Wednesday, 8 October 2014

New Enamel And Copper Leaf Studs And Something Nice For Me

All of the enamel studs I had on my website have found a new home in Australia so it was lucky I'd made a start on a few new pairs a couple of weeks ago to replace them.
I mixed up some new opaque colour blends which I've christened rather grandly Apple, Denim and Amethyst. I've only just come up with the name for the purple mix - it was formerly just called "the purple one". Sounds a bit like Prince.☺

I also made some copper leaf studs using a leaf stamp design that I etched onto the copper then cut round and soldered sterling silver posts to the back.

Very simple but cute. These and the enamel studs are soon to be appearing in my Etsy shop and website.

As it's my birthday next Friday (17th) I decided to treat myself to some new rings. I used 2mm square sterling wire for the first time ever and I really like the look of it. I'm now thinking of making some silver bangles using the square wire........

I used a lovely labradorite cab for one of the rings. It's a milestone birthday and I am quite shocked when I say the number out loud. I can't bring myself to actually type it yet but let's just say it's not 40. Luckily most people don't think I look as "old" as I am!

I've been dithering over what to buy as a birthday present to myself and have now decided to get a Foredom Flexshaft. I've managed pretty well with my Dremel but it does have a mind of it's own when it comes to what speed it's going to go at and it does mean you need one hand free to switch it on and off. The thought of a flex shaft with a foot pedal and slim handpiece seems like bliss after holding a heavy Dremel all this time.
 I shall be ordering one very soon.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Torch Enamelling - Experimenting With Sgraffito

To continue my current tiny obsession with torch enamelling and decorative things you can do with your enamelled jewellery, I thought I'd experiment with sgraffito. The word sgraffito means "scratched" in Italian and according the the Encyclopedia Britannica is "a technique used in painting, pottery and glass which consists of putting down a preliminary surface, covering it with another, then scratching the superficial layer in such a way that the pattern or shape that emerges is of the lower colour"

A friend sent me a copy of a bracelet tutorial {thanks Debs!} by Angela Gerhard who creates the most beautiful enamel jewellery decorated using sgraffito. I'd love to post a couple of photos of it here but I remember doing an enamel treasury on Etsy a while ago and seeing a little note on her shop page about her photos being copyrighted so I will respect that - although if you Google her you'll see lots of her jewellery photos everywhere!

I decided to have a go at sgraffito this week. I cut several pieces of 24g/0.5mm copper to practice on. Some of them are bigger pieces than I normally use but I wanted a bit of space to play. I counter enamelled them then enamelled the front - two in black, two in purple and three in cream.

In the Angela Gerhard tutorial the next step is to apply a layer of liquid enamel but as I don't have any yet I used Klyre Fire which I applied liberally with a brush.

I hope you can tear your eyes away from the ripped out magazine page featuring a step-by-step wirework necklace project I used to sift onto. I don't think I could have picked a brighter, more distracting background for this photo if I tried... 
The next step in the tutorial was to sift a layer of powder enamel on top of the liquid enamel. I sifted a layer of enamel onto the Klyre Fire and pressed it down gently with my finger.

I then used a variety of tools - an engineer's scribe, a fine brush and rubber tipped "things" I acquired a while ago to create the lines. The layer of enamel on this piece was too thick which results in a lot of the enamel powder piling up at the sides of the lines {a bit like snow when a snow plough has been through}. You then need to remove these little piles of enamel by using a bulb syringe {as in the tutorial} to gently blow them away or you can use a dampened brush. Otherwise they create thicker areas of enamel that take longer to fire.

I had another go using a cream base and a thinner layer of three greens. I left a gap between the different greens too then used a small brush to create the lines. It definitely helps to have a pot of water handy to clean the brush and a piece of kitchen towel to blot the brush on to keep it clean between doing each line. The damp brush picks up the particles of enamel too giving you a neater finish to the lines if that's the look you're aiming for.

I fired each piece then lined them up on my shed windowsill to photograph {top photo}. I then decided to etch them as I love the matt finish it gives. Here are the results...

 What I've learned....

1.The first is I need to apply two layers of counter enamel if I want to make larger pieces. The counter enamel on a couple of the pieces took a bit of a battering but that could be due to the enamel on the front being too thick and taking longer than normal to fully fire.

2. A thinner top layer of powder enamel is better for achieving thinner lines.

3. I found drawing straight lines was easier with a brush than anything else.

4. I need a finer brush! The {cheap} brushes I buy seem to swell a bit when they get wet which doesn't make it easy to achieve neat lines. 

5. Although I like bright colours I'm drawn more to the cream background than the black. I'm also trying hard to ignore the purple and green colour combo I created, it's hideous!

6. I need to let go of my inner neat-freak and just go with it. I learned that the more precise you try to be with some enamelling techniques the worse the end result looks.

7.The matt look is very cool. Very.

