Flame painting copper is a real art form, but you can get nice results even as a beginner. It is a great way to create something beautiful in a very short time and get a feeling of accomplishment.
Clean Your Copper
Start your experiment with clean copper. You will get better color results on “new” copper versus recycled pieces. The copper piece to be flame colored should be evenly clean and free of any oils.
You can use sandpaper in different grits (end with 600 or higher), I use a buffing wheel and then finish the piece with hand buffing using steel wool. If you have grease stains, clean them off with soap and water or abrasive cleaners like Bon Ami, or baking soda. Then proceed to buffing. (Of course torching the piece will clean impurities off, but then you have to buff it shiny again.)
Flame Painting Facts
Copper goes through a series of color changes when it is heated. This order is pretty much the same every time, but there are environmental factors that affect the color results. Probably the biggest changes come from changes in humidity, you will note that you get different colors on a rainy day than on a dry sunny day! Even changes depending what time of day it is. How fun! And challenging. See the video for the full process.
There are varying opinions on heating the copper for color. I believe most experts go with the “double heat” method, meaning you heat the entire piece first so it goes through all the color changes once and ends up dull looking “purple haze”. Let the copper cool and then start flame painting. Some people just go for painting the colors right away, or use quenching in water in between. It is an art of practice and experimentation and you will get differing opinions. My suggestion would be, do the preheat, let cool and then paint. I sometimes use the quenching method to get textural patina effects. I have noticed that when you quench and heat the same piece several times over, it will start creating something I call “patina swirls” that remain on the surface. For this mermaid tail design, that effect seemed to add more interest to the jewelry piece.
Protecting the Flame Painted Finish
You will want to clear coat your flamed artwork after you are done to preserve the colors. (As you know copper tarnishes quickly in nature – just look at the Statue of Liberty…) There are various clear coats from hardware store spray to special jewelry coatings. Some people use renaissance wax, but it doesn’t last for a very long time or seal the copper properly. Spray coats work great for beginners and they can last for a long time, depending on use. (spray about three thin coats). I use Protectaclear by Everbrite – it is a special clear coat that is very durable, but is is also a bit more expensive.
Flame painting is a wonderful hobby – the results are always unique and there are no limits! (at least I don’t think so…) It is very rewarding to get a result you could not believe possible with flame only. So start experimenting!