Copper in the Arts

October 2019

Browne Designs: Forged in Flame and Copper

By Lisa Scheid

browne1.jpg
Browne Designes was a featured artist at the Pacific Artists’ Co-op in Lincoln
City, Oregon.
Photograph courtesy of Browne Designs. 

Oregon-based artists Steven and Calisse Browne have forged their creative partnership over more than two decades. They learned through home remodeling they could work in complement to finish a project despite inevitable unexpected challenges. Now they work together creating copper pieces using a technique that they liken to painting with flame.

Working closely has strengthened their relationship.

The couple met more than two decades ago at a 911 system provisioning and database management firm in Boulder, Colorado. 

“Steve was born in South Africa and I lived there for a year,  which was a great conversational icebreaker,” Calisse said. ”After dating for a while, we quickly became inseparable and married.  Over the years we’ve done multiple home remodels and fix and flips together, which showed us the strength of our marriage. After 20-plus years of marriage, we are happy to have smaller art projects to work on.”

Calisse started working with metal by taking jewelry metalsmithing classes at the Denver School of Metal Arts. She started working with silver but quickly moved into working with copper as well. Steve drove her to an enameling on copper class and she bought him a seat in the class.  He enjoyed the class and began working with enamel and copper as well. 

“About a year ago, we started experimenting with flame painted copper and took a class at the Ozark Folk Center in Arkansas from a couple that discovered flame painted copper many years ago and who primarily painted copper jewelry and smaller pieces,” Calisse recalls. “With much experimentation, practice, and testing of various torches, we transferred the learned jewelry techniques to larger wall art pieces.” 

Detail.jpg
Above, the duo behind Browne Designs grinds off color that they oxidized with
an open flame to reveal the natural bright shiny copper, adding depth and texture
to the overall design.
Photograph courtesy of Browne Designs. 

Their partnership enables them to work independently and in tandem. Communication and patience are keys to their success in art and in life.

“We are very fortunate in that we work well and complement each other’s abilities,” Calisse says.  “Every piece is touched by both of us. Yet, we both can independently perform every component of the fire painting process. We brainstorm our projects and through discussion and experimentation we continue to push our understanding of working with copper and grow our art.”

They find satisfaction in collaboration on a piece and may alternate who paints or grinds on the piece.

Working on smaller pieces, they discovered the potential of copper, which drew them to experimenting with larger pieces.

“We both loved the warmth, shimmer, and vibrant colors that can be achieved working on copper jewelry and wanted to experience this with larger pieces,” Calisse says.

Their work is inspired by the Oregon coast.

“We are fortunate to live on the Oregon coast where we are surrounded by forested hills and the rocky shoreline with its lighthouses, gulls and whales,” Calisse said. ” The shape of a mountain, the color of a flower or a hobby of a friend can all be inspirations.”

Another source of inspiration is people with whom they share their art.

Once, an owner of a lavender field asked, “Have you ever flamed painted lavenders?”  That question inspired several pieces of lavender field art. Another customer in Kansas wanted a custom piece that was formed by two 80 inch  by 12 inch matched panels for a new house they had built. 

“The inspiration came from the challenge of creating a piece that size,” Calisse says. “ Seeing it on the wall and their pleasure from the piece has inspired and encouraged us to push the bounds of our art.”

The couple use a propane torch flame to paint. That is, they coax colors from the metal.  

“As the flame from the torch heats the metal, up to 14 vibrant colors, from bright yellows and greens to bold blues, purples and browns are oxidized onto the copper,” Calisse says. “The colors are achieved from an open flame without the use of any chemicals or patinas, pulling out the natural beauty in the copper. This process requires patience and a willingness to adjust your vision for the piece as the temperature and humidity in the air affects the way copper reacts to the flame.” 

Like relationships, their art requires some flexibility.

“Flame painted copper is a negotiation between the artist and the copper,” Calisse says. “It can be challenging to adjust your vision as you work, which is why having an artist partner is invaluable. Discussion and brainstorming help us adjust to what the copper is offering and to turn the copper piece into a one-of-a-kind artwork.”

 

Resources:

Browne Designs, Gleneden Beach, OR 

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