In order to determine exactly how these colors would fire over fine silver – it should be noted that fired enamels bear very little, if any, resemblance to their appearance in powder form -- I made a color test strip. Not wanting to waste a good piece of fine silver on a mere test, I decided to design a slightly more interesting piece that could be worn as a pendant. Accordingly, I first crafted a textured rectangle of fine silver with a hanging hole.
You can see that the ends of the cloisonné wire extend over the edges of the pendant; this is done deliberately to avoid cutting the ends too short. It's safe to trim this excess wire after the first few coats of enamel have been applied and fired.
Before proceeding, I drew a rough diagram showing the placement of my wire and wrote the code numbers of the enamel colors I planned to use into the cells so I could keep track of which colors I wanted to place where and also have the ability to remember which colors I used on the test strip for future reference.
Then the fun began as I carefully filled the cells with their assigned colors. It's not necessary to put down the entire first layer; so I applied just the first few and fired them in place. Again, 1500 degrees F for two minutes. I used a tripod because now, with the reverse side of the pendant counter-enameled, the piece needed to be suspended so that the back wouldn't melt against the firing surface (a square of mica placed on my kiln furniture to protect it from the melting enamel). All subsequent firings after the counter-enameling were done on a tripod.
The applied but unfired enamel almost has the appearance of powdered sugar when it's dry enough to fire.
I continued to apply the enamel to each cell and fired the pendant. I also again counter-enameled the back, this time adding a solid color to the entire reverse side before firing again.
Here, you can see the first full layer of color after firing. It's necessary to continue applying and firing layers of enamel until they reach or slightly exceed the height of the cloisonne wire -- any excess can be ground down later, but ultimately the piece should feel smooth and level to the touch once the piece is finished.
Repeated firings were done as more and more layers of color were built up on the piece.
Here's another photo showing how I achieved shading of colors in some of the cells -- I applied enamel selectively. These areas turned darker when they were fired.
After the final layer of enamel had been fired, I finished the test strip by burnishing the surface under running water with an alundum stone and polishing it with successively finer grits (120, 200, 400 and 800) of diamond pad grinding sticks. I carefully removed any remaining glass powder residue with a glass brush and finally fired the pendant one more time to fire-polish it and return it to a nice shiny gloss finish.
Once finished, I mounted the pendant on a silver chain and now wear this piece whenever I'm working with my Japanese enamels as a reminder of how each color looks once fired. And instead of having a pile of random wasted color test pieces, I have a lovely cloisonné enamel pendant I can wear any time!
written by Beverly Miller Gallerani of Mango Tango Designs