30 Jan 2015

Etched copper earrings

As a follow up to my previous post, I’ve now finished another couple of pairs of copper earrings that I’ve etched using a design resist that I’ve cut in vinyl using the Silhouette cutter.

Etched copper earrings, cut into a fan shape and given a slight curl.
Etched copper earrings, cut into a fan shape and given a slight curl.

It gives a different type of etch from previous results obtained with printed resists, where more tiny detail and texture was possible – if you could print it and it would transfer to the copper, it could be part of the design.  But the Silhouette cut resists are much more black and white and bold clear lines.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all, just different.  I’m really enjoying thinking about what might work and drawing designs in the software.

I’ve barely even touched on working from my own sketched designs, I still have a head full of ideas to work through using vectored drawings created from scratch in the software.

Fan shaped copper earrings featuring delicate scrolls, inspired by Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau lines.
Fan shaped copper earrings featuring delicate scrolls, inspired by Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau lines.

These fan shaped earrings feature delicate curls inspired from some Arts and Crafts Movement designs I was looking at – with delicate and elegant lines – and I tried to capture some of that feeling.  The fan shape was one I’ve drawn in my sketchbook many times to use with metal clay, but not found it easy to get the delicacy of shape that I envisioned – it always seemed to come out too clunky.  Being able to draw the shape in software and then use it with quite thin copper sheet (to keep such large earrings light), allowed me to realise the idea rather better – so it’s always worth holding on to some ideas until all the right elements come together.

 

Geometric design inspired by a glimpse of some 40 year old wallpaper.
Geometric design inspired by a glimpse of some 40 year old wallpaper.

This pair of oval earrings were born as an idea whilst watching a home improvement programme on TV – where they showed a room that hadn’t been decorated since the 70s.  There was some garish geometric wallpaper on one wall and I only got a glimpse of it, but it sparked an idea for some overlapping shapes.  My son commented that they had a retro feel, so I explained what gave me the initial idea and he said that he bet that the wallpaper in question was orange and brown – and it was indeed.

I’ve always favoured my copper to have a polished finish and put a lot of effort and dirty fingers into achieving it. But I decided with these etched pieces, to leave them with a darker more satin surface, it seemed fitting for the designs.

I was also concerned that the flat even and very reflective surface of the polished copper sheet might present a glare hazard to anyone talking to the wearer if they caught the sun as the earrings jiggled as they moved.  I wouldn’t want to be responsible for giving anyone spots before their eyes!

Etched copper earrings with a deep patina and satin surface finish.
Etched copper earrings with a deep patina and satin surface finish.
Retro style antiqued copper oval earrings.
Retro style pattern etched into antiqued copper oval earrings.

 

 

27 Jan 2015

My first pieces utilising the Silhouette

I mentioned in my last post that I was a new owner of a Silhouette cutting machine and having great fun with it.  My initial intentions were to use it as a supplementary tool for my metal clay work – for making texture plates, stencils and actually cutting design elements directly from thinly rolled clay itself.  But the more I read about it and watched YouTube tutorials of it in use (before I even got it), the more I realised it was an incredibly versatile piece of kit and I knew it would be well used, for a variety of different types of work.

The various stages of the copper etching process.
The various stages of the etching process; vinyl resist, clean copper plate, newly etched copper sheet, cut and polished earring shapes and at the front, a finished pair of antiqued copper earrings.

Whilst I’ve certainly made great headway in the metal clay direction, already having made several new texture plates and templates (and many birthday cards and gift boxes), the more I work with it, the more ideas it sparks – and it was such a tangential thought that has kept me occupied for the last few days.

I’ve spent time in the past doing salt water etching and whilst I loved the results and enjoyed the process, a key element to the success of the pieces I was etching was an old laser printer that I used for the resist designs – making a black and white print onto coated paper and then ironing this resist design onto the prepared copper surface – in itself, a very tedious and haphazard process.  But my old printer started giving progressively inferior results and once I got a new (to me) laser printer from Freecycle, I decommissioned the old machine.  But modern machines don’t use the toners that worked so well with such processes, so my etching was put on hold as newer techniques got my attention.

A newly etched piece of copper just marked up to cut into a pair of earrings.
A newly etched piece of copper just marked up to cut into a pair of earrings.

But having cut out some designs in adhesive vinyl to use as opaque masters to make photopolymer plates, I wondered if the vinyl itself might stick directly on copper to act as a resist – it stuck so cleanly to clear acrylic that I thought it was likely it would stick well to copper too.  So I dusted off my etching equipment – luckily all put away together and complete – and gave it a go.

It works a treat – better than I dared hope.  Etching is one of those processes where 90% of the effort is in the proper preparation – you simply can’t cut corners or try to sidestep any stages.  The better your preparation, the better the results are likely to be – that effort really does pay dividends.  So it can take a frustratingly long time to get to the good stuff and the fun part.

The very best bit of course is peeling off all the protective stuff you’ve stuck to the copper to prevent the non-design parts etching, to see if it worked.  You can’t get a proper idea of the success of the etch until you see it all – sometimes a piece that looks good initially is spoiled by an edge of the mask lifting and leaving a streak of erroneous and unattractive etching where it’s not wanted.

Obviously, preparing a graphic to use in this manner requires some time in the Silhouette software, but I’m really enjoying that aspect of the work – drawing all of the designs shown myself from scratch as vector drawings.  It has allowed me to revisit design ideas in my sketch book that I’d struggled to realise with other methods.

Newly etched raw copper design, ready for cutting into a pait of earrings.
A newly etched copper design for a pair of fan shaped earrings. I made these curly tendril shapes after looking at some gorgeous Arts and Crafts pieces and wanting to capture some of that feeling.

It also requires a slightly different thinking and the vinyl resist is of a different nature from a graphic created to print out – you don’t want delicate details unattached to other design elements, or overlapping so that they cut bits off each other and you don’t want lots of tiny holes between elements that will make it tricky to get a clean result without any rogue bits of sticky vinyl.  You also need a good mix of dark and light areas to give a balanced result.

But this has been a most enjoyable and bonus diversion – I’d never even considered etching in my deliberations over the Silhouette – even if I never use it for anything other than birthday cards and etched designs, it will totally justify my family’s investment in it for me.  Not to mention that I’m truly enjoying working with it.

My first finished pair of earrings - featuring a delicate leafy design I drew myself.
My first finished pair of earrings – featuring a delicate leafy design I digitally drew myself.
The top of the etched earring required a little thought for the design of an earwire that would allow it to move freely, not just have a huge round eye.  I settled on a little hammered scroll.
The top of the etched earring required a little thought for the design of an earwire that would allow it to move freely, not just have a huge round eye. I settled on a little hammered scroll, which allowed me a longer teardrop loop.

I’ve also really enjoyed working with the design software and find it very powerful for creating what I want – you just need to think about the structure of a shape and which drawing tools will create the shape you want.  I’ve always been fascinated with the regular repeating patterns in Moorish architecture and I’ve done a bit of tinkering with patterns formed from a repeating element – the geometric tools within the Silhouette studio software make such tasks a doddle and it’s astonishing to me that moving a shape just a little, creating more overlap or rotating the angle can give rise to an infinite number of different designs from a few simple shapes.

Geometric patterns formed by using either very regular o totally irregular shapes to create repeating patterns.
Geometric patterns formed by using either very regular or totally irregular shapes to create repeating patterns.