By Jim Brace-Thompson
I first encountered a “splash” in a Michigan rock shop. Michigan is historically famous for its copper deposits, and the shop had many pieces described as “native copper from Michigan.” However, I had seen and collected native copper, and these didn’t look quite right to be natural specimens. As it turns out, they were—and they weren’t!
The copper in the pieces did come from Michigan (most likely), but their shapes had a little help from man. Several artists today create free-form sculptures called “copper splashes” by melting the metal in crucibles at 2,200°F. The liquid copper is poured into trays containing straw and water or is simply dripped onto a steel surface and then shoveled up and quenched in a water trough. The copper cools quickly and forms any number of interesting shapes.
Some artists apply a copper carbonate mixture to their pieces. This imparts a verdigris (green) coating, and once that has set, they buff the surface to polish raised areas, producing shiny copper highlighted within a verdigris patina. Other artists craft an oxidized “heat patina” by swiping the flame of an acetylene torch across a cooled copper splash, resulting in iridescent colors that shimmer like peacock feathers.
To see these and other techniques, look up “copper splash sculpture” on the web. You’ll find a number of videos on Facebook and YouTube on how these interesting pieces have been produced and transformed into sculptures or jewelry.
Enjoy this video of a sculpture...
Although you’ll most often find splashes made from copper, other metals—for instance, aluminum and steel—have also been used to craft free-form sculptures. A similar technique for producing pieces to use in jewelry is called broom casting, or straw casting, with sterling silver. Search the web by entering “straw casting” to find some really neat YouTube videos showing the process in action!