Patinas and the Metal That Loves Them: Adding Color to Your Jewelry Making

Adding color to metal is a favorite pastime of many jewelry makers. We seem to always be looking for ways to bring our favorite colors to the forefront or achieve a color thought to be impossible. From the use of colored pencils to manufactured liquid patinas to those we can create from nature and chemicals, we can’t get enough!

Above Photo: Wave and wort pendant by Ann Bruford. Iridescent colors are achieved here with heat temper oxidation of metal. Image from Patina. Photo credit: Chris Schneberger

I recently took a workshop with Helen Driggs where we focused on adding color to metal using colored pencils. Throughout the class Helen shared her experiments to date on adding pencils to different metals (and how to get that right no matter copper, aluminum, sterling, or other), offered her take on using pastels, her tips and tricks for a great finish, not to mention, it was wonderful to spend the day with Helen.

Patinas and the Metal That Loves Them: Adding Color to Your Jewelry Making. Neopastel on copper by Helen Driggs

Neopastel on unprimed copper, by Helen Driggs

Enamel is another hot topic among “us” and a fabulous way to bring bold (or subtle) color to your metal. From creating headpins dipped in the colorful powders to intricate designs made by adding layer upon layer of enamels, just this one medium holds more than a lifetime of options and directions one could go. I’m not one to choose just one medium but I have to say, enameling is one of my favorite ways to spend free time.

Colorful Enamel Dome Ring by Kirsten Denbow

Colorful Enamel Dome Ring by Kirsten Denbow from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Sept/Oct 2015

Depending on the type of colorant you’re using to create a patina or effect on your metal, the process might involve a bit of science. As Matthew Runfola offers in his introduction to Patina, “For me, patination is the right balance of science and art and it satisfies my dual-minded pesona.” He goes on to offer: “I enjoyed playing ‘mad’ chemist with the various colorants while applying them in a meaningful, artistic manner to my objects.”

Runfola shares his results from applying patina to different metals:

Patinas and the Metal That Loves Them: Adding Color to Your Jewelry Making. metal reaction compilation

Each metal has its own chapter and includes images and descriptions on how to achieve the patinas shown. The techniques used to create the patinas are also explained and even include how to achieve this spot patina using a torch.

Patinas and the Metal That Loves Them: Adding Color to Your Jewelry Making. Torch patina


One question that inevitably comes up in every workshop in which I teach patina is “Can you preserve the patina we just achieved?” Well, Runfola also addresses his best methods for this very thing.

Patinas and the Metal That Loves Them: Adding Color to Your Jewelry Making. Patina with sealant by Matthew Runfola from Patina

One of many examples on how to seal your metal to retain patinas.

Runfola is an artist specializing in patination on metal, and his book is the bible on the subject. The 300+ recipes alone make this book a must-have in your studio. Add in all the safety precaution information, application tips, and all lessons learned throughout his career to date, with Patina in your library, you’ll have all you need to be confident in expanding your patina explorations.

In an ongoing series, I’ll be bringing you tips and techniques shared by your favorite jewelry designers. First up is one of our resident patina experts and patina enthusiasts (as in, she jumped for joy when I asked her for some insight on her favorite methods), Karla Rosenbusch.

Necklace and patina recipe by Karla Rosenbusch

“My favorite go-to patina is a salt-and-vinegar patina on copper. I prefer this method because it’s easy, inexpensive, and good for the environment. Almost everything I need for this patina is already in my kitchen cupboards! It gives copper an amazing blue-green color that I just love — along with a great texture from the salt. And there’s no messy disposal of harsh chemicals. You can just pour the leftovers down the sink.”

“I have a couple of special tips for getting the perfect patina with salt and vinegar. The first is the recipe! There are a lot of recipes out there for this patina, but I prefer the 3-and-3 method. Three tablespoons of vinegar and three teaspoons of salt. Also, your copper should be very, very clean. I scrub it thoroughly with plain dish soap, taking care to hold the metal from the sides to avoid fingerprints. Before soaking the copper in the vinegar solution, I scrub both sides of my piece with baking soda and very fine steel wool to roughen it just slightly. After it has soaked for at least half an hour, I sprinkle the piece with a bit more salt to give it the ‘bumpy’ texture I like.”

“To treat and seal the patina to metal, I use clear spray-on lacquer. It’s the only part of the process that isn’t something I keep in my kitchen. (I get it from a hardware or craft store.) Spraying the lacquer will remove a bit of the patina and will lighten the color a little, so I’m careful to let the patina set overnight before applying the lacquer to get more patina than I really want in the end.”

“If you seal it well with the lacquer, the patina will last a long, long time. I’ve never actually had to reapply it at all. However, some of the salt bumps may flake off with very hard use so the appearance of the finished piece may change a little over time.”

Stay tuned for more expert tips and tricks on different patinas from experts in the field, and be sure to add the amazing Patina to your library. Most importantly, have fun finding ways to add all your new colorful pieces of metal to your finished jewelry designs.

— Tammy, Online Editor Bead & Jewelry Group

For more on patination, see these other posts on the subject:
10 Green Patinas for Steel, Stainless Steel, Copper, Brass, & Silver
Liver of Sulfur 101: What Is It, How to Use It to Create Patina on Silver and Copper Jewelry
How to Create Colorful Patinas on Metal Jewelry: 9 Metal Prep and Patina Pointers

Add these patina resources to your studio library, today!


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