brilliant work by slinkachu (“abandoning little people on the streets since 2006”) perfectly revealed 🙂
my experiments with hand-cut cloisonne wires have only been moderately successful, in part because i simply couldn’t cut them thinly or accurately enough. my only options for easily available ready-made wires were in precious metals. silver wires can’t be used directly onto copper because where they meet they create an alloy which has a lower melting point than either metal alone, which can cause sliding and contamination of enamels. so i decided to take a chance on fine silver foil (thicker than silver leaf) and silver wires.
the foil is applied over an initial enamel layer, then coated with transparent flux. wires are fired on top of the flux layer, they slump in the kiln and form to the shape of the piece, fusing into the enamel below.
for these samples i used existing pieces, one with a single layer of turquoise transparent enamel (left) the other with a base layer of flux and a second turquoise layer (right). the colour has bled through in unexpected but attractive ways. one piece (i believe the one on the right) had air bubbles in the foil after firing which i pierced, this might explain the increased colouration as the enamel was able to bleed up through and over the foil.
the left-hand piece uses rectangular wires (1mm high x 0.2mm wide), the one on the right uses 0.5mm round wire. at present i think i will prefer the right-hand sample – the wires will be more prominent once ground back, because they are wider. there will also be a thinner layer of enamel, which in my experience will give greater translucence.
the flux on both pieces – but more noticeably on the left hand piece – is somewhat cloudy. i haven’t yet ventured into washing and grading my enamels but i think it would be helpful to preserve the clarity of the flux. the cloudiness is caused by the presence of contaminants and the smallest glass particles. if i can wash these out i hope to retain a brilliant finish.
today’s first task was making new trivets, which worked a treat, i only dropped one sample and that was through clumsiness.
all enamel was applied with a wet-inlay technique which allowed a good degree of control. i still need to work on my shading. i filled all of yesterday’s samples except the 2mm foil which was clearly too deep. i also added some pieces with approx 1.25mm cuts of tape, which were probably the most successful, even without an outer bounding wire (i’m missing one sample i must have left in the workshop).
all pieces except the far right used transparent enamels, but the thickness rendered them practically opaque. sanding with wet/dry paper was unsuccessful but a carborundum stone worked well to level the enamel surface. some pieces flattened out due to the thickness of the top layer of enamel vs one or two layers of counter enamel. in future i’d apply a minimum of 3 layers on the back.
narrow gauge wire. i think i applied one too many enamel layers – fewer would have given better transparency. finished after grinding with transparent flux which persevered some of the brightness of the wire.
larger gauge wire. finished with a final firing which produced firescale on the wire. fine silver would retain its brightness. thickest enamel layer, lost all transparency.
thinnest gauge tape. finished with flux which caused the white enamel to craze and obscure the wires. otherwise i think this is my most successful sample. opaque enamels applied in thick layers.
first steps towards cloisonné, inlaying different types of wire onto an enamel base-coat. all pieces were counter enamelled first. top row had firescale sanded off and covered with flux. bottom row had “sky blue” opaque enamel applied over firescale. the blue behaved in a similar way to the green i used on my previous batch – a very uneven, textured result. i used diluted pva as a holding agent, when this was allowed to dry sufficiently there was little difference from dry-sifted powder, except for slight texturing.
my main problem was keeping pieces flat and preventing wires sliding out of place on the surface. the counter-enamelled backs made everything much more precarious on the trivets. i’m hoping to make a set of smaller trivets that hold the sides, rather than the underneath surface, of the pieces.
top row l-r:
- 1mm wire. i was able to shape the wires to fit fairly neatly onto the domed surface. sliding in the kiln was the main issue.
- approx. 0.6mm wire. the wires were not shaped but could be pressed into place on the enamel surface after removal from the kiln.
- approx. 2mm strips cut from copper foil. uneven adherence to enamel.
bottom row l-r:
- approx. 4mm strips cut from copper foil, wrapped to the reverse to hold in place during firing.
