Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Enameling on Copper Vessels with Harlan Butt

This vessel made by Harlan Butt.

In October of 2019 (pre-Covid), the Metal Arts Guild of Georgia (formerly the Georgia Goldsmith's Group) invited Harlan Butt to Atlanta to do a workshop on enameling vessels.  I had enameled flat/domed pieces previously, but never a large curved vessel. The enameling process is pretty much the same in all the classes I have taken, but there are a few differences when working on a much larger, curved surface.  

Harlan's teaching was exceptional.  Intelligent, kind, patient...and he is a true a lover of nature, which you can see in his work. 

We were all given a copper cup to begin.

We completely covered our cup in fine silver sheet, bit by bit, each layer fired.  Then a layer of clear enamel was placed on the entire piece, dried and fired.  We need this layer of enamel for the future wires to adhere to on the vessel.

Now the fun begins.  Harlan makes these wonderful little jigs which allow you to make a pattern out of brass just one time and use that pattern to form your fine silver cloisonne wires so you can create the same cloisonné wire design over and over.  What a time-saver this is!  There are more photos of Harlan's jig in my favorite enameling book, The Art of Enameling by Linda Darty (page 110).  Tip:  Always anneal your cloisonne wire.

Below you can see the pattern I decided to make.  One by one, I placed the the wires on the outside of my vessel with Lilly Root glue, which will keep those wires down a bit better than regular Klyr-Fire or Blu-Stik.

It's important to try to curve the wires a little bit before putting them onto the vessel.  Sometimes I added a little bit of wet-packed enamel to help hold them in place.  When it comes out of the kiln, touching the wires down gently with tweezers helps make sure they are formed well onto the piece.  I tried to finish 2 or 3 rows at a time before drying and firing.

Once the entire piece is ready to be enameled, it's time to prepare the enamels!  Most enamels you buy are 80 mesh.  For the best transparency, we used 325 sifter screen (some think 200 is better).  One can also wash the fines out by adding water to the enamel, swishing it around, letting it settle and draining off the milky fines on top.  Repeat this over and over until the water runs clear.  Once the enamel is washed, add a drop of Klyr Fire.  This is to help the enamel stick to your piece - remember we're enameling on a curved surface here and you want the enamel to stay in place.  Then enamel is done in this order:  1) Lighter transparencies, 2) Darker transparencies and 3) Opaques. Always rotate from firing on the bottom of vessel to firing on top.  Otherwise, the enamels can all run and gather in one direction, and we don't want that to happen.

When all the enameling is done, it's time to grind with an alundum stone followed by 400 and 600 sandpaper, then maybe 800.  Clean with ammonia and a brass brush (remember to use ammonia in a well ventilated area). We then fired again and pulled it out of the kiln as soon as it glazed over.  (You can always skip the last firing if you wish, and use diamond sticks, Zam or Cerium Oxide to finish). This is my almost finished piece:

Here are some of the vessels made by other classmates.

 And here's the happy bunch of us before departing for home after a wonderful workshop with Harlan.  If he ever comes to your town, I highly recommend you take his class. It's a great adventure!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

They Call Me Mellow Niello - Wildacres, 2019

Another summer is almost over and I'm happy to say that I was able to take Gia's class at Wildacres in June.  The Florida Society of Goldsmiths puts this on every year and they do an AMAZING job!  This time I learned a technique called "Niello."  Niello is a black metallic alloy used as a surface decoration and is fused to a metal base.  We made designs in sterling silver using engraving tools (and sometimes burrs), making designs in the silver. Once finished we filled the spaces with the Niello substance and fired.  Once cool, we then sanded until the designs surfaced. 

Such a great class!  That's Fred the Deadhead in Cyndi's hand.  She snuck him into Meike's bed when Meike was off doing something else in hopes of freaking her out when she walked back into her room.  

Personally, I would have screamed...loudly...if I came upon THIS in my room, but Meike is on to Cyndi's shenanigans.  LOL!

