Painting Enamel - Galena Selezneva - Step by Step Notes
photos by Bill Helwig
from Volume 11, Number 1, February 1992
The following is a collaborative account of Galina
Selezneva's classical techniques of painting with enamel in copper.
.012 inch copper is cut with fine metal shears into
round, oval or squared shapes and then the edges are filed smooth. The
size for classical miniatures should not be larger than 2-3/4 inches in its
longest dimension. Large classical miniatures should not be larger than 4
to 6 inches in their longest dimension.
The design is worked out on paper in drawn and/or
water color form in actual size. The design is worked from a Xeroxed copy
of the original design or copied design.
The base copper shape is formed by special tools
and hammers to dome the flat shape. This gives the piece strength
structurally as well as a presentation appropriate to the aesthetic. If
not domed, problems may occur, i.e. warpage.
Nitric acid is used on copper devoid of oils and
grease to pickle the surface. The acid bath used is 1 part HNO3
and 3 parts water at room temperature.
The piece is submerged for approximately 1 minute
dependent upon the freshness of the acid bath. After removal from the
bath, the copper form is rinsed with water.
Counter Enamel Application
Counter enamel is applied to the reverse side of
the primary face. On a single sided piece, black enamel (1995 Black,
Thompson) is used. 80 mesh enamel is sifted without the use of a holding
agent on the metal surface. The amount applied is about 1/16 of an inch
thick, prior to firing.
The furnace temperature is 1450°F (790°C).
The amount of time is 1-1/2 minutes. The piece is held up by a trivet on
a firing mesh. The piece is placed in the center toward the back of the
firing chamber at mid height.
The piece is removed from the furnace and from its
rack and immediately force formed so that the edges are not deformed with two
flat palette knives. This procedure occurs prior to the piece cooling
below the softening temperature of the enamel and is an instant on-pressure-off
action on the necessary two parallel sides. The piece is allowed to cool.
The piece is pickled and finished as stated above
to remove copper fire scale and refinish the fresh metal surface.
Front Surface Enamel Application
White enamel (1010 Undercoat White, Thompson) is
applied to the surfaced as per previous application of the black, only using
The piece is placed on the trivet and fired as
stated above for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 minutes. The piece is fired by time, not
eye, unless the pyrometer is inaccurate. The piece is cooled in place on
the firing fixture.
The exposed metal edge is cleaned by stoning to
remove all copper fire scale. This procedure is accomplished with an
alundum stone and running water.
Application to Primary Surface
An opalescent white (1040 Quill White, Thompson)
is applied by sifting as stated above. The 1040 is applied in a heavier
application than the previous coat of 1010.
The piece is fired at the previously stated
temperature for 1-3/4 minutes. It is removed from the furnace and cooled
without being removed from the firing fixture. (See Fig. 1)
Exposed Metal Edge
The edge is again stoned to remove copper
scale. This procedure is repeated after each firing.
Wax paper is placed over the drawing and a tracing
is made of all the important elements. The traced lines are pierced with
a sharp fine thin needle, slightly less than 1/16 inch apart. Soot from
the candle flame (lamp black) is mixed with machine oil into a paste.
This thick paste is wiped over the perforated wax paper tracing as it is held
tight against the enameled surface with a single wipe. The black paste is
pressed through the perforations and deposited onto the surface of the enamel..
The deposit is checked. If it is poor or ill positioned, the deposit
should be wiped clean and the process repeated until adequate. These lamp
black dots are the guide points for your first application of painting
enamel. (See Fig. 2)
Painting Enamel Preparation
The preparation of the painting enamel is usually
accomplished prior to the start of the above foundation procedure.
A full palette is prepared. This consists of
mixing ceramic pigments with 913E Mixing White or PF-1 Painting Flux with a
special painting oil (Thompson's Painting Kit). The mixing requires
specific proportions of pigment to enamel to achieve the best potential color
and the ability to gloss when fired. For most ceramic pigments, the
proportion to Mixing White or Painting Flux should be 20% pigment to 80%
enamel. For the cadmium-selenium pigments OC-70, OC-71 and OC-85, use
only the Painting Flux in the proportion of 5% pigment to 95% Painting
Flux. The gold bearing pigment OC-95 should only be mixed with 913E
Mixing White in any proportion of pigment to mixing white. There are
three pink/lavender colors, 1705P, 1708P and 1715P. These colors are a
mixture of 50% OC-95 and 50% enamel frit (1705, 1708 and 1715,
respectively). These do not require the mixing of white or painting flux
to allow them to gloss when fired. They can be mixed with the above to
achieve lighter tones.
The colors are mixed with a stiff, yet flexible
palette knife on a glass surface. The motion is circular and with
reversal of the knife blade to insure mixing of any build-up on the
blade. This grinding mixes all of the elements and should not be for less
than ten consecutive minutes. Under mixing is prevalent, while over
mixing does no harm.
