Monday, May 14, 2012

How To Paint A Faux Copper Patina

Today I'm going to show you how to take something like this:


And turn it into something like this:

 BioShock Seahorsies!!

This is a great technique for transforming everything from knick-knacks to cosplay props and hardware, and it can be used to make almost any material - wood, ceramic, plastic, etc.  - look like naturally aged copper.

But the best part? It's really easy! All you need are a good spray primer, spray paint in metallic copper and flat black, mineral spirits, and some cheap flat craft paint in a bright teal.

So let's get started!

First, prime your piece. (If it's plastic, be sure to use a plastic primer.)

(I originally planned to paint this piece gloss white, but the ceramic was rough and didn't look that great in a solid color. So...ultra aged copper, it is!)

Next, spray your piece with the copper metallic, and let it dry completely:

For this next step, have a small cup of mineral spirits and some cotton rags handy, because you'll want to move somewhat quickly once you've finished spraying your piece black.

When you're ready, go ahead and spray a nice thick coat of flat black all over your piece. Make sure you don't miss any nooks or crannies:

As soon as you're finished spraying, grab a rag and start wiping down the piece. The paint will get tacky pretty fast, but don't worry; that's what the mineral spirits are for.

Using two fingers wrapped in your cotton rag, dip the cloth in mineral spirits and continue wiping down your piece. [And it's much better to wear gloves; we just ran out.] You want to expose the copper on all the raised areas, leaving the black in all the recesses.

Keep going as long as you like, until you're happy with the look. (More black = more aging, so if you only want a light patina you'll want to take off more black than I did.)

This is how mine looked after I finished wiping it down.

Of course, you *could* stop there, but trust me: this next step is where the magic happens.

For this part you'll need your teal craft paint on a plate or palette, a brush, and a cup of water.

Mix a lot of water in with a little paint to make a thin glaze. Err on the side of caution: use a LOT of water.

Now, using your brush, start to drip your watery paint mixture onto your piece:

Concentrate on getting the glaze into all the recesses: the nooks and crannies. In short, anywhere there's black paint, that's where you want to concentrate your glaze. Use extra water to make the glaze drip and run down the sides.

Stop every now and then and splatter some of the glaze onto the piece. When these dry they'll leave really cool-looking water droplet marks.

The most effective aging mimics what would happen naturally out in the elements, so make your patina heaviest near the base and anywhere rainwater (and therefore rust) would naturally pool. You'll also want to do several coats of drips to get the best texture, so take your time.

Oh, and keep in mind that your glaze will look a lot like solid paint while it's wet, so don't worry if it seems too dark; it'll dry lighter.

Most of the glaze here is still wet. Compare that with the dry sections on the smaller seahorse's face and tail. See how translucent and dusty it looks? That's why you need several coats to get a really vivid patina.

You can put as much or as little patina on your piece as you like. For mine, I decided to go all out and really age the heck out of it:

 The heavy sections have at least half a dozen coats of glaze drips on them.

Of course, you still want some of your shiny copper metallic to show, so as a finishing touch rub down some of the raised areas with a wet Q-tip or paper towel to let that shine back through again. And if you realize your patina is a little *too* heavy, just rub some of that off, too. You may have to rub pretty hard, but the glaze will come off. (And if you rub off too much, just drip more on!)

And, guess what?

 You're done!

 Fortunately the glaze is strong enough that it's not going to rub off with casual wear, so there's no need to clear coat your finished piece. Which is good, since clear-coating would ruin all that great texture you just created, anyway!

To finish my seahorse statue I think I'm going to have John cut a thick wooden plaque for the base. And since I like to imagine it's a little souvenir statuette recovered from the underwater city of Rapture, maybe I'll even get a brass plaque saying something to that effect for the side. :D

I hope you've found this tutorial helpful! And if so, please let me know how you plan to use it in the future -  or better yet, send pictures!

Update: A couple of you have pointed out - and rightly so - that copper patina is usually a bit more green than this. I just used the teal craft paint I already had on hand, but for your own projects you may want to find a shade that leans more green. 


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  1. Thanks for the inspiration! This is a great way to repurpose thrift store finds to fit my decor!

  2. Awesome! Thanks so much! I have some ideas in mind for this already and you saved me the trouble of figuring it out the hard way by trial & error! =)

  3. You might want to wear gloves for the "rubbing with mineral spirits" part. Mineral spirits aren't too good for you when absorbed through the skin.

  4. AWESOME! Thanks for that tutorial - it was very inspiring.

  5. That is so cool and awesome and we'll see how easy it is after someone like myself attempts it. ;)

  6. Very cool! I've been wondering how to do a nice patina - and now I have an excuse to go garage sale shopping...bring on the knick knacks!

  7. That looks great! Now I have to try it...

  8. This is amazing, I can't wait to try it.

  9. This would be SO cute as a manicure. :)

  10. Thanks for the reminder, Gary; we ran out of gloves, or else I'd have been wearing them in the pics. I just updated the post to let people know.

