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Enamel and Process, No. 3

I thought it would be a good idea to start right from the beginning. With this post, I'm hoping to show you the steps that it takes to prep a piece of metal, in this case copper, for the enameling process. Silver, from my little experience, is more or less the same but copper does turn colors when heat is applied. The discoloration is called 'oxidation,' I'll use that term throughout this post.

I begin by sawing each piece with a jeweler’s saw (first photo on the left). The copper is in the background covered in a white film which protects the metal from scratches. Once I saw my pieces, I sand the edges, and give the metal a thorough cleaning with baking soda to remove any finger grease. Then, I begin coating the reverse with something called ‘counter enamel.’ When the enamel is fused to the metal, and the glass begins to cool, the enamel creates a lot of tension and can crack. There needs to be an even balance of enamel on the reverse in relation to the front to prevent this from happening. In other words, if you’re doing multiples layers of enamel on the front, the reverse also needs those multiple layers.

(Photo sequence below) Once I’ve fused the copper with a layer of counter enamel, the front of the piece has a black film, do you see that in the first photo? That layer is ‘oxidation’ and it needs to be cleaned before any more enamel is fused to the copper. I do this by grinding the oxidation off with a sandpaper disc and then clean it again with baking soda and water to remove any finger grease. I then coat the front with a clear enamel which acts as a buffer between the colorful enamels and the metal. In the middle photo, I wanted to demonstrate what varying heating times/intensities does to the copper. I didn’t heat the metal enough, and therefore it remained red with oxidation. This affects the colorful enamels at the end, so I went back and heated the copper again. I could see the oxygen bubbling and being released through the enamel (literally going from oxidized to clear) and now the piece, as seen in the last photo, is ready for an application of colorful enamels.

(Photo sequence below) Once I had prepped the copper with 2 thick layers of counter enamel and one layer of the clear enamel, the front was ready for the colorful enamels. With this piece I wanted to experiment with opaque enamels and then I wanted to test out this luster that is applied to ceramics to give the piece a different finish. When firing enamels, the colors turn different colors when they get hot and then once they cool, they return to the desired color. You can see this change in the first photo. Once I had put on all of the layers of color that I wanted (2 thin layers of color, then one layer of clear enamel to give the piece a glossy finish and to protect the gold foil), I then painted on a layer of the luster. The luster is called Duncan’s Mother of Pearl Luster and you see it on old-fashioned teacups that have a rainbow finish. When I heated the first piece, it got too hot, and the luster burned in clumps as seen in the last photo. I tried it again on the second piece in just a small area and it kind of sank into the enamel and gave it a very subtle rainbow effect. It wasn’t a complete success, but it wasn’t a complete failure either. I think there’s still hope with how to give the enamel a rainbow finish but I don’t think I’ve found the right temperature to make it really shine.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading!

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