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: VIII

Design with Nature: 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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As I became more adept at the techniques of enameling, I began to feel daunted by the power of the art form. It offered tremendous opportunities through freedom of proportion, rich colors, and its ability to emphasize line work. Using such features, I realized, was subject to principles and rules that I had not studied beyond the first year of high school, and had never really grasped.

Anxious to learn quickly, I reasoned that most of these principles and rules probably expressed the preferences that nature had instilled in us long ago. Nature, then, was the arbiter of what was artistically sound. My starting point would be to prepare realistic images of natural subjects. Abstraction could come later. I began with birds.

Which was better to start with than the bald eagle? I sensed that nature would not only guarantee the artistic soundness of this image, but would also add a touch of drama reflecting the personality of this fearless hunter. It worked reasonably well, both small (on cufflinks) and large (on a box lid).

 

EagleCfflnks2-06 300

Eagle Lect 14 300

Other species followed in short order. Feeling more comfortable about choice of color, I began taking small liberties with what nature had provided. In some cases, a realistic pendant or brooch might be accompanied by more abstract smaller accessories like earrings and cufflinks.

Bird 1 Pend 300      Humbird 1 Pend 300      MiscBird1-06 300

Of the two pairs of “button” earrings shown below, the pair on the left reflects elements of numerous bird images; on the right, the enlargement of a small detail of a butterfly’s wing.

VIII. MiscBird3Earr 300

VIII. Swallows Feeding Lect 17 300        VIII. MiscBird-03 300       PenguinPnd-07 300

Again, the penguin image on the pendant is a source for abstractions on the first pair of accompanying earrings. Hummingbird images are caricatured on the second pair. In the third pair, the avian origin is mostly lost in abstraction.

PenguinEarr-06 300            Hummbrd Earr-04 (2) 300

VIII. Champleve1-09

Finally, we present a “copy of a copy” of nature. The ancient Athenians used a wise owl to represent their patron Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. And so they used an owl to decorate their silver tetradrachm, considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the coins ever minted. Here is a rendition of the coin in enamel. It was made by the basse-taille (low-relief) technique; relief was obtained by embossing a thin sheet of fine silver.

VIII. Classical Owl tetradrachm 300

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: III

Alpha and Omega

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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 Alpha and Omega is a work that justifies the “metal arts” part of the series title. It achieves its rich color without benefit of enamel. It features a star sapphire, a generous gift from our son, Philip, to his mother. I constructed the setting, a pendant consisting of several sheets of fine silver, each sawn to shape, and silver-soldered together as layers.

In a mineralogy class, I learned that the six-pointed star seen in the sapphire is actually the reflection of a consistent geometric pattern by which the atoms of the various elements are arranged within the crystal. Seeing this evidence of atomic properties seems almost to be an otherworldly experience.

To make the point that the atoms and we are in the same world, I began by enclosing the entire design within the symbols for Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Six silver rays, extensions of the star points, penetrate to the limits of that world.

Scanned-07 Sapphire

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