Always a joy to come back to this beautiful view again. 

Below you see us outside watching Gia make the Niello.  He's firing silver, copper, lead and ground sulfur.  Some of us came prepared for this with our heavy-duty respirator masks.  If you are downwind from the smell of these chemicals while they're being fired, it's not going to be a good thing.  The lead and sulfur are highly toxic.

Me & Meike

Here is the beginning of a piece.  This was the first time I'd ever used engraving tools for ANYTHING, so my work is messy.  But by the end of the week, I had a better feel for this process.

When the piece was finished with the design work, I added the black, powdered Niello and fired.  This is how it looks once fired.  Then I went to the sanding machine and took off most of the Niello there, and finished with a regular file.

Here's how it looked when almost finished.  Just a little more sanding and polishing to do.

This is Gia's finished pendant along with the bracelet he made in class.

I was the lucky purchaser of this bracelet at the auction!  Sooooo happy to have this.  It's gorgeous.

Fred liked to be with us every day in our studio. 

This is a sterling silver pendant that I had etched at home and brought with me to Wildacres. I filled it with Neillo, fired, then sanded and polished.  It came out pretty good.  I was surprised how much detail there was.  Another person in the class brought some Metal Clay pieces she had made and they also came out great filled with Niello.

Another beautiful sky, another wonderful week in North Carolina.  

There is a sign entering Wildacres that says, "You are now leaving the real world."  At the end of the week as you begin to drive home, the sign says, "You are now entering the real world."  I can't tell you how true those words are, but everyone who goes to Wildacres for a week knows what I'm talking about.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Put Your Money Where Your Moth Is

Moth #2, Champleve

Here is another enameling test with Argentium. The bottom piece of silver is 20 gauge and the top is 22 gauge (purchased from Hauser and Miller).  First, I cut out the moth shape in the 22 gauge metal and placed it on top of the 20 gauge sheet, and then fused the two pieces together.  It took quite a bit of heat to accomplish this.  I use an acetylene tank for all my soldering needs. When finished, I added some textures using a scribe and a ball burr, which I ended up having to cover up later (you'll see).

I put a simple bail on the back for a chain before doing anything else.  There was some fire scale that showed up here.  I didn't know Argentium could get fire scale.  Perhaps this has something to do with the germanium-oxide coating?  I am not sure.  I sanded most of it away but decided to come back later and sand some more.

After laying on a coat of clear flux on the top (Ninomiya F3) and adding wires, I fired the piece and it came out VERY yellow and discolored.   My first thought was, "It's ruined!"  No, of course it's not ruined   Maybe I left it in the kiln a bit too long?  

So I simply cut up lots of tiny pieces of silver and gold (slightly thicker than leaf) and placed them over just about the entire moth, and then re-fired the piece.

Little by little I continued adding my enamels and re-firing at 1400 for approximately 2 minutes after each coat.

Hours and hours later, it was finished!  I used diamond abrasive buffs to smooth it all out (mentioned in my previous post) and then placed it in the tumbler for a half hour.  After that step, I sanded with some fine sandpapers (400, 600, 1200 and 4000.)  I also tried out some cerium oxide (powder) mixed with water and polished with that, as well, but I wasn't as happy with the finish as I had hoped, so did a last polish with Zam. 

One last note - some gray scale appeared on the front of the piece after a few firings (near the edges), so I had to sand the silver down to get rid of it. I used Argentium to make this piece instead of Fine Silver because by using Sterling Silver or Argentium, I did not have to put a coat of enamel on the back (counter enameling).  I  dislike the way a coat of enamel looks on the back of a silver piece.  Next time I'll experiment using Fine Silver, though, with a coat of clear flux as my counter enamel, on the back to see how it looks...and then I'll move on to trying enameling on Sterling Silver.  

