4 Tips to Refine Your Electroforming Craft
1. Minimize the use of epoxy resin clay
Epoxy resin clay can be an awesome material to work with, but using it in moderation will do wonders for elevating your work from craft to fine art.
The positives: It cures rock-hard and is sturdy, making it an ideal building material.
The negatives: it isn’t as easy to work with as other moulding clays. In fact, it’s pretty awful to work with if you are expecting the feel and workability of polymer clay. It’s terribly sticky and has a tendency to leave films of yuck in its trail. I have found dulled areas on my stones from where I touched it with a filmy fingerprint (if you seal your stones first, this isn’t as issue, but I typically don’t). The worst part is, you won’t even notice there is still some coating your fingers until it is too late. I have even ended up with allergy bumps from rubbing my eyes..after a good handwashing! Plus, the final outcome has a tendency to look bulky after growing a thick enough layer of copper. Less is more!
What to use instead: try using liquid epoxy or super glue to directly attach a stone to a base. You might need to get creative with clothespins or cross-lock tweezers to hold your piece in place while it dries, but the results are worth it!
2. Learn how to calculate anode surface area and amperage for a shiny plate…every time!
This is the difference between a professional electroformer and a hobbyist. If you are chasing that perfect plate right out of the bath time and time again, this is of utmost importance to learn.
Rule: 0.1 amp per square inch of cathode (the piece to be electroformed)
Learning to estimate surface area on the fly is a skill that will come in handy. Keep in mind that you are only counting surface area that is to be plated, not anything that is sealed off. You must also count front and back. This can get really tricky for a ring, but in general, most rings won’t even have a full square inch of surface area. Note that the surface area of your piece is calculated in the round; every bit of surface must be accounted for.
Rule 2: You want a 2:1 anode to cathode ratio.
I like to use 1/2 inch refrigeration type L copper tubing for my anode since the size makes it easy to calculate surface area. Hammer the tubing flat for easier handling. Surface area of the cathode will only be calculated from the front.
Example: You have a square sheet of copper that measures 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch. The surface area of that sheet of copper is 1/2 inch squared. So you would need 0.05 amps and 1 square inch of cathode (which comes out to 2 inches of 1/2 inch copper tubing).
3. Set up a graph paper workstation surface to line everything up/achieve symmetry.
This tip seriously changed my workflow for the better. I have several old pieces hiding away that will probably never see the light of day because they are horribly lopsided. It can be really hard to tell sometimes! To negate this problem, I created a really simple work surface by gluing graph paper to a sheet of cardboard (or anything hard you have laying around) and taping wax paper on top. It allows you to see the graph lines, while having a surface that your pieces won’t stick to. I especially like having it on a piece of cardboard because I can prepare a bunch of pieces at my desk and then move the entire surface elsewhere to dry.
Bonus tip: Did you know there is graph paper with 8 or even 10 squares per inch? More lines=more visual cues to get that perfect symmetry!
4. Learn and use supplemental fabrication skills such as piercing, hammering, and etching.
It can be hard to stand out in the world of electroforming. Especially if you’re limited to found objects (find a good one and suddenly everyone will use it), organics (same deal), and basic sculpting. By learning more applicable skills, you will further yourself from the crowd and have more creative freedom.
The easiest to incorporate are hammer techniques. This is a really quick and easy way to add texture and exciting details to your pieces. There are hammers with interchangeable textured faces or even just a basic riveting hammer to give you a nice indented line.
Etching will take a little more knowledge and equipment, but also can give you infinitely more creative freedom. You can etch drawings, photos, etc.
Piercing will require quite a bit of practice to feel comfortable with it, but it is one of the most useful fabrication skills that I possess. You will need either a drill press or a dremel with drill bits, saw blades, and a jeweler’s saw. This will allow you to create any 2D shape that you can think of! If you’re not sure about your commitment to learning piercing, I would start with just a jeweler’s saw and some saw blades. This will allow you to practice and get a feel for using the saw, but you will not be able to make negative space within the shape without drilling holes first.