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a brief description of enamelling

Enamel is glass with the addition of fluxes to lower its melting point, and oxides to colour it. It is fired for around three minutes in a kiln to fuse it to metal which can be copper, silver, gold or steel, with firing temperatures between 700 and 900 degrees Celsius. Some objects are fired just a few times while others, mainly panels, can have up the 30 or more firings to achieve the final result. This can be an elusive process, sometimes weeks of work can be spoiled by a fraction too long in the kiln or from the temperature climbing a little too high.

Enamelling is one of the most ancient art forms. Early examples from about 6th century BC have been found in ancient Syria and Greece. Alexander the Great took artisans to India where today the tradition is still handed down from father to son. Early mariners took the art to the Orient, and many people today equate enamelling with the cloisonné objects and vessels from China and Japan.

Enamels enjoyed a renaissance in the 15th century in Limoges, France, and many of the traditional techniques — cloisonné, plique-a-jour, champleve, basse taille etc — are described in the French language. With these techniques the enamel is applied wet, the powdered grains mixed to a gritty paste which is painstakingly inlaid over the metal … after firing the surface is usually ground back and more layers applied.

Today there are many experimental techniques and new materials. Enamel may be applied dry by sifting, using stencils to define imagery, or painted using very finely ground enamel. 24K gold foil and fine silver foils are often used, fused to a layer of fired enamel then having further layers of well washed transparent enamels inlaid over them to create a brilliant jewel like surface. Metallic leaf may be fired to a final surface.

This exacting art form may be used for objects as small as a piece of jewellery, sculptural objects, panels to decorate the walls, as well as industrial use in architecture, road signage, or even cooking utensils. Enamels are permanent, will not fade, and will last through the centuries.

my enamels ... the process

Enamel is glass fused to metal. In my pieces I use copper sheet as a base, in a series of firings of around three minutes duration, in kiln temperatures between 750 and 900 degrees Celsius.

The imagery is built up with many thin layers of powdered coloured enamels, some opaque, some transparent. I mainly use a sifting process, spraying with dilute gum to hold the grains in place, with hand-cut stencils to define the shapes.

Each layer, which may take several hours to prepare, is fired separately, the whole process taking between 15 and 30 firings.

Between each firing the piece is cleaned of any oxides, edges and imperfect areas are stoned back before the next layer is applied. It is then dried on top of the kiln, has any sgraffito drawing done and edges of imagery cleaned up, before it is fired once more.

When the many layers are nearly complete, shapes cut or torn from thinly rolled 24 carat gold and pure silver foils are fused to the surface in the kiln. Over these, thin layers of well washed transparent enamels are applied, by sifting, or wet inlaid with a brush, dried and fired, producing the jewel like colours.

Details on the imagery and any writing are then drawn on with painting enamel, ceramic oxides or metallic lustres with a pen, then covered with transparent enamel and fired. In the final firing different karats of gold leaf and/or palladium leaf are fused to the surface.

With some of my work I am using a technique of reticulation. This entails long firing of layers of gold and silver simultaneously to produce a textured mixture of metals fused to the surface of the enamel, and this can be totally or partially covered with transparent enamel also.

My techniques and style have changed and developed over the years. Imagery has been derived from the Australian landscape and wildflowers, aerial views, dreams, and places travelled, and then later designing intuitively in a more abstract manner, with an emphasis on textures.

Favourite techniques are sifting with stencils, sgraffito, grisaille, watercolour and overglaze enamels, liquid enamels, printing, reticulation, inlaying foils, and fusing metallic leaf to the surface.

Enamelling is still a highly experimental art form and my workshop contains hundreds of samples and test pieces. Because of the intricacies of the medium each piece is unique and cannot be repeated.

© jenny gore 2012

 

 

 
       
       
       
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