I’ve always been curious about enameling, but I wasn’t ready to buy lots of equipment for something I wasn’t sure I’d do regularly. I understood the basics of enameling – powdered glass is fired to its melting point, and it adheres to the metal beneath. Designs can be drawn on (well, the powder can be moved around at least), or most easily, stenciled. This was my in; my justification for taking the class. I could use the laser to make my own stencils! Satisfy my curiosity AND get a blog post!
I’m a fan of Water Street Studios on Facebook, so I am continually tempted by their class offerings. I signed up for their last “Introduction to torch fired enameling” class of the year, taught by Lisa Dienst-Thomas of Lisa’s Pieces. Water Street Studios was a real treat – it’s only about 20 minutes away from me, but I’d never checked it out They offer classes, have artists studios (both 2D and 3D), host lectures and have gallery space. Creativity is steeped into the place.
Lisa was a great instructor and I had the pleasure of being the only student in class (which means I got to ask a lot of questions!) She provided all the materials and had everything neatly laid out.
Spatula – you use this transport your piece flat from the table to firing stand. This is important because the enamel is a dry powder sitting on top. Tip it and it the powder will fall off. And you can’t touch the top with your fingers, lest you deposit oils on the surface and cause the enamel not to stick.
Little container – that’s just to hold the spatula level – the bent handle causes it to tip.
Tweezers – so you can move your fired piece without touching the top, saving it from the dreaded finger oils
Brush – moves and sweeps away grains of enamel that aren’t exactly where you want them
Awl – a nice sharp point is great for drawing in the powdered enamel
Small sifter – sifts powder over a smaller area, great if you only want to hit part of your piece
Large sifter – covers a larger area
Toothbrush – for cleaning the surface of your piece. We used pumice-type cleanser, Bon Ami
Sanding block – to clean off the back for the discoloration from firing
Magazine pages – a slick disposable surface so you can save as much of the enamel power as possible, without mixing the colors. If the colors mix in the jar, there is no separating that.
For my first stencil, I created a basic repeating stencil with Japanese fans in mind. I wasn’t sure how much fine detail would translate with dry sifting, so I was taking a little risk with the small points at the narrow end of the fan. But that’s what experimentation is about, right?
I made the stencils out of the same material we used for the Pyramid Holograms for Week 100 – 1/32″ think acrylic. Lisa pointed out some potential difficulties in using thicker stencils – you can inadvertently put too much enamel powder because the spaces are so much deeper. Also, it might be more difficult to grasp when you are trying to lift it up smoothly. Lisa likes using manila folders – lightweight, easily obtainable, and you can fold up the edge if you need a spot to grab and lift.
After cleaning the piece thoroughly with Bon Ami, I sifted a layer of cream colored enamel on the copper base, which made the first of two base coats. One coat might be a little uneven, a second evens things out. Tip from Lisa: start be sifting around the edges, then work your way to the center. Of course, the pieces I was working on were pretty darned small, so it was easy to get full coverage. Between each layer, we melted the enamel powder with a MAP torch. You heat the piece from below, which is why you can see my piece is on a 9″ tall firing ring. It was neat watching it go though sugar stage, orange peel stage to fully fused glass, and it didn’t take as long as I thought it would
After the piece was cooled and cleaned, it was time for the third layer. I lined up my stencil and sifted a very light layer of enamel on it. There were some errant grains that I used the fine brush to get rid of. One more firing, some clean up to the back and sides with sandpaper and add a bail, we’ve got a finished piece! Easy, right? 🙂
My second piece pointed out my hubris. I followed the same process – two base coats, a layer for the blue bunting and this one included a fourth layer of Orchid pink. There was very minimal overlap with the blue bunting strand, so I didn’t think the 4th level would be a problem. I was wrong. Things this piece taught me:
- Light colors should go on first, dark after. I intended the pink to be the top layer, but where it over lapped, the blue still comes through.
- Really, there should be only 3 layers on powder on the piece. There is a little wiggle room based on the thickness of the powder you lay on, but as a beginner, I was a little heavy handed. The more layers, the harder it is to heat and fully fuse.
- Enameling is really just glass on metal. If it is improperly cooled, not fully fused or even dropped on a hard surface, the colors can crack and flake off. I didn’t apply enough heat where the colors overlapped, and there was a huge crack.
- You can reheat pieces, in the hopes to fully fuse them. We did that….and then had did it again because the second final torch firing didn’t take care of the crack fully. It took three tries to fully fuse this piece! Between chatting and refiring, I kept Lisa 2 hours late! Thankfully, she was as committed to getting it right as I was.
- Reds and pinks are temperamental souls. The orchid pink enamel DID NOT enjoy being reheated, twice. It separated interestingly, and allowed the base coat to come through. So instead of two solid bunting lines, I have a love blue on and a lovely pink crackly / shabby chic one.
In total: Enameling was a lot of fun. The tools are actually relatively minimal – I actually have nearly everything from my jewelry making forays except the actual enamels and the firing stand. I know I’ve only scratched the surface on techniques, but I love that I can use the laser to make a more unique look that using store bought punches for templates. Maybe Lisa will teach Enameling II in the future 🙂