Colorful Patina on Copper with Liver of Sulfur …
While assembling jewelry can be lots of fun, there’s something extra special about creating your own customized jewelry components. Working with copper sheet, you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.
I want you to be able to experience this joy as soon as possible and with minimal investment, so here’s free access to my Colorful Copper Earrings mini-course and the supporting fundamental lessons.
While this project is perfect for beginners, the technique is interesting even for a seasoned jewelry maker. It’s easy to do at home and makes for a fun activity you can enjoy with friends or family.
Liver of sulfur is a stinky chemical that is traditionally used to ‘antique’ or darken a silver or copper piece of jewelry. It is common practice to submerge the piece in a warm solution until it becomes completely dark (not quite black) and then buff off the high points to enhance the contrast and show off depth in a design. But when you mix a slightly diluted batch, it slows the process, and you can control the color changes along the way. Then you can capture the colorful patina by sealing it with a clear coating.
And then congratulations are in order because you’ve just made custom jewelry components you can be proud to transform into handmade jewelry.
Welcome to the Colorful Copper Earrings Mini-course!
Option 1: Ombre Dip
Option 2: Copper Highlights
Option 3: Dark Accents
Even if you have never made jewelry before, there’s nothing to fear.
This course truly explains it all in easy-to-understand segments, so you’ll be able to make your own amazing copper earrings you’re proud to wear and show your friends.
This is the first project offered in the working with sheet category of Build Your Foundation – the beginner jewelry making journey in our online learning center.
In this course, you’ll learn:
- How to prepare your copper blanks, including punching holes, filing, and sanding
- The basic process of using liver of sulfur patina to create a beautiful spectrum of color on copper in an ombre pattern
- How you can use sharpie marker as a resist to add interest and intrigue with shiny copper highlights or dark accents
- Specific instructions to achieve all 3 of the designs shown in the photographs above
- Instructions about how to start over in case you aren’t happy with your patina
- Demonstration of sealing your patina to protect the finish for years to come
- And how to securely attach your copper component to ear wires to complete the earrings
If you are new to making jewelry, once you are ready to begin this project, you can expect it to take 2-3 hours to complete – although everyone is different. I highly advise watching the videos before you start gathering your materials, tools, and supplies to familiarize yourself with what is needed.
Get started now by watching the short introduction video which describes what you can expect and how to navigate your way through the course…
Get your free copy of the Colorful Copper Earrings Instruction Bundle…
Materials you’ll need to make the colorful copper earrings you see in this course…
- Copper Blanks 2″ pentagon shape – 24 gauge
- Ear Wires – Lots of people have a sensitivity to copper, so I do not recommend using ear wires made from actual copper even if you coat them. I like the copper-colored niobium ear wires made by TierraCast. Niobium is a hypo-allergenic wire colored by using an anodizing method. You can find the ear wires through Lima Bead or Rio Grande. (Read more about findings for copper earrings.)
- Copper test strips like I used in the course.
Alternate options for your copper blanks…
24 gauge blanks are available through a wide array of jewelry supply sources. They are often listed as stamping blanks. Be sure to look for options with no protective coating though! (Learn more about preparing copper blanks)
I have found shapes I really like at Twisted Turtle Studio, and they’ve been gracious enough to extend you a 20% discount on your first order. Just fill in your name and email above requesting the instruction bundle and you’ll get your coupon code in a separate email soon after the instructions arrive.
And of course, you can check out the classic copper jewelry shapes we offer here.
And just in case you want to dangle a bead from the bottom, you may need…
Additional tips and considerations for achieving great results:
There have been a few questions asked since I created the Colorful Copper Earrings Mini-course, so I am sharing the answers here in hopes of helping you if you come across the same issues.
Simply click on the + sign to access the answers to the following questions:
My marker doesn't come off when I wipe with alcohol, how can I remove it?
After extensive testing I have found that the fine tip Sharpie markers do not remove as completely as the ultra-fine tip. If you want a line the width of a fine tip marker – they work well enough. However, when you are coloring in a larger area or even widening a line, the ultra-fine tip markers are the better choice even though it take more effort to cover the area.
