Making Copper Jewelry: Bright, Colorful Heat Patina and Other Copper-Friendly Jewelry Techniques
One of my most favorite things to do in the studio is create heat patina on copper. Some artists call it “flame painting” –and rightly so–the colors and patterns that can be achieved with just a well-focused flame can mimic brushstrokes of paint.
I think one of the reasons I love this type of surface design is because it’s so accessible. All you need to create it is the torch–no solutions to mix and almost no wait times. When I use my little micro torch to create heat patina while making copper jewelry, I move the flame in painterly motions, just like an artist does when painting on canvas, and the colors gradually appear.
An artist who is incredibly talented at this type of “painting” once described it so simply: just heat the metal to the silver-black stage and then continue in whatever pattern you’re trying to achieve to coax out the colorful effects.
But that didn’t work for me. Once my copper goes to the silvery black stage, it never seems to come back. I find the best, most colorful effects are when I remove my copper from the pickle pot, rinse, and pat dry, leaving the slightly dull film on the copper surface. Then the torch! It seems that the color appears a little slower this way, allowing me to control it better.
However, it does seem that when I “burn” the copper to that silvery black point and quench oh-so-quickly, the fire scale flakes off in the water, revealing gorgeous reds and golds (above left), even purples underneath. Also, I’ve found that the best reds appear on the “back” of the piece (the side opposite where the flame was, above right), so if rich reds are what you’re aiming for on the front of your pieces when making copper jewelry, apply the flame to the back.
I’ve also learned to heat around the metal evenly (moving the flame around like you do when beginning to solder a piece) and then start creating specific lines and spots of color by applying the flame and moving away quickly when color first starts to appear. As you do this, you’ll see how the colors continue to change, even after you remove the flame. Soon you’ll learn when to stop and how to get just the right colors you want. I recommend practicing multiple times on pieces of copper, pickling in between, until you get a good feel for how the colors change and how much variety can result.
Sealing Heat Patinas
This is the trickiest part of creating jewelry with heat patinas, in my opinion. I’ve created some gorgeous bright reds, only to have them fade to dull maroon or fade away entirely when sprayed with sealant. It’s nearly heartbreaking! So I’ve put aside my current sealant and am moving on to try some sealants recommended by jewelry artist friends. I haven’t tried these yet, but according to many others who work with copper, Protectaclear, Renaissance Wax, and Clear Guard are good sealants that don’t dull the colors you’ve created.
Copper is a dreamy metal for heat patina, but it’s also so versatile and ideal for many other jewelry making techniques, like etching, brazing, electroforming, and enameling–plus it’s affordable! And with the current popularity of rose-gold-colored jewelry, making copper jewelry is a wise, fashionable choice for your jewelry business.
If you love making copper jewelry as much as I do–and if you’d like to try your hand at the other techniques copper is so well suited for–check out the Ultimate Copper Jewelry Making Collection. It includes three full-length copper jewelry-making video workshops on DVD plus a video workshop instant download, a print book (with a bonus DVD), a digital project compilation eBook, and a POUND of 16-gauge copper wire, all for making copper jewelry using a variety of techniques and all yours at a very special value!