Please see my video on Patinas.
This page is intended to elaborate and expand on the techniques discussed in my video and to present a few of the other types of patinas available. This is by no means a complete listing of patinas (after all, I don’t have THAT much time left on the planet!).
First off – the warnings!
Please be aware of the hazards inherent in the patinas that you are using. Gloves, protective glasses and ventilation are important and necessary considerations when working with chemicals. Also, be aware of the flammability of the product. Have appropriate fire and safety equipment on hand.
Patina is defined as a layer of corrosion on copper or copper alloys. In the jewelry world, the term now loosely means: color on metal. The patina can be applied by immersion, spraying, heat or hand application. Patinas occur naturally as a result of the environment – it’s generally a corrisive process involving oxygen, water and carbon. The Chinese buried their work, left instructions where their descendants could find it and hoped for the best. Now, it’s a bit easier and you don’t have to rely on cousin Sarah anymore! Nice.
Look at the Statue of Liberty – that woman rocks her patina! She’s made of copper and sports a verdigris patina. It’s crusty, almost as thick as the copper beneath (in spots) and protects the metal underneath. To copy this effect all you need are oxygen, copper and a huge chunk of time. But, there are quicker and easier ways to obtain this look.
Cold Patinas are, as a general rule, opaque. The application of these patinas involves applying the agent onto room temperature (cold) metal (65° – 75°F). No heat is involved. Most of the time, these patinas are applied in layers until YOU are happy ( : with the color. The patina chemicals can be applied with sponges, brushes or sprays.
The drawback to cold patinas is that they are relatively fragile and need to be protected – either structurally or with lacquers, varnishes or waxes. Oil based lacquers and varnishes tend to hold the colors better. ProtectaClear by Everbrite is skin safe and is great on metal. I’ve put it through some rigorous tests and it didn’t chip or peel. The colors stayed bright. Waxes have different application methods – depending on the wax. Hot waxes are applied with a brush to hot metal. This technique can alter the patina dramatically. Other waxes, like Renaissance wax (this place has good prices – but never ordered from them) are applied to room temperature metals. Every sealer, including Renaissance wax, changes the appearance of the patina. The idea is to experiment…
Here’s a patina I created, using liver of sulfur and Jax’s Green Patina for copper, brass and bronze. Jax’s has tons of pre-mixed solutions for coloring metal. There’s a finish to replicate 24k on brass, brown, antique rust, brown-black and more. There’s also blackeners and darkeners for aluminum, steel, iron, nickel and pewter, as well as metal cleaners. They also have stains, waxes, lacquers and so much more. Here’s the MSDS on Jax’s green patina.
Another product is Baldwins Patina which doesn’t darken sterling, nickel silver, or gold alloys. It works with copper and steel clays as well as with brass, bronze and copper metals. This fact makes it a cool product to use when you want to darken the copper based metals but not the silver or gold in a piece of jewelry. Apparently, Baldwin’s doesn’t color bronze or white-bronze clays – if they are sanded. That information is from Hadar Jacobson’s video on You Tube – I haven’t experimented with it. By the way, DON’T do what she is doing in the video: dipping her ungloved hands into that stuff. Made me shiver. Quote from the MSDA:
"Prolonged skin contact may cause irritation, with inflammation, swelling, and edema. skin disorders may be aggravated by exposure"
Here’s the MSDS on it.
Another great place to go for Patinas, besides Jax is Sculpt Nouveau. They have tons of different materials to color ANYTHING (I think – well, maybe not amoebas).
I’ve made a separate page: Sculpt Nouveau, for you to see the variety of patinas and metal finishes that they have available.
The Science Company has great recipes and information for the metal artist and their eternal search for the perfect patina. Don’t miss this site!
