Many people ask me, "Why do you paint on Copper?". I was inspired by a painting I saw at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. This painting, by Frans Snyder a Flemish Artist, called "Still Life with Fruit, Wan-Li Porcelain, and Squirrel" was painted with oil on copper panel in the year 1616. I loved how luminous the colors of the painting seemed. I also noticed there were no cracks on the surface. The painting on copper was in pristine condition!
For days I had been visiting many museums and had noticed the cracked surfaces of many canvas paintings. The cracks seemed distracting to me. I was noticing the cracks first and then the subject matter! This small Dutch oil painting on copper was also smaller. I wanted to walk up close and take a look at the details. I liked this. The smaller, luminous, well preserved painting was inviting me to further explore it! I liked the intimacy a smaller painting provided.
This painting is by Jan Brueghel I called "View of a City and River". This is a beautiful example of an oil on copper done in the year 1578.
I discovered copper panels at a local weather vane factory. They are really nice and even cut the copper! I tip them very well to cut my copper. These copper panels are 16 ounce, not like copper sheeting for roofing. You can also order copper panels online at www.MetalByTheInch.com
. Purchasing copper online is the most expensive way to go. Look for sheet metal shops near you. The price should be 5$ a pound plus the cost of cutting the copper. You can cut copper with tin snips. I prefer to have someone cut my copper to keep my hands healthy.
I prepare the copper panel by sanding the surface. This sanding increases the surface area and removes any copper sulfide. You can use gloves so the salt from your hands doesn't get on the copper. I find I have no need to brace the back of the painting under 10x10. If I paint over this size I mount the copper panel onto a rigid structure. Gatorboard will work. Some artists mount copper with screws and bolts to MDF board. Epoxy last five years before it pops off. Galvanized steel makes a great back to support the copper. The steel's edges can be squeezed around the copper edges with a special press. The copper can be wrapped around wood. Copper nails can be used to secure the copper to the wood. There are many different variations to brace copper for larger works.
I paint on the copper directly with my oils. I don't use any mediums unless the outside temperatures are cold! I consulted with two different art conservators who advised me to allow the painting to dry very well before I seal the painting. Some painters choose not to seal.
I can varnish the dry oil painting with a very very thin layer of Gamblin's Galkyd. Galkyd gives the finished painting a nice glossy shine. I could use Liquin. I may also varnish the dry oil painting with Gamblin's Cold Wax. I used Cold Wax for a while to seal the painting. Cold Wax is a very mat finish. It is very easy to apply. There is hardly any odor. I think people prefer the look of Galkyd. I have chosen to seal my copper paintings with Galkyd. Galkyd requires careful attention no hair, dirt, or other foreign objects drop down into the suface before it dries on the surface of the painting. I have ruined a few paintings using the Galkyd as a varnish. I have tried to sand down the area where a hair landed on the wet Galkyd and then dried. It is difficult to get the area repainted to look natural. So I don't try to fix an area any more. It is impossible.
I discovered I can sketch a preliminary drawing with a micron pen for a detailed drawing. I can use a watercolor pencil for sketching. I use the back of my brush to scratch in my signature. I leave some specks of copper free of paint stategically to further add depth to the painting. Some painters leave a lot of copper exposed. Sanders can be used on dried oil paintings to allow more copper to show through the oil painting.
I use all kolinsky brushes because of their softness. Bristle paint brushes leave streaks of copper left unpainted. Some artists like this. Synthetic haired paint brushes do not work with oil paints on copper. I find myself pulling more paint off than applying paint! I have discovered I can cover large areas on larger paintings using a printing brayer instead of a brush.
I use paint boxes to store my finished paintings so they can dry without dust or sand settling on them. Painting on copper can be challenging! Copper paintings can be luminous and beautiful. Many people describe them as being "jewel-like".
Jan Brueghel also painted this painting,
"Rest Break While Escaping Egypt".
My husband, Robert, bought me a book called, "Copper as a Canvas". This book has been an excellent resource for me. There are two centuries of paintings on copper from 1575 to 1775. The book, produced by Phoenix Art Museum, describes how medival artists prepared copper panels to paint on.
Some medival artists smeared raw garlic with their hands onto the panel before they painted. The garlic created a tooth for the artist to work on. The garlic did not do anything to the copper as far as keeping the painting archival. There is a protein in the garlic that creates the tooth so the copper is not as slippery to paint on. Garlic can be acidic. Garlic is also an organic substance capable of breaking down. When there is a pocket created under the oil paint the paint could delaminate. This may not be a good idea to have on the copper as an underpainting. Acidic things on copper like vinegar can turn the copper a light green. The oil paint contains mostly fatty oils covering the copper so it is not exposed to oxygen. Yes there are pigments in the oil paint but not enough to turn the copper green...there is more oil in the paint. The paintings on copper in museums around the world are in the most pristine condition.
Medival artists worked on copper and gessoed wood panels. When ready-primed canvas became available, painting on copper panels became more specialized. I enjoyed reading some of the benefits of painting on copper panels. I will quote you directly from this book "Copper as a Canvas".
Peter Gysels painted this Oil on Copper painting, entitled,
|"River Landscapes with Villages and Travelers".
"Under dry or commonly encountered indoor conditions copper does not readily corrode. Moreover, copper is not sensitive dimensionally to changes in relative humidity. Dimensional change due to temperature is much less likely in copper sheets than the repeated swelling and shrinking that occurs in canvas and panel paintings due to the combined effects of changes in relative humidity and temperature.
Although copper is a good conductor and will respond quickly to changes in temperature, the thermal coefficient of expansion of the paint film is closer to that of the copper than to that of a wooded panel. This factor, combined with the lack of response to moisture in the support, the apparent absence of a glue size layer, and thinness of the paint film, account for the minimal amount of stress-induced craquelure that is found on paintings on copper,craquelure is observable only under magnification, and the absence of a crackle pattern to the naked eye, such as would be seen on a panel or canvas painting, forces us to reassess our expectation of these signs of age in three-hundred-and four-hundred-year-old paintings. The effect can therefore be startling, and although it is a separate issue, the presentation of the painting with respect to the condition of the varnish is all the more important to consider."
"Structurally copper is a sound and durable material when compared to canvas or wood. It does not suffer from infestation, nor from cracking or tearing. Consequently there has been no need for interventions to the structure that could affect the surface of the paint, such as lining in canvas painting."
"Having examined some of these copper paintings to gain insight as to how they were made, especially those created to "satisfy the desire of ...inquisitive eyes," we are left with an even deeper sense of appreciation and amazement at the quality and enduring condition of the best of them. It is as if we are not quite meant to lose sight of the artist's sheer practical skill, however much he may have been aiming at a loftier intellecual status." Isabel Horovitz wrote these comments in Chapter four, "Copper as a Canvas". Very interesting. Beautiful copper paintings too!
This is a copper painting by Jan Brueghel
I called "Stilllife with Flowers in a Vase".
I was fortunate enough to visit Holland and tour their Art Museums. One of my favorite oil paintings on copper was that of "Still Life of Oysters, Sweetmeats, and Dried Fruit" painted by Osias Beert I in the year 1609.
Jean-Simeon Chardin painted on copper as well for his painting, "Fast-Day Meal" in 1731. A beautiful painting of eggs and fish, teapot and other kitchen utensils. Rembrandt Van Rijn also painted on copper with a painting called, "Laughing Man".
Thank you for reading about why I paint on copper. I hope this has inspired you!