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Painting Techniques

Variations in Painting Technique
by Stell Shevis
from Volume 19, No. 2, April  2000

Working With Wet Inlay 
Summer Garden     When recently asked to give a one day workshop in enameling for beginners, I wanted to give them two or three easy techniques ... like sifting with stencils, sgraffito, and wet pack. So I started making some samples to show them.  
Poppy Time     Using 1-1/4" copper squares I counter enameled a couple dozen pieces.  Fired just enough to set the counter enamel so the top surface could be cleaned simply by rubbing with a damp paper towel, keeping fingers off the top.  The enamel was prepared by dropping a very diluted mixture of Klyr-fire (about 1 drop of Klyr-fire to 6 drops of water) onto the dry enamel powder.  The enamel should be wet enough so it may be picked up with a tiny spoon or spatula without dripping.  DO NOT STIR!  That would cause air bubbles.  
No Footprints     Start with just a few opaque colors, each in a plastic spoon.  Label the spoon handles, using waterproof ink...color #, lead-free or lead bearing etc.  (I save leftovers in the spoons, enclosing them in plastic bags to keep them dust free.)  Work with a tiny spoon or spatula in one hand, pointed tool or spreader in the other for pushing the enamel color off spoon into place.  It is rather like making drop cookies.  
Garden Path     You can push the color into any shape you want.  Clean your tools before adding the next color. Drop next color into position and carefully align it with the first.  Clean sharp lines between colors are possible if both are equally moist, or soften edges by pushing with tool.  Soft edges on clouds are made by dragging white into blue.  Pick up excess moisture with bits of Kleenex.  Keep the whole surface equally moist until all spaces are filled, then vibrate the piece by rubbing up and down on one edge of the tile with a file or the twisted wire handle of a sifter.  Then blot any excess moisture with Kleenex, and vibrate once more.  This should result in a perfectly smooth surface.  
Blueberry Fields     Place the piece on top of the furnace until completely dry.  One firing should complete the piece.  But you can always add to it with the ceramic pigment technique (after the first firing).  For variations try sifting or drifting some dry powder in different colors over wet areas, or dropping lumps where they might add interest.  I keep many jars of "slush" on hand-left over from sifting, not clean enough to go back into original jars.  These are labeled blue, green, tan, etc, but contain both opaques and transparents, lead free and lead bearing.  This mixture is very useful for texture, as in the rocks in "Sailing Home".  Test before using these, as they vary with each addition!  
Garden     I had such a good time making these samples that I went on to do a whole series on 4" x 4" tiles, both copper and steel, and have ideas for many more.  I like working fast and like results to happen fast so these easy fun things are a relief-a nice break in between the bigger, more difficult pieces.  I am currently waiting for a client's new house to be finished enough so I can see the wall space in the stairwell where he wants to hang the enamels he has commissioned.  

Landscapes Painted with Ceramic Colors 
Winter, Maine     In June 1991 I wrote a piece for Glass on Metal on painting portraits with ceramic pigments.  Rereading it now there's no need to change much.  These pigments are oxides of metal, like potters use as stains or colorants in glazes.  They contain no enamel or glass, but when painted on an enameled surface and fired they are absorbed into the enamel becoming an integral part of the surface.  When mixed with oil you can use them-not like oil paints-but like watercolor.  The pre-enameled thin steel tiles from Thompson work well, or one can use copper that has had two good coats of white or a pale opaque fired very smooth.  Copper, of course, should be counter enameled.  I do not counter enamel the steel tiles.  
Old Cedar Woods     Warm the metal a little and rub it with your hands to coat it slightly with your natural oil.  This is a friendly way to start and seems to make it take the color more easily.  A glass or white china plate makes a good palette, or so does one of the enameled tiles.  Very little of the powder is needed, a bit the size of a split pea to start with.  Add one drop of squeegee oil and mix with a small palette knife to a stiff consistency.  This may be thinned with oil of cloves, or #5 thinning oil for washes, watercolor effects, or thinned with oil of lavender for fine line detail.  Practice is the only way to discover how these work for you.  Sometimes you get an unexpected effect, the happy accident.  Keep colors well separated on the palette unless you plan to mix them.  Many shades of green are possible by toning blues or greens with yellow, orange or brown.  Mistakes can be wiped off with paper towel or rag.  I like to make a puddle of color on a separate palette, dipping crumpled paper or plastic into this, then dabbing it onto my tile to create background textures and shapes.  Often the result will suggest a landscape and you carry on from there.  
Snowy Path #3     The color must be kept very thin or it will not be absorbed into the enamel when fired.  You have to work fast because as the oil dries you can't paint over without lifting what's underneath.  You can scratch out lines or areas when either wet or dry, using sticks or rubber eraser.  Mistakes may be easily removed with a bit of towel.  Your finished painting must be allowed to dry completely before firing-the painted area should look dull.  Depending on the size of the piece, fire for 2 or 3 minutes at about 1450 F.  Firing should be long enough so the pigments are absorbed into the enamel and the whole surface is glossy.  If fired too long, or too high the pigment may sink into the enamel creating depressions.  
Coast of Maine     After firing you may wish to add to or strengthen the painting and fire a second time.  I never fire these more than twice.  I prefer not to sift a cover coat of flux-I haven't found it necessary.  As I said before, this is much more a painting technique than an enameling one, but it's great fun.  

Tools and Supplies Needed 
Ski Tracks #1     Enameled steel or copper tiles.  Palettes and small flexible palette knife, good small pointed brushes for detail, at least one stiff bristle brush, paper stumps, toothpicks, rubber erasers, paper towel, Kleenex, lint-free rags, plastic or Saran Wrap for covering palette when not in use.  Squeegee oil, oil of cloves, oil of lavender, thinning oil #5, ceramic pigments, and basic colors. 

Snowy Path #2
All Artwork on this page by Stell Shevis


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