Hot patinas involve, hold it…have you guessed yet? Yep, heat. The metal is heated with a torch, oven, good looking guy (image borrowed from Examiner.com), heat gun, hot plate, the sun (alternately the planet Mercury), or a kiln but, Not the Microwave! The temperature of the metal should be about 200° F . You can tell it’s hot enough if distilled water sizzles on it. (Regular water has too many chemicals and minerals in it and those elements can dirty the metal.) Most hot patinas are transparent. The benefits to using heat, besides the transparency thing, is that the patina chemicals get sucked up by the metal – it’s more than a surface-only treatment. You can also use this technique with acrylic paint and a heat gun (not a hair dryer) . Paint with thinned acrylic paint onto the clean, cool surface of the metal and hit it with the heat gun. As it dries, the paint moves into the “pores” of the metal.
More precautions must be taken when working with hot patinas then with cold patinas. Since you are working with potentially flammable chemicals and HOT metal, the chance of fire goes up, as does the risk of toxic fumes. Spend the money, save your home and life and get a fire extinguisher. They are pretty cheap. Amazon has one for about $25.00. Hopefully, your home is worth more than that! If you don’t value your home think about your lungs and your soft, sensitive skin. Be good to yourselves.
Here are a few artists who use heat and patinas: Stephen Yusko, Carol Warner. Patrick Kipper has also got this patina thing down! Check out this link at BrynMorgan.com (started by Tim McCreight) which illustrates beautifully the amazing colors you can obtain using heat, oil and various metals.
These are essentially patinas that come about after metal is “buried” in a “soil” that has been saturated with a patina creating solution. Some examples of the “soil” are: cat litter, sand, sawdust, torn fabric, tobacco, sawdust, pine needles, coffee and cotton wool. Pretty much any absorbent material should work. As far as solutions are concerned, anything could work. Successful patinas have been created with: Ammonia, urine (ugh!), vinegar, old wine, funky milk, cupric nitrate, etc. I’m thinking of trying spaghetti sauce and Caeser salad. Find more information on buried patination at Artenero.
The best part of creating patinas is the experimentation and the end result. So, go ahead, find something unique, soak it with something weird and see what happens.
The book: Japanese Patinas (Eitoku Sugimori, 2004. Japanese Patinas, Brynmorgen Press.) recommends grating daikon radish and laying the mash over the metal for about 20 minutes prior to patination. Supposedly, the radish prevents unevenness in the patination and enhances the color.
Very generally, the process of buried patinas involves immersion in the medium, in a covered container (Tupperware springs to mind!) for 24-36 hours. You can and SHOULD check on it once in a while. You can turn it or toss it - hey, it’s an experiment! If you are going to be investing a million hours in a piece, you might want to make samples first. But, I know you, you want RESULTS, and you want them NOW! I know I do. Maybe a vacation is in order here.
Liver of Sulfur
I’m spending a lot of verbiage on this patina as it’s probably the most popular.
First off and most importantly, THIS STUFF STINKS! Ever been to Yellowstone or into the center of an active volcano (really?)? That’s what it smells like. So, my thought is to use this in a ventilated area. There’s a lot of information on the web that this product is extremely hazardous. Please read this MSDS before using. There are a few things to consider when reading the MSDS: first off – you’re not working in large quantities. You’re not storing a silo full of the stuff. You’re not shoveling liver of sulfur into cans all day. You’re not working in a liver of sulfur coloring factory. The amount of time and the quantity of this chemical you will be using is small and, when in liquid form, dilute. That’s not to say that you should eat the stuff and snort it likes it’s 1984. Common sense is the keyword here. (got sense? Should make a tee shirt that asks this!)
Don’t eat it – it will react with your stomach acids and cause hydrogen sulfide (which you may have been exposed to in that volcano) . Hydrogen sulfide is flammable and highly poisonous. So, don’t mix sulferated potash (Liver of Sulfur) with ANY acids.
Ventilate. Mixed liver of sulfur stinks so, why smell it and second, it’s not great to inhale chemicals whether toxic or not. The powder is an irritant to the upper respiratory system but, since it is in lump form, the chance of inhalation is limited. After you mix it up or if you are using the liquid or gel version – Go outside, open a door, turn on the kitchen hood, put a fan in the window with the air blowing out. Pick one. You can choose all of the above options but you risk being accused of being obsessive or overly dramatic. Applause anyone?
