Tag Archives: containers

Going Green (and Blue)

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Bleeding Heart leaves in my backyard (Jewels courtesy of Mother Nature).

We are well into spring now. Days are getting longer, trees are greening and flowers are blooming. I always find this influx of renewed energy quite contagious. It makes me want to start new projects – something “new” and fresh, something well… green of course. But I also know this surge of optimism (and over-confidence?) is usually short-lived. As the last lilacs begin to fade, so does my enthusiasm. So, let’s get to it before I surrender to a “less colourful” work routine.

There are countless options available to metalsmiths when it comes to metal patination, especially with copper and brass. In a previous post, I shared a few simple recipes for creating red patinas on copper. This time, I will focus on greens and blues. And like last time, I have chosen basic recipes that can be used easily in a small studio, with limited equipment and common household products (vinegar, ammonia and salt).

Metal preparation is key. The metal must be thoroughly cleaned (free of grease and oil) to ensure the proper action of the chemicals. Pumice works well, but scouring cleaning products like Ajax or Comet, for example, will do the job. Once the surface of the metal is clean, avoid touching it (hold by the edges or make a handle with fishing wire).

Copper is best suited for this type of patina, although brass, a copper alloy, will work up to a point with much less dramatic results. Silver is only superficially affected by this chemical reaction, so it can be used in combination with copper and provide some contrast. In the following example, the silver solder inlay stands out in a copper piece with a dark green patina.

 

 

D.Bréchault - Spring Shower. Brooch. Copper, silver solder inlay, patina.

D.Bréchault – Spring Shower. Brooch. Copper, silver solder inlay, patina.

 

Spraying: The simplest method for producing a blue patina on copper is to spray ammonia on the surface of the metal, and let it dry outside in the sun for a few hours. If the metal has been textured, like in this photograph, the patina settles into the recesses of the texture and highlights the pattern. The cool blue patina is offset by the warm brown of the copper in the background.

 

Copper with stamped texture, ammonia (sprayed on).

Copper with stamped texture, ammonia (sprayed on). Sundried (3 hours).

To produce a wider range of greens and blues with a variety of surface treatments, two main methods can be used: the fuming method and the moistened method.

Fuming method: The metal is exposed to (not immersed in) the fumes of ammonia and/or vinegar. There are two options:

With Option A, you’ll need to drill small hole in the piece to suspend it in the jar with a fishing line (not metal wire). The piece can be re-cut later and filed to remove the hole. Allow at least 3 or 4 days or even more for the patina to develop, and to obtain richer tones.

Option B is more practical for coloring larger pieces or objects that can’t be suspended. As well, since the metal can be laid flat, it is possible to sprinkle salt on the surface. The action of the salt, combined with the fuming, creates patterns that add more interest to the coloring.

 

 

 

OPTION A: The metal is suspended in a glass jar by a fishing line, without touching the liquid. The jar is tightly sealed.

OPTION A: The metal is suspended in a glass jar by a fishing line, without touching the liquid at the bottom of the container. The jar is tightly sealed.

 

OPTION B: The metal is set beside a small container filled with ammonia, and placed in a larger tightly sealed glass container.

OPTION B: The metal is set beside a small container filled with ammonia, and placed in a larger tightly sealed glass container.

Copper. Ammonia and salt. 4 days.

Copper, ammonia and salt. 4 days.

 

Moistened method: With the moistened method, the metal is buried in moist medium.

Metal wrapped in cheesecloth moistened with ammonia and tied with elastic bands, in a sealed plastic bag.

Metal wrapped in cheesecloth moistened with ammonia and tied with elastic bands, in a sealed plastic bag.

This truly fun technique allows the different mediums, moistened with ammonia or vinegar, to leave their own distinctive marks on the surface of the metal – this “etched” texture adds depth to the patina. The only drawback is the length of time it takes to achieve a rich colour, usually several days, a week or even longer. During this time it is important not to handle the piece, which would interfere with the process. But your patience will be rewarded!

