Artist Interview: JoAnn Nelson

This week’s Artist Interview features JoAnn Nelson, a 62-year-old resident of Yankton, Oregon who bends copper into works of art. Editor Joe spoke with Ms. Nelson about her past, how to use copper and her plans for the future. Read the full interview below!

Q: When did you start using copper? What drew you to copper?

A: I only started a few years ago.

I blew my hand out, had three surgeries, experienced a debilitating pain syndrome called CRPs (Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome) from which most people never heal and in a state of desperation I picked up an old piece of copper and some odd tools and created a medallion with my non-dominant hand. I then added patina (Editor’s note: patina is a chemical compound used to protect metal) and when I first saw something pleasing in my piece The Eye Of A Stranger, I was hooked.

I make art as a form of therapy and to distract myself from the pain.

Q: How do you make something? Walk me through the steps starting with just supplies and ending with finished product?

A: I draw a drawing and transfer it to a pure sheet of copper. With specialized tools, I etch, hammer, repousse, chase and carve my original drawing into a 3-dimensional image. Once I’m satisfied, I then use surfactants, custom patinas and water to evoke a sense of age and the weathering of time.

(A copper feline stands out against an orange and brown background)
(A copper feline stands out against an orange and brown background)

Q: What special skills and tools do you need to make a piece?

A: Childlike wonder. Appreciation of nature, ability to make mistakes. You also need to be able to draw, hold tools, hammer and paint.

Q: What’s your favorite part about working with copper? Least favorite?

A: My favorite part about working with copper is it’s color and the way an image suddenly appears that wasn’t always intended.

My least favorite is that it has limits for movement and will distort easily.

Q:  How long does the average piece take?

A: That depends. Copper is not always amenable to every image and it isn’t until I have spent hours working that this made evident. Sometimes I need to let it sit for a while until I understand how to move forward. Some of the individual patinas require drying time before I apply the next color.

I also find that there are some pieces that require multiple coats of patina which can take days.

(A copper angel looks to the left against a blue-green background.)
(A copper angel looks to the left against a blue-green background.)

Q: Where do you find inspiration?

A: The unmistakable connection between humans and the animals that share their lives. My muse is my black gelding who has taught me the importance of being present and the exquisite beauty of life.

Q: Do you know any advice for young artists?

A: Do what you love. Experiment. Remain childlike. Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously. Be willing to face your fears head-on and always, always play.

Q: Anything you want to add?

A: Try. Be willing to experiment. Make mistakes and keep your mind open to possibilities.

My passion is working with copper and horses, but both take time and the willingness to see the world like a child. Try many mediums for your art because we each have one that is truly our own. I started working in copper when I stopped working in the world. I have created my own techniques and ultimately my repousse images are my own creations.

I love this quote by Linda Kohanov, which truly says it all for me. “The mysteries of life, the most potent gifts of existence, quite often arrive on the backs of black horses.”

We each have our black horses in life. Find yours and listen.

(A dark copper raven sits with a blue-green background.)
(A dark copper raven sits with a blue-green background.)

Q: Do you have a website or online shop readers can go to see more of your work?

A: I have an Etsy shop.


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