Fun with Metal Etching

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to add new techniques to my jewelry making. Up to a certain point in any designer’s development, jewelry making is a sort of hunter-gatherer kind of art form. You build a stash of beads and components, searching your environment for elements that you can incorporate into your work. The artistry, skill, and creativity of what you do with those elements are all but endless. However, your vision can occasionally be limited by what you can find and you are at the mercy of what artists who create components choose to make and the luck of the hunt where you hope you can find what you are looking for and get your hands on it.  To bring it back to the hunter-gatherer analogy that I started with, you may have the most brilliant idea for a mastodon stew but unless you can find and bring down a mastodon, you are going to have to come up with an alternative plan.

While there is much to say about the creativity and potential for completely unexpected results that comes from having to make what you have work, there is also a lot of liberation in being able to make what you need instead of hoping you find it. So I have been taking a class in beginning metal working.  I am barely dipping my toe into all of the amazing things you can do with metals.

Last night was my second class and I spent some of it on an etched metal design. I was handed a piece of metal with a resist layer on it (which sort of looked like dried on tar) and some tools to scratch out a design in the resist. It sort of reminded me of when I was in elementary school art class and we were giving paper that was covered in black wax and were told to scratch a picture in the wax and where you scratched, you revealed the colored paper beneath but on metal. My drawing skills are completely laughable but I sketched a little abstract dandelion that came out surprisingly decent and then wrote the words “Make a Wish.” Then I covered the parts that I didn’t want to etch with tape to protect them and then put it all in an acid solution to etch. A little while later, I had my design etched into the metal and I was feeling pretty proud of myself. It’s kind of silly to say this about a line drawing of a dandelion (I have all the artistic sophistication of an 8 year old girl when it comes to drawing) but burning something into metal with acid felt a little bad@@@ (if you will pardon the expression). I don’t know what I am going to make with my etching and I don’t think I can take a decent photo of it until I do something to increase the contrast between the design and the rest of the metal. (Improving my product photography is also on my list of New Year’s resolutions) but I am definitely intrigued by the technique.

Doing some research after my class, I found that you can do etching using a sharpie marker and drawing your design instead of etching through a resist and this has me thinking. Every year before Christmas comes along, I help some of my nieces make gifts to put under the tree for their mothers.  This year, maybe I will get some metal – either copper sheets or stamping blanks – and some sharpies and let the girls draw / write anything they want on them to make pendants or a focal for a bracelet or even earrings.

While Aunt Kerry will have to take charge of the acid part, my nieces could have a lot of fun creating one of a kind elements to be made into jewelry. The girls are all super creative and there is a strong artistic bend in our family. My 8 year old goddaughter even has a budding company, Nina’s Art Work, where she sells her drawings at science fiction and anime conventions (right next to her extremely talented mother, Nikki of Dragonpress Graphics).  The kid has her own logo and business cards that she made herself so I think it would be pretty cool to see one of her drawings etched into metal.

Although I have plenty of time before I have to work on Christmas gifts with the girls, it is fun to consider the options. And in the meanwhile, I can’t wait to see what else I learn in my class and to start incorporating new ideas and techniques into my own work. It should be a lot of fun.


About Ciarrai

Hi. My name is Kerry but here online I tend to go by the Gaelic version of my name, Ciarrai. I am a woman in my mid-30's who lives on Long Island, NY, with my husband, Rob, several guitars, a Nikon D40, more yarn, beads and books than I care to admit to and a cat who has a million nicknames and quite a few theme songs. I have a B.A. in Psychology and have recently returned to college to pursue a teaching degree so that I can eventually get a job as a High School English teacher. In addition to my major obsessions (Reading, Beading, Knitting, Music and Photography), I also enjoy playing Board Games, going to Renaissance Faires, Museums and Broadway Musicals.
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