Monday, March 31, 2014

Cranking Through the Failures to Get to Success!

I spent this weekend trying to figure out how to transfer an image to metal for etching.
There is a lot of info on this online, many different methods and materials and ideas.  I’ve read/watched about 20 different tutorials on the topic. 
The etching process crosses over into a lot of different industries; jewelry making, crafting, printmaking, weapon-smithing, sign making, electronics (it’s how they make circuit boards!), and I’ve been exploring all of them in my quest to master this art.

The basic idea is to lay down a resist on the metal, which will protect the surface during etching.  The areas covered with the resist will not etch away, while the exposed areas will, creating a 3-D image. 
There are different ways to apply resist.  You can just freehand it with permanent markers or certain kinds of paint or ink.  You can stamp an image.  You can make a stencil cut from adhesive material, or use a UV photo process to make a stencil.

Or you can print the design with a laser printer and use heat to transfer the toner to your metal.  Since I have a laser printer and an iron, and this method seems to produce crisp transfers of intricate images, I figured this would be the best way to go. There are many ways that people have devised of doing this, and I tried just about all of them this weekend.

I tried laser printing my designs on regular copy paper, transparencies, glossy photo paper, matt photo paper, a special blue transfer sheet made especially for transferring images to metal, magazine pages ripped from a catalog, even the slick backing sheet you peel your Avery labels off of.

I tried ironing for different lengths of time, at different heat settings, using different pressure/motions of the iron, on top of different ironing surfaces.  I tried quenching the hot metal in cold water, and hot water.

Sometimes the toner didn’t stick to the metal at all.  Sometimes the paper moved during ironing, smearing the image.  Sometimes the toner melted too much and blurred the image.  Sometimes only bits of the image stuck.  Sometimes most of the image looked great, but one part was marred somehow. Sometimes the image would feather into the minute grooves made by sanding the surface to give the toner something to grip. Sometimes the paper left little fuzzy fibers on the surface of the transferred toner.

Saturday was a frustrating day.  None of my 30 or so attempts to transfer the laser toner to metal resulted in a satisfactory image.
It looks so easy in the tutorial videos!  Yeah, you just iron it on there – BING!!!  Perfect image transfer! 
For some reason, it wasn’t working for me.

One thing this taught me is that the tiniest speck of dirt or oil on the metal surface will screw things up.  And metal is surprisingly dirty, even when it looks clean.  Just the natural oils on our skin can cause problems, so you have to be super careful when handling it.  Sanding will cover it with microscopic bits that need to be cleaned away with dishsoap and/or Comet, rinsed, and then wiped with a cotton ball wet with acetone.  Or 2 or 3 of 4 solvent-soaked cotton balls, which come away black, even though the metal looks perfectly shiny!

By Sunday I’d gotten much better at cleaning the metal – considering I only had a few scraps of brass to practice on, and I had to clean off every horrible failure in order to make my next attempts.
I learned to use finer grit sandpaper to rough up the surface just enough to give it some tooth, but not scratch so deep that the toner to bleeds into the grooves.
I’d also discovered a few ironing techniques that seem to work best; what temperature setting didn’t overheat the toner, how to pre-heat the metal before laying down the paper and letting it sit there under a steady iron for awhile so it would stick and not move around, how long it takes to get the metal hot enough to grab the toner off the paper, how to burnish with the tip of the iron to make sure the entire image gets stuck to the metal.
Oh, and I realized that all of my designs are not, in fact, bilaterally symmetrical,so reversing the image is essential if I want my Om symbol to be facing the right direction.  Derp!

It’s kind of crazy how many little things can go wrong, and I think I must have experienced all of them.

But by Sunday night, I was getting an almost-perfect transfer.  Not quite perfect yet, but I will get there.

At that point, I set up my electro-etching bath to see if I could take the next step and make those toner images into impressions on the metal.

You can etch metal with acid, but after doing some research, I decided I was more comfortable with the saltwater and electricity method, which I already had all the materials for, and doesn’t involve toxic chemicals.

Yeah…that didn’t go so well, either. 
I ended up killing the first power converter.  It just died after about 15 minutes.  My husband hooked me up with another one, which is actually better since it has a switch on it, which is much easier to deal with than plugging and unplugging it.  This one has survived so far.

During my first attempt, I had two pieces of metal in there.  One of them started to etch (and turn copper-colored), the other didn’t.
Turns out I’d clipped the electric contact onto a part of the metal covered with tape.  D’oh!

After an hour or so, my test pieces had barely etched, and my saline bath had turned into a completely disgusting sludgepit.  Seriously – it looked like the Bog of Eternal Stench, though fortunately, it did not smell like it.
This is a normal thing – the sludge is made up of all the metal particles coming off the metal due to the electric current – it’s all SCIENCE and stuff, you can look it up.
But it looks pretty gross.
And when I checked my last test of the evening, the alligator clips that suspended the pieces in the solution and served as contact points had disappeared.  They’d just completely dissolved.   O___o

At this point I don’t know why my etching bath didn’t work right, but I have a couple of ideas. 

