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Copper Leaf Studios

July 24th, 2009

One of the highlights of copper is the intrinsic beauty of the material itself. It comes out of the ground already pleasing to the eye. In the hands of an artist, it achieves form and expression. greatlakes.250wOver time, or with the help of modern aging methods, it can acquire a variety of patinas. Or it can be treated to remain suspended in time. No wonder artists find it such a versatile and rewarding medium.

When I saw Christen Zielski’s copper maps and copper leaf motifs, I had to know how the artist, the material, and the ideas had found each other. Apropos of the age in which we live, I discovered her not in a gallery but on Twitter. We dashed a few micro messages back and forth and then finally connected beyond the 140-character Twittersphere.

Christen talked with me from her Cleveland, Ohio, atelier, Copper Leaf Studios.

Coppertalk: Chris, why maps – and why copper?

Christen Zielski: I started working in copper after researching non-toxic printmaking techniques for a high school course I was slated to teach. Schedules shifted and I didn’t end up with the class, but I fell in love with the process and started working in metal. Prior to that I had been a textile & collage artist for about 15 years. Metal was a pretty natural transition for me, as my previous work focused on rich color, texture, and layering – this was just an extension of the same ideas.

CT: And the maps?

Copper leaves on panelsCZ: The whole map line developed after I received a commission to create a set of pieces to be given in appreciation to speakers at a symposium. The topic was issues surrounding the Great Lakes. Originally the organization wanted 20 similar items in a copper and red color scheme. But I thought it might be more effective to create a piece that represented the synergy of the diverse speakers coming together from across the nation. So I designed a map of the Great Lakes made from 20 separate pieces of artwork that were displayed together during the event, then divided into abstract artworks at the end and given to all the participants.

CT: I enjoyed looking at each of the panels separately; each one is beautiful on its own. I can see how the map idea would have a wide appeal.

CZ: I started a line of copper maps after that. My first pieces were abstracts created from the cutout pieces left over from the large map, but then I realized that there was a desire for custom artwork based on specific places. Customers choose a location that is important to them, and I design the map in Photoshop first. Once the sketch is approved, I etch the copper with a leaf pattern to give it an interesting texture, then cut the design with a thin jeweler’s saw blade. The copper is given a heat patina to bring out the color, and then layered on top of a second piece of metal. It is mounted on a block of wood with a keyhole hanger, and sealed to preserve the colors.

CT: The COSE (Council of Smaller Enterprises) installation is stunning. Tell me about it. When will it be completed?

Copper leaf w/birdCZ: I am very happy to report, the COSE installation is complete! It was installed last summer in the Terminal Tower, a landmark historic skyscraper in downtown Cleveland. I have a few photos – which are pretty lousy, I’m afraid. It really is much cooler in person. The tree trunk has a thick bark texture and a darker patina that makes it stand out from the background, and the different sections layer on top of each other for a relief effect. The photos tend to flatten and wash everything out, but you can get an idea of what it looks like from these three shots:  view 1, view 2, view 3.

CT: One of your maps features Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – often referred to as Copper Country. Its copper mining history dates back to the mid-19th century. Was that what interested you?

CZ: I have a gallery in Muskegon that sells my maps to local tourists. I’ve made pieces of quite a few areas in Michigan, including many of the lakes. I live in Ohio, so I do a lot of maps of different parts of the Midwest. And I do get a lot of my supplies from Michigan.

CT: What’s next?

CZ: I recently launched a new series called “Roots and Wings”. It consists of a lot of cut copper work, mainly images of birds and trees. You can see a bunch of them in the copper/red section of my shop. I plan to do a lot more work in this vein, with layered pieces creating the designs.


Artist’s profile: http://www.etsy.com/profile.php?user_id=5139320
Web site: http://www.CopperLeafStudios.net
Shop site: http://CopperLeafStudios.etsy.com

  1. July 28th, 2009 at 10:03 | #1

    Chris does such amazing work — even more stunning in person than in photos.

  2. July 28th, 2009 at 10:55 | #2

    Chris’ work is innovative and gorgeous. I always enjoy learning more about her inspiration and process. Great interview!

  3. July 28th, 2009 at 11:26 | #3

    Copper, AKA Chirs that is a wonderful write up and interesting history of your fabulous work! I thought the maps could not be topped but do love your new bird tree series! Copper is a wonderful material!

  4. July 28th, 2009 at 13:47 | #4

    I love Chris’ works. I love the layering and found it very interesting learning about her process.

  5. July 28th, 2009 at 15:56 | #5

    I make it no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Chris’ work. She’s incredibly talented. I love how her work while metal, still has an organic, earthy and tranquil quality to it.

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