Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Custom Etched Copper Plaque: Journey from concept to finished art.

What I love about the creative process is the journey itself, it is very much like life unfolding before our eyes, sometimes in expected ways and sometimes sprinkled with little surprises and disappointments.
My son's preschool teacher Ms. Sarah is retiring this year after teaching and bringing her best to their classroom for three decades. We as parents wanted to make something special for her, something she could enjoy for a long time to come and remind her of her last pre-K class and students. That's how was born the idea of presenting her a custom copper etched plaque with her students drawings, hand tracings and names. We also wanted to include a quote that would mirror her contributions and dedication to her work. I am very grateful to my friend Naomi who had many interesting ideas and helped and supported this project from inception to completion. I also want to thank my wonderful teacher and mentor Pat Evans who first taught me copper etching.

Naomi scanned all the hand tracings, kid's drawings and their names in their own handwriting and sent me the digital files. I then incorporated these into a black and white
composition. I came across a beautiful quote by Carl Jung on teachers and that helped spring this idea up for a nurturing tree with blossoms.
The design created in photoshop elements, this would make the front of the custom etched plaque.

This would go in the back, just imprinted and set with heating and sealed with clear acrylic.

The biggest challenge turned out to be the size of the piece at 12 x 18 inches, 18 gauge thick copper sheet. I bought mine from onlinemetals. I typically use Pnp Blue paper To transfer the design from a digital file onto a copper sheet using laser printer. I could not find this paper in a size lager than letter. So I hunted and researched for an alternate transfer paper and settled for lazertran silk transfer  paper which came in 11x17 size, perfect for our project.

A trip to Kinko's and I got the artwork laser printed on glossy side of Lazertran silk paper. I cleaned the copper sheet and taped the artwork face down on it. I simply used my household iron to transfer the ink to the copper sheet and then submerged it in hot water. I lost very little amounts of details in some places which convinced me that I could not use this to transfer the text in the back. I could go back and fix the drawings with a black sharpie, but text would be much more challenging unless I just did freehand writing with the sharpie itself.
I very gently shook the excess water out and let the sheet dry and then popped it in the oven for 10 minutes at 300. This helped bond the transfer ink well to the surface of copper sheet. Some corrections with the sharie and the sheet was ready to be etched.
Transferred Artwork on copper sheet.

I used foam pieces on all the sides to help the sheet stay up in the ferric chloride solution. The copper sheet came with a plastic covering on one side, and I reinforced that with masking tape to seal the back of the sheet so that only the front etches in the solution.

Copper sheet, artwork side down being etched in ferric chloride for one hour.

Then comes the fun part of removing the ink with extra strength acetone and sanding and polishing and curving the borders. 

The last step was to patina  and polish it some more to enhance certain areas more than the others. I used both Baldwin's patina for the whole artwork and liver of sulphur for kids drawings areas to make their artwork show nice and dark. I also decided to paint the border with Vintaj metal paint to give it a more framed look. Here is how it looks:

The kids presented the plaque to teacher Sarah who was visibly moved and the room was filled with expressions of emotions and happy tears...Thank you so much Teacher Sarah for inspiring our children in endless ways.