Sunday, June 3, 2007

Blood, sweat, and enamel

Yesterday I held an enameling practice. Three hours of blood, sweat, and tears - or at least that's what it felt like. Two types of metal (copper and fine silver), three types of enamel (lumps, threads, powder), several varieties of failure (among them: cracking, discoloration, lumpiness, and general ugliness). The thing with pmc is that you put the pieces in the kiln, fire them, it's done. With enamel it's in and out, in and out, wait for it to cool, wait for the klyr fire to dry -- every time I open the kiln, hotness. Hence the sweat. The blood, just a drop, appeared when I was sanding a fine silver piece that I'd enameled. I still don't know if it was a sharp glass edge or a sharp metal edge. There were no actual tears - truth be told, I was too wrapped up in what I was doing to cry or even care about the blood and sweat until I was done. I love that feeling of losing myself in the process. It's even better when the result of the process is something you like. I liked the way a couple of things turned out in this session. Not surprisingly, they're all enamel on fine silver. I swear, enamel on copper is a bitch - more specifically, firescale is a bitch. So let's not talk about it.

First success: I had read that fired enamel could be filed down to remove surface irregularities and then briefly heated to reglossify it. This was great news for the red pendant I had done a couple of weeks ago. The pendant was made by creating a fine silver cup and filling it with big chunks of enamel (i.e., glass). The before picture is on the left; the after picture is on the right. As I think you can see, the enamel is much flatter and smoother in the after picture. I had another fine silver setting that I had originally made for a very thick drusy. Unfortunately, I didn't calculate shrinkage accurately and it didn't fit the stone after firing. So I decided to try this same technique. This time I used only transparent enamel chunks in blue and green, topped off with a second layer of clear enamel chunks. This really worked. You can see all the way to the bottom of the setting, which is heavily textured. The enamel is flat, even with the sides of the bezel. Learning has taken place!

The next project was to decorate a couple of fine silver pieces with small lumps of enamel. All I had to do was find an appropriately transparent lump of the right size, position it, and fire it. And hope that it wouldn't fall off afterwards. (I think the falling enamel problem has to do with how clean the surface is before enameling -- apparently even small amounts of skin oil or soap can cause the enamel to detach from the metal.) So far so good with these two. The piece on the left was made from pmc sheets. These are thin sheets of pmc, pre-rolled. They're easy to work with and don't dry out as fast as the regular clay. One problem is that they are quite thin, so to do anything other than decorate another piece, you really need to laminate a couple of sheets. Fortunately, this is easy. Paint one sheet with water. Put the other sheet over it. Put a weight on it and let it dry.

The second piece to get a dollop of enamel is made from pmc clay molded in a carved wooden stamp. (Note that I seem to have had a blue thing going on yesterday.) There was a perfect little round indentation in the middle of the star, just right for a lump of enamel. I have to figure out how to hang this - typically I forgot to poke a hole in the pendant while it was wet clay and drilling on this tiny rounded shape would be a bad idea.

Then we had some real experimenting. The best of that phase of the session involve sifting powder enamel over some oval donut-like pendants that have been sitting around, not attracting much attention. Here's the one that's fit to be seen. It's black opaque enamel sifted over half the pendant. It's not quite as dorky as it looks in the picture, but almost. The other pendant, well, some things are better left to the imagination...

Finally, I had a fine silver piece that was an attempt at the adinkra pendant, me ware wo, I mentioned yesterday. I'd gotten as far as making four joined circles and then given up because I couldn't get the tiny inner dangly things to work. I decided to enamel three of the circles, each in a different color. The result is, shall we say, slightly rustic. Not necessarily bad, just a bit rough.

End of day assessment: I have three, possibly four, enameled fine silver pieces I can actually use. There are another three enameled fine silver pieces that are probably too ugly to use for anything except the charmless bracelet, which is getting pretty full at this point. And there were three total disasters on copper disks that have disappeared into the garbage. Practice makes progress.

1 comment:

DC Designs said...

I think your progress is happening at a great pace. :) Keep at it.