ENAMEL AND METAL ARTS: XIII

Design with Nature: …and MORE Birds

This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them. The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved. 

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Birds provide striking models for enameling, and their brilliance of color is well suited to the medium. I found that they were popular among the visitors to our gallery.

Following are a few enamel pieces that I would like to put on the record, even though there was not enough space for them in the earlier posting about birds.

The first of these are reasonably realistic:

WLesser Flamingo Africa
(A grouping of the Lesser Flamingo in Africa)

WMiscBird-11          WMisc-08a

…even including, below, the clumsy result of my very first attempt at enameling, in which the best feature is probably the ruby background. I am somewhat proud that I hammered out the setting, starting with heavy copper wire, circular in cross-section, into a channel wire that was U-shaped in cross-section.

WMiscA1-04

The next three include a cartoon, titled “Partners,” and some close-up views of a peacock feather:

CPartners-10

PPcock-06 (3)        PPcockEarr-05

Finally, the following abstract images can more or less easily be related to their origins as birds:

 ABlue Comet 2          AMiscEarr-05a

ACrosWngs-08a      AFreeform Champleve

Of the last group of four pictures, three show champlevé pieces.  The fourth (upper right) and all of the preceding pictures in this post show cloisonné pieces.  The picture of the flamingo grouping is a special variety, concave cloisonné, in which the enamel does not fill the entire cell, and its surface in cross-section is U-shaped between the wires.

ENAMEL AND METAL ARTS: XII

Design with Nature: Flowers and Butterflies

This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them. The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved.

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For enamels based on flowers and butterflies, my design concepts were narrow and specialized, and I produced relatively few pieces.

In flowers, my principal interest was in presenting subtle gradations of delicate colors. I found these most often in orchids. Shown here: a pin, two pendants, and earrings showing orchids and a leaf bud.

Orch3Pin-02     Orch4Pnd-01    Orchid-02

OrchEarryy-01     Orch2Earr-03    Leafbud 300

I never produced an enamel piece showing the complete body of a butterfly. My interest was in the minute patterns and colors that could best be seen with a magnifying glass. These usually gave the appearance of an abstract design, but only the first two are frankly abstract.

            BflyAbstr3 5 copy            BflyAbstr 1 Scanned-01

The rest of the pieces show the tiny patterns with as much realism as I could achieve.

 BflyBtns-02

Bfly earr 06 (3)         BflyBtn

BtrflyPnd1-03           BtrflyEar-03

The leaf bud earrings were produced by the champlevé technique; all other pieces are cloisonné.

ENAMEL AND METAL ARTS: XI

Design with Nature: Fish and Shellfish

This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them. The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved.

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This image of a fossil fish, six inches square, is one of the larger enamel pieces in this series. The base is a steel panel that had previously been coated with enamel in an industrial process.

 XI. FossilFish

Relatively simple techniques were used to produce the piece.

Sifting fine-grained enamel onto the wetted surface produced the major areas of different colors; the piece was fired after each color. Masks cut from absorbent paper, wetted and placed on the surface, controlled the boundaries of the areas.

A technique known as sgraffito was used to form the linear features such as ribs and cracks. A wooden stylus scratched through the coating of dried enamel prior to firing.

The image is reminiscent of the scorpion fish presented in an earlier posting of this series. That piece is presented here again because it is an outstanding example of enamel design based on nature, and specifically on a fish.

 XI.  ScorpFsh  Copy

As previously noted, the source of the image was a photograph of a living fish in deep ocean waters. The bone structure was visible through the transparent flesh.

The next two pendants show an angel fish in shallow tropical waters above a reef. Silver wires mark the part of the image formed by the cloisonné technique. Other features, including the fish, employed the basse-taille (low relief) technique. Thin sheets of silver were embossed, put in position, and covered with sufficient transparent enamel to build a smoothly rounded surface.

XI. Angelfish 2                XI. Angelfish 1

Seashells are a rich source of design for enamels of all sizes. I found them particularly useful for small pieces such as cufflinks, earrings, and small pendants.

               XI. CowrieEarr Grn                XI. Cowrie Aqua Earr

Shown here are cowry designs in several colors departing from nature…

XI. Cowrie Lilac Set              XI. Cowrie CffLnks

…and a design based on an iridescent, multicolored abalone shell. All used the basse-taille technique with low-relief designs etched out of fine silver by nitric acid.

XI. Abalone-02a

The next two pieces represent the champlevé technique, in which the design is expressed by alternating areas of silver and enamel at the surface. The enamel fills pockets etched out of the fine silver by nitric acid.

XI. DoveShell joined copy2                    XI. Unident Shell

The image of a conch shell appears on the next piece, a heavy copper sheet about five by six inches in size.  This was a learning piece for the Grisaille technique.  I know of no other way that such smooth transitions among multiple shades of a color (gray in this case) can be produced with opaque enamels.

XI. Conch Grisaille

On a thickly enameled black base, successive layers of white are built up. Where the darkest gray is wanted, the fewest white layers are applied. Where the lightest gray is wanted, the largest number of white layers is applied.

The piece is then high-fired (at temperatures above the normal range of 1400 to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit). All the white enamel disappears. A normal firing then restores the image. In the restored image, edges of layers cannot be seen. Transitions between different shades are smooth and gradual.

Some grisaille pieces from many centuries ago were colored by applying a top layer of transparent colored enamel. This is comparable to colorizing black and white photos by applying transparent colored ink. In part II of this series, transparent enamels have colorized the grisaille image of the Healing Fragrance piece.

ENAMEL AND METAL ARTS: IX

High-Firing Experiments

This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them. The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved.