Thursday, January 31, 2019

From the Moths of Babes

I recently made a decision to spend some time in 2019 experimenting with enameling, and will see where it takes me.  Come along for the ride!

Today I'm going to experiment with using Argentium Silver as my base metal.  I've only used Fine Silver or Copper in the past, so we'll see what happens.

1.  I used my jeweler's saw to cut out an oval shape out of 22 gauge Argentium and then domed it slightly on a doming block.

2.  A Preval Sprayer (with a mix of 2/3 Distilled Water and 1/3 Klyr Fire) was used to spray the front of the disk before sifting with Ninomiya F3 Clear Enamel Flux, making sure there was an even amount of flux all over the top (no blank spaces).  I placed the disc on a trivet to dry on top of the kiln, and when the flux was dry, I fired it for 1.30 minutes at 1400 degrees (some use 1450 degrees).

 You must have a timer of some kind nearby so you don't over fire your piece!
As you can see, the base color of Argentium silver wasn't  darkened or damaged in any way by a coat of clear flux and one firing!  We're good to go forward!

 3.  After cooling, the back of the disc was sprayed again with the sprayer and sprinkled with a counter-enamel (see below), set to dry and then fired for 1.30 minutes.  (You won't see the back, so it doesn't matter what color enamel you use, but you must counter-enamel the piece.  It is is used to reduce stress exerted on the enamel by the metal after the piece is cool or during cooling.  As metal cools, it cools faster than the enamel, so if a piece is not counter-enameled the enamel can crack and pop right off the piece (yes, this has happened to me).

Some people counter-enamel first, and then move to the front, but I prefer to enamel the front first.

 I'm going to do this step twice with the counter enamel, just to make sure it's stable.

Now that I have 2 coats of counter enamel on the back and one coat of clear flux on the front, I'm ready to start placing my cloisonné wires.  Wherever I plan to have red, yellow or orange colors I'll add some gold foil first so the colors (warm colors) will show up nicely.  I also need to decide if I want to add some silver foil or thin textured silver pieces to the piece.

I purchase my Fine Silver Cloisonne wire from Hauser and Miller.  The taller the wire, the more enamel you will use.  The first thing I do with the wire is cut off a long piece (more than I think I'll need), wrap it into a nice little circle, and anneal it.  This can be done two ways:  1) With a torch, or 2) In your kiln.  About 20 seconds in my kiln at 1400 did the trick.  Let it cool naturally (don't water quench).

An easy way to help with wire cutting and placing is to lay double sided tape on your drawing and then place the cloissone wires on top of the tape, all cut to the proper sizes, before then placing on your piece.  I use either Blu Stic or Klyr-Fire (mixed with a little H2O) to place the wires in their proper places on the soon-to-be finished piece.  The glue is wet, so let it dry before putting in the kiln.  When it comes out from the kiln (approx 1.30 to 2 minutes later), some wires may still not have embedded themselves into the clear flux, so GENTLY take your tweezers and push them down a wee bit and they should "take" during the next firing.  I actually dropped my piece on the way into the kiln, and didn't notice I was missing a couple of pieces of wire until it came out.  No problem!  I added the missing pieces and fired again.

Here I start laying the wires for my moth:

I've finished laying all the wires and it's been fired at 1400 for 1.30 minutes.

Now it's time to lay down some 24K gold and Silver foil (using Klyr-Fire) and fire again at 1400 for 1.30 minutes.

Little by little, I add more and more enamel, let dry and fire at 1400 for about 2 minutes.  The thicker the enamel, the longer it might need to fire.  Don't forget to wear a mask!  I use leaded enamels, so it's very important not to breathe in any minuscule particles.  I purchases most my enamels from Enamelartsupply.com.  I've also purchased from E-namels.com and Thompsonenamel.com.

Note:  One problem that came up was on the bottom left of the piece.  The opalescent enamel "popped" off in a tiny area and I had to re-enamel about 3 times for it to stay put.  Maybe this had something to do with using Silver Argentium instead of Fine Silver?  Hard to say.  

