The process of melting finely ground glass powders onto metal is a technique which stretches right back to the 13th century BC and there are many styles and techniques. The name enamel is thought to have come from the High German word smelzan (to smelt) via the Old French esmail and most of the traditional techniques still have French names such as cloisonné, champlevé, baisse-taille, plique-a-jour and grisaille.
My first experience of enamelling was at school. I was 12 and in our art room was this large metal box in the corner which was never used. One day we were suddenly allowed to play with this and try some enamelling. We had some simple copper blanks and sprinkled on a bit of enamel with some little millefiori, put them into the hot kiln and melted them on. With health and safety these days we would never have been allowed to have a go like we did then! I certainly don’t recall any protective clothing, but this brief taster stayed in my memory and I was entranced by the whole process.
Many years later when I took up jewellery making as a hobby I decided to teach myself how to enamel from books. I torch fired for the first year until I could afford a kiln and used fine sheet silver and traditional methods. Then along came silver clay into my repertoire and I was fascinated with all the new things I could achieve. Suddenly there were a whole range of extra ideas which didn’t always fit the traditional labels but were great fun!
By using silver clay and now also copper clay we can simply create surfaces to enamel on which would be technically quite challenging with sheet metals. Low relief textures can give wonderful patterns under the enamel. The enamel appears a darker colour in the lower parts of the pattern which gives a lovely light reflecting quality. Not quite Faberge but not bad! Deeper textures will create cells to put enamel into, and this can also be achieved by using syringes lines on the surface of the clay. Cut out card shapes by hand or with paper punches and use on top of a low relief texture or plain paper and roll the clay onto it to create recesses for enamel. Fine silver wires can be fused to the surface of fired silver pieces to create areas for enamelling.
I enamel because I love to add colour to my work. Real glass vitreous enamel has stood the test of time so I know it will last and it is a lovely thought that just maybe some of my pieces will still be around long after I am gone 🙂
To find out more about enamelling go to http://www.metalclayacademy.com – a complete metal clay resource.
Joy Funnell is a Senior Art Clay Instructor and Craftsman of the Guild of Enamellers in Hastings UK. She is teaching at the Guild of Enamellers UK conference in Canterbury, April 2011 and at MCWC in Chicago, July 2011.