I forgot to use distilled water, which I read won’t prevent the etching from happening, but it can decrease efficiency.  Our tap water is pretty damn hard – serious calcium (and whatever else) deposits form on the Cat’s water dish in no time, so I know there’s gunk in it, which may be effecting things.  These chemical reactions are pretty sensitive to such things, apparently.

I have cleaned out my Bog (not down the sink!) and will make a new saline solution with the distilled water this time.
I will try a different method of suspending my pieces and connecting the electrodes (sturdy copper wire should do it).
I have cleaned my new test pieces and replaced the old masking tape (which maybe was gunking things up…???  I dunno.) that was on the backside with new packing tape, which is apparently fine.
And I will keep practicing my image transfer until I get those bitches perfect every time.

One day soon I’ll be totally awesome at this, and I’ll be using it to make beautiful things.
I can see them in my mind’s eye.  Just takes a little more effort to make them happen in reality.  And sometimes a lot of effort!

Art Inspiration of the Day; 3/31/2014

Spirit Inspiration of the Day; 3/31/2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

Art Inspiration of the Day; 3/28/2014

 "The Broken Column", by Frida Kahlo - truly a master at expressing personal experience through visual symbolism.

When I'm frustrated, or feel like I'm struggling, taking a moment to remember the life and strength of this extraordinary woman helps me to put things in perspective.

Spirit Inspiration of the Day; 3/28/2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Art Inspiration 3/27/2014

Tattoo by Caroline Karénine in Paris

This is the first tattoo in a long time that's made me seriously think about getting more ink.

Spirit Inspiration 3/27/2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spirit Inspiration of the Day; 3/26/2014

"30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself."

Some excellent wisdom from
Marc and Angel
 Read it here!:

Art Inspiration of the Day; 3/26/2014

I've been exploring the world of handcrafted jewelry, seeking both knowledge and inspiration.

One of the jewelery artists I've come across who has really impressed me is Jamie Spinello.
I love her use of form and texture!  Her designs expore both geometric and organic shapes, creating an almost tribal look that still manages to be elegant.
She excels at transforming "alternative metals" - things like copper and brass and stainless steel (considered by many to be inferior to shiny gold and silver) into sophisticated pieces fit for a queen, or perhaps a warrior priestess from some exotic alien culture.  :)

She also creates stunning 3-D works in cut paper and plastic, as well as painting, drawing and collage pieces.

Go take a tour of her gallery at:
You can also buy jewelry items direct from her Etsy shop:

The piece pictured above is my favorite!!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spirit Inspiration of the Day: 3/24/2014

In an effort to more regularly update my blog, I've decided to post 2 links to wonderful things every weekday (when possible), one Art Inspiration and one Spirit Inspiration.

Here's my first Spirit Inspiration.
I love this quote (by Thomas Szasz), so I decided to pair it with a detail of one of my existing pieces.

Please feel free to share!

Art Inspiration of the Day: 3/24/2014

In an effort to more regularly update my blog, I've decided to post 2 links to wonderful things every weekday (when possible), one Art Inspiration and one Spirit Inspiration.
Here's A.I. #1; the stunning work of Caroline Jambour. Enjoy!!gallery/c2269

Follow this link to explore her website gallery:!gallery/c2269

Gypsy Jewelry in the Works!

I haven't been posting much lately - my father passed away last month, and experiencing that loss and the responsibilities of gathering up and tying off all the strands of a long life ended have been dominating my life of late.
But I am starting to feel like I'm finding my groove once again, and have been channeling my energy into learning some new artistic skills and developing some new pieces.
After many years of doing digital art almost exclusively, I was inspired by a PBS documentary series called Craft in America, to make something with my hands again.  Jewelry is something I've explored a bit, but not in a truly hand-crafted level. So I've been exploring more possibilities for applying my design skills to this new medium.

Thusfar, I've been playing with polymer clay, stamping designs, hammered wire jewelry construction and mosaic.

I got deep into mosaics several years ago, but instead of the traditional glass or ceramic materials, I used bits of cardboard and paper cut from recycled packaging.
It's intricate work - cutting the pieces, playing with the colors, laying out the design and meticulously placing every piece perfectly, but I find it meditative and enjoyable, and the results very satisfying.
I love the texture of mosaics, the way the light constantly dances and shifts over the uneven surface.
Another thing I love is iridescence - an effect that's just not possible to truly achieve with paint or ink.  So my latest idea is to use iridescent glass beads as mosaic tessera (tiles) on jewelry.

I've got my basic idea figured out.  Now I'm working on making them sturdy enough for wear and honing my new skills so I can translate my concepts into quality pieces. There's a bit of a learning curve, but I love learning, so I'm quite enjoying myself!
The way the light plays on these shimmering bugle beads is just breathtaking - the photos don't do them justice, they must be seen moving and alive to really appreciate the effect.

Stay tuned for further developments!