 

Copper, ammonia, cheesecloth. 8 days.

Copper, ammonia, cheesecloth. 8 days.

Wrapping cheesecloth around the metal and attaching it with elastic bands creates a simple tie dye pattern:

Copper, cheesecloth tied with elastic bands. 8 days.

Copper, ammonia, cheesecloth tied with elastic bands. 8 days.

Cheesecloth, dried grasses, tobacco leaves, tea, wood shavings, cat litter (clay granules, wood or paper pellets – without additives), etc… each material will create a different “etched” pattern and rich shades of green or blue. Try experimenting with several mediums. The possibilities are endless, as long as the material is dry and absorbent enough, and untreated. For better results, the key is not to add too much liquid to the medium; it should be moist, not wet.

 

Copper, ammonia, cat litter (clay granules), 1 week.

Copper, ammonia, cat litter (clay granules), 1 week.

Generally, ammonia tends to produce more blues, vinegar, more greens, but results are not always easy to control as many variables can affect the outcome. The main factors: length of exposure, quantity of chemicals used, will make a difference, but there are other ones such as the type of medium, the shape of the object, the gauge of the metal used, the composition of the metal (for brass) and the temperature, that are not always easy to manage. Don’t forget to document your experiments. Keep samples and take detailed notes to be able to reproduce the colours you like.

Finishing: Pieces of jewellery with this type of patina should not be worn directly on the skin. Beeswax or a spray coating/fixative like Krylon can be used to seal and protect the surface of the coloured metal. Left unprotected, some of these patinas will continue to evolve:

Copper, ammonia (fuming method). Unprotected surface.

Copper, ammonia (fuming method). Unprotected surface.

What I love about these techniques, beside the rich colours and painterly effects they offer, is that there is no right or wrong, as long as you keep your mind open to possibilities and happy accidents. Have fun with this, and who knows, this might help you sustain those boosts of spring energy and keep you motivated during the dog days of summer.

Recommended reading:

Patinas for Small Studios, by Charles Lewton-Brain, Brain Press, 2007.

Tips from the Jeweller’s Bench, http://www.ganoksin.org

And the recently published:

Patina – 300+ Coloration Effects for Jewelers & Metalsmiths, by Matthew Runfola, Quarto, 2014. (ISBN 978-1-62033-139-2)

This comprehensive guide on patinas explores in depth a large variety of coloration techniques, for different metals from steel to silver. It is very well organised, with detailed instructions and abundant colour samples.

 

Patina - 300+ Coloration Effect for Jewelers & Metalsmiths, by Matthew Runfola

Patina – 300+ Coloration Effect for Jewelers & Metalsmiths, by Matthew Runfola

 

I am very happy to add that two of my pieces have been included in this essential guide to patinas. Here is one of them:

 

D.Bréchault - "Water", bowl, copper, blue-green patina (fuming method).

D.Bréchault – “Water”, bowl, copper, blue-green patina (fuming method).

 

 

Safety reminder: Store chemicals in tightly sealed, clearly labelled containers. Avoid breathing ammonia fumes, work in a well-ventilated area or outside. Wear gloves and eye protection. NEVER mix ammonia and bleach (the vapors produced are extremely dangerous!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alchemist’s Travel Kit

Alchemical symbols

Alchemical symbols

February is my least favorite month. It’s just too short.

Typically, after I have attended to the usual chores, completed the required production projects for the galleries, finished any commissions, and prepared my classes, there is not enough time left for engaging in creative pursuits. And I am forever chasing those precious, but elusive, moments.

I’ve decided to submit a piece to an exhibition, and the deadline for this is …too soon. Now, this kind of situation stresses me out enormously, but it also spurs me to dive into the project. Let’s see if I am up for this challenge. The following is a synopsis of what I have been doing so far.

