Making a (Wearable!) Color Test Strip for Enamels using the Cloisonné Technique

Some time ago I took a class in cloisonné enameling and returned quite eager to get started on my first project. So I took the plunge and ordered some fine silver cloisonné wire and a whole spectrum of yummy colors of transparent Japanese leaded enamels. I chose Japanese enamels for the brilliance and variety of colors; I chose transparent enamels as opposed to opaque enamels so that the fine silver backdrop of my piece with its wave texture would be visible through the enamel.  Opaque enamels might be better suited over copper, for example, or where the background of your enameled piece doesn’t need to be visible.

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.

Before going any further with my description, I'd like to say a few words about safety precautions with enamels in general but with leaded enamels in particular.  Think about the effect on your lungs of inhaling powdered glass!  Every step I took during the creation of this color test strip was made while wearing an N95 3M particulate mask to avoid inhaling the enamel dust. I also mixed, washed and applied these enamels outdoors on my deck. When I was finished working, I packed up all my supplies and thoroughly washed down the table on which I was working (there's nothing quite like wetting enamel to keep the particles from becoming airborne), washed my hands, stripped off my clothes and threw them into the washing machine, and took a shower. I didn't want to allow a single grain of enamel to cling to me anywhere. Always work sensibly with enamels. Even non-lead-bearing enamels are harmful if inhaled.

Once I had the pendant fired, burnished and tumbled, I brushed the front of the pendant with enamel adhesive and then used a sifter to uniformly apply a layer of clear flux (enamel) over the entire piece. When it was dry, I fired the pendant at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit for exactly two minutes in a pre-heated kiln and then quickly removed it to cool. Then I did exactly the same thing to the reverse side of the piece to counter-enamel it. The clear flux acts as a barrier between the fine silver and the colored enamel to enable the colors to remain true. Sometimes enamel colors, when applied directly to fine silver, have a tendency to change. This is especially true with pinks and reds which will sometimes turn orange when applied to fine silver.

I then applied my cloisonné wire to the pendant, adhering it by dipping it first into enamel adhesive. I took care to ensure that I cut the edges of the wire at precise right angles so all parts of the edges would come in contact with the adjoining pieces; you don't want to leave any gaps which might allow the enamel to flow out of its cell or worse, show when you're grinding down your finished piece and suddenly a gap appears. Once dry, I fired the pendant again. Because the flux re-melts during firing, the cloisonne wire actually sinks into the flux and is permanently captured as the piece cools off. Here's how the pendant looked after the cloisonné wire was fired in place:

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.

Since I had already washed the enamels and placed them into coded jars, I was ready to roll. I spooned out small amounts of the colors I had selected and placed them in numerical sequence into a plastic paint tray, adding a few drops of distilled water to each color to prepare them for wet-packing into the cells.

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


Tips From the Team

Here are some great tips for working with metal clay, from members of the Etsy MetalClay Team…

From Glenda J. Camara-Skarie (AdoriLargento): use a double-pointed compass or divider to make ring bands and earrings. For the ring band it is very easy to change the width of it. For the earrings it will make a duplicate every time.

Team members Liad Wischnia-Nemeth (ByLiad), Anna Siivonen(Annasiivonen) and Joy Funnell (JoyFunnellEtsy) all recommend using baby wipes to remove small cracks, smooth clay, wipe away dust and clean tools. Joy says she loves them! She uses a sharp craft knife to remove any excess clay from edges and then cleans up the edges with the wipes. It gives her the smooth edges that she likes. She adds that the wipes can be recycled to reclaim the silver, or just rinsed out in a glass of water so the silver settles to the bottom to be recovered. Also, Joy says if she gets briefly interrupted while working, she simply covers her clay with a wet wipe and it keeps just fine!

Zoe Nelson (ZoeNelson) recommends: roll leftover clay into a ball and store it in plastic wrap. It won't dry out as fast as a lump because it has a smaller surface area.

Karen West (EggToothOriginals) shared this tip: I like to use Aura 22 Gold to dress up fine silver PMC3 once in awhile. I had mixed results using the kiln only to fire it.  Here's what I do now for great results: Follow kiln firing directions. Once pieces are cooled, remove them from the kiln. Working with one piece at a time, heat them with a butane torch just until the piece glows red. Remove torch. While the piece is still hot, grab it with cross-locking tweezers and burnish the gold using an agate burnisher. Follow with brushing, tumbling or whatever you would normally do to burnish the rest of the piece.

