I just completed a 15-hour weekend workshop about applying Pigments on Metal: Exploring Pigments and Gold Leaf on Metal, taught by jewelry artist, Lucia Massei at Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School in Florence. I was previously familiar with Lucia’s work and the luscious patinas and surface layers she creates inside and outside of her forms. Because I enjoy working with found objects and materials that have their own age patina, I wanted to know more.
Some of the techniques we learned were quite simple and others require ages of practice to understand the properties of the elements and be able to predict what the outcome might be. Much of this type of experimentation is just that, because the results are somewhat unpredictable and very organic.
The garlic and lemon patina is created easily with rubbing fresh garlic layers on heated metal alternating with freshly squeezed lemon juice painted, heated, and repeated until the desired effect is produced. This could range from a yellow-brown to a dark rich black with a slight texture somewhat resembling tar. The studio smelled more like a kitchen!
Acrylic paint, slightly diluted with water can be applied onto metal and gently heat-dried. It is best to use thin glazes and repeat several times. We also painted with low-fire porcelain paints that we baked in a simple toaster oven at 110F for 30 minutes, or heated with a gentle torch flame. Different colors can be combined also with pigment powder. Drawing in graphite or permanent pen can also be applied, as long as a transparent layer protects the top. Each additional layer should be applied only after 24 hours of drying time.
Gold or silver leaf can be applied to metal, but requires a steady hand, holding your breath, knowing how to heat the metal correctly, and a little luck. My gold leaf exercises failed several times and the gold quickly disintegrated into thin air. We used true gold and silver leaf, but folded it several times to create a better thickness. Flux is applied to the surface where the leaf will be placed, if you can actually manage to place it where you intended to without flaking! The metal should be heated from below and at the very right moment, it needs to be stopped and transferred onto a cool steel block and burnished with an agate burnisher. The method is similar to the Korean technique of keum-boo.
We learned that synthetic lace fabrics can be carefully “melted” onto metal with a low enough heat to avoid melting/smoking/fuming mistakes. The material can be kept on the metal or peeled off after a bath of liver of sulfur, allowing the metal to appear as the design. It is recommended to wear a mask and have good ventilation just in case.
We also learned other techniques of applying color pigment powders onto surfaces coated with 2-part resin or spray paint to get a powder-coated effect.
Using a very highly sanded (2000) mirror-finish piece of iron, a deep blue surface can be obtained by carefully heating the metal with a controlled flame. This is a technique that requires perfect timing combined with precise heat. The color can even appear as a rainbow. If you heat too much, it will suddenly go brown-black.
Many of the techniques can be combined as long as the materials used stay separated within one of 2 families: water-based (can apply heat) or flammable (cannot apply heat). All work surfaces must be prepared correctly, sometimes by scratching a “tooth” into the surface or creating a texture, and cleaning the metal with alcohol. A protective layer of beeswax, varnish, or egg white should be applied at the end to fix the surfaces.
We all compared samples at the end of the workshop and took notes about how results were achieved. The class was made up from jewelers from all around the world: Puerto Rico, Lebanon, France, Germany, Korea, and the US. My samples below show how painterly these techniques can be and how color and texture can completely change the metal surface.