  11. I do a copper patina like this but with enamels and in reverse! I paint it all black, then lay in copper nail polish, and then use a matte green nail polish ( matte is really trendy right now!) and lay in a few chunky gobs of that. :)

  12. Cool. I loved watching my husband play through Bioshock and BS2. He is Mr. Bubbles and our baby girl chihuahua is his little sister.
    Can't wait for the new one to come out.

  13. This is very cool. I didn't know about the mineral spirits trick with the black and that will definitely come in handy at some point in my steamy crafting.

    For the patina, though, I would recommend the Rub N' Buff Patina color, as it's a better match for actual copper tarnish. You can still apply it with a brush or just smear it around with your fingers.

    Baroness Violet von Mickelsburg

  14. Wonderful demo! I'm not sure exactly how I might end up using this, but I do have to come up with a sculpture project for myself soon so this may end up being part of it. Thanks!

  15. What a great idea! What brand of copper spray paint did you use? I've had a hard time finding copper.

  16. Have you tried black leather dye, the kind for shoes, to antique things? It holds up amazingly well, even on heavily worn jewelry, and it's easy to build up subtle layers. Plus it comes in a handy dandy applicator bottle. And if it does wash of, say on a pin you put through the laundry, it's so easy to reapply!

  17. SERIOUSLY?!?! I've been wanting to do a custom Vinylmation that looks like this! I <3 you for doing the work for me!!

  18. I prefer it in white, but it's a great DIY! Just did it with some ugly and colourful pepper caster!^^

    ♥Looona Lou

  19. Have you done this type of faux finish on anything larger, such as a garage door? I want to do this, but am concerned about not having as many little grooves for the different colors of paint to settle in to create the look. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  20. Awesome! I am going to try to do this on an upcycled Xmas tree stand that I am going to turn into a birdbath! You rock Jen!

  21. I just tried this on my lightsaber-- it looks totally awesome! Thanks for the awesome ideas! <3 <3

  22. Thanks so much...I have a project in mind and you saved me alot of time...I am hoping on doing a painted pail in the near stupid question I can get mineral spirits where and is mineral spitits rubbing alcohol

  23. This looks awesome! Question, though; I plan to do this to a statue that will live outside in my garden year-round (think obscene humidity, fair amounts of rain and tons of frigid snow each year). I don't want the paint to leak/chip into my garden; is sealing it then appropriate, and would a matte spray finish retain more of the patina look than a gloss?

    Thanks a ton for the help!

  24. Beautiful! I tried this for the first time on the night before we moved into our new house. While dozing off on an air mattress, ( most of the house packed in moving trucks) I bolted awake with the realization that the candlesticks and corbles wouldn't match the new lighting we had just installed in the new house! As the craft room was to be the last one packed, everything needed to faux-finish these items was still in place where I'd always kept them. I began with the "oxidized" color as a basecoat and then went to work plucking random pieces out of an old kitchen sponge with tweezers. Next, three metallic colors were combined to produce one that actually matched perfectly! I dabbed the old sponge into the metallic paint, off loaded some onto some old newspaper we were using to wrap breakables, and went to work on those cheap, ugly candlesticks. They looked so good, I tackled the corbles with no hesitation. All items turned out so well you'd never know how cheap they really were. Our friends usually noticed the candlesticks on the piano first, but soon wondered how we found everything to match the lighting so well. They were reluctant to believe I had mixed the colors myself. Thanks for reminding me what fun it was to craft my own home decor!

  25. Totally didn't work for me. Wiping the black off just piled all the copper paint off too. Mineral spirits or not. Guess I'm the only one, but I have a big messy waste if money in front of me.

    1. Eek! Sounds like your copper didn't cure enough before you moved on to the black paint. If you want to try again, wait an extra few hours (or even overnight) before moving on to the black spray, so the copper is completely dry and the black is freshly sprayed when you wipe off the excess. Good luck!

    2. Thanks so much for the great instructions.
      I'm going to try this technique using water based craft paints instead of spray paint. I don't have any mineral spirits on hand, but baby wipes work great for removing paint when I've antiqued before. Wish me luck!

  26. I love this so much! It's a great tutorial so your technique is the one I'm gonna use. Question: I'm going to be doing a (functional) mailbox so any recommendations for a weather proof costing would be appreciated! (Spray on clear mate finish is all I can think of at the moment). :)

    1. Sure, any good quality spray clear coat should work (I'd go with a lacquer, myself) and using a matte finish will ensure your patina looks more realistic. Good luck! Be sure to share pics on the Epbot FB page when you're done; I'd love to see it!

  27. This is really great! What brand of copper paint did you use? I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time and I really like the shade of copper you ended up with here.

  28. best way to pantina EVERRRR!!!thank you for such a great share :0 u ROCK!


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