One of biggest challenges through my MA has been battling with technical issues that have arisen whilst I have attempted to find my feet working with vitreous enamel. I had never enamelled before my MA and for the most part I have taught myself through perseverance and experimentation. Enamelling on steel has its own issues and on entering my final semester and the emphasis on executing some refinement, I thought it was about time I sought some technical assistance.
Having done a little research into who was available in the field and willing to offer technical support, I contacted Elizabeth Turrell. You only have to scratch the surface of the enamel world to realise what an influential figure she has been in the industry, so I was delighted when I was able to set up a one-to-one workshop with her. Elizabeth has pioneered enamelling on steel, industrial steel in particular and predominately working with image transfer and mark making. So, she couldn’t be better placed to help with my enquiry.
One of the first developments Elizabeth recommended to me to was in using pre-enamelled steel sheet. After battling with groundcoat in various different forms, this was a real aha moment. Moving onto the enamels themselves and with such a glorious array of colours to pick from in Elizabeth’s workshop, I realised you just couldn’t beat someone actually showing what consistencies you should be working with and the all-important preparation and application. I spent the morning learning more about the physical properties of enamel itself and the chemical bond of glass on metal. Along with onglaze enamel, Elizabeth introduced me to a technique called sgraffito, in the simplest form this was basically scratching through the enamel to reveal layers prior to firing. In the afternoon Elizabeth opened up the world of decal transfers which I thoroughly enjoyed cutting up, layering and experimenting.
The day was jam packed with hints and tips and troubleshooting many of the issues I had been coming up against. I came away from the workshop, on one hand now armed with much more information to successfully push my project forward, but on the other hand Elizabeth blew open the field for me, introducing new artists and processes and I now see many more possibilities for my future work. She also offered valued advice for my Artist in Residence year at the School of Jewellery in setting parameters for yourself such as material or colour which gives rise to a more depth process enquiry.
Taking my new knowledge back to my Final Major Project. My first job was to order some pre-enamelled sheet. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything as thin gage as Elizabeth showed me, and found it tough going as well as time consuming piercing through. I did however introduce sandblasting prior to applying the ground coat, which worked a treat. Along with my new understanding and application of the enamel I was able to enamel the spun and curved surfaces and also realised I was able to work much quicker. I’ve really enjoyed layering decals and laser engraving and experimenting with my new techniques.
Most of all Elizabeth gave me the confidence to trust in my own process and instincts. And enough confidence that I now feel capable to have a go at enamelling some of my raised and shaped ‘wrap’ pieces, that I previously was going to get powder coated. In many ways the amalgamation of my final major project and my experience with Elizabeth has forged a new commitment to the field and in doing so I have also made the step to apply for the Guild of Enamellers Bursary Scheme.
Many thanks to Elizabeth for her insights, help and patience…