Copper in the Arts

May 2010

Dana Draper: Painting with Patinas

By Melanie Votaw

Copper door Copper panel by Dana Draper

Photograph courtesy of Dana Draper
Sausalito, California artist Dana Draper, a painter with a master's degree in art from New York University, no longer paints strictly on canvas and paper. About ten years ago, he began also "painting" on copper. "I'm not a metal fabricator," he says. "I'm treating the copper much more as a canvas on which I then apply the acids as opposed to paints."

How did his interest in copper come about? "There was just a little scrap of some copper that I had," he says. "I experimented with household items like rock salt, vinegar, and lemon, and I found that I liked the response that was happening on the metal. So, then, I slowly started acquiring copper to work on, and from there, I started to look for recipes that were more complex than just household items."

Now, Draper purchases various acids from Sculpt Nouveau, a company that he has found to be very helpful if he wants to create a particular color on metal. He tends to get his copper from roofing and refrigeration suppliers, however, and he sometimes leaves the copper outside, allowing the elements to change its color. This can be tricky, as the San Francisco Bay area doesn't readily change copper to the green patina that people have come to expect.

"In San Francisco, there's a relatively new museum called De Young Museum that is clad in copper," says Draper. "And all of the docents were saying, 'Oh, yes, we can't wait until this wonderful green patina develops.' Well, this never developed. If you go to New York City or Zurich, Switzerland, there are a whole number of rooftops that are clad in copper, and they've got this wonderful green patina. So, it really depends on the acidity in the atmosphere. The museum's building has begun to turn a tobacco color," he says.

Copper work Eve and Koi

Photograph courtesy of Dana Draper

One of the most interesting aspects of Draper's work is that he often makes collages with copper. For some pieces, he creates a flat copper background, which he treats with patinas or a blow torch. He then affixes cut copper figures atop the background - both mechanically and with glue - so that they float a bit above it. "The figures are attached first to a piece of wood that's about 3/8 of an inch, and the wood is screwed into the copper panel," he says. "Then, the figure is glued onto the wood."

He also sometimes applies a patina to the copper and then, uses an abrasive to essentially "erase" the patina in certain areas, bringing out the original luster of the copper until a form appears. He uses this technique to create the shading, depth, and dimension that he would normally create with paints or sketch pencils.

After seeing paintings on narrow beams in the ceiling of a church in Sicily, Draper has begun to explore copper figures in 72" tall pieces that are only 5" wide. "I like the idea of trying to develop enough motion to reference the figure without having to include the whole figure," he says.

The human form is Draper's greatest inspiration, but he also works with abstract forms, often using stencils and templates. He enjoys producing commissions, for which he often develops a series of drawings, followed by a model or a sketch to scale. After he has agreement and approval from the client, he obtains a release from them indicating that they understand the final work may have variations in colors and shapes. Most of his installations are indoors and in the San Francisco Bay area, although he has an interest in creating more work that would change on its own over time from the elements.

As for his love of copper, Draper says, "It's just a wonderful, warm material. I appreciate the poetry of it."


Dana Draper, Studio 345B, 480 Gate 5 Rd., Sausalito, CA, (415) 383-7213

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