Painting Enamel

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.

Base Material
     .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.

Dimensional Shaping
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.

Pickling Copper 
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.

First Firing
The furnace temperature is 1450F (790C).  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.

Exposed Metal
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 white enamel.

Second Firing
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.

Edge Preparation
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.

Second 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.

Third Firing
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.

Figure 2Transferring the Design
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.

Brush Selection
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 stroke.

Painting Techniques
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. 11)

First 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 1450F (790C).  This procedure must be carefully attended to by moving the piece in and out of the furnace many times.  If 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 1450F (790C) 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)


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