Articles By John Searles

About John Searles

Metal sculptor and metal artist John Searles lives in Southwest Michigan where he creates and ships his art sculptures around the world. Specializing in custom designs, sizes and materials and utilizing his expert fabrication techniques he enjoys every day transforming his imaginative ideas into metal.

Copper Art Design – Making a CopperArt Waterfall

copper art design

Waterfall Patina, Copper Panel, 42″ w x 60″ h

This large copper art wall hanging was designed to look like a waterfall. I recently shipped this 42″ x 60″ copper art design to a couple in Utah for prominent display in the foyer of their designer home. They wanted to replace an indoor fountain that was causing respiratory distress.

Longevity? All the colors are created with inorganic salts of copper which will last indefinitely in bright sunlight. Three different lacquers are used to protect the patina from moisture, oxygen and abrasion. A metal frame protects the copper artwork from accidents during moving or children riding their bikes in the house.

How to Steps for Creating this Large Copper Art Design

1. I used 99.95% pure copper with .05% lead content instead of the normal trace amounts of beryllium or phosphorus. This copper sheet came from Aurubis in Buffalo, NY. I think it actually accepts patinas better than the Revere copper. This copper is heavy, 20 oz. per square foot.The completed piece, with frame, ended up weighing 35 lbs. Note; Aurubis copper is not good for flame-coloring. The lead inhibitis the flame colors.

2. I mounted the copper sheet to 1/4″ baltic birch plywood. I find this stays flatter than MDF manufactured fiber board. It is also prettier on the back – I mount the copper to the less-pretty side, then polyurethaned the back to bring out the beauty of the wood (for when someone wants to look at the back – shouldn’t artwork be beautiful from every angle?). Note: DO NOT use Lauan. The lauan warps when it dries.

3. I used 3M’s 30NF water-based contact cement to glue the copper to the luaun. I use two coats with 30NF. I let the first coat completely dry, then put on the second coat then laid the copper on the wood while the glue was wet. This allowed for precision alignment. I clamped and pressed the copper-wood assembly and it was ready in 24 hours

4. I put my home-formula patina chemicals on thick in the generally desired design then covered them with a plastic sheet to get them to really bite in and adhere to the metal. The plastic sheet keeps the patina chemicals from drying out during the overnight treatment.After drying the patina thoroughly I rinsed it off. I did this repeatedly, judiciously applying chemicals, thoroughly drying the patina, then rinsing off any patina that didn’t stick. It is important to make sure your patinas are sticking.

The artwork just arrived – it is very beautiful – you are right that photographs don’t do it justice. When we finish our new home, we will mount the artwork and send you and John a photo.Tell John how much we love the piece…. J.B. Utah

5. During the patina steps and rinsing steps, I kept the copper patina panel on a slope to further enhance the waterfall effect, occasionally removing patina to build up the fountain design, using a paint brush, copper cleaner and low-scratch scrubbees.

6.I photographed the copper art design while wet, to get the customer’s approval. It took several attempts and photographs to get the colors and design just the way they wanted it. A patina wetted with water simulates the effect of lacquer on the patina.

7. After thoroughly drying the final patina for 24 hours with a fan, I sprayed on a 50:50 blend of Permalac and Clear Guard, 20% diluted with MEK and Xylene. I used a Spraymaster Sprayer, not the Iwata air sprayer: the spraymaster puts the lacquer on much wetter and really soaks into the patina. I gave it 24 hours to dry then touched up low gloss (thick patina) areas with more lacquer and a brush. Finally I top coated the copper patina panel with Incralac spray to bring up the gloss. The final effect was spectacular, very deep and wet looking with thick and thin areas, transparent layers on top of layers, a complex interplay of colors and textures.

8. I framed the copper patina panel with a #13 Nielsen floater frame. I love this frame because it puts a narrow black metal edge around the artwork without hiding any of the beauty. This frame is 9/16″ deep: in step 2, prior to gluing on the copper, I glued and nailed a 1/2″ wood frame to the back of the luaun. I secured the floater frame to the copper artwork with 1/2″ screws, added the 100# hanging wire and it’s ready for the photography.

9. Photography is a crucial step. I photographed the copper art design with 15 overlapping images of 15 sections, then stacked & aligned them in Photoshop. This created a 300 mb file with incredibly sharp detail, ideal for printing a giclee, should someone want a high-quality giclee of this design on canvas.

10. Finally I boxed up the framed copper artwork in a foam box that fit tightly inside a thick cardboard box reinforced at the corners with heavy-duty cardboard corner protectors. This kept the weight down to 50 lbs and I was able to ship it to Utah via Fed Ex Home Delivery for only $142!

