Adding metal to a mixed-media project can instantly elevate it. There’s something about the weight, the color, and the patina of metal that invites a second look. While learning metal techniques may seem a bit intimidating, the opposite is true: Metal is extremely easy to manipulate, color, and texture, and doesn’t require an arsenal of tools.
Artists have also discovered unique ways to add faux metal and metallic effects to artwork. Read on for 10 tips for metal techniques that will inspire your next project.
1. Attachment issues: Roxanne Evans Stout often uses found metal in her collages; vintage tins, silverware, and watch parts frequently play starring roles in her compelling artwork, as she shows in her book, Storytelling With Collage: Techniques for Layering Color & Texture. Her metal techniques for working with vintage tins is worth noting, since these pieces are easily found at flea markets and thrift stores, and their graphics and beautiful patina make them stand out. To flatten a tin box, cut a slit at each corner and pound the box flat with a hammer. To attach it to a substrate, such as a wood panel, mark where you want the holes, create holes with a drill or a hammer and nail, and attach the tin with small nails or tacks. Roxanne has one more great tip: If the nails you’re using look too shiny and modern, give them some age by dabbing some heavy-body brown acrylic paint on the nail heads.
2. Rust never sleeps: We spend most of our lives avoiding rusty things, until we realize how cool they really are. In addition to adding texture and style to assemblage, rusty bits can also be used to print on fabric and paper. Jennifer Coyne Qudeen showed some of the wonders of mark making with rust in “Make Your Mark: Rust Marks” in the November/December 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Overlook the fact that rust is corrosive and destructive, she says; “It’s also beautiful, mysterious, and capricious.” To create rust prints on paper, place some rusty metal in your art journal (flat items like washers and hinges work well). Pour a little vinegar over the metal, or lay a wet tea bag on top—the acidity in both help activate the rust. You can let the rust spread to other pages of your journal, or block it by slipping some freezer paper next to the pages being rusted (shiny side toward the wet page). Close the book, place a weight on top, and wait 24 hours before you open the book and see what surprises lie inside.
3. Toggle back and forth: Metal techniques such as cutting, shaping, and texturing aren’t as complicated as they sound, and the processes don’t require that many specialty tools. Jen Cushman explains how to make a simple jewelry toggle component in “Mixed Media Metalsmith: The Toggle Component” in the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Start by placing a piece of 24-gauge sheet metal into a disc cutter, a tool that neatly punches circle shapes out of metal (you can also cut metal with a jeweler’s saw). Then, use tin snips to cut an organic circle around the negative space you just punched, creating a toggle. File the rough edges, place the piece on a bench block, and strike the metal several times with a ball peen hammer to create dimples. All you need to create a closure is a toggle bar, which you can make from wire. Jen shows other ways to use the component, such as adding it to a collage or making it into a closure for a handmade book.
4. Make it pop: Instead of tossing that soda can into the recycling bin, consider using it for your next mixed-media art project. In Alternative Art Surfaces: Mixed Media Techniques for Painting on More Than 35 Different Surfaces, Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson show a great technique for printing on soda cans. Cut the top and bottom off the can, cut down the length, and trim the edges. On the unprinted side, brush on Golden Artist Colors Digital Ground, and let it dry. Tape the can to a carrier sheet and run it through a printer, then remove the tape and spray the can with a workable fixative.
5. Dress it up: Create clothing out of wire, and you’re suddenly in the ranks of esteemed haute couture fashion designers. The process is easy, following Annie Waldrop’s techniques in “Nature Gives Release: Wire Doll Dresses” in the November/December 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Using a doll dress or dress template, cut pieces of 19-gauge wire for each section or line of the dress. Form the wire into the lines of the dress shape using pliers; create ovals for the sleeve openings and for the bottom of the dress. Use the dress shape to cut out corresponding pieces from ephemera or fabric, and fit the cut pieces onto the wire structure. Then, sew the pieces onto the wires with needle and thread. Annie’s stunning dimensional artwork incorporates vintage papers, wooden buttons, photographs, wire mesh, twigs, and more.
6. Got an etch: Metal etching produces fantastic textured designs, but the process requires chemicals, patience, and time. Jen Cushman discovered a way to achieve similar results, and shared her technique in the “Mixed-Media Metalsmith: Faux Etching on Copper” column in the May/June 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Starting with a 26-gauge sheet of copper, a little texture is added with a ball peen hammer, focusing on the edges. The metal is cleaned to remove any surface dirt or oils, and stamped with a rubber stamp and clear embossing ink. Then the metal is placed on a heat-safe surface, like a fire brick or annealing pan with pumice stone, and gently heated with a butane torch. When heated, the metal begins to color, and the stamped area darkens slightly. Remove the flame as soon as the image appears.
7. Not so heavy metal: Want the look of metal without the bulk? Try transfer metallic foils, which are shinier than metal leaf and ridiculously easy to use. In her book Shimmer & Shine Workshop: Create Art That Sparkles, Christine Adolph shares tons of techniques for foiling and metallic effects; one starts with double-sided adhesive sheets (she uses iCraft Easy-Cut Adhesive Sheets by Therm O Web). Cut shapes by hand or with a die cutter, peel off the backing, and adhere them to a piece of paper. Peel the top layer off (the image will be clear), and apply the transfer foil on top, making sure the color side is up. Burnish the foil with your fingers, and peel the foil off to reveal the very lovely, shiny, foiled images.
8. Make it faux: Another cool faux metal technique replicates the look of rust on non-metal elements. In “Jumpstart: Altered Sketchbook” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Tracy Weinzapfel outlines a technique developed by fellow artist Andy Skinner; this easy method starts by blending DecoArt Media Tinting Base in white with DecoArt Media Paynes Grey fluid acrylic paint and applying the mixture to a shaped chipboard embellishment. Distress the edges of the piece with Carbon Black fluid acrylic, and add a thin wash of Paynes Grey over the whole piece. Complete the rust look by brushing on a coat of Quinacridone Gold fluid acrylic.
9. Make an impression: Thinner sheets of metal can be embossed by hand, creating interesting dimensional patterns. Deedee Hampton shows how in “An Easier Way to Make a Nicho” in the September/October 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Draw designs onto copy paper, and lightly glue them onto the metal. Place the metal on top of a foam pad, and with a metal embossing tool, trace along the lines of the pattern, pressing fairly hard. Peel the paper off the pad, and go over the lines again; the deeper the embossing, the more visible your design. To color the metal, brush or rub on some acrylic paint over the surface. Let the paint sit for a minute, then gently rub the metal with a paper towel, leaving paint in the recessed areas.
10. Curves ahead: A dapping block is an inexpensive tool that easily domes and curves flat metal pieces, and can be used for a number of metal techniques. In Making Etched Metal Jewelry: Techniques and Projects, Step by Step, Kristen Robinson and Ruth Rae explain the basics of how to use the block, which has various sizes of depressions, or curved holes. Place a metal disc into a hole that measures about twice its size. Hammer the disc, using a dapper and hammer, until the disc forms a cup. Make sure to move the dapper in a circular motion as you work. Once the dome shape emerges, switch to a smaller dapper, keeping the disc in the same hole. When the sides of the disc begin to cup upward, toward the top of the block, move the disc to a smaller hole and repeat the process, until the disc has the shape you want.
See how easy it is to get great metal effects? The resources below from the North Light Shop will give you even more ideas for your mixed-media artwork!