To finish this piece, I used 3m Diapads to get the surface as smooth as possible.  I wish I knew where I purchased them, but I can't remember.  I always start with the darkest color first (grittiest), and always file under water...then move onto the red, yellow and finish with white.  After that I used a number of very fine sanding pads called Micro Mesh Regular.  I started with 1500 grit and finished with 12000 grit.  I then polished with Zam.  Maybe someday I'll purchase a Jool Tool or something else to make the polishing part easier, but until then I'm content to do it all by hand.  

 This is the finished piece.  I'm happy with the wire work, but definitely unhappy with the colors.  Had my wires been taller, I would have been able to add more layers of color, which this piece needs.  

I looked up enameling on Argentium and found this quote from Cynthia Eid:

"In tests at the Goldsmiths’ Hall of London, opaque enamels worked well. Transparent enamels appear as a different color than on traditional sterling or fine silver, but no other problems were reported. In some enamel tests, some colors shifted; clear flux enamel applied under the colored enamels stabilized the color. Enamels used on Argentium sterling that was sanded or abraded to remove any germanium-oxide coating showed the best results."

I'll keep on happily experimenting! 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Filigree Bracelet with Gia Gogishvilli

I can't tell you how great it was to finally take a filigree class taught by Gia Gogishvilli, the master of filigree (and Repousee/Chasing and all metalwork)!  We had one week to learn how to twist the metal, flatten it, anneal, make solder, file the solder, make the filigree pieces, make the frames for the filigree, learn the proper gauges, make and solder hinges, etc.  It was a lot to learn.  Most of us needed a bit more time once the week was finished, so Gia set up a couple of extra time periods to meet again, which was extremely helpful to all of us.

So as complete beginners, we began with building our sterling silver frames.  One for the left, one for the right and one for the middle.  The size of these frames depend on the size of our wrists or whose wrist we we're making this cuff bracelet for.  We made cardboard templates to be sure of the sizing.

The basic frame
Using a template
Then we added the design inside the frame.  This wire must be fully annealed before shaping.

Adding the inner wires
Once the frames were built and all inner pieces soldered in place, we could then begin to make our filigree wire.  This is a process of taking two or three fine silver wires and twisting them to the point of breaking...annealing and then twisting even more.  It is difficult as a beginner to know when the wire is twisted enough because it's far tighter than one can imagine.  Once the twisting is complete, we run the wire through the rolling mill to flatten.  We then anneal one more time before beginning to make filigree wires.

There are different types of filigree wires, called ornaments.  Some have a single loop, some have a double loop and others have a tight double loop.  I've seen some filigree made with just loops and no tail.  I decided to do a tight double loop for this project.  The wires are supposed to all look exactly the same, but I need more practice with this.

Adding Filigree (ornaments)

As we insert the ornaments into the frame, each one is supposed to fit snugly.  The goal is to fill an entire frame with ornaments before soldering, but some of us had trouble with that in how they would keep popping out because we were not placing them properly.  It takes practice!  Once a frame is complete, we turn it over and solder with filigree solder, which is more like a powder than regular silver solder.  You can make your own solder by combining silver, copper, brass, cadmium and zinc with flux and borax, which turns it into a hard piece of metal.  You must then file this piece of metal to make your solder for filigree.

With persistence, the frames eventually fill up!

Now it's time to make the flower that will be placed in the middle over the large opening and also make the small half circles that will form the edging of the bracelet.

Adding the edging
Soldering the flower

Now comes the hinges.  These were simple 3 way hinges made out of tubing.

Trying to decide which stone to use.

What's next?  Finishing the hinges, forming the entire bracelet, cleaning and polishing and setting the stone.  Phew!

The Finished Bracelet

The back hinge

What an amazing experience!  Thank you Gia!  Until next time...

(Edited 3/15/18)