When I started working in steel, I knew I wanted to created a rusted surface on some of my pieces. Sounds easy, right? All you have to do is add moisture to mild steel and it rusts. True, but controlling the color and preserving the rust turned out to be a bit more tricky than I expected.
I talked to some friends and did some Internet research which gave me a lot of information; most of it a little scary. You see, rusting usually involves nasty chemicals that will etch and change the surface. I was having mixed results, most of them unappealing, and was thinking about giving up when I talked to Eric.
Eric is engaged to a friend of mine and works in metals, mostly steel. He does a lot of surface treatments and was more than willing to share his information. That’s one thing I love about most of the artists I encounter, they are willing to share! Eric gave me some samples of a mild, odorless chemical that would produce rusted results. I took them home and immediately began he experiment. It was a bit shocking at first when I brushed on the stuff and it turned my steel a bright coppery-pink shade. Uh, this wasn’t what I wanted! My patience was rewarded when the chemical started working its magic and the pieces started to turn. Here are my samples:
The Copper Rust sample produced the color I considered most like natural rust. Eric also gave me a great hint on sealing my pieces with satin polyurethane for wearability. Once I had this mastered, my work started to take an exciting turn.
Working in steel is fun and the material is very inexpensive, but the finishing work is actually more time-consuming than silver or gold. Rusting takes several days and the polyurethane takes several coats and hours of drying time. It can be a week to 10 days in finishing time alone. I think the results are worth it. The color is lovely and the finish is exciting. My new work will make its debut in October. Until then, I’ll be in the studio rusting everything I can find.