Liz Hall (LizardsJewelry) suggests: I keep a candle handy in my cutting blade cup to run my blades across—keeps the clay from sticking and it’s much easier/quicker to do a quick swipe than lubing it up with some other product. Plus it doesn't seem to mess with the clay like some anti stick products do.

From Christine Street Gregg (ChocolateAndSteel) we have this tip: have lots of toothpicks handy. They are good for setting stones, for poking holes, adding Black Max to small areas, setting resin and drying bails around.

One of my (EvelynPelati) favorite tips is for when I need to cut a shape centered within a shape. If I’m using tempates that are flat, I always cut out the inner shape first. Then I center the outer shape over it and cut. Visually it’s easier to center this way.  If I’m using high-walled cutters, like tubes—I take the outer shape and make a light impression in the clay. Then I cut my center shape in the middle of it. Then I cut the outer shape using my impressed guideline. I do this because I can’t see through the cutters to cut the way I described previously. And, if I cut out the outer shape all the way through first, the outer shape can become distorted when cutting the inner shape.

Last, we have a fantastic “bonus tip” from team member Catherine Witherell (HappyDayArt)! Catherine has written a tutorial about how to make custom cookie cutters for making uniform cut-out bead caps. Don’t miss this valuable lesson! Click this link or scroll down to the next blog post.

Thank you to all the team members who generously shared their knowledge with us.

~ Evelyn Pelati


Custom Cookie Cutters for Making Uniform Cutout Bead Caps

Here's a tip to make your life easier while making multiples in metal clay. Why multiples you ask? Multiples are the kind of piece you want to make more than one of, for earrings, for uniform pendants on one necklace, or if you're in a production cycle for a show. Bead caps can come in handy often. Here are a few shapes that look good on earrings, bracelets or pendants.   

The easiest shape would be a circle. I also like the 4 pointed star. 

This is a four-lobed piece that looks good bent over a bead.

I got myself a sheet of 28-gauge copper and just cut uniform strips about 1/4 inch wide with metal shears or tin snips. The copper is inexpensive and resilient and easy to form with pliers.  

I spent some time making drawings and then I shaped the cutters to their outlines. I don't worry about soldering the seams. The copper is springy enough to hold it's shape if you're not too rough with it. I made my 4 pointer 1/2 inch wide and the four lobed piece almost 3/4 inch wide. You can adjust your size and style to the beads you're using. 

I roll out my silver metal clay about 3 playing cards thick, then texture it. After the surface has set up a little but the clay isn't hard yet, I use my greased cookie cutter and cut out as many pieces as the rolled out sheet will hold. I'm all about having more than you need for your project, just in case you have another brilliant idea. Repeat as necessary. Remember to flip the cutter if you're making something that needs to be symmetrical or a mirror image of the other.  

When completely dry, I finish the pieces and and then fire them for the maximum firing time and temperature to make sure the silver is sintered enough and will bend easily without breaking. I've never done this with any of the base metal clays so if you want to, you need to blaze your own trail. 

Here's where my dapping block comes into service.  

I place a piece face down in a depression that holds the entire piece inside the rim. I place the dap in the center of the metal and hit it with a hammer, firmly but not too hard.  

In fact I hit it rather gently but surely about 4 or 5 times to get the piece to slowly form to the bowl of the block but careful not to punch out the texture on the other side. I move the piece to the next smaller sized depression and I do the same thing as the piece gets rounder and gets closer to the size of the bead I'm going to use. 

Your cookie cutters can be as simple or as complicated as your imagination lets them be. 

Rose bloom pendant.

Fire and Water rings

All made with custom cookie cutters!

~ Catherine Witherell


Feel the Love

With Valentine's Day fast approaching there is love in the air.
But when it comes to jewellery it doesn't have to all be about hearts.
In the language of love, words can say so much...
...or be so inspiring.
Giving flowers has always been a way to express love.
Gorgeous enamelled flowers...
beautiful multilayer booms on rings...
or a delectable simple blossom ring...
Rings, of course, are a traditional love gift, and red is the colour of love.
Beautiful transparent reds with classical lines...
and bold solid reds on geometric designs. 
Pendants with modern retro swirls and red accents...
and sunny red coral earrings, to emphasise the happiness of love.
But love can also be fun!
We all love a cute little character which gives us that warm feeling inside...
A fairytale bunny...
or some adorable owls.
Love is all encompassing; it draws us in and keeps us enveloped in its unending complexities, and the warmth at its heart. 
Feel the love.




What's new in our shops

Hello everyone, another post to showcase what is new in our members shops this month, please check out the awesome shops below to see more work from these artists.

Karen west

That's all for this post I hope you all find something new to love!
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