I've been a printmaker for 25 years and teach copper plate etching at the John C. Campbell Folk School, but a couple years ago I started investigating what else could be done with the copper. I made a copper water fountain, copper containers, copper jewelry hanger, and then I stepped into an enameling class---love at first firing. The problem with making beautiful enamels was that I wanted to make them into jewelry and I didn't know exactly how to do that. It has been an enjoyable journey learning more about silver, and I am ok with a standard cabochon setting now, but there is always something new to learn, so here we all are. I'm looking forward to learning and sharing at this new-to-me forum.
Mary Quinnan Whittle
I just noticed this and I bet you could teach us all a thing or two about etching and enameling. These are two things I would like to try before I die but am a little intimidated about trying. I keep looking at all the new equipment associated with them and shudder at the costs now that I'm retired. Welcome to the forums.
Thanks for the vote of confidence. I am very comfortable with etching, and am having a blast with the enamels . Enameling is one of those crafts that you can learn in an hour and spend a lifetime pefecting. It is less intimidating if you can find someone to help you get started. I live in the Chattanooga, TN area if that's any help. Although I have a kiln, you don't have to go that route. Some wonderful results can be obtained with torch firing. You'll need a firing rack, a plumbers propane torch from the hardware store, some copper sheet or cut outs, and some enamel (definitely get clear enamel for copper) and something to pick the hot metal up with after it's fired (like insulated tweezers).. I started with a torch when I only had clear enamel, and I could get red, gold, and green colors depending on how hot I let the metal get. That's definitely a "primative" setup, but you can do a lot with it. Have fun!
I'm in Arizona, so I won't be dropping in for a lesson. I have read some articles on torch firing so that may be the way to go. I have plenty of torches from my metalsmithing endeavors so that not a problem. The big problem is finding a space free of dog hair, I now have six Siberian Huskies and their hair is afloat everywhere in the house, garage and my studio. I have been told hair is a bane to successful enameling. I may order a sample set of Thomson enamels and give it a try this winter.
I'm enjoying this discussion you guys! I love having such experienced and knowledgeable folks sharing info on JMD. Mary, do you mind if I ask why you recommended "clear" enamels for copper? Do you mean translucent or literally clear/colorless? I've been playing with torch-fired enamels the past few months and I'm so hooked. I hardly ever use translucent enamels, though; I prefer the opaque. I'm curious about your experience and hope you'll elaborate on that part. When you mention the red, gold, and green colors you get on the copper, do you mean the "flame painting" from the torch on the copper itself, or the clear enamel changes colors?
BogIron, you can also skip the firing rack and enamel directly onto the items, just hold them with old pliers ("hot tools" that you don't mind getting black and messed up) and dip them in the enamel powders when they're glowing. You can also use mandrels and short lengths of copper tubing and roll the tube pieces in the enamels to make enameled tube beads; I put a tutorial on JMD about that. Here's a link:
In these cases, you only need the fuel and torch (which you probably already have), some old tools (which you probably also have), the copper or brass things to enamel on (not too costly) and some enamel powders (also not too costly if you get a small sampler kit). I hope you can try it because it has become my new favorite thing!
Tammy, sorry to wait so long to respond. I just saw your post. Referring to your question of translucent or colorless enamels, I suggested clear enamels, and yes they are colorless, but the enamel can pick up oxides from the metal and that can cause color shifts especially when under-firing or over-firing a piece. Thompson enamels makes medium expansion, unleaded clears for copper. Depending on how much heat you have (or want to use) to melt the enamel, you can use soft, medium or hard, with hard requiring the most heat. You can use clear to adjust color hues (low fire looks reddish, and over tiring can turn green) or create different effects by using soft enamel under a harder enamel and firing hot. I like to do this with darker transparent and opaque colors. There are so many possibilities, I could write an article on it. If you want some specific projects, e-mail me.
As for translucent enamels, I believe these are sometimes called opalescent if we are talking about the same thing. I don't use them a lot, but my experience has been to fire them last and not to overheat them or these can lose their shimmer. Also, don't wash them or do so very lightly. When using clear or transparent enamel it is customary to "wash" or rinse the enamels a few times and drain off the cloudy water, but opalescent ones are the exception as you can wash away the shimmer.
Well, that's my 2 cents worth. Try it and see what you discover. Even though most of us won't get exact temperatures with a torch, you do have the advantage of watching what's happening as you work. If you are using a trivet while firing, you can learn to judge heat by looking at the color of the trivet. Red - low; cherry red - medium; white - hot-hot.
Thanks for your kind comment. Like you, I hope to find a good balance of give-and-take sharing from this community. Have you shared what you do on this site? I'll have to look.