Friday, June 22, 2012

Roller Printing

 A lot of the textured metal surfaces that we incorporate into our jewelry designs are created through a process called roller printing. One type of texture is made using pattern plates that I create using sheets of a copper alloy called nickel silver that is a little harder than either copper or silver. Using steel punches and stamps, many of which I make, I stamp designs on pieces  of the nickel silver, one hit at a time. This part of the process sometimes takes a long time.
 I can only do so much stamping at a time because my hands and wrists get tired. So a finished pattern plate sometimes takes as long as a couple of weeks to complete. After the plate is completed I use the tool in the picture to the left called a rolling mill to impress the pattern on sheets of copper, silver, brass and gold. The rolling mill reminds me of old wringer washing machines from many years ago except the rollers are of hardened steel and can be tightened down
 to create pressure. You can thin out sheets of copper or silver with it also, I've sometimes taken copper 1/4 inch thick and rolled it down to almost paper thin. To impress a pattern on a piece of copper I create a layered sandwich like the one pictured above with the pattern plate on the bottom, the metal to be embossed in the middle and a thin sheet of cardboard on top.

 I've found by experimenting that the cardboard pushes the metal more completely up into the pattern plate so that the texture is deeper and more distinct. The pictures to the left shows me rolling the sandwich and then the result after imprinting.

 To the far left here are a pattern plate and a piece of copper that has been imprinted with that design. To the right of that image are a few examples of printed copper sheets from different pattern plates. At this point I've probably created nearly 40 of these kinds of plates. They thin out a little each time that I use them but I can use each of them dozens of times.
Here are few expamples of how Carlie and I use these patterned sheets in our work. I'm working on a couple of new pattern plates at the moment and have ideas for a few more that I'll work on as the year progresses. I'm also getting ready to play with making some new stamps out of tool steel that will lead to new patterns. It's a never ending cycle of play. As well as using the plates I create, other textures can be made by rolling metal with window screen, lace, burlap, sandpaper, feathers, various other found objects and also patterns cut out of manilla folder with an exacto knife. When I first started playing with the roller printing process I got fairly obsessed with trying everything that I could think of and had a great time experimenting. Some of those experiments turned into jewels that some of you now wear.