Monday, August 30, 2010

Forming, Coloring, and Applying Patinazation to my World

Apparently expanding one's repertoire IS healthy. Or so I was reminded after spending 3 days in a workshop with Helen Shirk, professor (now emeritus) of metals at San Diego State, famous for her large, vibrantly-colored floral forms. I'd been looking forward to the class for 6 months and thought I knew exactly what I wanted to get from the whole experience. I've followed Helen's work for years. Her use of Prismacolor pencils on copper creates incredible color and effect ( I have ALWAYS wanted to know how she does it, and I FINALLY had my chance!
While I came for the colored pencils, I stayed for the patinas. And the forming. And the color theory. And the discussions on being a working artist. Early into the first day, Helen had us raising bowls and other forms in copper, using hammers and leather instead of stakes and other forming tools. While aim was initially an issue, Helen's harem of hammers, many of which she made specifically for her needs, yielded a wide (and narrow) variety of lines. While the pointy tips couldn't give quite the same fine lines as a repouse tool might, the hammers were amazingly versatile, allowing us to tease unexpected details from flat copper sheet.
When Helen announced we were also going to learn to patina metal I thought, 'Okay, fine, been there, done that. Liver of sulfur - you dip metal in it, it turns black. It makes gold colors pop and covers boo-boos.' Then she took the class into the back yard of our studio and lit up a big butane plumber's torch. As it turned out gentle heat (below 212 F) and spray bottles of liver of sulfur, cupric nitrate, and ferric nitrate create some really cool colors. While liver goes black, ferric turns into lovely caramel brown colors and cupric yields amazing aquamarine blues.
Cupric nitrate
Used in combination, the precise pencils and the spray-on patinas add vivid color and texture to metal. Cupric nitrate, for example, becomes nubbly as it's layered. I chose to leave the roughness (instead of sanding it off) to juxtapose the super smooth shiny exterior of the piece, which was sandblasted and covered in Prismacolor pencil.
Prismacolor on the outside, cupric nitrate inside

I also entered into this workshop with the idea that I am a vibrant color kind of person who doesn't have enough understanding of drawing to create any sort of complexities of shading or tone. Fortunately, I also experimented with this piece:
Red and violets Prismacolor pencil outside, layers of
cupric and ferric nitrates inside
Detail of attempted shading

While it wasn't quite as smooth as I'd hoped, I was pleased to discover that layering a darker shade under my dominant color (in this case, red) would create a shadowy effect. In the end, the piece looked as though it had been covered in enamel and fired until slightly burned (a very Victorian motif).

The whole process sounds simple - cut a shape, form it, sand blast it, apply color, patina, apply more color, lacquer, enjoy, but, as it turned out, the possibilities were limitless. In the end I came away with pieces I was honestly satisfied with, having been able to give them dimension, color, texture - a real life of their own. While I probably won't run out and become a sculptor, my perception of what I can do with metal, and my sense of the possible, is broader now than it was before and that is what lets me grow as an artist and creator.