The exhibition will celebrate the 40th anniversary of a crafts organization that I belong to. Ideally, I prefer it when ideas have time to incubate a bit longer, but with a fast approaching deadline, efficiency is key. For this particular project, I chose to revisit some of my favourite themes: containers, lockets, pieces within pieces, journeys, symbols, transformation (of the materials and of the maker), and ultimately, the metalsmith as alchemist. I am in familiar territory. After much drawing, daydreaming, and more drawing, this is what emerges: a rounded, well-worn pouch, about palm-size – like something one would take on a journey, maybe to keep valuables or talismans. It’s made out of silver, with some gold details (we’ll see what my budget allows), and hangs on a long chain which has a decorative clasp (to be determined later). For now, I call it “Alchemist’s Travel Kit”.

Here is the paper model of the pouch, more or less to scale (6 cm/2 ¼” x 5 cm/2″). It will include three main parts: front, back and something in between to hold the two sides together and make the container roomier.

Paper model of locket

Paper model of locket

Now that I have a fairly clear image of the piece, I try to figure out which techniques will be best suited to make it. Die-forming is a technique that works well for creating three-dimensional, hollow pieces. The press, powered by a hydraulic jack, pushes a sheet of metal through a matrix die to form it. It’s perfect for making two matching halves for a container. And I really like how it bends the metal without leaving any marks on the surface, forming a soft-looking, smooth structure with pleasing curves. Also, I wanted an excuse to “play” with my custom-built hydraulic press (Thank you, Mike!).

First step: preparing the matrix die

I drew the shape of the “pouch” on graph paper (I prefer metric), to scale.

Drawing on graph paper

Drawing on graph paper

I transferred the drawing onto a sheet of acrylic (about ½ “or 1.2 cm thick) with a scriber. With a saw frame and a wax spiral blade, I pierced the acrylic sheet to make the die, then filed and rounded the edges slightly.

Acrylic sheets

Acrylic sheets

Transfer of design on acrylic sheet

Transfer of design on acrylic sheet

Acrylic die

Acrylic die

 

Next step: forming the metal with the hydraulic press:

Hydraulic press

Press frame and hydraulic jack

Safety alert! Please wear the required protection gear and follow carefully the safety instructions regarding the use of a hydraulic press; it is extremely dangerous when not handled properly. Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths, by Susan Kingsley, is an excellent reference (20-Ton Press, Carmel, California, 1987. ISBN: 978-0-9635832-0-8). Because a hydraulic press exerts an enormous amount of pressure (up to 20 tons), safety is crucial. There is not enough room here for more complete safety information, so please see my notes below.

Here is how the different layers that were pressed together were stacked up: matrix die (only the outer part), annealed sheet of metal (22 gauge/0.5 mm), and urethane pad. The urethane pad (similar to very hard rubber) pushed the sheet of metal into the die and formed it.

Stack placed between two platens of the press

Stack placed between two platens of the press

For this, I used a yellow urethane pad (with a hardness of 60 durometers). Available at Rio Grande.

Urethane pad

Urethane pad

 Hydraulic jack (8 ton):

Hydraulic jack

Hydraulic jack

Safety alert! Please follow carefully the manufacturer’s instructions. A standard hydraulic press comes with a jack. I had to purchase mine separately, as the frame of the press was custom-made. Bonny Doon Engineering is a well-known and reputable supplier of hydraulic presses for metalsmiths. You can check out their catalogue here. The how-to section of the website includes detailed safety instructions.

After every 5 pressings, I took out the stack, and annealed the metal. I repeated this process 4 times to get the desired depth. Of course, with a more powerful jack (10, 12 tons or more), the same depth would be achieved more quickly. Here is the result. This piece will be the front half of the pouch:

Front half of the container (inside)

Front half of the container (inside)

Front half of the container (outside)

Front half of the container (outside)

Die-forming with a vise:

Now, for the back of the pouch, I wanted a different look, flatter, a bit more angular – as it would be the side resting on the body, when worn as a pendant or carried in a pocket. For this, I used another die-forming technique, very low-tech, much simpler and much less scary. Yes, a simple vise can be used as a press as well. With this method, both parts of the acrylic die are needed.

