John Killmaster and “The Quickening”

In the early 1980’s, I made a drawing based on the theme of transformation, a sudden, intuitive grasp of reality – an epiphany. When it came time to make a new enamel to enter in the Enamelist Society exhibition “Surfacing,” I had an epiphany and dug out my drawing. I visualized the images’ three dimensional possibilities, and began working.

The following is the record of the making of “The Quickening.”

Tools and materials used in the making of
Tools and materials used in the making of “The Quickening”

Step by Step Procedure for “The Quickening”

image_2 (12) The initial step was to project the drawing to size on paper by using an opaque projector. Next, I cut out the image to check its fit and clearance inside my kiln. Upon verifying the fit, I traced the outline on clean 24 gauge cold-rolled steel with permanent marker.
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Using my shear I cut the outer contour from the steel sheet
image_5 (7) An interior shape was sawed out with a jewelry saw.
image_6 (5) The drawing was transferred to the steel with a permanent marker, and chasing tools were used to indent along the lines with a hammer, only the major contours were incised.
image_7 (5) Various metal – working hammers were used to shape relief surfaces (repousse), beginning by working the reverse side of the piece, and then the front side. A pine stump, which has endured all my public art hammered works, was again employed. The composition of pine wood offers an ideal amount of resistance and ” give ” for working steel. I do not heat the steel, since working cold works fine.
image_8 (5) The completed repoussed piece.
image_9 (4) Sharp or rough edges were filed and the steel was carefully cleaned with cleanser and hot water and quickly dried to avoid rust. Enamel application covered and obscured most tool marks.
image_10 (1) I applied ground coat formulated for iron and steel, using an automotive spray-gun equipped with a large spray nozzle. I always strain the ground coat enamel with a 80 mesh strainer to avoid spraying problems. I began by spraying the back of the piece with a coating somewhat less than an X inch thick. Care was taken to apply the enamel coating evenly on rises and recesses to avoid burn-off.
image_11 I sprayed the front of the piece somewhat thicker than the back to ensure no burning would occur. Because this enamel piece had high relief, I allowed the coating to “set-up”- dry a little – then I again sprayed the high areas to make sure they were well coated.
image_12 The ground coating was dried thoroughly on a large hot plate . The enamel was fired at 1500 °F for five minutes.
image_13 Fired ground coat.
image_14 In much of my sgraffito-grisaille enamels I used a black base color coat over the ground coat, resulting in a black line drawing. For “The Quickening” I desired to contrast the individuals’ three transforming states of being by the colors blue, green, and red evoking a progression of mood and changing essence in the characters represented.
image_15 Porcelain and/or brushable enamel colors were sprayed, beginning with red, from a low angle to bring out the relief.
image_16 Next, blue was sprayed in a similar manner on the lower half of the enamel.
image_17 The result was a contrast of the blue with the red suggesting cool shadows.
image_18 Upon firing I realized the red needed more strength.
image_19 The red coat was sprayed again and green was added on the center image.
image_20 The base color coats were fired at 1450 °F for 2 ½ minutes.
image_21 A smaller spray-gun was used to achieve a granular spray coat of white porcelain enamel. I used approximately 20-25 lbs. of air pressure r.vith an adjustable air compressor. A low pressure is required to achieve the build up of enamel grains while avoiding blorving them loose. The spraygun should be over a foot away from the enamel art. It was necessary to begin spraying, using a light spray from a low angle toward the top of,the art piece to establish the texture to be built up with additional spray layers; this angle also suggested a light source, as the indented areas received less build-up, suggesting shadorvs. I built-up thickness by slighdy drying each layers between sprays, stopping short of too much build-up indicated by grains breaking off.
image_22 Reasons for using granular spray with sgraffito work in porcelain enamel: to avoid chipping, by dislodging only individual particles, not large chunks between closely drawn cross-hatch lines. To allow freedom and spontaneity, even the most finely drawn lines are retained while using an effectively heavy enamel coat which endures many firings.
image_23 A pin inserted in an empty pen is an ideal sgraffito drawing tool if the pin is slightly curved down at its tip. Sgraffito lines were drawn into the dry granular spray.
image_24 Once the sgraffito drawing was complete the enamel piece was tipped over to shed loosened granules, and was gently blown on with air to remove additional ones. Some lines were further eroded by lightly brushing with a soft watercolor brush, thus creating darker lines in select areas.
image_25 The enamel piece was fired at I350 °F for 3 minutes resulting in blue, green and red line work.
image_26 By using a finely milled enamel suspended in oil, it is possible to simulate an oil painting- blended effect. I began by mixing my colors with a small painting knife, thinning the oil based screening enamel with rubbing alcohol to a consistency easily blended with a small pointed brush, and began painting.
image_27 After painting the mouth and tongue with reds and pink tones, orange was applied to the lips and dark areas around the eyes and fingers before airbrushing lighter tones; a multi-pointed sgraffito tool softened hard edges.
image_28 The combination of oil, alcohol, and airbrush spray dictates a venting system. I use a large box connected with flexible dryer tubing to a wall mounted blower. The tubing is easily moved to exhaust spray fumes.
image_29 After drying the painted mouth with a hair dryer, I placed a wad of cotton over it and weighted the masking to keep it from moving during airbrushing. Again, using oil based enamel which was formulated to be used for silk screening, I mixed the enamel in a porcelain palette dish to isolate each color. Rubbing alcohol thinned the oil enamel to a watery consistency, enabling it to flow through the airbrush. I use a gravity cup airbrush which is less apt to plug with enamel; between sprays I added water to the cup to prevent dry out. I began with yellow airbrushed enamel using 20lbs. air pressure.
image_30 Orange was airbrushed over areas beyond the yellow, again thinned with a squeeze bottle of rubbing alcohol; the spray dries almost immediately because of evaporation, thus avoiding any dripping / running of the enamel. The cup is filled with a loaded brush of enamel and thinned if necessary with the bottle, which is equipped with a nipple.
image_31 The orange area was covered with a cotton mask, and yellow green was sprayed on the center image.
image_32 In like manner blue was applied to the lower image. At this point I began to remove enamel from areas meant to remain white: teeth, eyes and highlights. The piece was placed outside on a hot plate, and heat was gradually increased to burn out the oil in the airbrush coating; final burn-off (smoking) was accomplished by repeated plunging into the kiln until no more smoke was seen, or smelled, necessitating a good exhaust system!
image_33 The piece will look pale and dull after smoking and final touch-up of highlights must be done using sgraffito tools and stiff small brushes before firing.
image_34 The airbrushed enamel coating was fired at 1325″ F for 2 minutes. I took care not to over fire these delicate coats.
image_35 Thompson enamel crayons, blue, orange, yellow and red were applied to strengthen the airbrush color while adding a spontaneous linear expression, tying color and sgraffito together.
image_37 The crayon enamel was fired at 1325 °F for 2 minutes – the final firing. During the cooling the colors gradually changed and became more pronounced.
image_38 The final enamel compared to the original drawing.
image_39 The orb of glorious transforming power on the top of “The Quickening: was made separately and as attached using a strong adhesive. The whole project came together without mishap and was entered in the Enamelist Society exhibition, and was accepted.
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“The Quickening” Enamel on repousse steel, 14 x 4.75 x 1 inches, 2008
By John Killmaster [Volume 28, Number 5, December, 2009]
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