8. I need to practice more.
 A lot more

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Creating A Matt Finish On Torch Enamel Jewellery

Being a jewellery maker I love watching jewellery making videos, and especially learning new tricks that I can use on a technique I'm familiar with. A video I watched recently was Further Explorations In Jewelry Enameling: Kiln Fired Liquid Enamel And Sgraffito With Susan Lenart Kazmer. I don't enamel with a kiln but the techniques covered are still relevent for torch enamelling. It's a great video full of new ideas and Susan Lenart Kazmer is a likeable teacher.

One of the techniques covered was giving enamel a matt finish using Etchall etching cream. I've seen how lovely enamel jewellery looks with a matt finish and have always been intrigued with it and have thought of trying it myself in the past. The video showed how easy it was to achieve so I went on the cyber hunt for Etchall cream. I found some on ebay for £34 and another etching cream called Armour Etch. I really wanted the Etchall brand so started Googling it until I found some at a much more sensible price of £15.54 plus £2.95 postage from MDP Supplies.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to have a go........
I dug out some old enamelled bits I'd "tidied" into a plastic bag and forgot about. Some of them are pieces I started then decided for whatever reason {no idea!} to abandon and a couple were colour test pieces for a customer.

I cleaned the enamel by wiping over with kitchen towel to remove any dust or grease then applied the Etchall cream with a brush. I wore latex gloves as the cream will irritate skin.

The Etchall cream has the consistency of yoghurt and needs to be applied thickly and as evenly as possible. I went over any patchy areas with some more of the cream if it was needed.

After 15 minutes I used the brush to remove the etching cream and scraped it back into the pot as it is reusable, although for small pieces it's probably not worth bothering. I washed the rest of the cream off in water and dried the enamelled piece.

The result was a smooth egg-shell texture which I think looks great. It's very tactile and feels like smooth stone to touch.

I applied the cream to one side of this piece so the difference with the normal shiny finish can be compared. This piece had a layer of turquoise transparent over the opaque enamels before it was etched.

The green and pink flowers were half-finished abandoned pieces that had been enamelled with just one coat of opaque enamel so are a bit patchy but the etching cream worked well on them. I like the matt effect on the black enamel too.

In conclusion, the etching cream is a definite hit with me and something I will be using to give a variation in the finish of my enamel jewellery. It's so quick and easy to use. One of the advantages of using it is there's no light reflection on the matt finish which can be a nuisance when you photograph enamel stuff.
Now I just wish I'd tried it sooner :D

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Enamel Decal Experiments..........And Mistakes

I've been playing again! I posted recently about trying some of the enamel decals I ordered a while ago and being a bit unimpressed with the results. Well I tried again and ordered some more decals, this time just in simple black designs rather than designs in colours. Previously the coloured decals I tried were a bit of a disappointment due to the colours losing their brightness during printing and fading after firing.

I uploaded my designs in PDF format to Fotoceramic and they then worked out the cost and sent me a PayPal invoice. I received the decals two days after payment which is pretty good service. Here's one sheet of the decals I ordered...

I ordered 6 of each design so I now have nearly 450 decals {Carried away? Me? Never!}  The total cost was £35.05 so they work out at about 8p each. You can create your own designs, use text {which is a great idea} or purchase digital graphics that allow commercial use.

So after counter enamelling and firing two layers on the front of my earrings it was time to choose the designs. I then trimmed the decals as close to the design as possible.

I soaked them in a bowl of water until the backing paper came away and using tweezers placed them on my earrings.

The decal slides around quite a lot until you blot it with kitchen roll so you can reposition it quite easily. You then blot it carefully pressing from the centre outwards to remove as much water as possible and leave it to dry.
There are various ways to dry the decals - if you are using a kiln to fire the enamel you can place the pieces on top of the kiln to take advantage of the heat, leave them somewhere warm such as a sunny windowsill or you can do what I do and warm up a soldering block using my torch then set the enamel pieces on top. I leave them for about 15 minutes and reheat the soldering block a couple of times.

 There's no sure way to know if the decals are dry as they don't change colour but 15 minutes in a warm place works ok for me. There's no point rushing this part {even though we all want to!} as the decals will bubble and be ruined if you fire them before all the water has evaporated.

Once the decals are dry I put the enamel piece onto the trivet and heat slowly keeping the torch a fair distance away until I'm sure the decal really is dry and isn't going to bubble. Then I move the torch closer and fire as normal. The decal smokes a bit then turns white as the enamel heats up.

The white colour then becomes transparent as the top varnish layer of the decal burns away leaving the enamel design.

After reading up on it I understood that I needed to fire the piece until the decal became completely smooth but as you can see in this photo the result was a design that was starting to break up and this decal still wasn't completely smooth. The decals can also sink into the enamel if they are fired for too long.
To stop this happening I decided to fire for slightly less time and to add a top coat of transparent enamel to cover the decal and give the earrings a nice smooth finish.

