Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's All Practice

Inspired by a recent tutorial in Art Jewelry magazine written by Lillian Jones, I decided to do some cloisonne enameling. Enameling was my favourite elective when I was in art school, and cloisonne is one of the most striking enamel techniques. But wait! I haven't done any cloisonne since I finished school. Should be a cinch, right? I needed some preparation!

First: I make a trip to the library to check out The Art of Enameling by Linda Darty. It's an awesome primer for enameling that I remembered reading when I was in school. I took the book to a sushi restaurant and boned up on my technique while sipping my miso soup. Mmmmm!

Second: Dive in. I fired up my beehive kiln (I LOVE my beehive kiln!), chose my enamel colours, punched out some copper discs with my disc cutter, domed them with my dapping set, drilled holes so I could hang my samples later, and counter-enameled the backs of my discs. So far, so good!

I hit my first snag when I tried to emboss a nice pattern into my fine silver foil. The pattern appeared when I rubbed it on a patterned brass sheet, but the design flattened considerably when I glued it to the copper with klyr-fire. Presumably my silver foil is thinner gauge than I should be using if I want to keep a nice pattern. It still looked nice, so I kept going.

Next I laid out my cloisonne wires. This is fun, meticulous, and meditative. If you have somewhere to go or something else you need to get done today, don't do cloisonne enameling! You need to feel like you can take your time, so do it on a Sunday or on your day off. It took me a while to get them laid out. I glued them down as I went along with klyr-fire, but it's tricky at times. I soon got the knack. I was working freehand - next time I will design and follow a pattern.

I dropped my piece when I got it near my kiln. Wires flew everywhere. I may have said a few blue words, and right at this moment, my boyfriend got out of bed and approached me for some sort of snuggle or something. I told him to get lost! He sulked and went back to bed. But I digress.

It didn't take long to get the wires glued back down and fired to the piece. Then I began the work of filling in the cells with enamel. Ok, I forgot to wash my enamel. I was so excited to begin that I just started without washing the colours like you are supposed to. It worked out fine until my second or third firing. I was using a small plastic palette for my enamels, and Saskatchewan is very dry and the air here is staticky. What this means for my enamel is that small particles jumped up and into other colours when I scooped them into the palette, just before I wet them with water and klyr-fire. So my transparent colours are a little contaminated with black speckles. Yuck. Lesson learned: next time I'm going to buy shot glasses from the dollar store and keep each colour separate (and clean them well before I start working with them!)

When I had built up the enamel to the height of the wires, It was time to stone the wires down with an alundum stone. I had to stone so much down around the tips of the petals that I lost most of the enamel from those areas! This is a design flaw. I should have made my disc larger or my flower smaller, or I could have bent my cloisonne wires better so that they fit the deep curve of the dapped disc better. This last option was the one I chose for my second try, and It worked a lot better.

I made my final mistake when I put a "clear" coat of enamel over the entire piece. The clear didn't turn out to be very clear at all, but an ugly, milky colour. (I know, I should have washed it - the lesson has been learned!) I also covered up the hole with enamel. At this point I'm realizing that I am NOT a pro. My alundum stone gets a mighty workout as I grind the top layer off, then I use a diamond bit to burr out the hole. I fire the piece one last time to bring it back up to a nice, smooth shine, and voila! I have done it.

Now, with the lessons I have learned from this fumbling enamel excursion, I tried another flower - a blue one. The second sampler worked out better than the first, which gives me a satisfying feeling of progress. I didn't want to just hang the samples on the wall, so I made some wire connectors and a bail and created a pretty little pendant.

I did get a little angry with myself because I expected to be amazing right out of the gate, but at the end, I had to remind myself that everything I do is just practice for other things I'm going to do. The more practice, the better those future things are going to turn out.

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