How to Use Prismacolor on Copper

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You can create a veritable rainbow by using Prismacolor pencils on copper.
You can create a veritable rainbow by using Prismacolor pencils on copper. (Image: Tomjac80/iStock/Getty Images)

Coloring metal has presented a dilemma to artists for centuries. Until recently, chemical solutions were the only way to change the color of metal, and those colors were not bright. Now, with new materials, such as Prismacolor pencils, there are new fun and fascinating ways to brightly color your metals. Copper is one of the best metals to use for this project because, compared to silver and gold, it is inexpensive and looks especially good when enhanced with color.

Things You'll Need

  • Copper sheet
  • Pre-made copper shapes
  • Tin snips
  • Jeweler’s saw
  • Drill with drill bits
  • Metal files
  • 60-grit sandpaper
  • Work gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Water
  • Alcohol
  • Paper towels
  • Artist’s paint brushes
  • Commercial patinating formula
  • Gesso
  • Liver of sulpher
  • Oven or toaster oven
  • Prismacolor pencils
  • Turpentine
  • Cotton swabs
  • Clear acrylic fixative
  • 0000 steel wool
  • Renaissance Wax
  • Soft cloth
  • Buffing and polishing cloths

How to Use Prismacolor on Copper

Decide what pieces you will need and cut the desired shapes from your copper stock using tin snips or a jeweler’s saw. Consider working on the pre-made copper shapes available at hobby shops. File the edges of the final shapes and drill holes for connectors, rivets, bails or wires. Many artists make holes which will be used to rivet their copper piece to a more “skin-friendly” backing, such as silver.

Use the very thin blades of a jeweler's saw to cut shapes from a copper sheet.
Use the very thin blades of a jeweler's saw to cut shapes from a copper sheet. (Image: saw blade image by laviniaparscuta from Fotolia.com)

Roughen the surface of your raw copper shape with 60-grit sandpaper to make the patina, which will be applied later. The rougher the surface of the copper is, the better the patina will adhere. Wear gloves and safety glasses while cutting or abrading your copper.

Use 60 grit sandpaper to roughen the surface of your metal.
Use 60 grit sandpaper to roughen the surface of your metal. (Image: Metal texture image by Zaichenko Olga from Fotolia.com)

Wash the copper pieces thoroughly with liquid dish soap and water; degrease further using alcohol on a paper towel. The metal must be completely free of oil from your fingers for the patina to adhere to the copper. Apply oil with an artist’s paintbrush in a deliberate pattern if you wish to have copper showing through the final colors

Use dish soap, which is made to remove grease, to wash your copper pieces.
Use dish soap, which is made to remove grease, to wash your copper pieces. (Image: Washing up I image by Sophia Winters from Fotolia.com)

Patina your copper pieces by painting on a commercial patinating formula, gesso, or liver of sulphur. Warm your copper pieces in a toaster oven before using liver of sulphur, let sit until desired patina is obtained, and rinse well. Debra Weld, who is a pioneer in this technique, suggests using JAX Green Patina for Copper because it leaves a rougher surface than other products. Let the patina sit for 24 hours before coloring your work.

Adding a patina to a roughened surface gives the color something to adhere to.
Adding a patina to a roughened surface gives the color something to adhere to. (Image: copper plate ,texture image by charles taylor from Fotolia.com)

Color your patinated copper with Prismacolor pencils, which have a higher wax content than other colored pencils. Use a thin coat of the lighter colors first then move up to your darker colors. Swab your work with turpentine to smudge the color. Work the color into your piece with an artist's paint brush and the turpentine. Be sure to clean your brush between colors, unless mixing colors is your goal, which can give a beautiful effect.

Bake the pieces for about 10 minutes at 275 degrees.

Use a toaster oven or standard oven to bake your pieces.
Use a toaster oven or standard oven to bake your pieces. (Image: micro wave oven image by mattmatt73 from Fotolia.com)

Spray the pieces with clear acrylic fixative. Then sand lightly with 0000 steel wool.

Add more color and turpentine, then bake and spray again until you achieve your desired color or until the copper will not take any more layers of wax.

Seal the color with Renaissance Wax and bake it for another 10 minutes.

Use a soft cloth to remove any residue. Then buff and polish your pieces to finish them.

Tips & Warnings

  • A toaster oven is best for this project, although a larger oven will work. A toaster oven dedicated to crafting is ideal.
  • It can take practice to get good results.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Turpentine and Renaissance Wax can be toxic.

References

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