- copper tape (thinner than foil) approx. 2mm strips. very rough test pieces. these slumped in the kiln to shape to the formed surface. adherence was better than foil strips.
- copper tape multiple 3D strips. poor adherence but additional layers of enamel should hold in place.
my next experiments will involve filling between the wires on these pieces, and rolling wires before firing onto enamel base coats.
another morning in the workshop and a whole batch of samples.
it looks as though my problems with the mexican red weren’t firescale related after all. the top set of samples were counter enamelled first and firescale not removed from front sides. everything was fired at 805• with a timer set for 3 minutes (except when i forgot!). all samples were scrubbed with a scourer under running water before enamelling.
clockwise from top left:
- firescale with transparent (flux) enamel.
- royal blue opaque enamel with turquoise beads. enamel and beads applied together in a single layer, with additional enamel over the beads. the beads have partially melted but remain raised above the surface.
- royal blue enamel overlaid with sterling silver wires. the wires released from the surface after firing
- royal blue enamel, single layer.
- turquoise opaque enamel with turquoise glass beads. overfired – i forgot to set the timer. the beads have completely melted into the enamel, which has a badly pitted surface.
it’s noticeable that the counter-enamelled pieces have kept their shape while those without enamel on the back flattened out due to contraction of the enamel surface.
clockwise from top left:
- turquoise opaque enamel sifted over copper mesh resist.
- layer #1 turquoise transparent enamel. layer #2 rollered copper mesh and turquoise enamel. the wire has fused into the enamel. this piece was bent after firing and the enamel has cracked.
- layer #1 flux. layer #2 turquoise transparent enamel.
- turquoise enamel single payer. this piece is more green/blue than shows in the picture.
- layer #1 green opaque enamel. the powder was lumpy and wouldn’t sift so i pushed it through with a spatula. the result was very bumpy and uneven. layer #2 flux. layer #3 turquoise transparent enamel. this piece might be interesting if ground flat to remove the raised areas.
i noticed that fire scaled pieces when handled warm would crack and flake off, leaving the shiny copper below. pieces left until cold were more evenly covered. above pieces left-right: even coating left til cold, covered with layer of flux, handled and flaked off.
we have 2 different pots of counter-enamel. the smaller pot is green and the larger one is more of a bronze colour. concentrating on sifting extra powder over the edges helped to achieve a much more even finish. 2 minutes was adequate firing time for the backing enamel.
my first attempt at enamelling has taught me plenty of lessons…
lesson #1: enamel pulls away from the edges and towards the centre during hot firings (iirc the kiln was set to 805•c). extra enamel should be sifted onto the outer edges.
lesson #2: if the trivet touches the enamel it will show. a wider trivet that only supports the edges would have been a better choice.
lesson #3: overfiring. the back isn’t smooth, but pitted, possibly the result of 3 x 3 minute firings.
lesson #4: cleaning is important! i fired the back first, leaving the uncoated front flaky (firescale). i gave it a rub with a paper towel but not enough to remove the scale or the oils from my fingers (presumably around the edges). a second layer/firing did nothing to improve the finish. a scouring pad under running water or commercial cleaner could have prevented the discolouration. (wire wool is not recommended due to the risk of contamination/pitting)
lesson #5: contamination is obvious! i used a sieve that had previously been used with white enamel. the white spots are the result.
lesson #6: inaccurately placed holes are also obvious.
lesson #7: serendipity is fun. i made a stellar nursery 😀
references: linda darty, the art of enamelling, 2004.
a recent discovery – the lego architecture studio – has got me thinking about scale. a handful of blocks could represent “an opera house or a cash register”, “an entry to a subway or a bathtub” – it’s up to the designer to assign the scale by adding details.
i love the idea of creating tiny worlds in only a few inches of space and reminded of some favourite art works.
taylor medlin’s miniature ice houses.
and a local favourite, jane edden’s post secrets, the little people who live complicated lives in the bollards in the hayes, central cardiff.