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Bottle of oil and blue glass

Bottle and blue glassAwhile ago I posted on a lit­tle sheet of cop­per I had pre­pared for paint­ing on. Here’s what’s on it now. Oil on cop­per, 5 × 7”. It’s not done yet—I need to cor­rect a cou­ple of elipses and clar­ify some of the details. But so far I like it.

The cop­per takes oil paint like noth­ing else I’ve worked on. Nor­mally, any sur­face is either absorbent or slick. Either way, the ini­tial appli­ca­tion of oil paint can be a bit of strug­gle. Not cop­per. The paint flows right off the brush, with no streak­i­ness, chat­ter­ing, stain­ing, or other prob­lems. Also, you can incor­po­rate the tone of the cop­per itself into the paint­ing. I need to find a source for big­ger sheets of thin cop­per to paint on.

Posted in art materials, David's work.

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5 Responses

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  1. painterdog says

    did you prime the copper?

  2. Jeff Hayes says

    I want to try this. If I remem­ber cor­rectly, you didn’t have to do any prepa­ra­tion beyond an abra­sion of the sur­face, right? I imag­ine you just got the pan­els at Lowes/HomeDepot/SomethingLikeThat?

  3. David says

    His­tor­i­cally, oil on cop­per was primed with white lead, but I didn’t do that (you can see the unpainted cop­per in the photo). All I did was sand the sur­face to give it a bit of tooth, then clean with dena­tured alco­hol to get rid of any grease. Since the cop­per is pretty thin (I’d guess 20 gauge) I glued it to 1/4 inch hard­board. It’s just a piece of cop­per, intended for patch­ing cop­per gut­ters, from Home Depot. I’m look­ing into sources for larger cop­per plates; so far, kind of expensive.

    Ben Sham­back (http://​www​.ben​jamin​sham​back​.com/) does a lot of paint­ing on cop­per, alu­minum and steel. I believe there’s an arti­cle on his work in the Novem­ber issue of Amer­i­can Artist.

  4. Zapp says

    I’m a stu­dent study­ing sil­ver­smithing, but my first love is painting…I’ve been try­ing to incor­po­rate paint­ing into met­al­work and I only now thought to just paint directly onto the metal — even though it was the obvi­ous choice. (I’ve set can­vas into metal frames, worked with trans­fer enam­ell and coat­ing paint­ings on card in clear resin…and never thought to paint onto copper.)

    Any­way, I was just won­der­ing (while I’m wait­ing for my test pieces to dry) has any­one tried oil on pre­cious met­als — like sil­ver? I’m too scared to try given the cost of the sheet metal! Also, how durable is the piece? Is the oil likely to chip or flake off after it has dried? Nat­u­rally when mak­ing pieces to wear they need to with­stand at least a few knocks…

    • David says


      Oil on cop­per is a tra­di­tional medium that goes back cen­turies. It is very sta­ble and works great. Oil on alu­minum is more mod­ern, but appears to be fine. I have not heard of oil on sil­ver, prob­a­bly because of the expense and because tar­nish­ing could poten­tially cause prob­lems. That doesn’t mean you can’t try it.

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