Random Wild Flowers - Basse Taille
by Bill Helwig
from Volume 2, Number 2, April 1983
Tools and Materials:
Kiln - 8 inch chamber
Stilt - 6" with legs
Copper saucer - 6" diameter, 5/8" deep
Enamel - LF 313, Mandarin Orange, tr.; LF 322, Prussian Blue,
tr.; LF 344, Gem Green, tr.; LF 377, Red, tr.; LF 380, Wax
Yellow, tr.; LF 143, Dragon Green, op.; LF 162, Black, op.
Black Underglaze #5
Klyr Fire - Holding agent
5 Gravers - Nos. 61, 55, 49, 45 41
French donut or sand bag
000 Sable hair water color brush
Petri dishes or low walled enamel containers
100 mesh, 200 mesh, 325 mesh screens and catch pan
Water soluble marker
320 Emery cloth
After the copper
form has been degreased, it is counter enameled on the back or
convex side with LF 162, 80 mesh black enamel, then fired 90
seconds at 1500F. The scale on the front bare copper side
is removed by pickling until bright and devoid of any copper
Draw on this surface
with a water soluble marking pen a random selection of flower
forms. Fig. 1. Allow petal form to overlap.
Don't worry about extraneous lines. They can be washed
away later. If the design is not to your liking, simply
wash it off and start over. Random placement creates its
own rhythm and pattern as would be found in nature. If the
design is forced into composition with specific selection and
spacing, the design tends to be unnatural. The stylization
of representing flowers in enamel and metal in itself is
unnatural. Thus, the components must give the effect and
emotion necessary to override the deception to create a parallel
with nature. There are no buds or side views of flower
forms as the image is viewed down upon from above. This
was part of the compromise to insure that the viewer had the
feeling of looking down and at flowers, thus removing
conflicting forms for the viewer. This type of editing
gives greater value to the negative space and removed the
dissimilar which could easily become focal points.
The intention of the
subject matter was that of a group or cluster of flowers,
nothing more and nothing less. The value placed on this
design was as an exercise in walking the graver. The
design allows for error by giving space for correction as well
as change without compromising the design while learning the use
of the tools.
Walking a graver is
a very east to learn technique, even though the textures created
tend to look complicated. A flat or round graver is
used. The graver is walked or rocked from side to side by
rotating the hand about 45 degrees to 90 degrees, causing the
tool to cut alternately left and right as it progresses
forward. This cutting creates a zigzag or zipper effect as
wide as the tool selected. This forward motion and the
swing of the tool opens or closed the individual cuts.
Degrees of fineness depends on the size and sharpness of the
graver, the forward movement, the downward pressure and the
angle of the graver.
The walking movement
is not made by wriggling the wrist back and forth. Wrist
and hand are held rigid in position, while the arm rotates the
tool from side to side. Two bones of the arm, the ulna and
the radius, rotate across each other. The angle is
determined by the elbow height in relation to the surface being
cut. The lower the relative angle, the longer the individual
cut; the higher, the shorter the cut (space between left corner
cut to left corner cut).
The graver is
started flat against the metal, Fig. 2, as the graver is tipped
to the right, the right corner digs into the metal, the left
corner swings forward, fig. 3. The rotation back to the
left, fig. 4, places the left corner against the metal, the
right corner swings forward. The motion is equal in
direction and pressure. This will keep each cut and space
between also equal. Repeated patterning requires the cuts
to be consistent with each other if the texture is to be
Difference in tool,
speed, angle of rotation and angle of graver determine the
quality of the line. A variety of texture can be created
by altering any one of the variables.
This six inch plate
is easy to handle since it is curved and neither too large to
small for the hand to hold. The plate is placed on a French
donut or a sand bag for support. I find that wearing a
glove on the holding hand improves grip and gives protection
from the metals' thin edge, fig. 5.
When engraving, it
is important to not lean over the piece. Both feet should
be flat on the floor and the back straight. Cutting is
done across, in front of the body, fig. 5. The graver
extends from the hand on the same angle as the arm. The
graver moves the same direction the arm is pointing. The
angle of the arm to the piece indicates the path of
cutting. Curved lines are created by rotating the piece
gradually while cutting.
After each cut, the
burr should be cut off. If not removed, they may cut the
hand and/or will protrude through the enamel during
firing. To do this after the cutting forward motion is
stopped, the graver is lifted in a forward motion.
After all patterns
are engraved, the copper form is washed and burnished with a
glass brush, liquid soap and water. The glass brush is
used as a burnisher, not as a scratch brush, thus the exposed
bristles are longer. The article is rinsed and
dried. If there are burrs, they will catch during the
drying with a towel. It may become necessary to emery
these off or cut off with a graver.
The surface of the
copper with its textures should be bright and highly reflective,
fig 6. Detail fig 7.
To emphasize the
design, create depth as well as add detail and texture.
Underglaze #5 is ground together with a medium, Klyr Fire and
water, 50-50, and selectively applied to the copper surface,
Fig. 9 shows the
piece after firing. The surface was dry sifted with LF
380, Yellow. The enamel was prepared by screen grading 80
mesh material through -100+400 screens. This material was
sifted through a 150 mesh screen onto a piece. Fired on a
stilt at 1500F for 120 seconds, twice. The amount of
enamel is approximately 20 thousands, or 4 grains high, an even
coat with no bare or thin areas.
Edges were then
filed, stilt marks ground down and thoroughly washed before the
second application of enamel. Color selection was made for
the background, LF 344, and a color tone for some of the flower
forms, LF 377. Both materials were separately prepared by
screening. This time -200+325 mesh mixed with water and
Klyr Fire, 90-10, and applied with a 000 sable hair water color
brush to appropriate areas.
Note - The
application appears rather crude when dry, fig. 10.
Thickness and thinness is determined during application while
the enamel being applied is wet.
The piece was placed
on a stilt and fired at 1500F for 75 seconds. Figure 11
shows the piece after this firing. Filing and cleaning
procedures were followed as previously stated.
were prepared: LF 313 tr. orange, -200+325; LF 322 tr.
blue, -200+325; and LF 143 op. green, -325. The
application was as previously stated. Fig. 12 shows the
application prior to firing. Fig. 13 shows the piece after
being fired at 1500F for 90 seconds. The filing and
cleaning procedures were followed as previously stated.
Repairing the stilt
marks left from firing convex side down was accomplished with a
light sifting of LF 162 black. The piece was stilted
concaved side down and fired at 1500F for 90 seconds.
After cooling, edges were again filed then polished with 320
Editor's Note: The enamel numbers
listed in the above article are no longer used by Thompson
Enamel. Also, images will be included at a future date.