Colored pencil or paint on sterling or base metals

I’m rather new to making jewelry and trying out many techniques trying to find my niche. I love color and would like to experiment with colored pencils or paint. Has anyone had feedback from customers regarding how well pencil and paint stand up over time? I’d hate to spend time on learning the technique just to find out it doesn’t wear well.

A second question: Does anyone have an in-depth reference for either the pencil or paint technique? (other than Ganoksin of course!)

Many thanks


@REDesigns, Tim McCreight and Nicole Bsullak wrote a book on this, “Color On Metal”, ISBN 1-893164-06-3. The copyright is 2001 so you may need to look for used copies. Hits do turn up on a web search of the ISBN.

Neil A

Deb Karash does beautiful work through a process of applying color using colored pencils on metal. Check out her work here She also gives classes in the technique she uses and may possibly be a good resource for you to consider.


Watch dials are pretty ordinary white (or other colors) lacquer on which numbers have been printed. They stand up well for many years. There are also now literally dozens of ways to put paint on metal so it is relatively permanent, not least of epoxy based paints and enamels. This might be something to explore.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Any surface coloring will wear off. It’ll hold up on earrings and pendants better than on rings. Also if you color recessed areas they should hold up longer than exposed surfaces.
Even vitreous enamel will suffer with heavy wear.
So color away and have fun with it, but be sure to inform your customers about the wearability issues.
Jo Haemer

1 Like

your suggestion of epoxy based paints and enamels is a good one to try. Vitreous enameling is certainly on my “try it” list too. jhaemer52 mentions some practical points and I’ve owned my own enamel pieces and am familiar with some wear issues. Thanks!

There’s a whole category of what are called “sort enamels” which are epoxy based enamels. While not comparable to vitreous enamels, its a comparison of apples an oranges and I have seen many beautiful pieces of jewelry on the Internet made with them.

Best Regards,


The operative phrase here is “seen many beautiful pieces on the internet made with them”. Where I was teaching once we had an end of the term student show of work. I commented on a beautiful piece one student made in another teacher’s class. It was a peach colored pearl set n freshly scrubbed copper. the color match was gorgeous. I mentioned to the teacher…“That’s lovely. But does your student know that in the next day or so the copper will be a totally different color?” His reply was …“Look Jo there is something you need to know about Art Jewelry. It only has to look good long enough to get a good photograph.”
I have worked with both vitreous and epoxy style enamels. Both are fragile in their own ways. Vitreous enamels done well are stunning in ways that the two part enamels cannot even begin to compete with. Look up enamel work by Debbie Sheezel, Marianne Hunter and Mary-Lee Ray. Just stunning work. The epoxy enamels have a mohs hardness of a chunk of bees wax. If you love color take the time to learn from a master who uses a kiln instead of a torch. Oh yeah and check out James Miller’s work too
Jo Haemer



You might also want to check out the Penland Book of Jewelry: Master Classes in Jewelry Techniques. There’s a chapter about Marilyn Da Silva’s work in it. They mostly show her larger works, but I think you’d find a lot of interest to you.

I was lucky enough to take a short workshop with her last year.


I’m a watchmaker and not a jeweler. So my viewpoint is different than yours.Your characterization on soft enamels is incorrect. Soft enamels can not match the luster, reflectiveness or the depth of vitreous enamels. But they are rugged and very durable. This difference shouldn’t come as any surprise. They are entirely different materials with quite different properties.

Soft enamels are used on some of the most exposed exterior parts of watch cases that take the most knocks, particularly bezels. They are strong, long lasting and can take a real beating. Look at a diver’s watch and you will see how they are used. Vitreous enamels are too fragile to stand up to treatment like this. There are many types of soft enamels; the harder types are often thermo-catalytic, that is they are a two or three part system that requires baking at a low temperature (around 300 degree Fahrenheit) in an oven or lehr for between 10 to 14 hours to set and reach full hardness.

As a synthetic material, there are are literally hundreds of varieties on the market, for many different uses, and with many varying degrees of hardness.But they are also flexible and wear well. Artists’ and commercial grade soft enamels are tough and long lasting, even if they lack all the qualities that make vitreous enamels so special and beautiful.

1 Like

I’ve done a bit of pencil on copper and I was able to learn enough to do it
to my satisfaction by using Google to bring up tutorials and articles on
the technique.

Off the top, other than to suggest you make Google your best friend, too,
get Prismacolor pencils. They have a high wax content which you will need
to “melt” the colors onto the metal

Before coloring on the metal clean it well and then rough it up on the side
you are coloring with coarse sandpaper.

After roughening, use a patina to further pit the surface (on copper I use
Jax) - both sanding and adding patina make the surface more porous and
receptive to the pencil

Layer your pencil until the surface won’t accept more pencil – it becomes

Then bake in low oven – I can’t recall the exact temp now – perhaps 225o
for ten minutes. This melts the pencil wax on

After the metal cool, give it a spray with fixative or matte sealant. This
not only helps the layer to adhere but also helps make a roughish surface
for your next layer to adhere to.

Repeat until you finish. Seal again

That’s the bare bones.

Oh and be prepared for it to take a lot longer than you might think it
would. I was.

I am certainly not an expert but I was happy with the results - very
different than enamels. The pencil looks “drawn” and more primitive.

I sold my copper pieces as components for other designers to use. Although
the colored surface is quite stable, I still suggested that they use care
in assembling to not scratch with tools and to suggest that their customers
use care in storing to avoid scratching the surface with other pieces of
their jewelry.

Deb Karash inspired me. Her work is superb

Have fun


Deb is great, and her work speaks for itself. But you also might enjoy the work of Marilyn daSilva and Helen Shirk. Early adopters of the technique.

Oh my, Andy. I’m in awe of both of them. How did I ever miss their work
before? Seeing it, I now have an itch to pull out the pencils again. Thank
you for sharing

Have you looked at “Colored Pencil on Copper Jewelry” by Roxan O’Brien, published by Stackpole Books, ISBN 978 - 0 - 8117 - 1711 - 3. It is very comprehensive.


Hilary Minor

Deb regularly has workshops. She lives in North Carolina and sometimes has the workshops at her house, I think.

Rita, I have a number of references to this process.

  1. Try the Orchid Archives. I have a note about a 2/22/08 post by Debby Hofmeister on Prismacolors on copper, and I’m sure there are more.
  2. Try on the topic “How to Use Prismacolor on Copper”
  3. If you have access to jewelry-making magazines, try Art Jewelry, Nov. 2008, p. 30ff.

Rita, to continue my references,
Art Jewelry, July 2010, pp. 42-48.
Simply Google the topic and see what you get.
As to protecting the pencil art, resin is a possibility, or see the articles mentioned, or go to either The Blue Bottle Tree or The Glass Attic and look up the topic.
Coloring on a base of gesso (white or black) is often recommended (takes 24 hours to dry)

Thanks for this reply. This is just the sort of information I was looking for! Being a consumer as well as a budding jeweler I want my customers to be pleased with their purchases and don’t want my hard work to become landfill or sit in the jewelry box unworn. Many thanks. I did look for work by the artists you mentioned. Wow! and thanks–they are an inspiration.

Just a thought but it should be possible to bezel set a clear glass or quartz over the design in coloured pencil, it could perhaps be sealed with resin to avoid moisture ingress.


1 Like