Jessica Calderwood’s work consists of enamels that walk a fine line between the beautiful and the bizarre. The process of enameling is an ancient art, historically used as a way to create archival images and color on functional objects. Much inspiration is drawn from 18th Century portrait miniatures, because of their technical mastery and lush imagery.

Jessica Calderwood
Modern Mary (Brooch). 3” x 2”. Enamel on copper, silver, pearls.

Sexuality, gender, human relationships and issues surrounding the body are subjects that often permeate the work. Some of the drawings and forms are very literal interpretations, while others are more abstracted and ambiguous. The drawings often reference images from the media and popular culture to convey ideas.

Untitled. 8 x 8” x ½”. Enamel on copper.

The most recent pieces are subtle commentaries on the idea of consumption in popular culture. Consuming (meaning to destroy, use, or eat up) is a primary activity in most people’s daily life. People popping pills, chewing on apples and marking their body with surgery are just a few of the images used to convey my concepts.

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Smoking Boy. 12” x 12” x 1”. Enamel on copper, silver foil.

The process of creating an artwork is never a direct and clear path. The following paragraphs describe my basic approach to working with imagery and drawing in enamel. The initial attraction to the process of enameling was the serendipitous results that can often occur in the firing process. (I like that I give a small amount of control away to the kiln and then I have to react to it.) The element of heat can be used as a mode for expression. By under or over firing a piece, one can dramatically affect the hue and quality of the surface. Many of the drawings in enamel are fresh and interesting because of the element of surprise.

Beard (Brooch). 3” x 2”. Enamel on copper, sterling silver, 18k gold.

By gathering images that seem interesting, shooting my own photographs, tearing out images from magazines, newspapers and internet sites, the process of gathering becomes constant. I keep a suitcase of images in my home and studio. In order to begin a new piece, I flip through my sources, combining images and sketching – working very intuitively. Often having a loose idea or concept in mind will drive the search. Source images are just a springboard for the final piece.

Dirty Dish. 7” x 10” x 10”. 2004. Enamel on copper.

Once finding an image I want to work with, the beginning is loosely sketched with a ceramic underglaze pencil (oxide, no glass) on an etched enamel ground. Blending stumps and wooden scribes are used to blend and create subtle gradations with the pencil. many of the basic drawing tools are suitable for work with oxides in enamel. The enamel surface, unlike paper, has little tooth, so the surface becomes saturated very quickly. Care must be taken not to rub your hand across your drawing, because you will lose a lot of your work. The piece is then fired to set the drawing in the enamel surface. The pencil will fire partially matte, because there is no glass in the underglaze.

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12” x 12” x 1”. Enamel on copper.

Once the first layer is fired, I begin intensifying the values throughout the piece by painting with a black overglaze (oxide + glass) and squeegee oil. Different washes are mixed on a palette by varying the proportions of overglaze to oil. Very thin layers are painted and fired between each application. Toothpicks and dry paintbrushes are used to remove unfired overglaze and bring back lighter values.

Berries (Brooch). 3-1/2” x 2-1/2”. Enamel on copper, sterling silver.

Sifted enamels are used to create soft washes of color in my drawings. Squeegee oil is painted on the piece, enamel sifted into the oil and the excess is tapped off. The enamel sticks anywhere the oil was painted. This process kicks up fine particles of dust. I recommend doing this process outdoors whenever possible, or wear a good respirator.