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Colorize!Use Common Materials in Uncommon Ways

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Techniques to Wow Them With More Colour

Imagine injecting your metals with blue, red, or chartreuse. I'm not talking about beads or gemstones (although I looove those too…).

I can think of three intriguing but common materials that can be bonded, glued, or dripped onto metal to add color.  Consider these for your jewelry design ideas file.

The first is…

If you can mix glue with a stick, you can use this low-tech material in your work. This relatively inexpensive medium can produce maximum results.

Epoxy is a 2 part mixture: a resin, and a hardener. Once they're mixed, it's only a matter of time it becomes a hard, durable, super glossy clear plastic substance that can be drilled, glued and sanded. It's the equivalent of 50 coats of varnish and dries to a mirror finish.

Where does the colour come in? Here's the really fantastic part - colour it with acrylic paint, gouache, jello powder, makeup powder, spices from your kitchen, or anything else you can think of.

Some jewelry design ideas for playing with epoxy:

Try layering it, drip it into etched or stamped depressions on sterling or copper sheet, and pour it into bezels. You can even try dipping things into it. Just keep in mind that epoxy is a glue, so somehow suspend any dipped work while waiting for it to cure. You don't want to bond it to anything!

You can buy two-part epoxy from the hardware store in little 2-sided syringes, and from craft and hobby suppliers in larger 2 bottle kits. You might find the larger quantity kits in some hardware stores too.

Things to know about epoxy:

  • It cures up fast. Hardware store epoxy usually comes in the 5 and 11 minute varieties, and other epoxies are quick too. Make sure you factor in working time, and only mix up as much as you can use in the 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Don't mix it with, or on, anything you ever want to use again. I like to mix up mine on a scrap piece of paper with a popsicle stick.
  • Don't inhale it or touch it with your bare skin before it cures. It's nasty for your health. Always take proper precautions when working with chemicals.

The second material is …

What common craft material comes in every colour of the rainbow, translucent and opaque, liquid and solid, is moldable, and can be hardened in a regular oven?

Polymer clay of course! Polymer clay is made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and goes under various brandnames, including FIMO, Sculpey, and Friendly Clay. In case you were wondering, polymer clay usually has no actual "clay" in it.

Some jewelry design ideas for polymer clay:

Polymer clay can be used for more than sculting beads and pendants. Try gluing tiny pieces onto cut metal sheet components to make mosaics. Fill slices of sterling tubing with clay. Experiment with the liquid clays and coloured powders on the market.

Things to know about polymer clay.

  • Each manufacturer makes its clay differently and each brand has slightly different qualities and baking temperatures so always read the instructions.
  • Polymer clay needs to be "conditioned" before you can work with it. You can condition clay by kneading it with your hands, or running it through a dedicated food processor. Some people like to sit on it for awhile (in a baggie of course! )to warm it before kneading.
  • Use dedicated tools with your polymer clay. You don't want to use your polymer clay rolling pin to make cookies with later.

And the third material is….

What do shiny red nail polish, a big toothy grin, and brightly painted children's furniture have in common? They are all "enamel" related! Beginner jewelry makers may wonder why anyone would use "enamel" in high priced, high quality jewelry.

The enamel I'm talking about has nothing to do with nail polish, teeth, or furniture. In the most classic sense of the word, enamel is actually a smooth and durable coating of glass.

Enamelling has a very long history. It dates back to the ancient Egyptians who enamelled onto pottery and stone objects, and has been found in most cultures across history and around the world.

The process of enamelling uses powdered glass or glass granules, and a torch or kiln. The glass is melted in thin layers onto a metal form, most often copper. The layers of melted glass are often vibrant and don't fade or chip under normal conditions. The biggest drawback to enamel is that it can cracking and chip if the metal is bent.

Experiment with enamelling using powdered glass from enamelling suppliers and a butane torch. You can get copper blanks from enamelling suppliers. Try your hand at enamelling sterling silver etchings and stampings too.

Some enamelling resources:

There was a nice tutorial in the May 2007 issue of Art Jewelry Magazine called, "Easy Torch-Fired-Enamel Necklace" by Jill Erickson.  This article is what first inspired my interest in enamelling!

Glass on Metal magazine is a great online resource where you can learn more and view the work of many high quality jewelry artists using enamel in their work.

Important notes:

Always take proper care when using epoxy, polymer clay, or when melting glass. Do not attempt to use any of these materials without understanding what you need to do to protect your health and your surroundings. Don't inhale fumes, contaminate your home oven and utensils, and don't accidentally melt, burn, glue, or set yourself or anything else on fire.

Above all else, always have a sense of fun and be open to lucky accidents! If an experiment flops, it's a learning experience. The best lessons are taught by our "failures".

A note to you, dear reader: If you do some experimenting with these jewelry design ideas, let me know!  I would love to show samples of your work on my website so send them to me, or send me your URL and I'll put your work on my site.  (The copyright of any pics remain yours of course)

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