How did you become involved in enameling?
This happened accidentally. Having seen some enamel pictures in an exhibition, the quality and intensity of colors highly impressed me and I decided to investigate the technique needed for this art form. So I bought a small booklet to study the means and methods for enameling.
What is your background and prior work experience?
By profession I have a diploma as an electrical engineer from the Federal Highschool of Technology (ETH) in Zürich with a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering. I have worked during my whole professional career as a research engineer/manager for office automation. I took early retirement in 2000.
How long have you been involved in enameling?
I started enameling in 1974 when I bought a small kiln allowing the firing of max. 5 cm x 5 cm large plates. At that time I started to make wall plates combined of this size of squares having subjects from ancient Persian mythologies or flower themes. At the same time I saw a chess set made out of silver which impressed me, although not being a big chess player. Obviously the delicacy of the chessmen and my curiosity, how to produce such fine items, excited my fantasy. So I decided trying to create chessboard and chessmen using enamel on copper.
I made the design for the chessmen out of copper and ordered the appropriate number of truncated copper cones for the soldiers from a local metal workshop. After starting the work I realized the difficulties involved, I took some already finished chessmen and entered a hobby evening course in enameling in Zürich. The teacher judged that my work seemed remarkable and her command of this technology were not much higher than my book-knowledge, nevertheless accepted me as a student and I learned many useful things in these two months.
What do you find appealing about enameling?
- Fortune Key #12. 15×6 cm. 2007. This is a series of 21 “keys”, hand sawn out of 1 mm copper plate. The idea for the key was : “We are all looking for happiness, luck and satisfaction. But sometimes, we pass by our luck without noticing it. Had we a key to open the hidden door for luck and happiness, we would see many more smiling faces in the world.”
The appeal of enameling for me is twofold : First the quality of colors together with its glass-structure creates a unique finesse enriching any object it is applied to.
Second, the element of the fire during processing with all the attendant uncertainties presents challenges to the enameller. This seems to me to be the adventurous part.
The numerous different techniques that can be used to reach similar goals allow for individual skills and temperaments. Especially when creating objects, the ease of producing different shapes using copper or other metals is very attractive.
What techniques do you employ when enameling?
The majority of my work consists of wall plates on copper with dimensions of max 30 cm x 21 cm as a single plate or larger as a composition of several plates. I mostly use wet painting (Limoges technique). Having a preference for graphic arts with many fine line details, one of my favorites is sgraffito. A further extension of working with lines is the cloisonné technique which I use preferably to decorate objects or for jewelry. I like to combine different materials with different surface structures (shiny and mat, fine and coarse, glass and wood, etc.) using them in a collage-like art. In this way I also overcome the space limits of my kiln to produce larger images. In recent years I started to create abstract objects bending cut copper into different shapes and joining the parts after enameling. I tried to work with acids too, but since there is no water in this room, I did not pursue this path.
How does your work evolve? What is the process you employ when creating work in enamel?
The evolution of my work starts sometimes with a sketch on paper since I like to make line drawings. This I do all the times, having numerous full sketch books by now. I try out the proportions and arrangement of mostly abstract elements on paper before I start sifting the ground layer of enamel. The three dimensional objects are designed ( approximatively ) on paper, but the final shape develops itself during work. Which parts will be joined to which other pieces will be decided in course of the working progress although from the beginning on there exists a definite idea how the finished object should look like. The same applies to the choice of colors.
How do you develop ideas for your enamel pieces? Do you work from a sketch, or more spontaneously?
A sketch is an important starting point for the work, but I often use spontaneously an imaginative idea of colors and shapes to create new works. The sketches often provide a preliminary exercise of an idea based on which the final creative process makes its selection whether to use this concept or switch to a completely different concept. In this way, I guess, the spontaneous part is overweighting in my work.
Describe your working space…
My workshop is a 25 square meter room in the basement of our house, where my kiln is installed with 5 kW power. 380 V voltage and a horizontal firing chamber of 35 cm x 21 cm x 14 cm (D x W x H). The temperature can be adjusted electronically up to 1100 °C.
I have a desk with good light to applicate the colors to the copper plate or object. There is a shelf to store the colors and other useful small items. There is a work table to execute the necessary metal working steps (bending, sawing, hammering, polishing, etc. ) There is no forced ventilation in the room, so I work carefully with sifting or generating dust otherwise.
What inspires your work?
My inspiration is coming from geometry, colors, intricate structures and of course of nature. I do not want to “photograph” pictures, scenes and objects sawn but rather create new artistic objects, express feelings, visualize ideas.