This is what a horizontal version of this waterfall copper patina panel would look like:

copper art wall hanging

Copper Waterfall Design #2, patinated copper, 36″ x 72″

Please contact me to order a similar but original design (any size) on copper or this exact design in any size, horizontal or vertical, as a giclee on canvas.

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More Copper Red Patinas

Copper Red Patinas

Copper Red Patinas – Four Experiments

A red patina can be developed on copper with a torch and any number of fluxes. The heat is applied to the copper from below. When the copper glows red hot sprinkle on the flux for a speckled look. Alternately, apply the flux first, then apply heat, for a smoother color. (Generally, both techniques happen at the same time because the salt bounces around.)

Woven Copper Wall Art

metal wall art

Copper Weaving #1
Metal Wall Art
10×14 on14x18 board

I shipped six of these copper wall art weavings to Denver, in January, for installation in the hospitality area of a hospital. All the copper wall art weavings were sized 10″ x 14″ and mounted on black-painted 1/8″ aluminum boards, sized 14″ x 18″. They were all to be the same general design, but each one different in the details. The coloring was achieved with a flame patina technique.

It’s worthwhile to consider all the steps involved and how long this process takes. Many steps, each necessary to achieve the end result.

Wall Sculpture Jig

metal wall sculptures

Wall Sculpture Jig
from Rockler

I’ve discovered a wall sculpture jig that has elevated the precision of my wall sculpture layouts to a new level.

I was first drawn to studying the Kreg jigs, then found the Rockler catalog online and saw that this jig would be better.

1-15-2012 Learned This Week

woven metal

Vasarely Style Copper Weaving
22″ x 28″

  1. Black painted aluminum boards for small metalweavings
    • Cutting 1/8″  aluminum on the table saw – first sharpen the tops of the cutters on the 60 tooth blade – easy to do with a small 120 grit sanding disc (2″ roloc) on an air-powered die grinder – put wax on the edge against the fence – go slow, wear a face guard and gloves – cuts like butter.

Green on Copper – Copper Green Patina

copper green patina

Copper Weaving #6
green patina on copper

A client wants me to do a Waterfall Weaving for him, but before he orders he wants a sample of the green copper patina with various light copper browns. He actually sent me a piece of couch fabric to match! Unfortunately, it’s winter in SW Michigan and the shop is on the cool side. Normally I can get a great green on copper patina using Sculpt Nouveau’s Tiffany Green. When it’s 90 degrees, I actually get the beautiful grayish green, the traditional verdigris (‘green of the Greeks’), my favorite. 60-80 degrees and I’m getting fairly neutral greens. Any temperature below 60 and I’m getting bluish greens. This gentleman does not want any bluish-greens. So I’ve been running tests to nail down a reliable (?) patina I can reproduce in the cooler months.

Undulated Metal Wall Art Weaving

metal wall art

Shaped Metal Weaving – Horizontal View

In December, I shipped an undulated circle spiral metal weaving to Florida. Fed Ex Home delivered it there in 3 days from Michigan. The customer was very pleased and sent us some photos and some nice reviews. Click on any image to enlarge.

Copper Red Patina Instructions

copper red patina

Copper Red Patina plus melted bronze lines

Prep the Copper

  • Cut the copper – this is best on copper at least .015″ thick
    • if you are planning on having it water jet cut later, add at least 1.5″ to your sizes
  • Sand the front with a 3M coarse grinder pads. This will hide the scratches that copper inevitably gets and create a nice pattern in the metal.
    • Alternately, use an orbital sander, 50 grit.  This is an attractive pattern.
  • If you are planning on brazing decorative lines – e.g. ovals, circles, zig zags – on the copper, now is the time to do that

Water Jet Cutting

water jet cutting metal

Water Jet Cut Squares


I used to only use thin copper laminated to 1/2″ plywood for my wall sculptures because I knew I could cut it myself with a scroll saw. At the time, my concept of an artist required me to do everything myself, which precluded my having someone else do my cutting for me. This was when I was just starting with my wall sculpture puzzle designs in 2000. I cut all my copper-wood laminates by hand with a scroll saw and as thin a blade as possible.

Thread Locker Fails

thread locker

Large Wall Sculptures require a reliable threadlocker

Thread Locker Study

Thread locker generally comes in a very small tube and seems very expensive for the quantity I am buying. But I had been feeling like I needed plenty on hand, so I had been constantly adding to my collection.

Thread locker is usually very low in viscosity, so I had high hopes when I bought a stick of Loctite 248 medium strength blue from Enco last year. It was like a small tube of blue speed-stick deodorant and didn’t run at all. I tried applying it to one side of some 5/8″ bolts, thinking that the nut would spread it around. When I went to remove the nuts a week later, it seemed to have not done any thread locking at all. Perhaps that was because the nut hadn’t spread out the thread locker. So I tried it again, applying it completely around the bolt. 5 days later, nothing again.