Last summer I was commissioned to make a special piece of artwork to celebrate a client’s big birthday. She has a passion for nature, gardening, walking, and interiors, and she wanted something a specific size to fit above the fireplace in her living room. She asked if I could make one of her favourite insects, a swallowtail butterfly, etched into a sheet of copper.
I regularly visit the Entomology collections at the National Museum Cardiff to take research photographs for my work, and I had already taken many images of their stunning butterfly collection. (I must have quite a passion for them too!) I was able to show my client the photographs so she could choose a favourite one as a reference for the artwork, then I ordered a custom made copper sheet to her specifications and began work.
The first stage was to sketch the butterfly on the copper sheet in a resist material, so when it went into the etching bath, it remained as a raised image on the surface of the metal. I also marked the plate with my own reference code, made up of my initials, the year, the month, and a three digit sequential number for that month. This is something I usually do with all my etchings, not only as a record for myself but in reference to the numbering systems used for the museum collections where I find my inspiration.
After etching, I oxidised the metal to blacken the entire surface. I sometimes create bright colours on the surface of my copper pieces by using different techniques, but this time I wanted the background to be mostly deep blacks and greys to let the shining butterfly image take centre stage.
I then started to scratch and sand the textures and tiny details into the surface of the metal with wire wool, sandpaper and a needlepoint tool. I photographed each stage and sent email updates to my client so she could be involved in the process, making decisions and seeing the piece develop as I went along.
The finished artwork was coated with several layers of UV resistant varnish and mounted in a traditional style frame to suit my client’s interior style.