Paintings on Copper

Paintings on copper are more difficult to produce.

Paintings On Copper

People tell me that they are fascinated by my oil paintings on copper.  So, I thought I’d share a little about what’s involved with my creative process. 

These paintings are more difficult to produce for several reasons: Obtaining the panels; painting on them, and preservation of the painting.

I paint on copper-clad panels. They are made of thin copper sheets extruded onto a fiberglass-type panel. I buy both single- and double-sided panels from a metal fabricator. The sizes aren’t precise; each panel demands a custom-made frame. But laminated panels are more stable than a solid copper panel would be. Solid copper would expand and contract with the temperature. Over time, it could cause the oil paint to crack.

The panels arrive wrapped in plastic. I store them in plastic and avoid touching them with bare hands to avoid corrosion.

I always paint the raw side of the single-sided panels with a complementary color of paint. Just before I begin creating, I wipe the copper side carefully and mount them in special carriers. Any oil from my hands left on the panels would bleed through the paint and show in the finished art. The paint wouldn’t stick properly to the copper.

Contrary to what you might think, the paint drags when I try to apply it to the copper. So, I need to use a special liquid called a “medium” which helps the paint to glide better and dry a little faster.

Because the paint dries quickly on copper, I need to paint fast or make sure that I’m at a good stopping point at the end of each painting session. Otherwise I’ll wind up with bumps or seams where I don’t want them to appear. I like to say I have to “paint with authority” when working on copper. I need to know what I’m doing from the start. Painting on smaller sizes helps. Constant reworking of the painting will wind up with all the glints of copper covered. This is a reason I won’t teach oil on copper to most of my students. It could be frustrating without a high level of confidence.

When the painting is complete it must be varnished after it is completely dried. Think of the varnish like the clear coat on your car paint. Not only does the varnish preserve the copper against corrosion and discoloring, it also protects the paint from being accidentally chipped. That’s not something I need to worry about painting on linen or canvas.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you enjoy the details of art painted on copper with fresh eyes!