Thursday, 8 December 2016

IN THE STUDIO - my enamelling corner

People are usually curious about artist's workspaces, and also about HOW they do what they do, so this little post is just to give you a sense of what I do and how I do it, with my enamel on copper.

Firstly is a photo of the door into my rather crowded studio/workshop:  My workshop is in my garden, just a few feet away from my house, which is just great for aching legs, no climbing up into the roof any more!

This photo shows my "enamelling" table, at the far end of the studio:
Top left are all my  tubs of enamel powders.  These are special enamels made for use on metal.  Enamel is, in fact, ground glass, so the powders look like....well, powder.  Sand, ground ultra-fine in fact.
  The copper bowls are bottom right...two of them "cut" with a plasma cutter, to create interesting top edges, and even cuts in the body of the bowl, holes thro which one will be able to see the colours on the inside of the bowl.  Using a plasma gun is "interesting" to say the least - I have my heart in my mouth all the time as the beam from my gun cuts thro the metal - while I pray that I don't end up cutting thro fingers or arms at the same time.
The process of applying the enamel to the copper is quite complex and has taken a long time to perfect - in fact, I do get rejects from time to time, since the kiln, shown below, plays a very large part in the process and often the results are more surprising than expected!  And sometimes not what I might have hoped for!

  • Each bowl has to be carefully prepared - degreased - before the addition of the powder.  The cut bowls have to filed, to ensure that the edges have no sharp shards left from the plasma cutting. 
  • Then, the bowl is sprayed with a special adhesive, and enamel powders are sifted onto the bowl in a particular way.  Enamel powders can be transparent, or opaque, and they melt at differing temperatures, so experience is needed to have some sense of what might happen inside the kiln.  I have to say - even then, I get both nasty, and wonderful surprises sometimes!   Some of my fellow glassy artists call it "the will of the kiln gods"  !!

  • The enamel is allowed to dry and then sometimes, I will "scribe" patterns into the enamel.  Removing the enamel in this way means that the heat can attack either the metal below, or the colour below.  This will give varying effects, as does the addition of more layers of enamel.

  • The bowl is in the red hot kiln for a very short time - no more than a couple of minutes - for the enamel to melt onto the copper.  It is carried carefully to the kiln on a metal trivet, with a long-handled fork under the trivet.  This is a bit on the scary side! One hand needed to open the kiln, protected from the blast of intense heat;  the other hand, also protected,  balancing the bowl and trivet while carefully placing it inside.   Having a bit of a hand tremor is NOT helpful. 
  •  The time that the bowl is in the kiln will also affect the enamel...on the steep sides of a bowl, softer enamels often "slide" down and this creates the most gorgeous effects.  I try to achieve this, and control this as much as is possible

  • Taking a red-hot bowl, balanced precariously on a metal trivet, which in turn is balanced on the tines of a big fork, out of the kiln, is even scarier than putting it in.  But gotta be done!!!

  • This process is repeated numerous times, until I feel that the bowl is "finished".
Because of all the variables, no two bowls are ever the same.  This is part of the joy of this process for me. Colour ebbs and flows, often looking remarkably like flowing washes of paint.  The copper sometimes glows thro transparent areas.  The colours and effects are wonderful - and permanent.   Here are some examples of finished (available!) bowls:  prices range from £23-26
below, you can see the outside of the above bowl.  A soft white enamel is used under a harder green;  the soft white bubbles up thro the green, creating this lovely random texture

In this little bowl below, lines are scribed into white enamel, and the heat of the kiln turns the white to green in places - an effect I knew would happen.  The inside of the bowl has a transparent clear enamel allowing the copper to glow thro...imagine this with a tea light! Or three of them as a centrepiece of a dinner table!  I often put them onto round mirrors, which reflect the outsides...that looks really striking as a table centre. 

Finally, just in case you are interested, I have a few on ETSY too:

I am aware that many of my blog followers are painters,  ...but we are all artists, after all, and I hope you managed to find some value in this post!  If nothing else, my life as a painter has informed my use of colour with my enamels, and with my glass - and it is rather nice to be creative in all sorts of different ways!
Next post will show some of my glass, and the processes involved.  Still learning there!  In fact, still learning in every area.

Do feel free to ask questions - happy to respond.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jackie. So interesting to hear how you work with enamels on your copper bowls - they all looks so interesting and colourful. I've had a go at enamelling copper jeweller so remember some of the processes. Sue


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