Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More from the Copper Leaf Paintings

Ancestor Series
oil on copper leaf on panel

I was asked to share more information on my process with these copper leaf paintings. I may have talked about it before, but here is the information again.

I stumbled on this idea a few years ago. I was creating paintings on 3" deep canvases and was unhappy with the way the painted sides looked. I had some copper leaf I'd purchased but never used. So I applied it to the canvases, and now, 3 years later, the sides look as great as when I did them, so I'm confident as to what I'm doing.

Now I start with a gessoed panel. I brush on GAC (an acrylic product) in small areas and then lift and apply small pieces of the copper leaf, available commercially in craft stores. It comes in thin sheets and can be a little frustrating to apply. I either tear or cut small pieces between 1 and 2 inches and gently lay them on the GAC, brushing into place. You will end up with a less than smooth surface, but these wrinkles are what I want for my surface. When the entire panel is covered, I brush it again with a thin, even coat of the GAC and allow to dry.

Next, I use burnt umber acrylic paint and a thick paper towel. I put a bit of thinned paint right onto the paper towel, and using my finger, rub it across the surface. The acrylic paint also lets the oil paint bond to the surface of the copper leaf. When the acrylic layer is dry, the panel is ready to be painted.

I sketch in the "landmarks" for my faces with charcoal, and I use a limited palette of colors. I've also created still life paintings using this process. The copper works with you or against when it comes to values, but if you think of it as a mid-value range and push a lot darker and a lot lighter, it's fine. The small size of the panels I'm using right now means I can finish a painting in about 2 hours - if the faces come. They aren't always cooperative.

When I am happy with the oil painting, I allow that to dry and then coat the entire surface with galkyd. This prevents the copper from tarnishing, although there is no guarantee that some areas won't react to all the materials applied. I have panels I painted more than 3 years ago, where I embedded copper leaf in galkyd. Some copper turned dark, but most of it is as bright as it was when I used it.

Keep in mind that the surface is rough, so fine detail is hard to achieve. I use the beautiful warm color of the copper as a value.


This is the painting I donated to the NAWA fundraiser. I went back in and added detail to her eyes with one of my smallest brushes, and I'm pleased with the result. I hope it sells.

1 comment:

Suzi Smith said...

synchronicity?? a namesake.... & guess what i was doing today, to go with calligraphy & words about a copper sun... !! (glad i continued to older posts!) I probably wouldn't have thought about coating it afterwards. Glad you came by! I do like this series of yours.