Part One: Patina and Texture, A Jewelry Maker’s Essential Tools by Ronna Sarvas Weltman

Ronna Sarvas Weltman is a contributing editor to Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry and author of Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay and Wire Jewelry. She regularly teaches workshops in polymer clay and wire jewelry making. Ronna creates artisan jewelry using sterling and fine silver, semiprecious gemstones, metal clay, polymer clay, glass, bone, leather, resin, and found objects. Her regular column in Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry focuses on topics at the front of every jewelry maker’s mind–from the principles of design to interviews with leading wire jewelry artisans, from how to sell jewelry online to how to create patina and texture, a portion of which is excerpted here from the Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry April/May 2011 issue.

Cavegirl’s Bling by Ronna Sarvas Weltman features even and freeform coiling. Copper wire, polymer clay, liver of sulfur patina.

Patina and Texture: A Jewelry Maker’s Essential Tools
by Ronna Sarvas Weltman

Patina and texture are critical to jewelry design. Not every piece needs to have patina or texture, but no design process is complete without first examining the design to decide whether or not it will be enhanced with added patina or texture.

The first time I used liver of sulfur to add a patina to sterling silver beads, I was simply following instructions on the can. At that point I was a beginning and self-taught crafter. Since it was before the Internet age, I didn’t have the luxury of online sites to watch the process in action before I did it. I dropped my beautiful sterling silver beads into the solution and then watched in horror as they turned dark black. Frustrated and disappointed, I discarded them. Only months later did I learn that I could have used steel wool, a green scouring pad, or some other type of abrasive to remove the extra black.

Liver of Sulfur Patina Tips
Since I’m now a sadder but wiser woman, I’ll share some of my discoveries to successful patination with liver of sulfur.

■ You can put your metal into a warm or hot liver of sulfur solution and it will darken quickly, but the longer you leave it in, the less control you have over the color. So dip your piece into the solution and then pull it out again fairly quickly and rinse it off with water. Repeat this process again until you achieve the level of color you’re looking for. Darkening in layers will also give you a more durable patina.

■ Patinas on textured wire and metal will bring out the complexity of the texture. To really get a nuanced effect, you’ll have the most success by polishing the surface with an abrasive material but leaving the darker patina in the indentations.

■ Vary the direction you use with your abrasive pad or material as you remove the outer layer of patina. Also use circular strokes. That way you won’t get annoying and distracting lines and ridges.

■ If you put copper into your liver of sulfur solution, it will affect the chemical balance of the solution. If you put silver into a solution that has already had copper dipped into it, you will find it turns a sort of yellowish color, and you may not be pleased with it. So either keep a separate solution for your silver or dip your copper after you’ve finished with your silver pieces. If you design a piece of jewelry that has silver and copper in it, and you want to add patina, you can add patina to the wire before you make the piece. Or you may be interested in Baldwin’s Patina, a patina solution that colors copper without affecting nickel silver, sterling silver, or gold alloys. It is designed to give a gunmetal effect, so you don’t get the multidimensionality you can get from a traditional liver of sulfur patina, but it’s still a useful product if you’re combining metals that are problematic when mixed together in liver of sulfur or other patina solutions.

■ Adding a drop of household ammonia to a liver of sulfur solution can make your results more colorful and therefore intriguing.

■ My other sadder-but-wiser woman story: The time I opened my can of liver of sulfur pebbles and discovered they had all congealed into one ugly, unusable lump. Even the tiniest amount of moisture can make the entire can degrade into a useless mass. It’s a good idea to keep a small amount of liver of sulfur pebbles in a small airtight container and just refill that container when they are all used up. And keep your larger can stored in double plastic bags to keep out moisture.


Adding Patina to Copper With a Flame

The world of patina on wire is much larger than the effects you can get with liver of sulfur. I love using a flame on copper–the beautiful colors that emerge have the richness and variety of a blazing desert sunset. And speaking of copper, let’s be frank, raw copper is not pleasing in finished jewelry. It needs to be finished with liver of sulfur, fire, or one of many other options in order to add richness. And happily, the reds and yellows in copper yield beautiful results with a variety of patinas.

Adding Patina to Small Areas
Varying the solutions and the metals they’re applied to yields an infinite variety of colors and textures. If you’re designing a piece where you only want to add patination to a small area, Midas Liver of Sulfur XL Gel can be convenient to use, since its gel form gives you more control than a liquid.

The rest of Ronna’s thoughts and tips about patina and texture can be found in the Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry April/May 2011 issue and here.

For more great wire, metal, and mixed-media jewelry articles by author and jewelry designer Ronna Sarvas Weltman, check out Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry.

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