What is Enameling?
Enameling is the ancient art of melting powdered glass onto metal. This can be done on flat pieces of metal or three dimensional pieces of art, such as vases. Heat is applied with a high temperature torch or a kiln. The temperature must rise to at least 1450 degree F. for the glass to fully fuse to the metal. For small pieces of jewelry, this fusing process takes approximately 30 seconds - 2 minutes. For larger pieces of metal, it can take much longer. However, artists commonly engage in many firings of a single piece to add layers onto both sides. Also, detailed designs often require many firings to obtain the desired artistic effects.
I learned metal-smith techniques before I decided to add enameling to my bag of tools. I wanted to be able to add color and dimension to my work without having to rely on stones. Enameling is an extremely versatile medium. You can create an endless variety of design elements, which is very exciting to me as an artist!
Enamels come in two basic types: opaque (non-transparent) and, you guessed, transparent! There are also opalescents and other fancy pantsy types but they just add additional effects. Opaques give a one-dimensional feel but can be very effective in certain designs. Transparents are "where it's at" to most enamelists. Since you can see through the transparent colors, you can layer, shade, and blend different colors. This adds tremendous interest to the work. Some artists paint with enamels, similar to fine art painting.
Besides basic enameling, I also love cloisonne and champleve techniques. These are french words, but these techniques have been used in some form or fashion all over the world since ancient Greek times.
Basically, cloisonne involves creating partitions on top of the metal and then filling these compartments with enamel. The metal is then fired until the glass fuses. After the artist adds all the layers of enamel desired, the partitions (usually made with metal wire) and glass are ground down so that the entire surface is smooth.
Champleve, in contrast, involves recesses being made into the surface of the metal. These recesses are then filled with enamel and fired. The final piece will be ground smooth. Instead of thin wires, larger sections of metal appear on the surface of the piece. These recesses can be created by etching and engraving into the metal. Or, the artist may fuse or solder two pieces of metal on top of one another. The top piece of metal has been pierced or sawed in a way to create openings which can be filled with enamel and fired. Actually, both techniques can be used in the same piece!
An exciting aspect of enameling to me is that I can set stones or sea glass into an enamel design. The colors of the sea glass or stones can then be enhanced by the choice and design of the enamel colors.
Wow!! (I get that this may not be as thrilling to you as it is to me, but that's why I love this stuff!!) I also love that enamel is in fact glass, as is sea glass. See? It's all interconnected. Love it when that happens!