Flame painting is a type of copper craftsmanship that radiates with vivid colors made from flame. At the Springfield Missouri Mini Maker Faire, metal artist Philip Cook demonstrated his skills painting brilliant colors with a torch onto a canvas of copper.  

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Cook showed how flame painting works. The copper is cut into a shape or object, then it’s heated in a progressive, layered manner. Cook colors the metal using an adjustable flame torch. He fine tunes the flame like a painter chooses a different width brush, allowing him to choose the level of detail.

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The duration of time under flame determines the color as the copper shifts through several predictable stages of color transformation. The colors are further altered by using the flame to consume oxygen near the surface of the metal. This gives the artists more control over the color transformation process by preventing the oxygen from further changing the color dynamics.

Colors and patterns are made, then the metal is cooled with a fan. After cooling the artist begins again with a new layer of flame painting. The varying levels of heating and cooling yield a variety of colors in the design. Once the background colors, shapes, and details are made to the artist satisfaction, the final piece is dipped into a lacquer bath of acrylic urethane that preserves the one of a kind colorful design.

Flame painting is a craft that’s been passed down for generations in Cook’s family, from the Arkansas mountains to the Ozark hills. Cook uses the techniques he learned from Skip Matthews, his father-in-law. Matthews’ wife Rachel is also a big part of this generational craft form, collaborating and sharing her skills with the flame.

Matthews discovered how to make unique expressions of color on copper without chemicals or paints just by using heat and flame. He observed copper candle holders changing colors. Next he began experimenting. Then he started making hundreds of copper butterflies, all in an effort to master the technique of painting with flame. These experiments led to an understanding of how heat changes the color of the metal.

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This family of copper colorists are working together to pass down a way of making through the generations. Cook, once the student, now helps teach with his in-laws Skip and Rachel Matthews. Cook said they share the craft with other aspiring artists by teaching the flame painting technique in a 40-hour college accredited workshop at the Arkansas Craft School in Mountain View, Arkansas.

You can find Cook’s work on his website.


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This beautiful art work was on display at the Ozarks Mini Maker Faire, be sure to save the date for next year!