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An Exciting Alternative for Adding Color

by Jeanette Landenwitch


  • Colored pencils (such as Prismacolor pencils)
  • Cosmetic swabs (the kind with one pointed end and one rounded end)
  • Turpentine
  • Small metal bowl
  • Spray sealer

Conferences are a wonderful experience. There is the excitement of learning new techniques, finding out about the latest tools and equipment, and, of course, the exchange of ideas through networking. It was through networking at the 2005 Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) conference that I was introduced to a technique that would eventually have a big impact on my work - the use of colored pencil on metal.

It may come as a surprise that colored pencils, which are usually reserved for use on media such as paper, canvas, and poster board, can be successfully applied to PMC. It's an application I began to experiment with and have found myself using more and more often.

I use enamels quite a bit in my work, and like the strong, bright clear colors. Colored pencil provides a different character. The shading and color effects that can be achieved on PMC are soft, and offer a more subtle expression. It's a more "freeform" application: Thought goes into the design and color scheme, but there is a lot of freedom inherent to the process. Colors are blended in no particular order. Color choices are loosely regulated. The color palette is infinite. Tools are few, mainly my pencils and some blending supplies.

I prefer Prismacolor brand pencils. These are wax-based colored pencils that are easy to find in art supply and craft stores, have a good supply of colors, and are good quality pencils. Other brands of wax-based pencils or oil-based pencils could also be used, as could water color pencils. The primary difference with water-color pencils is that they are blended with water rather than turpentine, as the wax- and oil-based pencils are.

The process is relatively simple. The fun is in developing the color.

Step 1
Make a PMC piece and fire it. It can be highly textured or subtly textured. As soon as the piece is cool, it's ready to receive the color. The white matte finish gives a "tooth" for the color of the pencils to grab onto.

If only part of your piece will have color applied to it, finish the rest of the piece before applying color, either by wire brushing or another hand-finishing method. Be careful not to polish or brush the area that will receive the color so that it retains its matte surface.

Step 2
Choose your color palette. Use white paper, or colored pencil paper, to test the individual colors and the blending of the colors. Then apply color to the piece, placing color next to color or color on top of color. (Figure 1)

Fig. 1
Step 3
Blend the colors by rubbing with a clean white cloth, paper towel, or fabric napkin, or use a cosmetic swab dipped in turpentine to flow the color. (Figure 2) I usually use the cosmetic swab method, especially on highly textured work. Depending upon the colors chosen and the thickness of the application, the color can be very subtle, to the point where in lighter shades especially, it may be difficult to see. When the sealer is applied, the color will intensify.

The piece can be lightly wire brushed to pull a silver sheen through the color. A touch up of color may be necessary if too much is rubbed off.

Fig. 2
Step 4
Spray the piece with an acrylic colored pencil sealer. This is where the color pops! Colored pencil sealers are available in matte, satin, and high-gloss finishes, and all three will work. Use at least three to four light coats of sealer, rather than one or two heavy coats. If the sealer is applied too heavily, it will drip and may cause the color to run.

The sealer will protect the color, preventing it from rubbing off onto clothing and allowing the color to last a long time under normal wear conditions. If wear occurs, it will begin in the high spots, so applying color to recessed areas can reduce wear. Wearing of the finish is also more likely on rings and bracelets than pins, pendants, or earrings.

Like liver of sulfur and enamel, colored pencil accentuates the essence of PMC - its texture. Colored pencil has permanently entered my repertoire as a choice of finishes for my designs. Along with enamels, when I'm thinking color, I'll be reaching for my pencils.

Last updated on Tue, July 28, 2009 by Metal Clay Guru