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All you need to know about enamelling

06 Jun 2019

Cara Murphyenamelling back drop 2

As the British Society of Enamellers (BSoE) celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, we take a closer look at this beautiful and varied art.

The milestone has been marked by the recent appointment of jewellery designer and Mona Pink founder, Monika Kamycka, as the Society’s chair – a unanimous vote following her successful year as vice chair.

Under Kamycka’s leadership the BSoE has realised a number of achievements, including a full review of membership benefits, evaluation of website and social media platforms and renewed focus on member and follower engagement. The Society’s founder, and first chair, Maureen Carswell, continues to play an active role on the Committee, as membership secretary.

Gratifyingly the BSoE has seen significant membership increases, so the new mission – to connect, inspire, support and promote the professional enamelling community – is paying off. And BSoE’s new values have, memorably, been announced as Brilliant, Supportive, Open and Engaging.

“Enamelling has been classed as ‘currently viable art’ by the Heritage Crafts Association, but that it doesn’t mean it’s risk-free,” says Kamycka. “We’re seeing
a renewed interest in enamelling as our membership grows and we’ve launched new initiatives to share members’ work online and offline, including regular themed Online Exhibitions.

“Enamelling could be a long-term sustainable art if more colleges ran specialist enamel courses and workshops – there are so few today. Online learning options would make them even more accessible and I know there are discussions in the industry around enamelling apprenticeships, which is great!” 

Mizuki Takahashi (Sgraffito)pendants

To get a bench-close view of the enamelling process The Jeweller spoke to Worcestershire-based contemporary jewellery artist and BSoE member Mizuki Takahashi:

When did you start enamelling?

It was when I was in my jewellery design course at Hereford College of Arts – I graduated in 2014. Since then I keep using this technique to create my jewellery work. Enamelled elements are the main feature in the design.

What drew you to it?

It was the materiality and texture. At college I was drawn particularly to wet-process enameling – it really is like a dipping glaze for ceramics, which I was also working with. Depending on the firing time and temperature, it emerges with less of a gloss finish, which I really like. Wet process enamel is ideal for me as it coats over complex, three-dimensional surfaces, which I wanted to work into my jewellery design.

Drawing is my essential creative process and enamelling helps me to achieve a similar outcome, yet you cannot control it perfectly, which gives me joy to discover when it comes out of the kiln.

Why did you choose the sgraffito technique?

Sgraffito allows me to have a similar expression and format of the line drawings and mark-makings, which I worked with initially on paper. It’s such a simple technique yet the outcome is boundless. I like using different sizes of tools to scratch off the dried enamel surface, adding depth to the simplicity.

How long did it take to perfect it?

I was introduced to it at college and a visiting enameller, Jessica Turrel, taught us for two days, which I really enjoyed. When I started enamelling, I struggled to make an even surface finish. After lots of attempts in application, drying, the firing method and the right tools, I think I’ve found my ideal way so far to work, though I’m still learning every day.

Does enamelling mean ‘lots of trial and error’?

Definitely lots of error, it can ruin your whole day! Though thanks to those errors, I’ve got the right consistency of enamel, firing temperature and timing in my making. Good concentration in each process is basic, but very much needed in order to not ruin the final outcome!

I’m also working with enamel paint techniques to help create a closer resemblance on enameled surfaces to my brush stroke drawings on paper. I now feel comfortable limiting colours and playing more with marks and surface expression. And there are more possibilities, styles and expressions to be found – it excites me to keep working with these materials and techniques.

enamellings

Enamelling Terms

Enamel is essentially glass, ground to a powder then fired on to a metal base, usually gold, silver, copper, aluminium or steel. The ground glass is a combination of silica and soda ash, with a small amount of metal oxides for colour, which is fused to the metal using a kiln or torch. Firings can take from 30 seconds to several minutes, with the kiln heated between 650°C and 1000°C, depending on techniques and materials used. 

Sifting

Sifting (or dusting) is the process of dropping and catching falling enamel particles. The control factors are mesh size of the enamel; mesh size of the screen; the load of the sifter; the size and shape of the surface to be covered; the use or non-use of a holding agent; the desired pattern and the application evenness.

Debbie King (Sifting)Debbie king enamelling

Cloisonné

The enamel is contained within wire cells (cloisons), which are usually fired onto a base coat of clear transparent enamel, then filled with wet enamel, often applied with a quill in layers. The piece is fired after each layer has been applied.

Champlevé

Recesses in the form of patterns or designs are carved or etched into the metal and the enamel is wet packed into these areas.

Basse-taille

An extension of champlevé, the recesses are engraved with patterns or carved with a low relief – seen as varying densities of colour through the transparent enamel.

Plique-à-jour

The enamel is fired into an open framework – the result resembling stained glass. It is particularly beautiful with light shining through the transparent or translucent enamels.

Judit Patkos (Expermental)Judit P enamelling

Painted enamel or Grisaille

Traditionally very finely ground metallic oxides are painted onto a white enamel base with fine brushes and fired, layer upon layer. The process can produce a detailed three-dimensional quality. Grisaille is also painted, but reversed: the background is black or dark blue and the images applied in various densities of white for a chiaroscuro effect.

Sgraffito

An unfired layer of enamel is applied over a previously fired layer of enamel of a contrasting colour, and then partly removed with a tool to create the design.

Stencilling

A stencil is placed over the work and the powdered enamel is sifted over the top. The stencil is removed before firing, the enamel staying in a slightly raised pattern.

For more information on the British Society of Enamellers, visit: http://enamellers.org/

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