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Introduction to Enameling


What is Vitreous Enamel?

Example of Enamel Vitreous enamel is glass bonded by fusion to a metal surface.  The most common glass is a fusion of silica, soda, lime, and a small amount of borax.  Though normally transparent, various amounts of opacity can be produced by adding or growing crystals within the glass structure.  A wide range of colors are produced by incorporating certain elements, mostly transition metals. The physical properties of glass can be controlled to permit bonding to most metals, for example:  gold, platinum, silver, copper, steel, cast iron, aluminum and titanium. The word "Enamel" refers to the glass material, as well as to the finished product.

How is it done?

Firing Enamel     Enamel (glass) is crushed to a powder somewhat finer than granulated sugar and somewhat coarser than flour.  This powder is applied, by one of several methods, to the metal surface.  Next, the article is heated to 1000-1600°F, either in a preheated furnace, or with a hand-held torch.  After 1-1/2 to 10 minutes, the article is removed and allowed to cool to room temperature.  Subsequent coats, normally different colors, are applied.  Sometimes 10-20 firings are required to bring about the desired results.

What is it's history?

     We do not know when or where enameling originated.  The earliest known enameled articles are six enameled gold rings discovered in a Mycenaean tomb at Kouklia, Cyprus.  The rings date from the thirteenth century B.C.

Example of Enamel

The Greeks were enameling gold jewelry as early as the 5th century B.C.  Caesar found the Celtic inhabitants of Britain enameling in the 1st century B.C.  During the Byzantine era, 4th through 12th centuries, numerous enamel religious works were made.  Fifteenth century artisans in Limoges, France, perfected the use of enamels in a painting technique.  The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and the early decades of the 20th century saw the production of a great volume of luxury and decorative enamels, made in many different centers.  Since the last third of the 19th century, both Japan and China have exported an abundance of enamel as cloisonn� - the name of the technique.

     Starting early in the 19th century, it was realized enamel could be used for utilitarian purposes.  First in pots and pans for cooking, then stoves, refrigerators, kitchen sinks, bathtubs, home laundry appliances, architectural panels, etc.

Who Does it?

Example of Enamel     Utilitarian enamels are made in large factories, while artistic enamels are made by thousands of individual artists throughout the world.  We see enamels exhibited at schools, arts and crafts shows, art galleries, museums, and rare examples have sold at auction for more than 3-1/2 million dollars.


What is a quality enamel?

Example of Enamel     A quality work of enamel art should have a sense of design, a feeling for proportion and appropriate color and texture.  
Transparent enamels should be jewel-like.  Firing of all enamels should be sufficient to insure a permanent bond of glass to metal.  The work should show that the artist has full control of the technique and materials.

What are the techniques?

      Cloisonn�, Champlev�, Plique a Jour, Grisaille, Basse Taille, Camaieu, Sgraffito, Scrolling - to name a few.

Can I do it?

Yes!!  Enameling, like painting, is for all ages at various levels - hobby, craft, decorative art, minor art and fine art - depending on the enameler's ability.

How can I learn?

Example of Enamel     Classes are offered by enameling guilds, inde-
pendent enameling instructors, art and craft institutions, and schools.  Many enamelers are self taught, their only help being abook discovered by chance in their library or book store.
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