This is the orange pair with a layer of transparent geranium pink on top of the decal about to be fired.

So, the orange pair in the photo above were fired and the transparent just didn't look very pink. It had altered the orange base colour slightly but I wanted pink! So I added another layer of transparent in red this time and fired it again. Bear in mind this was the 5th firing....

Mistake #1
The shape of these earrings is much too long and thin meaning the trivets I use didn't support them properly. They were hard to balance on the trivets too and did tip up a couple of times depositing the enamel powder everywhere {cue swearing}. The difference in thickness of the top layers of enamel and the much thinner counter enamel layer resulted in a warped piece of copper.

Too may layers of enamel. You can see in the photo the difference in thickness at the top and bottom of the earring.

Mistake #3
Dropping one of the orange earrings on the floor just after firing. And like a piece of buttered toast it landed front side down. On carpet. Yes my shed has carpet. Surprisingly the bits of melted carpet did come off very easily. But it didn't help.

So a few days later the earrings decided they'd had enough of all this stress and this is the result......

Notice this didn't happen until a few days later. The other earring is also cracked but obviously isn't such a drama queen as it's mate and decided to keep hold of it's red/pink/too thick/carpet textured shiny enamel coat.

Here's the rest of the decal experiments I'm glad to say worked :D 
The finished versions can be seen in the top photo collage.

The green pair with the flower decal are my favourites. I mixed up a new green mix using three different green opaques and now want to enamel everything with it!

Only 400 and odd decals to use up now so no doubt there will be more...... but not all in green.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Torch Enamel Earrings - More Poppies!

I do seem to have a bit of a poppy thing going on at the moment. My poppy bangle sets are proving to be quite popular - I had several made to order sets and singles to make last week and I sold the silver poppy studs I made too! 

So to carry on the theme because I like the shape I made a couple of pairs of simple enamel poppy earrings too. They are pretty easy to make once the enamelling is done. The balled sterling wire is threaded through the hole in the centre of the poppy then bent at a right angle before being bent up over itself to form a loop at the back that stops the enamelled poppies from flopping forward when the earrings are worn. The wire is then curved into an ear hook and finished.

I made the poppies in minty green and mauve and another concave disc pair in bitter green...

I was thrilled to see my new order of decals arrive today. The designs look really sweet and a bit clearer than the last lot so I'm hoping to have another go with them tomorrow

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Decals And Torch Enamelling

I love adding designs to things so when I discovered you could combine enamel decals with torch enamelling I had to have a go. I ordered the decals a while ago and after a quick go which left me decidedly underwhelmed with the result I kind of lost interest in it and left the decals in a drawer for a while. I thought I'd better have another go last weekend so dug them out again.
I don't have my first attempt but I did discover that colours don't work too well. The bright designs I uploaded to be transformed into decals came back decidedly dull looking which looked equally dull after being fired onto the enamel.

Here's part of one sheet of decals ......

The photo is a bit deceptive as the decal sheets have a blue tint to them in real life due to the layer of varnish on top of the enamel decal which burns away during firing which isn't showing up in this photo. The colours are also a lot duller! {Damn you camera for making something look white just when I don't want you to!}
I thought I'd try using one of the black three ball flower decals this time and you can see the results in the top photo.

I was pleased with how they looked but bear in mind this was just a quick experiment. The colour of the decal changes to a sepia tone which is quite nice. I fired a layer of clear transparent on top of the round discs as the decals can sink a bit during firing.
The bullet shaped earrings had a harder time of it! I tried a coloured decal on them first and followed some advice I found online about applying the decal, letting it dry then sifting a layer of clear enamel on top before firing. The result was the varnish covering the decal ignited briefly and the already dull colours in the decal faded badly. I wasn't going to give up though so then added another layer of mint opaque enamel on top to cover it up and had another go with the black ball flower design this time.

This worked ok and also produced the interesting effect you can see around the edges where the clear enamel is pushing up through the mint opaque layer above it. I really like the effect and will be experimenting with it again soon  
I'm going to leave these two pairs of earrings for a while to see if any cracking or other weirdness happens before I do anything with them.

Here's another experiment with one of the coloured decals. This is the original design....nice and colourful....

and this is the result after firing the decal.....

The colours are very dull. I'm sure you've noticed that the enamel is badly cracked too. I didn't bother to counter enamel the back as it was a quick experiment. So after two layers of enamel and three firings the difference in expansion and contraction rates of the enamel and copper caused the enamel to crack the day after firing. I used 24g {0.5mm} copper sheet.
So for all those who torch enamel and think you can get away without enamelling the back on thinner gauges of metal, this is what can and probably will happen if you don't!

I have some more decals on order {no colours this time!} so as soon as they arrive I'll be experimenting again and will take photos of the process so I can post another one of these slightly rambling posts with much better results hopefully!