After you learn to apply enamels by sifting, wet packing, brushing on crackle and firing the base coats, you are ready for some of the simple techniques that require only a feel for color. You can design a piece by repeating one technique or learning to combine techniques. If you are enameling samples of the technique on 3″ round or square 18 ga copper, one coat of crackle on the back is adequate.
My beginners’ course ended with Doris Hall’s paisley design, which combined many techniques, and a simple cloisonné piece on a 1″ disc of fine silver.
You need to plan the sequence in order to combine techniques. Have a design and color combination in your mind or on paper, at least the beginning of it. Either start with the design and decide which technique should be used for it or decide which technique you want to use and select the metal and the base coat of enamel for that technique. You need to select either a particular mesh enamel or a liquid form enamel, a transparent or opaque and a light or dark color. All these decisions are for the base coat of enamel on the front of the metal. As you develop the piece, you need to continue to make these same decisions.
For an abstract design with areas of color, using dry or wet stencils and maybe some sgraffito areas, your choice of the base coat influences the selection of the enamel layer or layers over it in subsequent firings, e.g., a transparent blue over an opaque yellow will give you a green. With enamel, as with oil painting, you usually can cover up an unwanted fired color with an opaque enamel in the following firing, especially if you have not fired a heavy coat. If you are planning on six or more layers of enamel, then each coat, except for the base coat, should be a thin application of enamel. To add other techniques to this piece designed with stencils, transparent and opaque sifted enamels and sgraffito, a fine line black drawing could delineate all or some of the shapes you have created. There are an infinite number of choices you could make. When I first learned to enamel, I would daydream about combining an assortment of the enameling techniques.
Bare copper, when fired, develops a layer of firescale. The longer and higher the firing, the thicker the firescale becomes on the bare metal. Sometimes, especially with a thick coat, it will flake off when the piece cools after the firing. The firescale layer expands and contracts with the firing as do metals and enamels. Most enamelists remove the firescale from the edge of a copper piece after each firing. When the piece has cooled, the firescale will usually chip off and could contaminate the enamel you are working with if you are sifting on another layer. With the firing, the color of the firescale changes after the second or third firing, from a rust tone to almost a black when a coat of flux is fired over it. (I still use this firescale line for my signature on the back of my pieces. Judy Stone describes this line in her design technique of Layering.) In addition to drawing into the base coat to expose the copper, you can cover the line with sifted flux before firing. This will produce a flux line instead of a black oxidized line. You can also combine both the flux line and the oxidized line in a design by sifting the flux over some of the sgraffito and leaving some of it bare copper.
You can also create a design with firescale. Dilute enameling gum with water 1:1. Brush the diluted gum in any shape or area on bare copper. Sift enamel over the entire piece, stand the piece on edge and tap it to remove the enamel from the ungummed areas. You then have the enamel in the design you have brushed on the piece with the diluted gum. If the enamel did not adhere everywhere you wanted it to be, you may use a small sifter to sift that same enamel over those areas. Fire at 1500°F, only to maturity. If you overfire, the firescale will be thick and could flake off if you enamel over it. The enamel areas will be edged with firescale. This technique is most effective with a pale opaque or a light color transparent for the first firing. When the piece cools, file off the firescale from the edge of the piece and brush the face of the piece to remove any loose firescale. The second layer of enamel can be flux or any light transparent enamel that is sifted over the entire piece and fired. This firing seals the firescale and your piece is ready to be developed further with additional layers of enamel.
Fire a base coat of liquid form enamel on the back and soft 80 mesh opaque enamel on the front. Fire two siftings of counter on the back. Fire high a coat of medium fusing 80 mesh transparent enamel over all or part of the piece. The soft opaque enamel will bubble up through the transparent enamel.
Instead of covering the whole piece with the transparent enamel over the opaque base coat, sift transparent enamel over the edge of a plastic shield held close to the piece. The closer to the piece you hold the shield, the straighter the edge of the sifted enamel. You can also use this technique to sift one enamel color over part of another in a plaid or stripe design.