I would suggest that you color on some copper with the marker you plan to use for the project to test if the marker comes off with rubbing alcohol before you go to the trouble of applying it as resist and getting the patina you want, only to then discover it doesn’t come off with alcohol. All is not lost in this case. However, you would need to sand off the piece completely, re-scrub the surface with the Bar Keeper’s Friend and then the Dawn and start again with a marker which does indeed come off with alcohol.
I am not getting the colorful hues, just the copper tones... what am I doing wrong?
Before we discuss possible technical issues, are you letting the piece dry to be able to see the colorful hues? When the blank is still wet, the colors are often not developed. Wick away the excess moisture and allow them to air dry. If you are still not achieving colorful hues soon after the initial color changes, you can read on …
There are generally 3 different factors that could cause issues with achieving the color hues that appear before you get to the copper/bronze tones when dipping pristine copper into the patina bath:
Factor 1: Is your copper really properly prepared? The cleaner the surface of your copper, the more even and colorful results you will get. The preparation process is intrinsic to getting nice even coloration with a broad spectrum of colors.
However, as I mention in the course, if you are using option 3 where you are going for dark accents, you will not be able to get the colorful hues because using the marker as a resist does not leave a pristine, well-prepared surface on the copper. Therefore, you can only get the copper and bronze hues along with the dark accents.
If you feel you really did a great job with preparing your copper blanks, then there are other factors that come into play…
Factor 2: Is your patina bath too strong or too hot? The bright colors develop before the rich copper and bronze tones. So, if you only get the copper hues, it could be that the patina mixture is too strong, therefore the coloration happens too fast and you bypass the rainbow hues in the first dip and swish.
There are two ways the patina bath may become too strong. A drop of liver of sulfur is not an exact measurement by any means. Sometimes a drop is tiny and another time it may be more of a small dollop, so there is room for error even if you follow the guidelines I present. There’s also cause for variation in strength due to the temperature of the water used to mix the patina. The hotter the mixture, the faster the colors change.
You can bypass this issue by using a strip of copper to test the strength of your patina bath just before you are ready to dip your prepared pieces. If it’s too strong, you can simply add some additional warm water. Test again until you are happy with the rate of the color changes. If the bath becomes too weak, you can add another drop of liver of sulfur. The idea is to test the patina just before you dip your jewelry components so you can adjust it as needed.
Still having troubles?
Factor 3: The quality of your water can cause issues. I live in Arizona. Our water here is quite hard, and I have not come across much of an issue. But I have heard from others who have experienced water supply quality issues wreaking havoc with patinas. The good news is, you can bypass this issue by using filtered bottled water or distilled water to mix your patina.
Should I add salt or ammonia to get more brilliant colors when using liver of sulfur?
I have not personally experienced a distinctive increase in brilliant coloration by adding salt or ammonia to my liver of sulfur patina bath when working with copper, especially once I seal it. However, I have seen great results when working with highly polished fine silver such as jewelry made with precious metal clay.
Some people add the salt or ammonia right into the patina bath, and some dip in salt water or ammonia before dipping in the liver of sulfur patina bath. There is no harm in experimenting for yourself.
The art of patina is a very difficult technique to achieve the same exact results with repetition. Just keep in mind that the color hues are going to change when you seal the pieces, so even if you get a more brilliant color before the protective finish is applied, you may not be able to tell afterwards. You are likely to have more fun if you just go with the flow, unless you happen to enjoy the process of trying to control all the multiple factors that can sway the results.
The lacquer spittled when I sprayed my pieces outside. What would cause this?
The short answer… it was too cold outside. Cold temps are not something I usually have to think about since I live in the desert of Arizona, so I had not experienced this issue before.
Luckily, the effect of the lacquer spittling when it was sprayed on the copper pieces with patina caused a textured finish – almost like a batique effect. But the uneven spray of the Nikolas lacquer was due to the cold outdoor temperatures. There’s a range of temps listed on the can for proper use.
The big lesson here is to read and follow all of the instructions on the protective coating you choose to use.
Want to learn more about how to design your own jewelry using a colorful patina on copper ?
We created some sample Christmas ornaments and holiday themed jewelry to inspire your creativity.
There’s a post showing how the 3 options were utilized and tips for working with die-cut shapes. Check it out now!
