Copper in the Arts

April 2017

Koja Designs: Using Copper as a Canvas

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

Flame painted and inked copper topped coffee table by Koja Designs.Flame painted and inked copper topped coffee table by Koja Designs.

Photograph courtesy of Koja Designs.

Daniel Koja’s journey to copper officially began with a different medium in an 18th century furniture making course at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio. Initially, in high school, an interest in computer animation changed course one fateful day when the school’s shop teacher enticed him to think otherwise and take his class instead. In retrospect, the influences of Koja’s youth were telling as to what might eventually lie ahead for him professionally.

“I have always had an interest and appreciation of art,” he says. “My grandma would paint and draw and I grew up drawing and experimenting with different things.”

Today, the 18th century furniture making class still proves valuable when it comes to Koja and the business he established in 2000 called Koja Designs. Whether making anything from cabinetry to coffee tables to wall art, the traditional joinery methods he studied comes into play with most of his work

“It was all aspects from sawing lumber to how wood reacts with swift changes in humidity,” Koja says. “They really put a whole lot of thought into how everything worked together, which was contingent on the joinery.”

An interior designer brought Koja a request that would mark his official introduction to working with copper.

“They wanted a copper hood made to go behind a bar,” he says. He used a hand-hammering technique to create the desired texture.

Another client request down the road involved greater freedom with creativity, which inspired Koja to begin experimenting with copper’s various capabilities that sets it apart from other metals.

Flame painted and inked copper wall art by Koja Designs.Flame painted and inked copper wall art by Koja Designs.

Photograph courtesy of Koja Designs. 

“She was redoing this room in their house and wanted something on her wall made of copper,” he says. “I started by soldering different copper pieces together. Soon, I noticed a coloring appear from the torch from the process of soldering and I ended up doing an abstract, patterned triptych.”

This piece led Koja to experiment further with different sized torches.

“I did more figurative pieces in the beginning, like fish scenes, and I made a dragon piece,” he says. “Then I got into abstract designs and from there I started incorporating ink on top of the flame painting.”

The process of inking involves Koja adding India ink to the copper with pen and then adding a clear coat to seal it.

“I will draw over the flame painting to highlight areas and add designs and contrasts,” he says.  

Eventually, Koja began to fuse his background in furniture making with the medium.

“I have done some furniture pieces with a flame painted and ink copper top with a wooden base,” he says.

Copper served as his canvas and satisfied a deep desire.

“I always kind of craved having some kind of medium that wasn’t so precise like the wooden furniture,” he says. “The copper gives me a freedom to build on it and explore with it. I love the colors the torch makes on the copper.”

While a particular idea in one case might guide his design direction, in most cases he approaches his copper pieces with an openness to the organic nature of how the flame hits the copper and colors it.

“I have learned how to control the color and sometimes I’ll go back in to try to pull the colors out,” Koja says.

Koja’s workshop in Lakewood, Ohio is equipped with four different-sized torches.

“One is standard propane, one is MAPP and two are micro butane torches,” he says. “I have experimented with polishing them and then flame painting them. And also with flame painting them and then polishing them. I have also experimented with sanding the copper before torching it.”

Some of Koja’s wall pieces involve punching through the back of the copper to add texture.

“Then I flame painted and inked behind the opening with another sheet of copper and lay the other piece on top of it,” he says.

Koja, who sources his copper locally from Vortex Metals in Cleveland, has his sights set on going larger scale with his work by using giant sheets of copper.

“I’m always looking for ways to incorporate copper into my pieces,” he says.


Koja Designs, Cleveland, OH, (216) 326-3252
Vortex MetalsCleveland, OH, (800) 500-7508

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