Enamel Exploration

My ideas are evolving and I’ve moved forward onto the next stage of my creative exploration. I am attempting to push the forms and shapes I am using, not just the outline shape, but also in raising doming and combining with the other metals. Subtly my forms are evolving, the line and scale is emerging. Right form the beginning of these forms I am also considering brooch fixtures and attachments.

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In my previous development work, I had experimented with how I could form and shape steel. One of these experiments included spinning steel – I finally found a place to start using these. I produced two shallow forms with my spun steel bowls and also mocked up two test pieces combining steel and copper. All soldered using enamel solder. Although the steel could have been laser welded, I am keen to allow my studio practice to emerge around processes and techniques I can also easily access once I have completed my Masters.

I knew it would be a challenge to enamel curved and shaped surfaces, but I was really interested to see if it was achievable. The steel ground coat went on well, but it was hard work from there on! As I suspected may happen the copper was heating and cooling at a different rate to the steel and was causing the enamel to stress fracture over the copper domed areas. The two spun pieces, were looking OK, but it was taking a lot of firings in the kiln to get the finish I was looking for. Eventually my solder joins gave way.

Although it meant that I didn’t have any physical work to show for the hours I had spent at the kiln – I did technically learn an awful lot. I have a much better understanding of the application of wet process enamel, I am learning how the smallest change in temperature can have a dramatic effect. But mostly of all, I feel as though I have really developed in starting to control the desired effect and finish rather than the kiln and the process necessarily controlling me. I have booked a workshop with the very talented Elizabeth Turrell, and I am really hoping this will help push the technical development forward as well as an introduction into kiln fired decals. The failures have also pushed me to seek out new solutions and different avenues such as dye sublimation, and also researching other avenues to form steel such as press forming and sintering.

20180522_204517.jpgMy biggest development in this stage of work was the finish I was able to get on the final surface, this was mostly down to ditching the alundum stone in favour of diagrit and really spending the time working through the grades to get a perfectly flat glassy polish finish. The use of diagrit mounted on a sponge also facilitated me cleaning up the edge between firings. This was really useful in the two pieces pictured above where I have moved forward to enamel both sides of the steel – whilst also giving rise to further interchangeability, I am also driven by the back being just as refined as the front. My perspective as a ‘viewer’ when a piece isn’t being worn and sat on a dressing table, or within a jewellery box, it should look  beautiful from all angles.

OMI Jewels

I was also searching for a more permanent solution to my image and text transfer so I have returned to experiment with some laser engraving. With the flat glossy surface, I had managed to get on the enamel and a slight tweak to the depth of engraving on the laser, the surface after engraving almost had a texture of velvet. The laser does obliterate the glossy surface character, so I returned one piece back into the kiln to see if I could return this quality. It did bring a little of this shine back, but not completely and to a little degrading of the image quality. I also tried out layering decal imagery over the engraving – the imagery over the text engraving was particularly successful. I wonder if this effect would be possible by re-laser engraving the same surface?

I have also been experimenting with new forms of mild steel and testing their response in the kiln. Firstly steel shim, the idea here was about weight, I have been working with 0.7mm steel and if I am going to develop my work into larger necklaces I must consider the weight. The steel shim is too thin and after enamelling very fragile. After much research and phoning of many suppliers it doesn’t seem possible to buy sheet steel thinner than 0.7mm, so I considered perforated steel sheet. In my initial tests, the enamel has struggled to bond with the surface – I think this will easily be resolved by sand blasting the surface prior to enamelling. Using perforated sheet has introduced the idea of layering and joining the the panels.

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