How to Alter Metal for Mixed-Media Jewelry

Did you know you can turn a piece of metal into a component for wearable art? All it takes to make jewelry from found objects are some common mixed-media art supplies, some metal found objects or pre-made blanks, and a few basic techniques.

Of course you can use found objects or purchased blanks as is. But it's fun to customize them with paint, enamel, inks, and ephemera.

mixed media necklace by jenn mason
Jenn Mason made this mixed-media necklace with blanks she colored using gelatin monoprinting.

Jenn Mason likes to dress up blanks with gelatin monoprinting, as she did in this mixed-media necklace at left. She inked up a Gelli ArtsTM reusable gelatin plate, textured it with found objects (like bubble wrap), and printed her blanks. After the ink on the blanks dried, Jenn coated the surface with metal sealer to protect the finish before attaching the metal charms to a chain.

One of the easiest ways to alter metal for mixed-media embellishments or jewelry takes just three steps: Sand, paint, apply ink. Start with found metal objects or purchase metal shapes from the craft store.

Wash found objects with a little dish soap to degrease them and lightly sand the surface so it will take the paint. Craft metal pieces you have purchased should be ready to paint, but read the manufacturer's instructions to be sure.

Jenn Mason shows how to alter metal with paint.

With a paintbrush or your finger, apply white acrylic paint to the surface of the object. Let it dry, then apply alcohol inks. You can use a brush or dribble the ink directly onto the object with the nozzle of the bottle. Let the colors run together or apply them separatelyit's your choice. Jenn Mason demonstrates this easy metal-altering method on our video gallery.

Artist Laura Ryan turned beer bottle caps into beautiful custom artwear with not much more than a hammer, glue, papers, and ultra-thick embossing enamel (UTEE).

After punching holes in each of the caps and rounding them out with a doming block and hammer, Laura uses glue and rice paper to hold the sides together and cover printing on the cap. Then she adds color and images with inks, paints, stamps, and decoupage. Jewelry like this takes a little time, but you can guarantee no one else will have anything like it!

Can you believe this piece of found object jewelry by
Laura Ryan started as used bottle caps?

For the finishing touch, Laura skewers each bead and dips it in melted ultra-thick embossing powder, using a heat gun to keep the UTEE flowing.

There are many other ways to color metal for wearable art, especially if you like to work with fire. I have heard great things about mixed-media jewelry artist Barbara Lewis and her series of DVDs on torch-fired enamel beads and other metals.

My Jewelry Making Daily colleague, Tammy Jones, highly recommends Barbara's tutorials: "Barbara Lewis… she's the woman who got me so hooked on her torch-fired enameling. I love it. I do it almost every day," raves Tammy.

If you like creating mixed-media jewelry with metal and found objects, or are just curious about torch-fired enamel techniques, be sure to check out Barbara Lewis's DVDs.

P.S. Have you colored metal? What techniques do you recommend? Leave your comments below.


Art to Wear, Blog, Mixed-Media Jewelry