Fire the base coats of any enamel you like. Use a small sifter to apply areas of three or four contrasting colors, opaque and/or transparent, close to each other. Some can overlap. Spray the piece with water until a little wetter than damp and tilt the piece in various directions to guide the flow of the enamels. If the enamels do not move, you can use water in an eyedropper to make the enamel flow as you tilt the piece. When the enamel design is to your liking, hold a piece of paper towel at the edge to draw off the excess water. Sift a light coat of soft flux over the piece to absorb the remaining excess water before you fire the piece to maturity.
Fire the base coats. Cut pieces of paper towel, wet them thoroughly and place them over a fired base coat. If the paper hangs over the edge of the piece, you can remove it easily after you sift on the enamel. If there is no overhang, use a pin and tweezers to lift off the wet stencil. If the copper piece has sloping sides, you might want to spray 1:3 diluted gum over the paper after it is positioned on the piece, then sift an enamel and spray the gum again. The sifted enamel should cover only the edge of the paper stencils. The piece is dry when the gummed enamel surface feels like sandpaper. Before you fire the piece, you can sgraffito with any sharp tool into the dried enamel. If you are using only water under the sifted enamel, you can fire the piece when the enamel is just damp. The same washed stencils or new ones can be used for overlays in subsequent firings. The number of layers and firings depends on the design you envision. This is a good technique for learning how one transparent looks over a number of transparent enamels.
First fire the base coats in an enamel of your choice. Using the Indian sand painting method, apply about four 80 mesh enamel colors in bands of color close to each other. First try enamel colors that are in sharp contrast to your base coat. Black and white are strong colors to combine. Put the point of a sharpened chopstick just beyond an outside band and drag the point through the other colors. If you raise the chopstick a little as you get through the last color, that color will end in a point. Pull through as many times as you like.
Fire a base coat of flux on the front of a shallow plate and counter enamel the back. Spray the piece with diluted 1:3 gum and sift a light coat of white or a light color opaque 80 mesh over the whole piece. Place different sizes of soft fusing lumps over the whole piece and press each lump in place, which will move aside the sifted opaque enamel under the lump. Tiny lumps can be close together because they will not spread as much. The larger lumps will expand to cover more area. When the gum is dry, the piece is fired to maturity. If you place enough lumps on the piece they will almost touch each other when they expand and spread in the firing. The opaque enamel will frame each lump. After the lumps are fired, the piece should not be fired again upside down because the lumps might droop down to the floor of the kiln.
If your lumps are too large, put a few of them in a brown paper bag that is inside a plastic bag and put the bag on a scrap of wood. Bang on the lumps with a hammer. The lumps will scatter unless they are in a bag.
Doris Hall Kubinyi (1907-2001) was an artist and an innovator in the field of enameling. She and her late husband, Kalman Kubinyi, graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1929. In the 1940s they concentrated on enameling. They had a gallery and studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts, then downtown Boston, and a final studio move to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. They received many awards and commissions, the largest being the enamel globe at the Babson Institute. Doris and Kalman are remembered as warm and gracious friends.
|4″, 18 ga copper, opalescent crackle over soft flux, transparent lumps in center, turquoise transparent border. Bottom plate: 6″, 18 ga paisley design.
Photo by J.A. Perry
This paisley design was a commercial enamel that Doris Hall and Kalman Kubinyi produced. When I began teaching, I used this design, with her permission, as part of my beginners’ course because it combined so many enameling techniques. The enamels were Thompson’s old leaded 80 mesh and were fired around 1500°F.
Fine silver cloisonné wire on a flat piece of 18 or 20 ga fine silver is the simplest material to use for cloisonné. You do not have to worry about burning up the fine silver wires as you do when you fire fine silver wires on copper. I fire in a heat saturated kiln at 1500°F. The fine silver piece only needs to be cleaned in the kiln because it does not form a firescale coat as does bare copper when fired. My experience is only with leaded enamels, so the results may not be the same with unleaded enamels.
The first cloisonné piece my students created was a one-inch 18 ga fine silver flat disc with a hole drilled for a jump ring.