Glove up. The powder and liquid can be a skin irritant. Our skin likes to absorb stuff. Do you want something that foul smelling IN your body? Wear Gloves.
Some information for the test at the end of this page. Flunk it and you’re grounded for a week!
Liver of sulfur is a combination of potassium sulfides. It works, not by oxidation, (as it is commonly assumed) but, by a chemical reaction between the sulfur and the metal. Liver of sulfur comes in a variety of forms including: lump, liquid and gel. The prior link is to Rio Grande Jewelry but, Cool Tools also has a version – the price is the same: 4ozs for $14.95.
Lump Form of LOS
The lump form has a long shelf life as long as it is kept in a dark place, not exposed to moisture and is stored in a relatively air tight container. (Sounds like my life). Liver chunklets come in big chunks (really? hmmm…) because it degrades from the outside in. when you break open a lump, the interior will be darker and more potent. Leave it in large lump form until you are ready to use it. When it’s time to liver, break up one lump. Spread out a bunch of newspaper on your desk, Slip on your particulate mask, slather some masking tape over the end of your mallet (to keep the liver of sulfur out of it – especially if it’s a leather mallet). Slither into your gloves and, like the lady or gentleman that you are, gently tap the lump. You want to see pea sized chunks. Not a pile of pulverized dust – remember that part about irritating your respiratory system? Of course, you are wearing a mask, right?
Gel Form of LOS
The gel form, is easy to use and lasts longer. It’s syrupy and has to be mixed with water but, what’s one more task! Rio Grande’s version of the gel is called ”Midas Liver of Sulfur“To have more control over the colors, it helps to have a more dilute solution.
Liquid Form of LOS
The liquid form is nothing more than pre-mixed LOS. You can do the mixing yourself and save a lot of money. I don’t like the liquid form because: a. it costs a lot more and b. it doesn’t last very long. I had a bottle that only lasted a month or so. I have a can of lump form that is over 8 years old. So, comparing the two, I’d say: skip the liquid or buy the gel!
Rio Grande has a new product which looks very interesting but, isn’t. Initially, I wrote Rio Grande about the product and they were going to test it and let me know the results but, the Tucson Gem Show was coming and….Alas, no information. So, I bought the stuff. It is a two part product, called: MIDAS Brilliance Gel, that supposedly will cycle through all the colors that liver of sulfur (7) can produce and then will recycle back through them again but they will have a deeper hue and more iridescence. Well, the instructions don’t clarify how to use it. Are you supposed to dip it, or leave it in the solution? So, I did both. After an hour, the dipped silver was vaguely yellowish(?). Nothing else happened. Then I did the full immersion method and – nothing happened. Finally, after four tries, I left it in the stuff overnight and I finally had pretty – pinks, golds, purples – colors but, the color spots were random and the rest of the piece was grayish. It seemed to me, to be very difficult to control, much less predict the length of exposure required for color. To be fair, I’m working in the dark – not having had instructions – I’m not sure if I used the product correctly. As of today, I don’t recommend it.
Liver of Sulfur is pretty iffy on brass. If you like the look of age spots, go for it. It usually works best if there is a layer of copper flashing. (Not this kind of copper flashing!) Copper flashing has two sources (that I know of). One source of flashing occurs when Brass is heated past 850 degrees F. In a process similar to depletion gilding, the zinc is depleted from the alloy (Brass is an alloy of zinc and copper) leaving a layer of copper. Another method for creating copper flashing on brass is to add a piece of steel to a container with jeweler’s pickle. (Pickle is a dilute solution of acid or metal salts and is used to clean metal after soldering). Ever done this? Put a piece in pickle That you didn’t know had a steel spring in the manufactured clasp? Or forgotten to remove the binding wire? (Let’s hope you did that only once!) Well, congrats! You’ve created copper flashing. It’s a very thin layer of copper that is easy to remove BUT can cause dangerous heart palpitations when you see it on your almost finished piece!
