Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mixed Metals and Sensitive Skin - Challanges and Solutions by Karen McGovern

I love to mix metals in my designs, and use mostly a combination of copper, brass, nickel silver and aluminum.  Sterling silver and gold are not on the list simply due to the fact that these materials are so CRAZY EXPENSIVE these days.  My goal has always been to create unique AFFORDABLE jewelry.  So, I stick to what I can afford, and can afford to share with my clients at a reasonable price. 
There are challenges when working with "non-precious" materials.  Soldering different metals together is a challenge, some heat quicker than others, some simply don't like each other and will BURN INTO ASH before soldering.  Cold connecting with rivets and micro screws is my go-to method of marrying metals most of the time.  It's easy, and I really love the look of rivets as accents. 
One challenge I am constantly aware of (and working to overcome) is the skin reaction many people have when copper, nickel and brass touches them.  Many folk's skin reacts badly with these materials, and nothing is worse than having your client's fingers and wrists turn green from wearing your work!  I hate hearing from a potential client that they love a piece of my jewelry, but won't consider buying it because of skin/metal related problems.  So, I work to devise solutions that are both successful and interesting.
For many, the go-to solution is layering acrylic sprays and polishes on the finished piece, which works very well, but doesn't last forever.  Rings and bracelets worn consistently over a long period of time will wear away any finish that is applied.  It's inevitable.  Yes, you can tell people to go ahead and spray the piece with Krylon from Michael's, but that is a lot to expect your clients to do.  So, I have a couple tips for those who enjoy working with mixed metals as much as I do:
For rings and cuffs made of copper, nickel or brass, I love to line the interiors with transparency film or resin paper.  ArtChix Studios is a wonderful source for beautiful transparency sheets and collage sheets in just about any pattern or theme you can imagine.  Butterflies, birds, text, vintage ladies and more can adorn the inside of your rings and cuffs.  Simply cut to the appropriate size and either rivet in place or use a coating of jewelry resin (like Ice Resin) to adhere the transparency in place. For papers, coat paper with resin first, allow to dry, cut and rivet or resin in place as well.  This will provide an impervious barrier between the metal and the wearer's skin, and add tons of interest to the piece.  Unfortunately, this does not work for fine or thin wire ring bands...haven't solved that puzzle quite yet, but I'm working on it.
Assorted papers from the Industrial Chic line. 
The bottom sheet has been coated with resin.
A brass cuff with resin paper set on the interior.
Next is the glory that is aluminum.  Aluminum is quickly becoming a popular metal for jewelry designers for so many reasons.  It's inexpensive, easy to work with, looks like silver, doesn't tarnish and best of all IT'S HYPOALLERGENIC!  I adore aluminum and use it constantly in my work.  I use it as a base for most of my cuff designs, layering copper and brass on top.  Same for pendants.  I try to make sure that whatever part of the design that will touch skin is backed with or made of aluminum.  You cannot solder aluminum to anything, so you'll get very creative with riveting!
A variety of aluminum cuffs.  I LOVE ALUMINUM!
This brings me to another point--making the back of your pendants/designs as interesting as the front.  If you have a design that you just don't want framed in aluminum, you can still add an interesting shape or cut-out of aluminum to the back that can't bee seen from the front to act as a buffer between the pendant and skin.  Resin papers and transparency sheet can be used here just like with cuffs and rings.  Again, you are adding dimension and interest to a part of your design that is often left blank and providing a barrier between metal and skin.  What artist can resist a blank surface??  Aluminum can really save the day for you and I urge you to give it a try.  It's available in sheet, wire, and pre-cut shapes all over the Internet.  Textures beautifully too!
A added a strip of textured aluminum to the back of this Wolf Totem pendant. 
Simple and effective!
I hope you'll give these ideas a try, and I know your sensitive skin clients (and your pocketbook) will be happy you did!


Vintage Crab Jewelry said...

Some excellent, excellent points and ideas here, thank you! Your work is amazing!

Erika said...

I appreciate this post because I have sensitive skin. I mostly use niobium wire for earring wires and sometimes titanium. But I'm not sure you can solder them.

lunedreams said...

Great post! I love your idea of lining the inside of your cuffs with art paper--effective AND a really stunning visual addition. I love mixed metal pieces--your cuffs are to die for! And I love rivets too, I think they are often more interesting than a soldered join. I have used nickel too, I like the gunmetal color you can get with Midas oxidizer for nickel, and I love that it can be etched with ferric chloride. I think it's gotten a bad rap (about 10% of people are allergic to it.) And I am going to have to rethink aluminum sheet...I wonder if you could "antique" it with a solvent dye + Clear Guard? Do they make any kind of antiquing solution for aluminum?

stacilouise said...

Wonderful post Karen! LOOOOVE it. thanks for sharing your creative and wise tips ;) I love a finished back to a piece- but admit, I lack in that department

cinziacrea said...

I love mixing metals, I love the rivets.
Winning solution.
Congratulations and thanks for sharing

Mischelle said...

What great ideas... I love love love the wolf totem pendant.

Karen McGovern said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments! Lunadream, aluminum an be colored with alcohol inks and also with chemical patinas that are really metal stains (Sculpt Nouveau has a line). Give it a try!!

Artisan Beads Plus said...

Karen, Your creativity never ceases to amaze me! What great ideas!

Carol Dean Sharpe said...

Great ideas, Karen!

Carol Dean Sharpe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia@Ornamental Style said...

I very much enjoyed this post and think your advice to back a piece is great. I have a piece of aluminum sheet from Ace Hardware and embossed bracelet blanks from a shop on Etsy and wire from another Etsy seller but I was wondering if you'd share your sources for aluminum--both sheet and wire. And wow! The wolf totem pendant is spectacular.

Talia said...

Aluminum can be electrolytically anodized many different colors, in a process that doesn't use paints, dyes, or inks that can rub off.

Also, have you ever considered offering gold or silver plating on your jewelry for your customers who have sensitive skin? It's a simple process, and not particularly expensive to do.

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