixties jewelry. First, degrease a brass stamping by washing it in hot, soapy water with a scrub brush. You can also soak the piece for 10 to 15 minutes before scrubbing. This will remove the machine oil used on the tooling that produced the stamping. Rinse well to remove all soap residue; allow to dry. Next, spray the metal with ivory spray paint. Because of the dimension of this particular piece, I had to do three light coats. I used Smooch Pearlized Accent Ink in Taffy to make it pearly pink and purposely left highs and lows instead of making it all a matte color to give it an aged, imperfect appearance, which is a look I love. When dry, I sprayed the stamping with matte spray varnish and let it dry. If you use Smooch inks, you must seal the piece, or the ink will rub off .

Vinegar and Salt
Brenda Sue Landsdowne

This method of aging brass requires you to first degrease your brass stamping or filigree as in the spray-paint method. Then fill a glass 13"×9" cake pan about half full with dark cider vinegar and coarse sea salt (or table salt) in a 5 (vinegar) to 1 (salt) ratio. Let the pieces soak for about 1 hour. Heat your oven to 400-450°F (I like it on the hotter side). Take the brass out of the vinegar bath, shake off the excess vinegar, and place the brass on an old, dark (my preference) cookie sheet sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray. The oil from the spray helps to attract heat and brown the metal. Bake for about 20 minutes before checking the metal. If you like how it looks, take it out of the oven and let it cool. If you want the metal darker, dip it in the vinegar-salt solution again, shake off the excess vinegar, and bake for another 15 minutes or so. Repeat dipping and baking until you are pleased with the metal's appearance. If you do not want any blue-green verdigris, simply let the metal cool in the oven. If you do want a verdigris, dip the metal in the solution again while it is hot, then let it air-dry on a piece of cardboard (or whatever you want to use to protect your work surface), preferably overnight. The verdigris is really awesome on filigree pieces and will appear after several hours. This type of finish must be sealed for best effect. You can buff the metal with an old washcloth, or if you would like to raise highlights, use a Sunshine (polishing) cloth as done here. When you are satisfied with the piece, put a spare amount of Renaissance Wax on a buffing rag and rub it on the front and back of your metal piece. Buff it well; the metal should have a little glow, but not look oily.

Alcohol Inks
Jess Italia Lincoln

Alcohol inks are transparent dye ink. For a more opaque look and to intensify the colors of the alcohol ink, apply a white acrylic paint over the surface of your piece of metal as if it were a primer. For a more transparent look, apply alcohol inks directly to the piece of metal. I used an Adirondack Acrylic Paint Dabber in Snow Cap White. Other great acrylic paint primer colors are Pearl and Juniper. Lightly dab the paint using a paper towel. Apply your desired colors of alcohol ink over the surface. Use Adirondack Alcohol Blending Solution to create a beautiful blend of colors or dab color with a paper towel to create more of a textured look. Allow the ink to dry for a few minutes before handling. To distress the surface, use a fine-grit sanding block or steel wool to lightly buff away any color on your blank.

Nail Polish
Gail Crosman Moore

Not just for nails, fingernail polish is great for adding color to your favorite metal pieces. Simply use extra fine (#0000) steel wool to abrade the surface and remove any oils, apply the polish to the metal, and let dry. Try mixing several colors of polish or layer the colors. After you've applied the polish, consider using a paper towel to wipe away excess polish, revealing some of the metal beneath; achieve the same effect by using steel wool to rub some of the polish off once it is dry. Stay away from the cheapest brands of polish–for some reason they don't seem to work as well.

Liver of Sulfur
Silvija & Taya Koschnick

This method is usually used on sterling silver (or silver-plated) metal pieces; however, it will work on copper. Clean your silver pieces using dish soap and a toothbrush. Heat some water in a kettle to almost boiling. Wearing rubber gloves, use a wooden spoon to mix 8 ounces of hot water with a little less than a teaspoon of liver of sulfur (we use the "rock" form) in a glass cup until it dissolves. Put your silver pieces in a glass bowl and pour hot water over them to heat them; set aside. Pour the remaining hot water into a glass pan. Drop a few pieces of silver into the pan water; these will be your test pieces. Use a wooden spoon to carefully stir a small amount of the liver-of-sulfur solution into the pan water until you see the test pieces start to turn from silver to colorful metallic to dark gray, which takes a minute or two. If the pieces become black immediately, the solution is too strong and more hot water should be added. Once you've found the right solution, add the remaining pieces of silver to the pan. As soon as the desired patina is reached, remove the silver pieces from the pan and run cold water over them to stop the chemical process. Pour the liver-of-sulfur solution that remains in the glass pan and cup into a glass jar. Store all used solution in the glass jar (you won't be able to use it again on silver) for about a week, at which point the solution will degrade enough to be washed down a sink (preferably a utility sink) with a lot of water. As with all chemicals, you must be careful using liver of sulfur. We recommend contacting your local hazardous-waste facility for specific regulations on disposing of the liquid safely. Allow your silver to air-dry completely. Once dry, a number of abrasives, such as steel wool or a polishing cloth, can be used to alter the overall appearance of the patina.

Gilders Paste
Beth Botak

Start with a dry, clean metal surface–any metal will do! If the metal's surface is too smooth, rough it up by rubbing it with sandpaper. Next, apply gilders paste to the metal with a paintbrush or soft cloth. It will dry to the touch after 20 minutes and completely dry after 12 hours. After the paste is completely dry, gently clean the metal in soapy water and allow to air dry. You can then polish the piece to a shine or add other colors of paste on top of the existing layer. Spray the piece with a clear acrylic-based overcoat if desired.

Embossing Powder
Jess Italia Lincoln

First, prepare your piece of metal. I dab a cotton swab or paper towel with Adirondack Alcohol Blending Solution and clean the metal with that. Next, use a tinted embossing ink pad to ink up a rubber stamp. Apply the well-inked stamp to your piece of metal, as many times as you want to duplicate the image. Working over a clean piece of paper or newsprint, sprinkle the embossing powder over the entire stamped image before the ink dries. Lightly tap the metal on the table to remove the excess powder onto the paper. Pour the remaining powder collected on the paper back into the container. Use a fine-tip paintbrush to remove any unwanted pieces of powder from your design. Remove the paper and work directly over a heat-resistant surface. Cure with a heating tool (I use Ranger's Heat It Craft Tool) until the powder melts. Let cool completely before handling the metal. –DF

Leather, ceramic, glass, metal, plastic, clay, wood, shells–just about any jewelry-making material you can think of is in a project in Create Jewelry. Mixed media and boho fans will love the wide variety throughout the project tutorials–yet others are simple and elegant enough to speak to the other end of the spectrum. There's something for everyone in the latest Create Jewelry magazine, including loads of step-by-step jewelry-making tutorials (I counted over 50). So order or instantly download Create Jewelry and get started–you've got a lot of fun stuff to make!

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