Painting on Copper by Ann Moeller Steverson
Painting on copper is a different experience. Anyone who has seen a work on copper in person knows there is a different quality and vibrancy to the intensity of the pigment. But compared to painting on canvas, painting on copper is a new and wild adventure and has an entirely different feel.
The usual smooth surface of copper is very slick so unless you have the mad wizard mastery of an artist like Steven Assael, the natural surface is best addressed with patience and a plan. Otherwise, you are just sliding around in your socks and underwear risky business style. I suggest starting by working in a block in of a thin translucent glowing first layer and then planning to build up by paint by adhering to thinner layers of pigment below. Think of sticking a stack of sticky notes together.
I love the freedom of painting on the textured copper panels offered by Artefex. With these finely abraded panels, I can go as thin or as thick on the first layer as I want and it holds the brush stroke perfectly. There are no big canvas bumps to flight, so my paint goes much farther. The resulting brush strokes become more a reflection of the character of the brush used and the wielder rather than the texture of the surface. The amount of detail possible is incredible when there is little to no surface interference. The first layer can feel slightly thirsty, so if you want extra movement, just oil in the copper first or add a quick thin wash of solvent. The goal is to have the paint grip without interference.
The traditional method of working dark to light with very thin darks works exceptionally well when painting on copper panels. I have found that translucent shadows can be created with a beautiful transparent oxide color (brown, red, or yellow) or any mixed dark oil paint, and is a lovely way to start that keeps a warm glow. If I want to soften the marks to keep the shadow areas simple, I lightly brush over the shadow shapes with a gentle mongoose or badger hair paint brush. Lead white makes a particularly appealing stand on the copper panel where I want to develop all the subtle value shifts, fine details and lively brushstrokes in the lights of the painting. I usually shift the lights cooler to play against the warm shadows. I like to leave peak of exposed copper color in the mid tones and transitions, which adds harmony to the piece. The overall effect of warm shadows, with the exposed copper transitions, serve to unify the painting beautifully and contrast vibrantly to the cool lights. In short, the result is “zazzle.”
The effect of the painting support on the overall look of my work is transformative. After all, when it comes to painting supports, it’s literally what’s underneath that counts.