Colored Pencil On Copper. Who Knew!?

Colored Pencil On Copper. Who Knew!?

by Jan Fagan

Colored pencil is fabulously versatile on paper. But, I also love to see my favorite medium used in unexpected ways and on surprising surfaces. Of course, we’ve all seen it used on wood, fabric, photo paper or clay. Once I even saw some incredible CP work done on Fall leaves! Every time I see something new I vow to try it myself... someday. However, I recently I saw some work by fellow artist, Linda James, in one of the Facebook colored pencil groups. Her post made me stop and get very excited and the moment I saw her work I knew I wanted to try this for myself. By specially preparing a copper plate surface she created fun and unique colored pencil art and jewelry. I was instantly hooked! So I contacted her to ask about her process and she graciously shared it with me.

The timing for this couldn't have been better because I was also getting ready for our annual Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA) Northwest district art retreat and I wanted something new to work on while there. This turned out to be the perfect project for the week! What’s not to love about relaxing in a scenic area, spending time with your fellow CP artists, and eating well, all while working on a new project you're excited about?

I’ll admit that I was a little intimidated to try this process at first. But, using Linda’s instructions (and encouragement) I added a layer of Gesso to the surface, I prepared my copper piece and began to experiment. For someone like me, who has a heavy hand with her colored pencils, I quickly figured out that I had to ease up a little so the Gesso did not scrape off. But, I tried a variety of pencils from the hard Verithins to softer Prismacolor, Polychromos, and Inktense (both wet and dry) and they all worked well. The copper was light enough so I could cut it with sturdy scissors and even did some embossing to add even more dramatic effects to my projects. As a matter of fact, that gave the work a bit of a 3D effect.

As for the copper itself I found that the combination of the colored pencil against the rich color of the metal made for some stunning effects and unique possibilities. Soon I was deeply into the process and lost track of time!

Playing with process and trying new products is almost as much fun as actually finishing a piece of art for me. So I’m now experimenting with clear Gesso and a couple of other surface prep solutions to see how I like them. But I’m also interested in the possibility of submitting work to the Annual CPSA International exhibition using copper and that means I can’t use anything like Gesso on the surface of the metal. The colored pencil must be laid directly on the copper so I’m also playing with a Dremel tool to lightly rough up the surface of the copper to give it some tooth. Hopefully this will allow the pencils to grab onto the surface easily. I’m going to make some sample strips to see what processes and products I find work best for me. I will post those results on my Facebook art page.

There are so many fun possibilities with colored pencil on copper and I’m more excited than ever. The deep, rich color of the metal appeals to me and challenges me to explore color in a way I haven’t before. I’m going to give some jewelry pieces a try once I explore process a little more and I’ll be attaching some copper pieces to my Ampersand boxes for sure! I’ve even been asked locally to do a workshop on this process and I’m really excited about that - so stay tuned! You’ll be seeing more from me. And who knows what surface will catch my interest next!

About Jan:


Jan Fagan is a wife, mother, daughter, artist, Army dependent, traveler, therapeutic hypnotist, avid reader, retiree, and music and theater lover. Each of those things has influenced and is integrated in her artwork. Her artistic passion is creating art that invites the viewer to smile and invent their own stories.

Jan's work Copper Moon is part of the 18th Annual COLOR Magazine Member Show. Check out the show here and subscribe to COLOR Magazine to enter next year's show for free!

See more from Jan at

Comments (2)

Thank you…and…I love your article! Your imaginative art tantalizes me!

Linda James - Jun 21, 2017

Hi Jan, great article and beautiful work! I am an aspiring jewelry maker/designer and have just started experimenting with colored pencil on brass which I imagine is similar to copper as they are both copper alloys and share many characteristics.

I have a special interested in colored pencil as my mom, Jan Henderson, is a very respected wildlife artist who specialized in colored pencil when they first came out. She now also uses acrylic and oil, but mainly teaches. However, she keeps telling me she has no experience with metal, so I was searching for insight from people like yourself.

I wanted to mention that one of the techniques I love to use with metal jewelry is acid etching. It would surely give your pieces a nice tooth if you are not using Gesso. If you google “etching with ferric chloride”or "copper etching "there are tons of articles about how to do it. I know the Jewelry Making Journal has a four piece article and Ganoskin has some that were very helpful. You can also etch with salt water and mild electricity (I believe a 9 volt battery), but i haven’t tried this yet.

I never thought I would be patient enough to work with colored pencil, but jewelry helps solve this as pieces are so much smaller. One of the things I love the most is drawing my own resists on the metal instead of using a transfer technique and a pre-designed images. Hand illustrated designs can be drawn directly on the metal with a sharpie. After much research, I learned that the best resist marker is a Staedler Lumocolor in red. I have tried using a dremel to make designs, but find etching much more effective. Another thing I have read is that some of the jewelry artists prefer patina instead of Gesso. That probably wouldn’t be permitted for the show you mentioned, but I just wanted to mention it.

ámanda Thompson - Jun 21, 2017

Leave your comment