New Ideas for Enameling

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By Vivian KlineMore from this author

When I was the only American enameling in a week's workshop in a small town in Hungary, it had taken all my energy just to get myself there. I was given a set of their enamels, a small table all to myself, some metal, and a chair. What to make?

new ideas
Flux on white steel, black, iron rust, gold foil, red and blue transparent enamel.

The Russians, Hungarians, a German woman, and two young Indian fellows all had brought previously made designs that they could translate into enamels, but I have never worked that way.

Flux on white steel, iron rust applied, sifted transparent blue and red, rust then moved from original position.

The little attention I had received I interpreted as surprise at my being there. What was this American doing here? What did these people know about America, I wondered. Surely they knew about 9/11, and the devastation it had made. Maybe I could illustrate that disaster.

P-3 and flux on copper, one firing, rust and egg shells with albumen, 2880 transparent red, and an addition of flux.

I had noticed a machine shop near our big kiln room, and there I went to collect all sorts of scraps from the floor. On a once fired piece, I scattered wires, sawdust, metal bits at random, and refired, having added more enamel on top. Much to my pleasure, the scraps stayed - 'stuck' and in place. I experimented using this 'technique' and by the end of the week had a variety of works.

P-3 and flux on copper, egg shells, transparent red, rice.

There was to be a juried show. I figured they might accept one piece of mine, if only as a reward for having come such a long way to participate. After the jurying, the juror, a formal gentleman who had come from far away Budapest, asked especially to see me. In halting English, he asked to keep two of my pieces, "as they had never seen anything like it." (I decided to take that as a compliment.)

P-3 and flux on copper, iron rust, silver foil, transparent blue.

When I returned home, I went back to my old ways of working until I took a workshop with Bill Helwig at the Arrowmont Conference. I had never worked with gold and silver foils, and enjoyed what could be done with them. After a while, though, my need to again experiment more widely came to the fore, and I began to incorporate all sorts of other materials.

Enamel on copper, rust, steel scrub pad, various found objects.

When Mr. Carpenter saw what I had done using thin rusty pieces of iron embedded in the enamels, he was eager for me to show others in an article for this magazine. That didn't seem enough for an article, and I continued my experiment. I began to ask myself, "What would happen with shapes from the kitchen cupboard? Perhaps they would just burn out and I would have a smelly kiln room?"

P-3 and flux on copper, silver foil, shell, rice, rust and flux.

I tried, and lo and behold! If I had enamel underneath and enamel on top, they became encased and added a new dimension, a different design making something entirely new possible. Chicken bones keep their shape…but better yet, crushed up egg shells remain and keep their white color! Wild rice next came out of the pantry and I found it leaves an interesting texture. Ground coffee and tea also 'work'.

P-3 and flux on copper, shell, rust, gold foil, transparent red.

As I did these experiments, I kept some things constant:

1) I always used a fired layer of flux on copper to begin with.

2) I always fired for 2 minutes at 1475°F.

3) and I used only flux, transparent blue or transparent red enamels.

As I write, the possibilities excite me, even as my kiln room is beginning to smell like my kitchen! I am sure this approach is not for everyone, but perhaps when you have been enameling for 50 years, as I have, you too will find radical experimenting worth trying.

By Vivan Kline [Volume 25, Number 2, April, 2006]
In association with
glass on metal
Glass on Metal is the only publication dedicated to enameling and related arts. Technical information, book reviews, how-to articles and insight on contemporary enamelers highlight each issue.

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Vivian Kline

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