The mixture should be stiff, not runny. When
worked, it should stay in place and have no movement, separation, or bleeding,
nor should it cake or cling into lumps.
These fundamental mixtures are the first reserve from
which colors are mixed or thinned for appropriate application. While they
are the basic palette, they are not used for direct application to the surface
of the enamel being painted. If kept covered, dust and dirt free, these
mixtures can be reserved for use for months.
The working palette itself should be glass or enamel and preferably white, or
in the case of background other than white, of the same color as the surface of
the enamel being painted. The color palette is set up in two rows, warm
on top and cold on the bottom, and moving from left to right and light to dark,
if you are right handed. The space between the rows and the individual
colors is completely preferential, but should be compatible with ease and accessibility.
The bottom half of the palette is for color mixing and thinning. It is
from this second reserve that the colors are used for painting.
Brushes should be of good quality sable. The smallest or finest are
long and thin. The larger brushes range up to a size #4 with bristles at
least 1/2 inch long and are round in shape with a medium handle length.
Each may require shaping by trimming. The brush selection is of great
importance. The quality of the painting may be influenced by the quality
of the brush. A quality brush may eliminate reworking of any one brush
Smaller brushes are used for very fine line work
and also in a pointillist technique. For the pointillist technique (very
minute dots of enamel paint) a very small amount of painting enamel is picked
up with the tip of the brush. The intensity of the color is determined by
the amount of oil, and/or painting flux and mixing white, proportioned to the
ceramic pigment. Before applying painting enamel to the actual piece, it
is advisable to test the loaded brush onto an op. white enamel surface
(palette) until the amount and consistency of the enamel coming off the brush
is correct - not too much or too little. On the actual piece, very minute
dots of color are repeatedly applied to an area without covering the same place
twice. Open areas as well as very finely detailed areas can be defined in
this manner, although several applications and firings may be required.
The pointillist technique allows very subtle changes of dark and light and from
one color to another. It may take practice to become familiar with just
how much enamel coming off the brush is required to make a difference from
firing to firing. Smaller amounts in more applications and firings allow
more subtle change of color.
If using the smaller brushes for fine lines, the
amount of oil to enamel is very important. Too much oil will result in a
line that may spread. Minimal oil is desired to achieve a sharp, crisp
line. To prevent unevenness of line width, lines should be painted quick
and spontaneously, rather than slow and calculated.
The larger brushes are used for stroke techniques in
open areas, borders, backgrounds, bands of color, skies, etc. It is
suggested that stroke technique and experimentation of the amount of enamel and
oil loaded onto the brush, be practiced on an op. white palette. The
brush can be loaded and manipulated so that one side of the applied brush
stroke is darker, grading to a lighter shade of the same color. (See Fig.
Application of Painting Enamel
The lightest of colors is prepared from the first
reserve of the palette. This may be a light green, gray, or pink.
Pink is used in miniature portraits. With a fine brush, the lamp black
points are connected into an outline with a prepared painting enamel
color. (See Fig. 3)
Oil Burn Off
The piece is 'smoked'. The oil is burned off
very "good and slow" at 1450°F (790°C). This procedure must
be carefully attended to by moving the piece in and out of the furnace many
allowed to become too hot, the oil will boil and/or the previous enamel will
crack due to the expansion of the copper base. If too cool or slow, the
oil will not burn sufficiently. One should be able to see the piece
'smoke', literally. The surface of the painted enamel will appear matte
over the gloss of the foundation white enamel. (See Fig. 4)
First Firing of Painting Enamel
The piece is fired as before at 1450°F (790°C)
for 1-1/4 minutes. It is left on the firing rack to cool, after which the
edges are again refinished. (See Fig. 5)
Second Application of Painting Enamel
The whole piece is painted with the very lightest
of colors using little or no additional oil. This should appear like a
pastel and have the visual quality of a classical water color. The
thinness or lightness of the color is determined by the amount of painting
enamel picked up on the brush, this the working of the painting enamel in
the second reserve is of great importance. Broad areas as well as details
are applied, but it must be remembered that the classical approach is to work
from light to dark. The painting enamel has not build up in
thickness. (See Fig. 6)
Second Firing of Painting Enamel
Fire as previously described for 1-1/4
minutes. (See Fig. 7)
The application and firing procedures are repeated
until the piece is finished. There are no short cuts to the classical
approach. It is from light to dark. Colors are mixed on the
palette, not on the piece. Thin overlays of new painting enamel on
existing colors produce different colors than those mixed on the palette.
This can be used as an advantage for an extended palette of colors, but should
not be relied upon. Firing fuses the painting enamel to existing enamel.
Using temperature and time variations to create differences is not part of the
classical tradition. Applied, but unfired painting enamel may be removed
prior to firing after 'smoking' to reveal the white or color of the enamel
underneath. For a well blended and integrated effect with softer color
tones, more rather than less applications and firings are required.
Subtle nuance is a major element in the works of the classical style and a
major element to differentiating superior quality. (See Figs. 8-14)