Jane Tadrist: Silver Jewellery Etching

This class at Sydney Community College was held on two Tuesday evenings. Going straight from work it made long days, but I’m pleased with my results and learning so definitely worth the effort.

Very broadly the steps followed were:

1. Preparation of images (done prior to class).
These needed to be black and white, printed in specific dimensions to fit the metal pieces we would be using.

I spent a fun afternoon going through images of old sketchbook pages, looking for possibilities. For example some pen and ink scribble from 2011 (A Creative Approach sketchbook 1), already interpreted multiple times including in print on cotton (22-Mar-2012), was the base for both square and strip designs. Not sure what designs would work best, I created quite a few, all printed out in both positive and negative forms.

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2. Selection of images and transfer onto PNP Blue

Copied images on PNP

It was a multi-step process to get a photocopy of selected images onto PNP Blue (Press N Peel PCB Film, sold at some electronics stores to make Printed Circuit Boards). The film is expensive, so you want to get the most from each sheet, it has to be toner not inkjet, pros and cons of different designs were discussed, not-quite-right images were carefully doctored manually…

3. Preparation of metal
The constant, awful, truth of jewellery and small scale metalwork, in particular my nemesis – soldering (30-Apr-2018). Flat, to size, filed, no plastic coating, sanded, scrubbed, rinsed, carried tenderly and gingerly lest fingerprints should be left on its pristine surface…

4. Transfer of design onto metal and protection of areas not to be etched.
The toner on the PNP film is transferred onto the metal using heat – domestic irons. The toner will act as a resist, protecting selected areas while any bare parts are eaten away. Nail polish and tape were used to protect sides and back.

This was as far as I got the first night. The actual etching takes time, at least 30 minutes and considerably more depending on a range of variables.

5. Etching metal
The prepared metal is put in a chemical bath – ferric chloride for base metals and ferric nitrate for silver. These chemicals need to be treated seriously, carefully – after all, they dissolve metal. Fumes, safe materials for holding the chemicals, proper personal protection, all had to be considered. Work with care and attention, and there won’t be a problem. As well as the safety procedures, Jane gave us lots of tips on correct temperatures, agitation (of the bath, not the users 🙂 ), methods and angle of suspension and more.

6. Check, remove, neutralise, clean
We all worked on preparing more metal and samples as soon as the first strips were in the etching bath, which helped with the waiting and anticipation. A check every 15 minutes or so, and eventually we decided the etching was deep enough. Each piece of metal had to be neutralised in a baking soda solution, then lots of cleaning to remove toner, tape, nail polish.

7. Further enhance and use your metal
I think everyone in the class etched three pieces – strips of brass and copper, a square of silver. Unfortunately we all ran short of time on the etching of our second strips, and they were less deeply etched. Some had time to create a jewellery piece during the class, but it was getting late and I chose to wait for the weekend.

Some of us decided to use liver of sulphur on at least some of our pieces. It creates colour, a patina, on the metal and can be buffed back to bring out highlights and make the etched pattern more obvious. I thought it was always black, but a couple of us got other colours.

I was able to get a few photos of other people’s work, plus permission to use them here.

Vicki’s silver square, with liver of sulphur colouring

The silver we used was 3 x 3 cm. Vicki’s design came out really well. I’m not sure of the source of her design, it’s quite a formal pattern, but there’s still a lot of movement. The amount of detail is effective, and I like the variation in size or boldness of line. The colouring from liver of sulphur works really well to suggest a peacock display.

Dilkie’s silver square

Dilkie chose to keep her silver natural, not adding any patina. The clean lines of the floral pattern stand out well and the eye is easily able to follow the lines with no additional contrast needed.

The photos were a surprise, as the slight pitting and irregularity isn’t visible to the naked eye. I think if anything it gives a little extra life to the piece, an extra variation in the way light is reflected, and it shows the history of its making, the hand of the maker.

Dilkie’s cuff, in brass

Dilkie’s cuff uses a simple, formal, and very effective pattern. It catches the light beautifully.

I need to think some more about the kinds of pattern that work best with this technique. I’d taken a few more formal or rigid patterns, but was interested in seeing how “expressive mark making” would work. I think it makes it harder for the eye to follow, so the patterning is more muddled.

The scribble design shown at the top was used on a brass strip. It was long enough to make a cuff, with offcuts that I used in pair of earrings. The original design is quite bold, but I used the low-res blog version rather than the original photo, and the result is clearly pixelated.

Cuff and earrings. Brass


There’s no deliberate patination or colouring of the metal. Somehow in the etching process the unetched areas took on a coppery look. No idea how to reproduce it, but I really like the effect.

The pattern I used on the silver square was less successful in terms of being easy to interpret, but I like the abstract nature of it.

Sketch 20150815

Black and white square design

The source material was a print made in August 2015 while researching for molding and casting (21-Aug-2015). I used gimp for the image manipulation, which was as simple as selecting an area and changing colour mode to indexed using a black and white (1-bit) palette.

Liver of sulphur was definitely needed to provide some extra contrast, and I got some areas of colour as a bonus. I think the others were planning to use their squares as pendants, but for me it’s always about the earrings.

There are flaws – a few scratches, holes a bit off centre – and the ear-wires may well be changed. But I wore them out to dinner over the weekend, got some nice compliments from my well-trained family, and am happy.

My final strip of copper just didn’t work. It needed longer in the etching solution, but the design is quite bitty and was always going to be a challenge.


Sample p2-20 b

The original photo was of a sample of joining with overlapping edges, using cork and insect screen (22-Jun-2015). Originally I thought the black and white design had a flow that would guide the eye along, but it’s really just scrappy. Back home I tried using liver of sulphur to bring out contrast, but there really wasn’t anything there.

A detail of the “good” end.

The class is being run again later in the year. It will be the same number of hours on a single Saturday. It would mean a longer stretch of time to get work into the etching bath (most of us ran out of time on the first evening), but you don’t have time to process, reflect and plan before the second half of the class. Tempting, especially if there’s opportunity to experiment with other forms of resist, alternatives to PNP (wax, different forms of marker…).

Finished tealight from previous class.

I’ve enjoyed two classes with Jane, who is very knowledgeable and happy to share ideas and tips, plus prepared to go a little off topic if asked. I realised during the class that I’ve never shown the finished tea-light holder from her workshop earlier this year. It was seen soldered but still needing the base resolved and of course all that pesky cleaning still to go (18-Feb-2018).

There isn’t an actual tealight in the photo, just a desk lamp shone down into it. I think the treatment of the bottom edge works well with the theme, and it had the advantage of not being too precise so very suitable to my beginner skills 🙂 .

I see in the post on the earlier class linked above that I was thinking of a home soldering area “before the end of the year”. Obviously I’ve brought that forward (30-Apr-2018), and with some extra tips from Jane, today I tried cutting and shaping some copper to make a cylinder with a tight fit that I could solder. It took some time, but I got my best-ever fitting seam. Haven’t actually soldered it yet – I could feel that I was both tired and impatient, so I walked away – but I have renewed hope.

Cuff – resin offcut from Confluence basin

Finally, as part of tooling-up to finish different things I bought an oval bracelet mandrel during the week. (an aside – it’s rather dangerous for me that Australian Jewellers Supplies is just over the road from my workplace.). As mentioned above, in jewellery terms I’m all about the earrings… but I’ve recently been thinking of extending out to cuffs, bracelets and bangles. This is an offcut from the basin element of Confluence (8-Apr-2018), softened in the work-room microwave and formed. Possibilities!

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