Problem Solving at the Bench

Brooke's bracelet after patination in Liver of Sulfur

Brooke’s bracelet after patination in Liver of Sulfur

Recently, I got an email from Brooke Graybill, a former student who took my Flex Shafts Only! class at Bead Fest Spring. She’s been busy working on some interesting etched bracelets, and wanted to experiment with patination, but hit a wall.
Of course, she emailed me just as I was packing for Bead Fest Philly, so it has taken me some time to answer her here. Luckily, Brooke was tenacious, and hunted me down there, so we did catch up with each other, I told her what I came up with to help her (I hope) and I also hope she is moving forward on that bracelet now.

In any case, my mind has continued to work on solving her problem since the day she emailed, and as soon as I clear a half finished project from my bench, I plan to do some scientific research — to see if I can solve her problem without doubt. In the meantime, what I have here are the several suggestions I came up with. But first, here’s her email:

Hi Helen,
I recently took a Flex Shaft course from you, however, my question is about patina, I hope you can help me. I etched some copper for a bracelets. My plan was to use liver of sulfur and darken the etched copper as dark as possible and then buff off the patina on the raised areas.
The one picture I’ve included shows my problem . . . I had trouble removing the dark patina only on the raised areas . . . hence I had to remove all of it.  Is there something I could have put on the raised areas to resist the liver of sulfur?  I would appreciate any suggestions you may have. Thanks – Brooke Graybill

Brooke's bracelet after finishing.

Brooke’s bracelet after finishing.

I love the challenge of solving problems, and in doing so, I first analyze Pros and Cons of the situation. In this particular case, all the pros are about the metal Brooke chose: copper. She got a deep and clear etch, copper forms easily, and there isn’t a more patina-friendly metal. Sadly, some of the cons are also about the metal: the copper will continue to darken over time (unless it is sealed) and eventually obscure the stark contrast between the red metal raised areas and the black patinated recesses. The other con has to do with the design she etched — those raised areas are little isolated copper islands in an ocean of black. This isn’t bad design, mind you, it’s just difficult to deal with technically — as Brooke discovered.

So here’s what I came up with. To help you wrap your brain around it, I will call the raised areas of the design the “islands” and the etched out areas the “ocean”.

Option 1: The hand finishing method. If Brooke had left the bracelet flat after patination and then very carefully used a scotch stone, burnisher, triangle scraper, or a bit of steel wool or abrasive paper to very patiently remove the patina from the surfaces of the islands, she would have had more control and been able to preserve the black ocean. Then she could have very carefully formed the bracelet around the mandrel with a clean rawhide mallet while protecting the delicate surface with a piece of cloth, chamois or leather.

Option 2: The patient patinatation method. This option is also best for a flat cuff, and I would use a weak liver of sulfur liquid solution or the gel for this process. Get a fine-tipped sable watercolor brush — not a cheap, crappy, 50-cent dime store brush that flops around when its wet — and carefully paint the patina into the oceans. You can only do this with a decent brush. Since you want black, black, black, work on a paper towel and let the patina solution evaporate off the metal. Then, form as above.

Steel Wool QTip

Use a chopstick, dowel or round toothpick and some 28 ga. wire to attach the steel wool.

Either of these options requires patience and an unformed bracelet. In Brooke’s case, the bracelet is already formed. So, if it were me, I would throw it in the pickle to remove all traces of former patina, rinse and dry it, and then blacken it again. Then I would make a steel wool Q-tip (photo at left) and very patiently burnish that patina off the islands. After I have what I want, I’d seal that copper with wax, matte varnish or Krylon immediately! Because copper is so patina-friendly, it will turn chocolate brown on you almost immediately, especially here on the uber-humid eastern seaboard.

So, Good Luck Brooke! I hope these suggestions help, and I will do some experimenting myself soon to see if I can  come up with another solution.

Pssst: It might possibly be entertaining and interesting in the very near future for you readers and subscribers to start following my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds soon … Just sayin’

Twitter: @fabricationista
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About Helen Driggs

Metalsmith, Teaching Artist, Writer, Maker of things. Former Senior Editor of Lapidary Jewelry Artist Magazine View all posts by Helen Driggs

2 responses to “Problem Solving at the Bench

  • Sheila

    Hello, I really like the steel wool Q-tip idea Helen, for many things.

    So since I am relatively new to metal medium, this was interesting challenge with the “Island & Oceans on curved a Planet”… but perhaps I would have tried using a resist like Renaissance, or maybe even Reed wax (ceramics). Or a latex painted on & peeled off after the patina was applied/dried. Or how about tape masking those Island areas like when etching? Guess, I will have to get out to the studio and try too!
    Cheers, Sheila
    PS nice designed bracelet.

    • Helen Driggs

      Hi Sheila, thanks for writing in…
      I am glad you are inspired to get in the studio too! Thanks for those ideas — the only issue with applying a wax or latex-based resists prior to patination is twofold: any lingering residue or mistake when applying them will cause the patina to not develop in those areas; you’ll get splotches or unevenness in any area where there was wax. Masking tape is a thought — but the liquid patina solution will eventually seep under the tape and also cause problems. There is a product I used long ago in my painting days to protect white areas when doing watercolors. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it’s called right now, but I am off to the Art Supply store this afternoon anyhow. I will find it and post again…
      And yes, I agree! Nice job on the bracelet, Brooke!

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