To remove Copper Flashing and go on with your life, CAREFULLY, scoop a bit of pickle – about 1/8 cup – into a (dedicated for jewelry use) glass bowl. Pour an equal amount of hydrogen peroxide (the stuff from the drugstore) into that bowl. Drop in your piece. In about a minute or less, the flashing will be gone. Shazam! The peroxide will dissipate in a few hours and you can pour the pickle back into the pot.
Using Liver of Sulfur
To get brilliant controlled colors with LOS, try this method of application: You’ll need a way to heat water either in a crock pot (never again to be used for food!), on the stove or in the microwave. If using a pot on the stove or tea kettle, pour the hot water into a LOS dedicated container. Junk stores are a great source for cheap crock pots (crack pots?). Don’t boil the water, just make it pretty hot. Ensure that there is enough water to cover the piece. You’ll also need two other dedicated containers: one to mix up the LOS in and one that will contain clear, clean water for rinsing. You will also need tweezers or tongs and gloves. Ventilation too.
Using tweezers or tongs, drop the silver into the very hot water, wait until the metal heats up – a minute or so. With the tongs, pick up the hot silver and dip it into the LOS. Pull it out of the LOS after a second. Hold it there and watch as the colors change. If you love the colors, immediately rinse in the clear water. Not the colors you want? Repeat the process. Generally, the first dunking will result in yellow/gold. The second pinks/reds, the third turquoise/purples, the fourth moving into gray. After you are done with the colors, drop the piece into a container containing baking soda and water to help neutralize the LOS. Rinse again and seal. I’m liking a product called Protectaclear from Everbrite for sealing but, you can use Renaisannce wax or other products. The issue with the wax though is that the colors are altered by the product. I haven’t seen much color change with the Everbrite product.
Speaking of neutralizing: you MUST, that’s MUST, neutralize liver of sulfur or it will continue to work. Unsupervised LOS can be dangerous to your art! The liver can continue to color your work. The best way to neutralize it is to plop it into a bowl of water and baking soda. If you have colored a piece of metal clay, boiling it in baking soda is best. Rinse well after the soda bath and clean with soap, warm water and a soft brush. Don’t forget to kiss your piece and speak tenderly to it before sending it out into the world, alone and frightened. Boy, are you mean!
Disposing of liver of sulfur
Remember that part about LOS degrading when exposed to light and air. Well, the nice or horrible thing about liver of sulfur is, that is becomes inert, inactive and pretty sad within a day. You can stick it in a glass jar and wait it out, pour it down the sink and rinse or you can neutralize it, while still fresh, with baking soda, pour it down the sink and rinse. It will not harm the water system if neutralized. You could call the USPHMSA (U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) to dispose of it but, then they’d have you on their list. (All other countries, please search for the appropriate government agency to irritate).
Warning: If you leave your piece in liver of sulfur too long, you will end up with a very dark, flaky crust of gray/black. It’s almost sooty and will come off on whatever it touches. Who knows, this might make your heart sing, not mine though!
Another method for coloring brass and copper is heat. Below are pretty colors on copper that I made for show and tell!
These patinas are different than those discussed above as they only involve heat. Once again, they need to be protected and as soon as you apply a wax, lacquer or sealant of any sort, the color changes. Hmmm… the eternal dilemma. Here’s a site that discusses this further: Quick Ship Metals.
So, to make a heat patina, get some copper, brass or bronze, a torch and start playing. Heat the piece slowly - pull the torch off and watch what happens. Don’t like it – drop it into the pickle and start again. I’ve found that, if I heat the metal, just a bit, let it cool a few degrees and then go back in with the torch – the colors are better. Once again, experiment…
Patinas are anything but reliable. But, that makes the process all the more interesting. It is a journey, an experience and something worth investing our precious time in. Below are three books that I own and recommend on surface coloration: (all book links are to Amazon).
Mary Hettsmansperger has a new book coming out. When, I don’t know but it’s called: Heat, Color, Set & Fire: Surface Effects for Metal Jewelry. I know about as much as you do about this book. Looking forward to it though!
I hope this page has helped somewhat. My love to you all. Make beautiful things and smile every single danged day – a lot! Thank you all for being there! Nancy