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The lead-bearing enamels that I used gave interesting, surprising, and often beautiful results when fired at high temperatures, about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, on copper. (This contrasts with normal firing temperatures of 1,400 to 1,500 degrees.) Transparent enamels often gave unexpected colors and lusters. For example, a pink enamel called tea rose produced a brilliant gold with bright metallic luster. An example of this is shown below in the Celtic Wreaths enamel, previously introduced in part VI.

 XII CeltWreathsEnam

Also, many opaque types of enamel became transparent during high firing, and led to still more colors, always with a metallic luster that is not well rendered in the photographs.

A desk pen set illustrates results of an experiment using both transparent and opaque enamels on the familiar eagle design.

EagleHiFire-12 (2)                    EaglePenset-11 (2)

The experimental piece shown below was an attempt to portray the lights and colors of Paris on a summer evening. Its shortcomings in definition and form, a frequent casualty of high firing, are partly balanced by the richness of color and luster.

Summer Eve-05c

The fictitious scene of a harbor at sunset takes full advantage of the warmth and brilliance that are easily produced by this technique.

Sunset-18                   Sunset-08 (3)

All of the pieces shown here are basse-taille products. The low relief was etched in copper by a mordant and then covered by enamel, built up to a flat or gently curved surface.

High firing was a fruitful area for experimentation. It was the scene for many advances of the art in the 1980s, and the subject of many workshops. In this context, my own experiments barely scratched the surface.

 

ENAMEL AND METAL ARTS: V

Moon Checkers

This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them. The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved.

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Moon Checkers is a workpiece of cloisonné enamel mounted on a wooden box. It was produced by a special version of the technique, known as concave cloisonné.

The conventional technique calls for completely filling the cells with enamel, then honing the surface to a flat or gently curved shape. In concave cloisonné, the cells are only partly filled with enamel, which is allowed to take on its natural shape after firing and cooling. In cross-section, the enamel surfaces within each cell are U-shaped, as the edges tend to climb up the wire wall by capillary attraction.

For some designs, this produces an attractively textured surface. Where transparent enamels are used, as in this piece, their lens-like qualities tend to enhance colors and brilliance. The finished enamel is not honed, but the tops of the wires may be evened up by this method.

V Scanned-11 MoonChkrs3

This design, resembling a checkerboard, responds to a one-time request by the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, that its artists pursue a “quilting” theme. The title “Moon Checkers” was applied with two meanings in mind:

  • The images of the moon, each placed in its own square in the pattern, resemble the pieces on a checkerboard.
  • The plants growing in each square seem to be checking on the changing phases of the moon as a means of regulating their own blooming cycle.

V Scanned-10 MoonChkrs1

Shown below is one of the earliest pieces, made in an elementary class, mounted on a wooden box, and titled “Village Wharf.” It is an example of the concave cloisonné style with mostly opaque enamels.

V. Scanned-05

V. Scanned-03

ENAMEL AND METAL ARTS: IV

Scorpion Fish

This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them.  The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved.

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Scorpion Fish is a pendant enameled in the basse-taille (low relief) technique. The image was etched by nitric acid out of fine silver, and was then completely covered by enamel. Many means other than etching can be used in this technique to produce the three-dimensional image.

The design was based on a photograph of a live fish in deep ocean waters. Its flesh was transparent and the skeleton was visible. This made it an ideal candidate for the basse-taille technique.

IV. Scanned-01 ScorpFsh

Opaque black enamel was used in the first layer in the background area and the pupil of the eye. All subsequent layers of enamel were transparent, some colorless and others in various colors.  These were built up until the entire low-relief image was submerged, and the top surface was honed flat and polished.

Strictly speaking, the silver border is not a feature of the basse-taille technique. It is borrowed from another style of enameling, champlevé (raised field), where a design is created by bare areas of the underlying metal alternating with areas of enamel.

Other examples of the combined use of the two techniques are shown in the pendants and earrings below.

IV. Scanned-08 ScorpFsh   IV. Scanned-04 ScorpFsh

ENAMEL AND METAL ARTS: II

Healing Fragrance

This is one of a series of postings about enameling and art metalwork. It is based primarily on my work in the 1980s. I am not a master of these arts, but I hope this fact will be an advantage in communicating the basics, in simple terms, to readers who are not already familiar with them. The series is not intended to instruct in procedures, but solely to impart an appreciation of the art forms involved.

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Healing Fragrance is an enamel of the grisaille technique, with an overlay of transparent colored enamels, mounted on a silver pendant. The technique was developed many centuries ago, but is in relatively uncommon use today.

Grisaille refers to the subtle gradations among shades of gray, in addition to black and white, that are produced by this technique. After seeing the photo of a 13th-century grisaille with color overlay, I was inspired to add this secondary technique.

The basic grisaille is prepared with only two enamels, specific formulations of black and white, fused on metal. On a thick coating of several layers of black enamel, the white enamel is applied in a sequence of layers that vary in number and thickness according to the shade of gray or white desired. The piece is fired after each new layer is applied.

Through a sequence of high-temperature and normal-temperature firings, the image is produced with subtle gradations among the various shades. To produce the color overlay, a thin layer of transparent enamels of various colors is fired over the grisaille image; this is analogous to the hand coloring of a black-and-white photograph.

 Healing Fragrance 1

The work features an approximate likeness of my wife, Jaquelin, as she appeared in the mid-1980s. She was severely depressed over failing health and increasing neurological problems, which eventually led to a major stroke and many years as an invalid. With little success, I tried to divert her attention into more pleasant and relaxed directions – figuratively, to “smell the flowers.” Healing Fragrance presents a fantasy in which she indeed smells the flowers.

Healing Fragrance