I've admired enamelled jewellery for a while now and not too long ago did a blog post about Etsy seller tekaandzoe and her wonderful kiln enamelled creations. I didn't think at the time that it was something I would ever be able to do as the cost of kilns plus lack of space would be a problem for me.
That wasn't until I saw an advert for a torch enamelling tutorial from US jewellery supplies website Beaducation by Steven James. It's a great tutorial showing the basics on how to torch enamel on copper. Of course I bought it! I then spent hours scouring the internet for more information on torch enamelling, where to buy the tools I'd need and of course the enamel powders. There are quite a few UK sites selling enamelling supplies and tools but as usual I found the US sites had more choice (why do we always lag behind?) I bought some enamel powders from a couple of UK sites to begin with - Cookson Gold have a good selection but bear in mind the leaded enamels have to be sent by courier which costs £11!
So armed with my prepared copper discs, a not very suitable trivet (I've since bought two much better one's from Thompson Enamel), a small kitchen sifter as the proper enamel sifters I'd ordered hadn't arrive yet (patience is a virtue I know!) and a few opaque enamel colours I nervously "had a go".
My first attempts were amazingly fine which surprised me, just one colour on flat copper discs, although I was slightly alarmed when the red enamel powder turned black on contact with heat (that's normal!) and that was it I was hooked! As I read somewhere recently - enamelling isn't difficult to do it's doing it well that's the hard part.
What I've learned so far :
• You must wear a particulate mask when using powder enamels - some enamels contain lead, arsenic, cadmium and boron - not the sort of stuff you want to be inhaling
• You can use a butane torch for enamelling - it works fine for small pieces
• Yes you do need to counter enamel (enamel the back) your pieces. Copper and enamel expand and contract at different rates when heated and cooling down and counter enamelling the copper helps stabilise the tension between the two reducing the chance of warping and cracking
• Transparent enamels do need to be washed if you want to use them over other colours otherwise they can appear cloudy. You can get away without washing them if you're using them directly onto copper though
• A fired piece that appears fine at first can fiendishly change after a couple of minutes, hours, days or weeks! Cracks, pits, tiny hairs that you didn't see at the time of firing and black spots can appear which can be very frustrating
• If you see a black spot in the enamel as you're sifting don't hope it will "blend in" and not show when the piece is fired, it will!
• Enamel pens (available from Thompson Enamel) are not very easy to use
• Two thin layers are better than one thick one
I'll stop for now but I could go on for much longer! Below are some of my fledgling enamel jewellery designs, I'm still finding my way and having fun experimenting. I'm pleased that some of my enamel pieces have sold which always helps when you're trying something new and wonder if anyone will actually like it! I'd love to hear from anyone with enamelling tips or anyone who's thinking of having a go themselves :D
Ivory and Coral Flowers
Purple and Lavender Discs
Opaque over Transparent
Seafoam Green and Chestnut Brown Flowers
Seafoam and Nut Brown
Terracotta and Sterling Disc