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How to layer colored pencil on copper

We’ll show you some tricks for making your colors stick


  • Copper sheet: 18-gauge (1.0 mm), 3 x 2 in. (76 x 51 mm)
  • Hammering toolbox
  • Sawing/piercing toolbox
  • Finishing toolbox
  • Metal-texturing supplies (choose from):
    • Dapping punches
    • Flex shaft with sanding disks, silicon or aluminum oxide points, or grinding burs
    • Roll-printer
    • Etching setup
    • Sandblasting booth
  • Bracelet mandrel or baseball bat
  • Leather strip: 1⁄2 x 12 in. (13 x 305 mm) (optional)
  • 2 D-rings: 1⁄2 in. (13 mm) (optional)
  • Tapestry needle (optional)
  • Waxed linen thread (optional)
  • Nitrile or latex gloves
  • Flat-tip paintbrush
  • Gesso
  • Acrylic paint: white (optional)
  • Prismacolor Premier fine-art colored pencils, colorless blender pencil
  • Pencil sharpener (Prismacolor) or craft knife
  • Workable spray fixative
  • Paint solvent (Turpenoid Natural)
  • Matte spray sealer


Before you begin, take a look at our PDF to learn more about choosing the best kind of colored pencils for this project.

How to layer colored pencil on copper 1 1
Photo 1
Part 1: Preparing a panel

Texturize copper sheet. The paint primer and colored pencils used in this technique will not adhere to smooth surfaces. You need to texturize the 18-gauge (1.0 mm) copper sheet you’ll be using to make your panel. For a list of texturing techniques, see “Rough and Ready” on the PDF. 

NOTE: For best results, match the coarseness of your texture to your image or pattern. For example, a delicate design is easier to render onto a moderately sanded surface than onto a surface that’s been textured with a ball-peen hammer. 

Make a panel. Cut your textured copper sheet into the desired panel shape for your design [PHOTO 1]. (See “How I Made My Bracelet,” below, for a tutorial on my process.) Shape the panel as desired. I curved mine by lightly tapping it over a bracelet mandrel with a rawhide mallet.

NOTE: You’ll need to complete all shaping and soldering before you add the color. If your project includes soldered elements, make your soldered connections now.
How to layer colored pencil on copper 1 2
Photo 2
Clean the panel. Use steel wool and water to scrub the surfaces of the panel to remove any oil or dirt. Rinse the panel in water thoroughly. Hold the panel by its edges to set it aside while you prepare a weak liver of sulfur solution.

Patinate the panel. A patinated surface helps the gesso adhere to the metal. Put on nitrile or latex gloves, and submerge the panel in liver of sulfur. Remove the panel from the solution, and rinse it with cool water. For a darker patina, dip the panel and rinse it again. Allow the panel to dry completely. 

Apply gesso to the panel. Using a flat-tip paintbrush, apply a thin layer of gesso to the textured surface of the panel [PHOTO 2]. I tinted my gesso with acrylic paint. Allow the gesso to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
How to layer colored pencil on copper 2 1
Photo 3
How to layer colored pencil on copper 2 2
Photo 4
Part 2: Color and finishing

Draw an outline on the panel. Referring to your sketches, lightly draw the outline of your design on the dry gesso surface [PHOTO 3]. 

Apply a layer of color. Using your chosen pencil colors, fill in your design, covering the gesso with one layer of color [PHOTO 4].

NOTE: To prevent a sharp pencil point from scraping through the gesso layer, blunt the pencil tip slightly by rubbing it on scrap paper, or use the side of the pencil to apply the first layer of color.

Apply fixative to the panel. Spray a light coat of workable fixative over the first layer of pencil. “Workable” fixatives are formulated for pencil, chalk, and pastel drawings that are in progress. Allow the workable fixative to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
How to layer colored pencil on copper 2 3
Photo 5
How to layer colored pencil on copper 2 4
Photo 6
SAFETY TIP: When using workable fixative, solvents, and spray sealers, work in a well-ventilated area.

Add the remaining layers of color. Apply another layer of color, and then spray it with fixative. Continue to build up layers this way until you achieve your desired depth of color.

Blend adjacent colors. To achieve a subtle color shift between adjacent colors, apply a layer of pencil, but don’t spray that layer with fixative. Blend the colors with a Prismacolor colorless blender pencil [PHOTO 5] or a flat-tip paintbrush dampened with paint solvent [PHOTO 6]. I prefer to use Turpenoid Natural solvent because it’s less caustic than traditional turpentine.

NOTE: Use the solvent sparingly; too much solvent can lift off the color.
How to layer colored pencil on copper 2 5
Photo 7
Allow the solvent to dry completely. Then apply a coat of workable fixative, and continue to build up layers of pencil and workable fixative to achieve your desired result.

Seal your design. Apply a coat of matte spray sealer to the panel [PHOTO 7]. Let the sealer dry completely. Repeat to coat the panel with three applications of sealer.
How to layer colored pencil on copper a
Photo A
How I made my bracelet

Here’s a simple way to recreate the metal shape that I used in this project, and instructions on how to use leather straps that cinch closed with a pair of D-rings to turn the colored copper panel into a bracelet.

Cut the copper sheet. Use a jeweler’s saw [PHOTO A] with a 1/0 blade to cut a 2 x 11⁄2-in. (51 x 38 mm) rectangle from 18-gauge (1.0 mm) copper sheet. (My bracelet panel fits a 6-in./15.2 cm wrist.) Use the jeweler’s saw to pierce two slits near the short ends of the rectangle to accommodate leather straps.

How to layer colored pencil on copper b
Photo B

File the panel. Use a flat hand file to smooth the edges of the panel. Use a flat needle file to even and smooth the edges of the slits [PHOTO B].

How to layer colored pencil on copper c
Photo C

Shape the panel. Position the panel texture-side up on a bracelet mandrel or baseball bat. Use a rawhide mallet to lightly tap the panel to curve it slightly [PHOTO C].

How to layer colored pencil on copper d
Photo D

Add straps. After coloring my panel, I added leather straps to it. Using a tapestry needle and waxed linen thread, I stitched strips of leather that I threaded through the panel slits. For a quick and simple closure, I stitched two D-rings to the end of one strap [PHOTO D].

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