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.