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Enamel and Process, No. 1

I'm going to try something new here on the blog and open up about the process of making jewelry.

On my Instagram account, I had been doing this thing called 'Stories' where I would show my process throughout the day and at the end finish a piece. That type of content sharing was working for a few years, but then the rhythm of it wasn't working for me anymore as it was kind of putting pressure on me to finish a piece each day. Jewelry, especially when you start to create more complex work/designs, simply cannot be finished in one day. There are parts and sections of a design that can be done on a small-scale production level, and then other techniques need more focus and concentration.

Lately, I've been getting into teaching myself enameling and I decided to start documenting my process for this blog. I want to use this as a way to record my breakthroughs, see where I've made improvements, while also sharing with you the ins and outs of teaching yourself a technique. When you engage with creativity on a daily basis, there is a familiarity to this type of process where you're ok with being a beginner and being open to possibilities, but it's not something that is completely obvious when you, as a collector/wearer/viewer, are looking at the finished product. I want to give you the complete story behind my work and a major part of that is the process of making.

So with that introduction for this sub-section of the blog, let's get into it.

What is enamel and what are some examples of it? Enamel is a glass which comes in a powder form and in a variety of colors that can be layered. The enamel powder is coated on to a metal surface, heated via kiln or torch, and the glass fuses to the metal. Enamel fuses to many different types of metals, but the most commonly used are copper, silver, and gold. The word enamel is used to describe the powdered glass, the technique, and the final product.

There are various techniques within the umbrella term of 'enamel,' and since I'm just getting started I can only speak to the ones that I'm becoming familiar with. You will find terms like cloisonné, plique-á-jour, champlevé, basse-taille, or guilloché and they are all some form of enamel, but their application of the material is unique.

I decide to try using enamel as a way to experiment with color and also with cloisonné, which are the 2 examples you see in the center and right of the photo sequence below. I had worked with enamel one other time in 2018, but the dalliance was brief and I wasn't able to get a full grasp of what enamel was all about. The photo on the left of the red enamel and garnet was my first enamel piece since my return.

The big challenge has been working with a torch in a technique called 'torch-fired' enamel. When a jeweler refers to enamel as 'torch-fired' that means that the enamel powder is heated with a torch as opposed to a kiln. A kiln has the benefit of evenly distributing the heat to the enamel piece, whereas with a torch, the jeweler has to use the flame and constantly move it to allow for an even distribution.

I then started experimenting with cloisonné which is where I bend thin strips of fine silver to create wells. Within each well, I add enamel powder and then when I go in to heat the enamel, it becomes glass and I get a more defined pattern. All of the rings below were done on sterling silver.

Last week, I tried out something new with enamel and tested the glass powder on copper. When copper is heated up, it turns different colors and it can affect the color of the enamel. I'm learning ways of controlling these unpredictable colorations so the work will come out cleaner. From a recent discovery, I found that when I made these little steel nests, the heat was able to distribute better with a torch and that significantly helped with the spots of discoloration. It felt like a little victory, so I had to share.

Anyway, that's it for today. Thanks so much for reading!

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