Stack set up in the vise

Stack set up in the vise

The sheet of metal was placed between the two parts of the die (outer and inner parts), then I added the urethane pad, and pressed all 4 layers into the vise.

It took about half a dozen pressings, with annealing every time, to get a deep enough form. Here is the result:

Back and front halves of the pouch

Back and front halves of the pouch

 

The piece formed with the vise is on the left.

The two halves are ready for assembly

The two halves are ready for assembly

The next step will be to finish constructing the pouch. And there is much more to think about, such as the design of a closure, the fabrication of the pieces that go inside the pouch, and finally the chain and its clasp. Now I’d better get back to work, February is almost over!

Seeds of inspiration

Winter is almost here. The November rains have washed out the last bits of colour from the garden. The view from the kitchen window is a quiet composition in a muted palette of greys and browns, perked up, but only slightly, by the dark outline of the bare trees. Under this drab exterior there are countless small treasures waiting to be found; just what a weary metalsmith suffering from craft fair fatigue needs! Armed with a sketchbook and a camera, I am ready to go.

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Drawing helps me focus on the various components of a pod or a dried flower; to analyze and deconstruct it. Sometimes I am more interested in textures, sometimes in the mechanics of a structure. Sketches are a visual reference, and they will also contribute to the design process at a later stage.

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The leaves have fallen, and with the perennials gone to seed, many forms and shapes that were previously hidden are now there to be examined and recorded – at least by the curious jewellery designer.  Seed pods, Nature’s containers, are a great source of inspiration for making boxes and lockets…or your own seed pod-shaped jewellery (made-up botanical names are optional):

D. Bréchault  - Seed Pod (Pisum regalis) - Pendant. Silver, 24k & 18k gold. Fabricated, etched, Keum-Boo.

D. Bréchault – Seed Pod (Pisum regalis) – Pendant. Silver, 24k & 18k gold. Fabricated, etched, Keum-Boo.

D. Bréchault - Seed Pod (Phaseolum sativum) - Brooch. Silver, 14k gold. Fabricated, roll-printed.

D. Bréchault – Seed Pod (Phaseolum sativum) – Brooch. Silver, 14k gold. Fabricated, roll-printed.

There are many processes and techniques available. Some seeds can be cast. Cuttlebone casting will work for things that are hard enough to withstand pressure (acorns, for instance); for the more delicate ones, organic casting is another option. Here is an example:

D.Bréchault - 13 Cherry Tree Branches - Necklace. Silver, patina. Fabricated, cast.

D.Bréchault – 13 Cherry Tree Branches – Necklace. Silver, patina. Fabricated, cast.

1759 13 cherry branches DETAIL - Copy (2)

13 Cherry Tree Branches – Detail

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Natural textures can be reproduced on metal in a variety of ways. Bark translates quite well, thanks to the reticulation technique:

D. Bréchault - Bark - Ring.    Sterling silver, reticulation silver, patina, moonstone. Fabricated, reticulated.

D. Bréchault – Bark – Ring. Sterling silver, reticulation silver, patina, moonstone. Fabricated, reticulated.

Bark - Ring. Detail.

Bark – Ring. Detail.

The intricate network of veins on lacy skeleton leaves can be transferred onto annealed metal with the roll-printing technique (Remember to use only dried leaves so as not to damage the rollers). My favourite are magnolia leaves.

Leaf roll-printed on silver.

Leaf roll-printed on silver.

These small treasures will find their place on the walls of my studio – seeds of inspiration – long after winter sets in and the garden goes dormant.

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Birch bark, magnolia skeleton leaves, Japanese anemone seeds, Japanese lanterns, etc.

So, what are you waiting for? Put on your rubber boots, and go exploring!