Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Color Conundrum by Karen McGovern

There is a wealth of information available online and in print about coloring metals.  Patinas come in every form and color, from simple homemade recipes (used cat litter and salt/vinegar potato chips—SERIOUSLY!) to specialized chemical and dye patinas (sculptnouveau.com).  The choices are endless.
Then there is heat patina, or flame painting, which is a wonderful way to easily color copper and brass with a torch.  I’ve been following a few threads online about this subject, and it seems that the Achilles heel regarding this method of coloring is how to seal and protect the metal AND retain the original intensity of color.  Hmmmm….again, 1000 suggestions out there but no definitive EUREKA solution.
Here’s my take.  There is no perfect answer or product out there that will forever keep heat colored copper and brass true.  Sorry.  The opinion I give here is based on working with copper for several years while living in South Florida.  Copper reacts very quickly when exposed to heat and humidity.  Natural patina, for me, is pretty easy to achieve simply by leaving copper sheet in my garage for a week or so.  I’ll get the beginning of some amazing verdigris greens courtesy of 98 degrees and 70% humidity.  We’ll come back to that later.

 A lovely flame colored copper cuff by Delia Stone.
Coloring copper with a torch is great and you get AMAZING purples, reds, pinks, blues and more.  There are several coatings available that are specially designed to seal and protect patinas, my favorite is Everbrite ProtectaClear.  The spray and dip versions offered are really wonderful and, in my experience, will not dull the colors instantly upon application like so many other coatings.  That is the biggest challenge—finding a product that doesn’t instantly change the colors of the metal the second you apply.  So, Everbrite works for me and I use it all the time.
BUT, and this is a BIG BUT, that is not the end solution.  No matter what, the colors in your heat patina designs are going to change over time.  PERIOD.  Why?  Because the design will be in contact with human skin and body temp, AND be exposed to heat and humidity in general. These things affect copper and brass no matter what you coat it with.  I have test driven many designs and actually have a simple way to decide if a design will hold its color.  I wear it on a hot day for several hours on my skin.  Brass holds torch color better, but the side that touches skin turns chocolate brown pretty quickly.  Even if coated several times.  Body temp affects metals, folks!  SCIENCE!  Copper changes even quicker.  Skin PH also plays a factor.  I have low PH, which is why I can’t wear perfume.  An hour on me and it all smells like cat pee.  SO LUCKY, RIGHT???  Copper and brass are affected by this as well.  Coating the metals helps tremendously for folks whose skin reacts badly to base metals, and I feel completely comfortable saying that the coatings I use will prevent dreaded green lines or rashes on sensitive skin, but I do not ever guarantee that heat patinas will remain the same color forever.  THEY USUALLY DON’T. 
Universal patinas by Sculpt Nouveau
 Which is why I use chemical patinas instead.  I have found that the line from Sculpt Nouveau is fantastic.  Endless color choices and formulas.  You can literally paint on metal like it is a canvas, and get intense and beautiful results that will hold up over time.  Check out their YouTube channel, full of ideas and tutorials.  Chemical patinas react with the metals and physically change the metal itself.  It’s not just a coating.  You still have to seal the metals, and Sculpt Nouveau has a line of sealers to go with their patinas.  I have found Everbrite works extremely well here and have decided to stick to that brand alone.  Dries quickly and will not change the colors as you spray.  I LOVE EVERBRITE!  Also, amazing customer service, shipping, everything.  In case you didn’t notice—I RECOMMEND THIS PRODUCT.

A copper cuff I made using layers of chemical patinas.  Sealed with Everbrite. 
A pendant created from a layer of painted patina copper on aluminum.
So, there are many factors to consider beyond initial sealing when working with flame colored metals.  Understanding how the metals react to heat and moisture over time is very important.  Because I have seen first-hand how heat colored metals change over time when worn next to skin, I no longer create torch colored designs for sale.  I use chemical patinas only.  For copper and brass cuffs, I color them first with liver of sulfur to get a nice, dark base.  Then go nuts with chemical color, let sit for 24 hours, then coat twice with Everbrite spray.  For those of you who live in cool, dry climates, you may argue that you have no problems with heat patina.  BUT, if you sell to a client living anywhere warm and moist I bet the design will be a different color in less than a year.
So, I recommend exploring chemical patinas.  They are fun, endless and offer so many choices and colors.  I am linking to an artist here that I think is one of the best I’ve come across coloring copper and brass with chemical patinas, SSD Jewelry.  AREN’T THESE CUFFS GORGEOUS????  They are pretty enough to EAT! 
As always, we’d love to see your creations and hear your opinions on the subject.  As I said before, there is no one answer and what I’ve printed here is based on my experiences alone.  Have you found the holy grail of sealants?  IF SO, PLEASE SHARE!!!!!!


Artisan Beads Plus said...

I have to agree with you about heat coloring. I think I read somewhere that eventually, they all turn back to a natural patina. As for Everbrite, how many coats/sprays do you need. Sealing any base metal is my least favorite thing to do. As for colors, I have used both patinas and enamels and have to say that I find using heat patinas lots of work. I love the colors, but just don't have the patience. I wish I did. Maybe with more experience (I still have many in storage), it will get easier. I think part of my problem is the "waiting game" when it comes to patinas. I prefer enamel.

stacilouise said...

Loved this post. its the age old question. I try not to do things in my work that won't last. Just a note on traditional patina's though.....I used to do my pieces on all sides, and have switched to just the top, because no matter how much it is sealed, and how much wax you put on, it will wear off. especially (learned this the hard way) if they wear sunscreen! eats right through the sealer.

Karen McGovern said...

I often back my pieces with aluminumfor that very reason, Staci. And MaryAnn, I am the most impatient person on the planet! When working with chemicals patinas, I often hit them with a heat gun to accelerate the process. Definitely worth experimenting with! I usually use two coats of spray Everbright.if I am particularly concerned about the patina I will hit it with a third.

Carol Dekle said...

Thanks Karen for this very informative post! I read recently that the reason the pretty colors of torch heated metal won't stay is because it's like oil on top of water. Once you spray it with something it just goes away. So that makes sense that a light top coat would be the first to wear off.

I do love sculpt Nouveau's Clear Guard, but their Colorloc for sealing torch fired metal took away most of the pretty colors when sprayed. I will try some of their patinas! I am running out of Clear Guard so I will purchase ProtectaClear next. I have just began experimenting with chemicals as well. Thanks again Karen!

Artisan Beads Plus said...

Thanks for the tips! I will remember those. I need to get a heat gun!

Artisan Beads Plus said...

And I need to find the spray! I have no patience with the brush and have had some issues with Clear Guard.... not because of the product, but because of me and not waiting long enough!

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