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What type of wire and why

So today I thought it would be worth discussing the types of wire I use to make my tree sculptures and why I use what I use. Before getting into the details it is worth noting that this is how I make my trees and there are many talented artists out there who use different thicknesses, material and have their own techniques.

The main types of wire that used to make wire trees are as follows:

  • Aluminium
  • Copper
  • Steel

Aluminium

Aluminium wire is typically used in welding and is a great source of wire as it is reasonably priced; however, these spools are also quite dirty and require cleaning before use otherwise you end up with a dull looking tree which leaves residue when handled. The welding wire also can be quite brittle and after 2 or 3 bends can break, although some brands can be better than others. You can also get armature wire, for making clay sculptures, which is a softer material which does not break as easily.

 

 

Copper

Copper wire comes in 2 variants, bare and anodized. Bare copper wire is just pure copper and is subject to oxidising, this is a process where it changes from being copper orange colour to changing through to blue and green colourations. Consider this, the Statue of Liberty is made of copper but is the blue green colour we automatically think of. Bare copper wire, when used and oxidised naturally can look like the image below but can also be oxidised artificially by adding a patina using liver of sulphur. Heat can also be used to create a colourful patina on copper also.

Anodised copper coated wire is copper wire covered with a layer of aluminium which is electro-coated onto the wire, and can be coloured as well. I tend to prefer using anodised wire because the tree does not change from it’s original colour and the customer gets exactly what they pay for. With the choice of many different colours it allows for a freer artistic expression, although there is always something timeless about a aluminium tree as discussed above.

Original copper colour

 

Oxidised Copper
Oxidised copper tree after being out in my garden and weathered for a year and a half.

Steel

Galvanised steel seems to be the choice of wire for some, however I learned very early on it is a nightmare to work with and quite dangerous. A shape piece of steel will likely go though your hand before bending, unlike copper or aluminium.

 

Wire Thickness

There are a variety of gauges or wire thickness, and the size of the tree is somewhat determined by the wires thickness. A popular choice among other wire tree artists is to use 0.6mm thick and 1mm thick wire. At 1mm thick, it does not take long before you will be unable to twist the wire by hand and you would have to start using tools such as wrenches. Some artists have developed their own tools and jigs to hold the wire, with the originator (as far as I am aware) being Kevin Iris. His style allows for large trees to be made without the risk of damaging a hand in the process. I damaged my hand making a large tree and now a tendon in my left hand clicks every time I clench a fist. It wasn’t worth it!

I personally use thinner wires for my sculptures and the majority are made using less than o.5mm wide anodised copper wire. This allows me to twist the tree manually and gives me the opportunity to make nice plump clumps of foliage using my unique 3D foliage style. The typical size of my trees range from 100mm to 150mm tall and fit correctly into mame bonsai pots. Larger trees I make tend to use thicker wire, 0.6mm silver coated copper wire being my preference currently and these trees tend to be around 250mm tall.

It is also worth noting there are artists out there who make micro trees, tiny trees that sit on a finger tip, naturally these artists use exceptionally thin wire.

Weight

So with all this wire these trees must be heavy right? Well aluminium is exceptionally light, almost surprisingly light when you pick up a larger tree. Copper on the other hand is heavier and once you have a 400m of wire it can feel pretty heavy.

Strength

As mentioned above, aluminium wire can be strong but brittle however copper is relatively soft and malleable. The problem arises when you have a tree that is either so large or has crystal beads where the branches struggle to support the weight. I find with thin wire and making tree that have over 800 glass beads, they struggle to stand and when they move they sway. I have also seen other artists who create 1m tall trees in aluminium and they have noted that they are concerned about the branches sagging over time.

 

So now you know what wires I use and why, I would love to hear from other artist about their preferred wire types and how they use theirs!

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