Copper in the Arts

May 2007

Choosing The Best Copper Materials For Your Art

By Michael Cervin

copper products Photo courtesy of Flandrau Science Center©2007 Arizona Board of Regents

It's ironic that U.S. coins were predominately from copper, because when purchasing copper for art projects, the old adage rings true: you get what you pay for. It's widely known that U.S. copper is more expensive than foreign copper, yet demand is on the rise.

"The quality of U.S. copper is better because it's more free of stains," says Art Kunz who, along with his wife Catherine, owns Basic Copper, a copper supply house based in Illinois dealing exclusively in U.S. copper. "There are many reasons to seek out American copper. For one thing, it's easier to visit a U.S. supplier," Art says, "That proximity is important when building a relationship. There tends to be lower minimums when you order, and you can get your supplies faster." Basic Copper doesn't supply just to the U.S. market, they have customers in Australia, the UK and other countries. While U.S. exports of copper have nearly doubled from 2001 to 2005, purchasing copper from offshore sources, while less expensive, can result in longer lead times and steep tariffs, driving lower prices back up.

The top three non-U.S. copper suppliers are Chile, Germany and Russia, where copper quality is at times, intermittent. In speaking with many artists, they defined the four most important things they look for in a copper supplier: quality, delivery, service and price.

So what recommendations does Art have for those seeking a quality copper supplier in the states? "Good communication. Always ask questions." He says he's seen too many artists who purchase supplies only to find out that a particular mil thickness isn't right for a project. "Always request samples," he adds, to alleviate any concerns you might have with quality or the proper thickness for your specific project. This can be an issue in dealing with language differences in foreign suppliers.

Artist Andrew Goss of Andrew Goss Design in Toronto, Canada works in a variety of metals, including copper, which allows him to produce a variety of color.

"Copper is an essential part of my material vocabulary," says Goss. "It's a predictable, malleable element. I use a copper nitrate patina heated on to the surface and I can produce a range of colors including turquoise, tan and deep black."

He doesn't look for the "least expensive" copper he can find. With Goss, as with many artists, the overriding issue is finding a supplier who will ship small quantities.

"We accept orders of any size," says Catherine Kunz of Basic Copper. "That was our goal in starting the business. We wanted to provide great service to the artists, craftsperson and do-it-yourselfers who don't need large volumes of copper."

In the end, all successful relationships, business or otherwise, require a high level of communication. Finding the best supplier for your needs must include this necessity. Otherwise, you'll pay more in the long run for something you don't need, and those copper coins you spend for your art projects won't be worth it.

Resources:

For more information, visit www.basiccopper.com.

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