Copper in the Arts

August 2017

Collage, Encaustics and Cold Wax: Sue Hohman’s Ways with Copper

By Jennifer Hetrick

Ever since Sue Hohman first discovered copper, she’s been finding new ways to tie it into her paper collage art.

After collaging for a decade and studying at Messiah College, Hussian College and the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, she opened Susan Hohman Fine Art. Over the years, her work evolved, and she began transforming from her own handmade and often found papers to encaustic kinds about six years ago after stumbling across videos about this type of art on YouTube. Her work was made primarily with beeswax on a surface, where she added layers after heating them up on a hot plate.

Susan Hohman mixed media collage art with copper.Susan Hohman's mixed media collage art featuring copper.

Photograph courtesy of Susan Hohman. 

Only in the last three years has Hohman began exploring with cold wax and oil pigments, using a process that involves resin and solvent. Now, instead of adding layers, she scrapes each layer away, allowing the copper to shine through.  

“The cold wax and oil gives a sort of matte finish, and the metallic copper sheen is a contrast that I like to play off of,” Hohman says.

She currently shapes copper sheeting and brass wire with paper or wax, using objects her friends and family hunt down for her—old keys, washers, springs, gears and foreign coins, but also watch, telephone, alarm clock and computer parts. Her teenaged boys also help disassemble computers for her so she can use the parts for her work.

“I don’t know if my version of steampunk is the definition of steampunk,” Hohman says. “I like to combine vintage and historical things with contemporary or sort of spacey sort of things—say, an antique clock face with Roman numerals might be on a painting of a galaxy.”

Mixing historical with contemporary is what matters to Hohman. She often pairs the natural world of trees and leaves with the industrial and mechanical to create her art.

And while she has her social circle trained to know what she’ll want to add into her collages, she also scours for copper finds.

“The art gallery I work at also houses the office of a heating and air conditioning business,” she says. “I love scavenging for the pieces of copper pipe that get left behind. I have always adored copper. Once I discovered that the suppleness of the thin sheets allow you to create a rainbow of hot flame colors with a torch, I was hooked.”

One of Hohman’s most recent pieces is titled Organic. It incorporates cradled hardboard painted with cold wax and oil.

“Copper wire is wrapped around the right side,” Hohman says.

A torched copper square, mimicking the sun and fire at once, sits close to that edge, with a copper, embossed leaf reaching across it. And the thin branch of the leaf is from a willow tree—the two are wrapped together with thin copper wire.

The piece also joins a few other patinaed copper elements, varying selections of rice paper and a small chunk of agate stone.

Hohman teaches paper-based collaging workshops and sometimes includes a demonstration of how to patina copper with simply a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, making sure to shake the metal in the bag a day ahead of time so the colored effects are resiliently visible once her students see the final results.

This potato chip bag trick always leads to plenty of oohs and ahhs, as a highlight of her teaching.

She gets her copper sheets at Dick Blick Art Materials in Allentown, PA, and prefers to use heavy duty scissors,and embossing tools across the thin sections of metal.

“I’m obsessed with copper,” Hohman reflects “With patinas, you can change it dramatically.”

Resources:

Susan Hohman Fine Art, Quakertown, PA

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