Let me start by saying that I am no enamel expert. I am a student at the beginning of my journey in learning enamels who seeks to share what I’ve learned so far. Experiencing problem after problem with enameling, I went after more education. I’m working my way through Linda Darty’s book – The Art of Enamelling. And the talented and just plain sweet Lillian Jones agreed to add another session of her enameling class at Ornamentea at my request.
As a result of both the book and Lillian’s class, I’ve learned a few things. One of them is that the enamel cracking was caused by the fact that the metal and glass cool at different rates. And the metal moves a little during the heating and cooling process – also leading to cracks. One solution is to use heavier gauge metal. Another technique that helps is to form the metal in some fashion, such as curving it by dapping in a wood or steel block. And transparent enamels are harder to use than opaque. Things you maybe can squeak by with using opaque enamels, you won’t with transparent. Linda Darty explains all of this waaaayyy better than I ever could. If you are interested in enameling, invest in her book.
It helped me to understand things I needed to consider in selecting the metal for an enameling project. The circles I showed with cracked enamel were 24 gauge and they were flat. And I was using transparent enamels. I didn’t stand a chance.
In Lillian’s class, I got to ask my questions about cracking and about counter-enameling which is the process of applying enamel to the underside before enameling the front. I asked her how can I get enamel to stick to one side to counter-enamel it since I couldn’t get it to stick. That’s when she went to the board, drew a diagram like the one below, and explained what I am calling the factor of X. It may have a better name. I just don’t know it.
I will do my best to explain. X is the thickness of the metal. The enamel cannot be thicker than X or bad things happen. The layer of counter-enamel is thinner than X, so it fuses to the metal. Once the counter-enamel has been applied, X becomes the total of the thickness of the metal and the thickness of the counter-enamel. This allows you to add a thicker coat of enamel on top than you would have without the counter-enamel. This is especially needed in cloisonné where the top layer of enamel has to be thick enough to come to the top of the cloisonné wire.
This pendant is what I made in Lillian’s class. My first cloisonné pendant. Ever. I’m still a bit amazed. It is flat, it uses transparent enamels, and it is not cracked. A little knowledge is a wonderful thing. Lillian showed students how to do this with both a kiln and a torch. Every student left the class with a completed and set pendant – even those who did not know how to solder. In one day. Lillian was wonderful.
I’ve only made this one so far. I decided to invest in a kiln. It arrived recently and this past weekend my boyfriend and I got the spare (ahem junk) room cleaned out for me to create an enamel room. I still need to do a little more work to get it ready. And then it’s time to keep on working. Keep on learning. Make the new mistakes that are ahead of me. And conquer them too.