A beautiful spring weekend saw us at Nottingham University for the annual conference and AGM. Being almost on the doorstep we still arrived extra early as we were keen and eager to make the most of the weekend.
After collecting keys and finding their rooms, most arrivals made their way to the Hugh Stewart Hall Library carrying their most precious enamelled pieces for the exhibition. There was time to visit suppliers before Veronica Matthew very kindly stepped in with an ‘Art Attack’ design session that Ellen Goldman had prepared using black tiles and various layers of white tissue paper to create a Grisaille picture.
The exhibition was a great meeting place where everyone could share tips and techniques and get to know each other better – of course there was always the bar for the social gathering too.
The AGM followed swiftly after dinner with business matters proceeding smoothly and Tilly Wilkinson being duly elected as Vice Chair for the coming year. We realised, as we are sure all members did, just how much work goes on behind the scenes, throughout the year, for the Guild to function efficiently.
Some people continued chatting and making new friends long into the night whilst some drifted off to their rooms ready for an early start the next day.
One of the highlights of Saturday was the many tutorials. We both attended Dorothy Cockrell’s Cloisonné workshop which we found inspirational. The levels of experience within the group ranged from beginners to advanced and Dorothy patiently and expertly enabled everyone to gain in confidence and knowledge.
There will be a more detailed write up of the 6 workshops that took place in the Guild Journal (some have already appeared). There was a buzz about the whole day and it was obvious that everyone was enjoying their chosen workshop by the chat over lunch and coffee.
Everyone assembled in the library at the end of the workshops where we could admire each others efforts and where a representative from each tutorial gave a brief resume of their day. It was also an opportunity to view the exhibition pieces and cast our votes for the Themed Exhibition and Enameller Elect.
Dinner was followed by a talk entitled ‘An accidental enameller’ by Dale Devereux Barker. Dale started out in print making but gave us an illustrated account of his journey into enamelling. Dale’s large scale public works of art are very vibrant and detailed and show an empathy with their surroundings.
Sunday morning saw everyone assembled in the library for the presentation of the 2010 Awards. The Guild makes various awards for different categories of work, recognising new enamellers as well as excellence in more advanced techniques.
The grand finale of the whole weekend was a Masterclass with Mr Toshihide Ueeda on Enamel and Art Clay. Mr Ueeda dazzled everyone with the speed in which he produced a variety of elaborate pieces and his use of blends of enamels. His grand finale was to make a ring, piled high with ‘ruby’ enamel for our newly elected chair Ruby Tomes. The ring was a perfect fit.
After a final farewell from the Chairman, and our Sunday lunch, we said our goodbyes to old and new friends and are now looking forward to the 2011 Conference and AGM to be held at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, the weekend BEFORE Easter (15th – 17th April, 2011).
Linda Bark & Jean Dodds
Region 4 members
Silver nitrate and raku firing have long been used to produce silvery patterns on enamel. There are certain difficulties in this process, ranging from the procurement of silver nitrate, the necessity of keeping the crystals and solutions away from light lest they deteriorate, through problems connected with controlling the various solutions, to the deep brown staining which can develop on hands, clothing, and work surfaces. Mixing an appropriate strength of any solution often requires making several test pieces.
It occurred to me that perhaps more modern materials could be used to produce the same effects with less trouble.
Therefore when packing my tutorial tool box for a raku firing workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I included a very ancient unused piece of the original type of silver PMC (Precious Metal Clay). It was so old that it had hardened into a small bullet and re-quired breaking up and two days soaking in water to re-constitute it.
In a quiet moment I painted some of the resulting slip onto a pre- enamelled copper blank and fired it to burn off the organic binder. The result was a greyish patch of enamel.
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Sterling silver (7.5% copper in a minimum of 92.5% silver) is widely used for silver articles including jewellery and for enamelling the same. The copper content increases the strength and hardness.
Britannia silver (a minimum silver content of 95.8% and the remainder largely copper) is less widely used but is especially suitable for taking stamps and dies. Being softer than Sterling silver, it is more susceptible to bowing unless counter enamelled. However, some experts state that enamel colours are truer when fired on this alloy. As to cost, there is virtually no difference.
It is reported that the presence of impurities even at low levels can affect the adhesion of enamels. In particular, Selenium and Teluriam can cause problems. To avoid this potential problem, reputable silver suppliers use only fine silver and pure copper in the initial alloy casting process.
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As a relative beginner in the craft of enamelling, I find myself especially attracted by transparent enamels. They yield their true beauty when light is reflected through them from the metal substrate beneath.
Copper, being much cheaper than silver, is a popular metal base for enamelling. However, the copper oxides that form at the high kiln temperatures necessary to fuse the enamel to the metal can both colour the enamel and reduce the transmission of reflected light. Some transparent enamels are little affected but most appear somewhat opaque and dark. As a consequence it is generally good practice to first apply a colourless enamel flux. This flux is formulated to more easily absorb the copper oxide. The result should be a clear and bright surface onto which coloured transparent enamels can then be applied.
The proper application of enamel flux is thus an important first step in achieving reflective enamel pieces with copper as the base metal. In contrast, silver presents problems only for specific enamels (eg some reds and oranges) and the flux layer is correspondingly less necessary.
Through my inexperience and understanding of the factors involved in achieving transparency with enamel flux, my enamelled pieces were rarely clear or bright, and more often they were muddy, or cloudy.
I decided, therefore, to embark on a series of experiments aimed at finding and controlling the factors that determine the clarity of enamel flux applied to copper. These experiments deal with the sieving of dry enamel flux powder on copper. Most of the results, however, are also relevant to the technique of wet laying of enamel flux.
This report describes those experiments that have subsequently led me to achieve a consistent and acceptable enamel flux base coat.
The information is presented in the hope that other beginners may find it useful. It owes much to various excellent publications that provide background information on the fluxing of copper.
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