Part Two: Patina and Texture, a Jewelry Maker's Essential Tools by Ronna Sarvas Weltman

Editor's note: Ronna Sarvas Weltman is a contributing editor for Step by Step Wire Jewelry and author of Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay and Wire Jewelry. She 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, which is excerpted here (part two) from the Step by Step Wire Jewelry April/May 2011 issue. (Read part one here.)

Cavegirl's Bling by Ronna Sarvas Weltman features polymer clay with even and freeform copper wire coiling patinated with liver of sulfur.

Ronna's Favorite Patina Tips

Although I've used books about patina effects on metals, my favorite source is the Patina Basics: Safe Color Solutions for Metalsmiths DVD by Tim McCreight. I thought I was pretty savvy about patinas, but I learned lots of new tricks from watching it. McCreight is a good-humored and engaging instructor and, best of all, his techniques are easily accomplished by even the newest and most inexperienced metalsmiths.

Creating jewelry is a mix of art and science, and that is particularly true when examining the application of patinas, where temperature, humidity, metals composition, hidden impurities, and a little serendipity and voodoo all affect results. And patinas can change over time. McCreight tells students that the first step in understanding the process is to let go of expectations, since results will be different–and slightly unpredictable–every time. "You won't get what you choose," he explains. "First thing is, I celebrate this! This is the point. If you want a fixed color, go to the paint store."

Although many traditional silversmith and jewelry-making techniques focus on mastering the process so that the jeweler is always in control, that mindset needs to be discarded when working with patina. "There are lots of places where we recognize this," he adds. "An old leather jacket or briefcase has a rich patina of age. It's a natural living thing, so leather gets seasoned with age. We see it in wood, old furniture, even blue jeans. We need to bring that understanding with us into the patina studio. The challenge is to let go of traditional silversmith assumptions."

To fully take advantage of what he describes as the "richness in spontaneity and unknowing-ness of patinas," McCreight approaches the process more slowly. "Typically, we go through a long process. We design, experiment, fabricate, and attach findings. Our natural mindset is to slap some color on and we'll be done. I've learned to say 'That's it for today. I'll come back tomorrow when I'm fresh and can take on the patina process with the same legitimacy and patience I would do with any other process in making a piece.'"

McCreight points out that it's useful to know that in the patina process, you can undo just about everything. "What's the worst that can happen?" he asks. "Just go back to where you started, and scrub it clean again. That might be part of the process. Instead of thinking 'I don't really like it, but it's good enough,' go back again. Start with the idea that 'I'm going to work on this piece of metal four or five times. If it's only two times, I'm ahead of the game.' Attitude is the thing. It has nothing to do with chemistry; rather, it's what's in your head when you approach it."

 
Beaducation.com's texturing hammer has nine interchangeable faces.

Texturing Wire and Metal Tips
Texturing wire is remarkably easy (and if you like to bang away at metal, it's surprisingly satisfying in a cathartic sort of way). I do most of my texturing with a ball-peen hammer, striking the wire from different angles to achieve a harmonious irregularity. Keep in mind that as you're texturing, you're also work-hardening your wire. Most of the time this is a good thing, but it's sensible to plan your steps in advance so that you harden your wire when you want it stiffened, and not before. For instance, if you plan to make a textured neck wire or ear wires, bend the raw wire into roughly the shape you want and then texture. That way it's easier to control the final shape as you texture.

Using Texturing Hammers
I'm intrigued with the ever-increasing array of texturing hammers that makes it easier for wire jewelers to achieve varied designs on their wire. Fretz makes a texturing hammer with a "raw silk" effect that is lovely and sublime. At Beaducation.com, you can find a texturing hammer with nine interchangeable faces. Beaducation offers many free online instructional videos on their site to help customers get the most from their tools, and this one is no exception. Watch instructor Lisa Niven Kelly as she demonstrates and offers tips about the various interchangeable faces.

 

Wire Coiling Chart from Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry by Ronna Sarvas Weltman.

Wirework: Creating Wire Coil Textures
Coiling is another way to add beautiful texture to wire. Tight, even coiling can impart an elegantly controlled, symmetrical aesthetic to your wire. Freeform coiling will add energy and spontaneity to a design. One of the challenges of coiling wire is determining how much wire you will need to coil over a length of base wire. Many jewelry designers use rough estimation based on experience, but that can lead to wasted wire if you've cut off too much, or–even more frustrating–running out of wire before you've finished the amount of coiling you wish to do. It can be particularly tricky because the size of the base wire and the size of the coiling wire affect the length of wire needed. The Wire Coiling Chart will help you determine how much wire you need when making uniform coils.

Texture and patina can often play the same role in our jewelry that seasonings and spices play in our cooking. They add resonance, depth, a little mystery, making our senses tingle with satisfaction. It's all about beauty–making it, enjoying it, and ultimately sharing it.

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

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