Photo Jewelry: How to Add Images to Your Designs Part 2, Advanced Techniques

See those fine spider webs etched on these sterling silver cuffs? The pattern actually came from a digital photo I found online. I’ll tell you how I transformed it into an etching template for photo jewelry in a minute. But you can see how imagery adds insta-impact to a simple strip of sterling silver.

Further down this post, you’ll come across colorful photographs of Kirsten Denbow’s jewelry. She adds images to her work through the use of enameling techniques.

ABOVE: Betsy’s etched spiderweb cuffs.

Photo Jewelry: Etching

A couple years ago, I braved a winter storm to take a copper etching class at Studio JSD in Grand Haven. The first half of the class focused on applying a black and white image to metal as a resist. Metal under the black lines would not be eaten away by the etching salt, leaving it as a raised surface. However, the technique was a bit slow. So, I found a woman online who was willing to teach me over the phone how to do galvanic etching on sterling, with the help of a rectifier. She was in California; I in Michigan.

To create the natural looking web, I blew the photograph up, taped it to a sunny window, put a piece of tracing paper over it and drew in the lines of the web in black marker. Then I scanned it into my computer and manipulated it through into the down-sized pattern you see. There are probably easier ways to do this, but eventually this design graced earrings, pendants, and other etched photo jewelry pieces.

Pros: Etching creates fine details. In a pinch, you can do it with an electric iron, some Styrofoam, and a couple containers of chemicals.

Cons: Some etching methods create toxic chemicals you’ll need to dispose of safely. If working with galvanic etching, you’ll need specialized equipment and training.

photo jewelry: Kirsten Denbow

Photo Jewelry: Enamel Images

Denver enamel artist Kirsten Denbow uses her computer to print out enamel decals so she can add vintage images to her jewelry. (That’s her necklace of blue airplanes featuring Amelia Earhart’s portrait as the focal piece, above.)

For this process, Denbow prints her decals in black and white on Waterslide paper, using toner that contains iron oxide. When kiln fired onto a white, enameled surface, the details transform into sepia tones. For more punch, Denbow sometimes adds additional colors by hand–a process she will be teaching in November.

photo jewelry: Kirsten Denbow

“Being able to use the decals allows me to use images in a way I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” she says. “It’s still me creating the image, using my artistic eye to edit–so I am allowed to have the level of detail I wouldn’t be able to get without them.”

Pros: You can add lots of color and detail to your work. Some instructors can even teach you how to torch fire images on to your work.

Cons: The best enameling techniques require a kiln and specific steps. You’ll need extra training and a specialized studio set up.

photo jewelry: Kirsten Denbow

Images and Your Imagination…

Back to those decals . . . You can also print them in color on a white background. If you google “waterslide decals,” you’ll see tons of resources and ideas that could add enamel-like colors to your jewelry without the use of a kiln. Then use your creativity to play with a combination of two-part epoxy, clear resins, glass cabochons, and inexpensive base metal photo frame findings to come up with a new image for your designs.

See how to use full-color laser printed decals on glass.

Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at betsylehndorff@gmail.com.


Learn more way to make photo jewelry using resin and etching techniques.