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Craft Diaries // That time I learnt: Copper Etching

One of my goals for this year was to learn all the new crafts I‘ve been thinking about, and to be honest I didn’t really get my butt into gear until about July when I started booking myself onto ALL the workshops (I’ve blogged about the giant knitting workshop I did before and the rest of my ‘Craft Diaries’ here).
Some of these crafts (like the giant knitting) are just for fun, but some (like this one) were learnt with the intention of working them into my jewellery and developing some new ranges. Jewellery technique wise, I’m pretty much entirely self taught (aside from a couple of silver workshops with Jo and Fiona). This self teaching, especially in the case of Electroforming, can be a bit of a trial and error process, so when I saw that Farnham Maltings were offering a workshop on Copper Etching, I jumped at the chance.
 
So what is copper etching? It’s basically the opposite of what I already do. With electroforming, along with electricity, I use a chemical solution to build up copper particles onto my desired pieces, which is what creates the stone settings. With copper etching, you use chemicals and a resist to eat away the copper particles – one process adds, one subtracts, but both use supplies you probably won’t find on the shelf in Sainsburys.
 
 
If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have got around to exploring copper etching for quite a while if the workshop wasn’t available, but I’m so happy I booked on as it was such a great day – really enjoyable, well paced and I learnt so much. The teacher was Christine Johnson and she was so so lovely and knowledgeable and keen for us to all get stuck in. The other people in my class seemed to be jewellers as well but I don’t think that much background would have been needed as Christine explained everything – though I suppose it isn’t really the tradition first steo into jewellery making which probably explained the class demographic. 
 
We learnt about traditional etching but also photo etching, which I think is the process I am going to start using in the studio (when I’ve got time) – they’re basically the same, the only difference is the resist you use – photo etching involves printing your design onto photo transfer paper and then using that as the resist instead – better for people like me who have minimal hand drawing skills, or if you want to produce exactly the same design each time.
 
When I say resist, I mean the material put onto the copper to resist the etching chemical, and thus this will be the area where the copper has not been etched. When planning your designs, you need to think of them in terms of negative space (a bit like lino cutting but the opposite way round). Etching works best with designs of two colours as you end up with two layers – etched and not etched – which will reflect your design. The place you put your resist will end up as the lighter, non etched surface and any negative space will end up darker and etched. You can use a few things as resist, but in the workshop we used nail polish pens and sharpie.
 
The actual process of etching is simple. You clean your copper, protect the areas like the back and sides that you don’t want to be etched, and then add your design in your resist. You then pop this in a bath of ferric chloride (checking occasionally) and remove, neutralise and clean up. You can then add a patina if you like to darken the etching. Ta da, you’re done!
 
Like I said, the actual process is rather simple, so the workshop itself consisted of picking up lots of tips and tricks from Christine and trying different ideas. My favourite piece I created was my moon pendant on a simple copper disc – it took a bit of thinking it work out how to do the resist to get the different crater and crescent effect I wanted but it worked out in the end!
 
Since the workshop, I’ve been making a list of ideas of designs I can develop this way, so watch this space!
 
If you want to book onto one of the workshops, you can do so on the Farnham Maltings website here.
 
Helen xo

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