Copper in the Arts

April 2016

David Rush: Painting Copper with Fire

By Jennifer Hetrick

Starburst patternsStarburst patterns in his art remind David Rush of how stunning colors can be on a surface.
Photograph courtesy of David Rush.

Armed with only a blowtorch, David Rush uses copper as a canvas, relying on the elements to create mesmerizing colors for his colorful line of wall art, copper kitchen backsplashes and bar tops. He operates Firebrush Studios in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where the weather coaxes his blowtorch’s heat to bring out specific colors he knows are dictated by what’s going on in the air at a given time.

Over the years, he’s learned that the Arkansas weather gives a mesmerizingly vibrant feel to his final pieces.

While Rush has focused on different ways to use copper in recent years, like small wall hangings and beaded trees, his framed copper often done in 11-inch-by-14-inch and 16-inch-by-20-inch sizes, or even larger, is often what gets people’s attention easily because of the brilliance in his tones. He also fabricates copper kitchen backsplashes and bar tops.

He first learned about painting copper with fire in a smaller format from a copper colorist at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, and took brief lessons there so he could understand how to expand into larger pieces.

With his torch heads, he incorporates organic patterns, cabbages, flowers, starbursts, dragonflies and images of people dancing into his work.

“I take raw 21-gauge sheet copper and use probably 10 to 15 different torch heads—I literally use them like a paint brush,” Rush explains. “The colors I get have a lot to do with air temperature, barometric pressure, the time of the year, the type of heat I use and how much heat I use.”

The 'Celebrate Life' paintingThe 'Celebrate Life' series came after healing from a personal health scare. David Rush was reminded just how precious and fleeting life can be and wanted to create images that reflected the idea of dancing like no one was watching.
Photograph courtesy of David Rush. 

He focuses on approximately 8 to 10 inches of diameter across a sheet of copper at once because of how quickly heat dissipates.

“Colors change when heat dissipates,” Rush notes.

Being surrounded by mountains lends to less than usual weather patterns in the part of Arkansas where Rush does his work.

“If I was flame-painting two to three hours before a storm came in, the barometric pressure changes would give me pastels, and pastels are sought after,” he says. “People love the pastels, but I have to catch them just right, and I have about a two-hour window to shoot those pastels.”

Hues can quickly take on a different saturation.

“Once that storm is here, and it starts raining [while it’s about 75 degrees Fahrenheit], it goes into hard colors like cobalt blues, blood reds and yellows this time of year,” he adds.

Flame-painting at zero degrees doesn’t work because no torch will stay lit.

“But say it’s 25 to 30 degrees—I will get the most vibrant golds and greens because the copper doesn’t heat and stay hot,” Rush says. “It continuously cools because it’s so cold outside, and I have an outdoor studio, so I’m in the elements.”

And the elements are integral to his art.

“We have really high humidity in the summertime, so if my humidity is at 90 percent, and I go to flame-paint, the copper will pepper,” he says. “It will look like little specks of pepper all over the copper. That’s literally moisture coming through the torch and going onto the metal. Water of any kind etches copper instantly, and it doesn’t come out. It’s permanent. So you get these designs that look like they’re peppered or stippled.”

Rush sources his copper sheets from C. Mayo Inc. based in Springdale, Arkansas.

Some of Rush’s larger art as well as copper jewelry he crafts is on display at The Jewel Box, a gallery in his town.

“We live in a very stressful world,” Rush says about the importance of art today and how his pieces are tied into a release away from that. “These colors are very calming to people.”


Firebrush Studios, Eureka Springs, AR 72632, (479) 981-6134

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