And, there’s a follow-up course in our online learning center …
Design Your Own Guide: Colorful Patina on Copper
This course includes informative video modules featuring:
- an exploration of various dipping approaches,
- where to apply resist for your desired result,
- discussion of basic jewelry design principles and drape,
- and how to make guides and stencils to apply your resist with ease.
You can gain access to this course (as well as the rest of the course library) by joining the Jewelry Classes with Jen Learning Center.
For just $19 you get access to the Design Your Own Guide, plus …
Build Your Foundation – Our beginner level jewelry making journey to welcome you into the fold as a jewelry maker
Our Signature Course: Measuring Charts Made Easy – Hone your forming skills as you build a library of patterns for components you’ll be making with consistency and ease.
More than 30 project tutorials
More than 20 fundamental lessons
And the library is always growing!
When you join, you have the option to pay monthly or annually (for a better deal). You can cancel at any time. So, there’s very little commitment.
Here are a couple of fundamental lessons to augment the course …
Copper jewelry shapes: a ‘canvas’ to paint…
The simplest way to create a custom component is to start with a basic shape. In the jewelry world we refer to pre-cut shapes as blanks. So if you’re shopping, you would search for copper blanks or silver blanks. Just be aware that these blanks come in various thicknesses. There’s a wide array of shapes available in 24 ga thickness which is a great weight for earrings.
For metals we measure thickness using an American Standard Wire Gage for Non-ferrous Metals. Learn more about how to use a wire gage.
Some blanks come with pre-drilled holes and the edges are all smooth making the piece ready for surface treatment. Others need holes added. Punching your own holes can be nice because you get to choose where and how many. I personally find myself attracted to classic shapes, which can be hard to source, so I sell copper blanks that I design and cut using my bench shear. Because my blanks are simply cut shapes, they require filing and sanding to fully prepare them for use, so I am going to explain how to properly prepare a piece of metal to be transformed into a unique piece of jewelry …
How to Prepare a Copper Jewelry Blank…
There are 3 steps for preparing a copper blank: punch holes, file, and sand.
Watch the video I mentioned about how to properly set up your hole punch pliers and learn more details about how I use a grinding bur fitted in a pin vise to debur the holes you punch.
Tools you’ll need…
As you enter into the world of working with metal you’ll find that these are some of the most basic and essential supplies you’ll need to acquire: (To read what we have to say in our Tool Reference Section for each tool, just click on the item in red lettering to link over to that page)
- Ultra-fine tip sharpie marker – retractable version recommended
- Rubbing alcohol – to remove the sharpie
- Graph ruler
- 1.5mm Hole Punch Pliers (or other similar size hole punch like the double hole punch)
- Pin vise
- 3mm Round bur
- Silicone lubricant
- Jewelry grade file – #4 cut half round hand file (or a needle file if you are looking to keep costs down)
- Emery paper – 400 and 600 grit should be good to get you started
- 3M Sanding Sponges – superfine, ultrafine, and microfine
Now that you have your ‘canvas’ ready, it’s time to apply a rich patina on the copper using liver of sulfer…
You can capture beautiful bronze tones with this patina process. Here’s a video showing you an overview of my process including how you can use a sharpie marker as a resist to achieve multiple tones…
Supplies you’ll need for working with the liver of sulfur patina:
- Copper blanks 2. Rubber gloves 3. Cardstock or an old file folder (to protect your work surface while sanding) 4. Emery paper (400 and 600 grit should suffice) 5. 3M Sanding Sponges (superfine, ultrafine, and microfine grits) 6. Toothbrush 7. Bar Keeper’s Friend soft cleanser 8. Dawn dish soap 9. Paper towels 10. Sharpie marker – ultra fine tip (and perhaps others depending on your design) 11. Wire hooks to hang your pieces (scrap copper wire?/ paperclip?) 12. 3 small containers for the patina and water (big enough to swish around your components) 13. Liver of Sulfur Extended Life Gel (also known as Liver of Sulfur XL Gel, or the nugget form of Liver of Sulfur if you prefer) 14. Plastic spoon to stir with 15. Box or cardboard for spraying clear coat sealant, 16. Nikolas #2105 Clear Lacquer, ProtectaClear Crystal Clear Coating, or some other reputable clear coating for metals (Tip: check out what metal sculptors are using)