Copper embossing uses very thin copper sheet, which is raised into 3-dimensional bas-relief utilizing stylus tools and working over leather, foam or a hard surface. The copper is 40 gauge, only about 7 times thicker than aluminum foil, but thick enough not to tear. My early pieces were made from 36 gauge material, and although the 40 gauge is more fragile, I find I can create greater detail in the thinner material.
Some of the wooden stylus tools I use are standard ceramicists’ tools, but many are ones that I have carved for myself for specific techniques. All of my projects begin with a drawing that I produce, often from photographs I have taken. The drawing is transferred to the copper sheet by taping them together and going over the drawing with a ballpoint pen. In order to get the proper effect on most architectural pieces, I use drawings on the front and the back of the copper sheet so that some lines will only go forward onto the copper.
The process involves working from both the front and the back of the sheet, pushing forward from the back into leather or foam and then flipping it over and flattening certain areas over a table top. I use an old pitted piece of steel to get some textures.
Once I’m satisfied with the piece, and it is glued either to Masonite or a piece of lumber, I use a chemical patina to darken the entire surface and then I use steel wool to polish and bring out the details that I’ve worked to put into the piece. The final step is to use a satin clear sealer to prevent any further oxidation.
My early pieces were framed, but I have transitioned to wrapping the copper around pieces of wood, which I find creates a more interesting piece with the additional texture and detail on the side edges of the work. And, in living on the road in my 5th wheel, I don’t have room to carry a lot of framing materials, so the solution of wrapping works well for two reasons.