champleve is a technique where vitreous enamels are applied to hollows in a metal surface. i’ve previously used resists and etching chemicals to create these high- and low-lying areas on copper plates, but the time involved is prohibitive for any commercial project.
mixing cutting edge and outmoded is a theme of my work – producing digital text resists for use in an ancient technique tickles my fancy 🙂 i’ve even investigated the possibilities for digital engraving using cnc milling. so i couldn’t resist the lure of a brand new material that seems to open endless possibilities. step forward, copper clay…
precious metal clays have been around for a while, but the introduction of new base metal clays – bronze and copper – puts them within price-range of the ordinary mortal. since i use copper as a base for all my enamelling it was a no-brainer to give it a try.
for a new material, the process is about as ancient as it gets: the raw material is a fine-grained soft and malleable clay that can be worked in any ceramics technique. as a printer i figured i’d go for the most basic, but effective, use of stamps directly into the clay. my primary interest was the potential for the use of text – a use for my collection of letterpress type that doesn’t get out as much as it should.
i haven’t touched clay since i was about 7 but i do make pastry! i found it very easy to work, and satisfying to scrunch up the mistakes and start again. the speed of use is brilliant. the top of the fired-up kiln is an ideal drying spot, within half an hour the pieces were plaster-dry and really to be tidied up with filing and sanding. i was sceptical that my kiln would reach or hold the right heat, but every piece has come out perfectly after 30 minutes firing.
you could stop there – the fired pieces are charming – but for me this is a means to an end, so i go on to apply enamels into the dips. enamel powders are suspended in water and painted into the hollows with a fine brush. it takes several layers to fill to the right depth, and the piece is also enamelled on the reverse for strength and stability. each piece will be fired between 5 and ten times in total.
after the hollows are filled to the right level comes the process of stoning back – literally using abrasive stones to remove overflows of enamel and create a flat, glossy surface. these pieces still have some surface texture as i’m going on to add clear enamel over the top to achieve the deep red copper ground i’m after.
impression is from a vintage indian carved wooden fabric-printing block.
mayan spear-throwing owl from the Palacio de Quetzalpapálotl in teotihuacan, modern mexico.
felling is proceeding apace – most of the designated trees in waterloo gardens had gone when i last visited on the weekend.
i was particularly sad to see the group of memorial magnolias cut. i’d hoped they might have been dug out and replanted.
i’ve been really heartened by the response i’ve had to this project, although dismayed at the number of people who, for whatever reason, either were uninformed or felt unheard during the consultation process.
as a park-user but non-immediate resident i have great sympathy for locals who have experienced flood events and fear worse in future. the parks were originally established around a hundred years ago (full info here). these are not ancient native trees but the result of ambitious forward thinking by local planners.
my hope is that the extensive replanting planned will mature in time to create a park as much loved, but more sustainable in the long term. there is irony in the fact that this destruction of parts of a man-made environment results directly from human influence on global climate creating increased flood risk.
edit 24 feb: since writing this post i’ve read that some of the trees predate the park enclosures, up to 200 years old. also that there has never been damage to property by flooding along the roath brook. which somewhat tempers my optimistic opinion of the works…