Exotic Animals


Copper Tooling has become a favorite medium that I bring back every year due to popular demand. Although the same techniques are employed, I always change the project theme to keep things interesting. In past years we explored abstract designs with colorful borders, and Hawaii’s endangered species. This year’s theme involved exotic animals from lands far away.


This art teacher believes in research and planning before launching in to any major project, and copper repousse is no different. We spent two full lab days exploring various animals, sketching ideas, and taking notes on common names, species, habitat, and interesting facts.


Once a basic contour of the exotic animal face was established, students filled it in with designs and textures. For ideas I had them enter “zentangle animals” into their search browser. Stylizing the frontal image and adding additional texture to the face resulted in a much more complex and interesting design.


A final drawing on paper followed the sketchbook planning activities. This drawing was transferred directly onto the copper foil, leaving a slightly indented image. The longest and most labor-intensive part of this project involved tooling and chasing techniques to create a 3-dimensional relief using wooden tools to rub and stretch the copper.


Final steps included antiquing the copper with liver of sulfur, polishing with steel wool, and protecting with a high gloss acrylic varnish. For display, students used colored pencils on black railroad board to finish the composition with a creative border.

Copper Tooling with Colorful Borders

This 3-dimensional relief project involved creating an abstract design using expressive lines to divide the composition, and a variety of textures to fill the spaces. Students created the center of their formal design with Copper Repousse, and continued the lines and patterns on a wide border using vibrant chalk-pastels and colored pencils.

copper details

The details above show an angled view that reveals the 3-dimensional relief pattern at the center of each design. Below you can see the finished projects, which are fairly large at 25″x25″.

Lilli Kessell & Halle Lazo
Lilli Kessell-Fay & Halle Lazo

Emily Johnson & Mia WamsleyIsaiah Sacramed & Jazmine Kaleohi
Isaiah Sacramed & Jazmine Kaleiohi

Alyssa Pinoliar & Maeghan Fostanes
Alyssa Pinoliar & Maeghan Fostanes

Hawaiian Themed Copper Relief

Copper Details

Copper Repousse or “tooling” is the technique of creating a decorative low-relief by pressing and stretching the metal from the reverse side to make the design raised on the front. “Chasing” is the opposite technique of refining details on the front by sinking the metal in. Students used popsicle sticks, barbecue skewers, and a variety of wooden clay tools to smooth, stretch, and define the copper foil on both sides.

Imani Belt & Triston Mahuiki

These repousse designs represent symbols of Hawaii that students first drew with pencil on paper and then transferred to the copper. Above, Cambria Miles created the native and endangered Monk Seal and Tristen Mahuiki chose a Taro plant. Below, 8th grader Heather Faretta fashioned a red-tailed tropic bird (Phaethon Rubricauda) that can be seen on the North Shore of Kauai.

Heather Faretta

7th grader Isabella Kotsol designed a humpback whale, pictured below on display at Kapa’a Middle School’s Elective Night Art exhibit. You can also see how the projects were embellished and hung with colorful beads made from strips of rolled magazine pages.

Isabella Kotsol

Copper Repousse

The theme for this low-relief sculptural project was to render one of Hawaii’s threatened or endangered species in 3-D. Students spent time on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website researching a plant, animal, or sea creature, and learning about the habitat, current population, potential threats, and conservation efforts. After a full investigation of their topic, students worked on preliminary sketches that included elements of the species’ habitat. Final drawings were transferred onto a copper sheet, and then the meticulous process of forming the convexities and concavities followed. The 3-Dimensional quality was created in the soft metal by rubbing both sides with simple tools such as tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, wooden skewers, and the backs of spoons to stretch and bend the surface. The last step was antiquing the final composition with liver of sulphur and polishing with steel wool. Students’ final projects along with typed artist statements were displayed in the main office to inform and educate our school community and spread awareness of the threats Hawaii’s plants and animals face today.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” John Muir