Hunched over a small piece of copper, Verrel Martin adjusts the flame of his oxyacetylene torch to the perfect level. With a steady hand, he moves the small flame across the copper, which has been cut into the shape of a duck.
"The hot colors go on first," Martin says, "then the cool colors."
Seconds later, reds, blues and greens explode on the copper's surface, leaving the duck with an almost painted look.
"Oops, it was too hot," he says. "I went past the good blue."
Martin and his mother, Sue Batton, are flame-colored copper artists who work out of the unfinished basement of Martin's home in Fulton. Instead of pencils and paints, they use the piercing blue flame of an oxyacetylene torch to unleash a range of colors on copper pins, earrings, wall hangings and knicknacks.
Batton has been practicing this rare, self-taught art form since 1990. She has taught her son the process, and together they are the proprietors of Dove Creations.
"I was married to a mechanical chemical engineer," she says."He just got the idea to try it."
Batton says she knows of a few other people who color copper, although "no one else gets the colors we do."
The mother-son team create their pieces from the hundreds of patterns kept in three thick binders, labeled land, air and water. The patterns represent shapes, ranging from owls to dinosaurs to angels to guitar picks to huge leaf swags.
"We get inspiration for pieces from our customers," Batton says. "People ask for strange things. Rhinos were always a good seller. I never understood it."
Culture and world affairs also dictate what Batton and her son create from copper.
"During the first Gulf War, we began doing camels and they sold like crazy," she says. "They are still popular today."
Martin prefers creating small pieces, such as pins and figurines. However, a few years ago, he began making donkeys and elephants. To be fair, he says, for every elephant he makes, he also makes a donkey.
Although Batton and Martin are regulars at fine art shows around Missouri, most of what they make is sold in a shop at Valle Airport in Grand Canyon, Ariz., near where they used to live.
"A lot of international visitors would buy pieces because they had never seen anything like it," Batton said.
The smaller pieces cost $7.50. More complex and larger creations can cost $1,200 or more.
Dixie Green, owner of Dixie Green Promotions in Phoenix, has exhibited Batton and Martin's work at shows for many years. Green says she admires the quality and beauty of Martin and Batton's flame-colored copper.
"The pieces all look real, not abstract," she said. "They might use patterns, but all are original, hand-colored and unique."
Batton and Martin have exhibited their works in other states, but they have scaled back their travel in recent years. This year, they are scheduled to display their wares at fine art shows in Jamesport, Columbia and Fulton. Batton and Martin also spent four years demonstrating their art at Silver Dollar City and were members of the Silver Dollar City Craft Guild Road Show.
Batton and Martin says their work would amaze Silver Dollar City visitors, most of whom thought that the colors were achieved randomly. Actually, the colors are achieved by controlling the temperature of the flame
"But we would tell them to pick a color and then we would make it for them," Batton said.
Their time at Silver Dollar City helped make a name for Batton and Martin. They said they were approached by Walt Disney World to hold demonstrations of their craft, but they declined because they feared they would be overwhelmed with orders.
"It would have been crazy," Martin said.
Batton and Martin put so much effort into their pieces that they find some hard to part with.
"Sometimes you just get cruising and come up with an awesome color," Martin said. "So I just give it to someone in the family, so I can still see it."
Batton said their work has different shades of color depending on where it was created. Experience has taught them a lot about how copper reacts to the flame, especially when it is influenced by environmental factors.
"Weather does affect the colors you get," said Batton. "The humidity level in particular."
Nowadays, neither Batton nor Martin spends as much time making colored copper. Batton teaches art, and her son works in construction. However, they are exploring the possibility of selling their work on the Internet. In the meantime, they spend as much time as they can working in the basement studio, which is cluttered with animal-shaped copper piece, patterns, pliers and other tools.
"It is kind of relaxing and gives me something to do," Martin said. "I could spend hours down here."