What is Enamelling?

Enamel is powdered glass which is fused to metal at temperatures in excess of 750 degrees centigrade. Each firing takes only a few minutes, but may be repeated as many as 20 times, as subsequent layers of enamels and design elements are added.

The techniques of today draw heavily on the traditional methods passed down through the centuries. Modern enamellers incorporate many experimental processes using new ideas and materials.

Enamels are precious objects which can be washed carefully in warm, soapy water. They are durable, non-fading and, if handled carefully, will last down the centuries.

There are different styles of enamelling

Basse-taille, from the French word meaning "low-cut". The surface of the metal is decorated with a low relief design which can be seen through translucent and transparent enamels.

Champlevé, French for "raised field", where the surface is carved out to form pits in which enamel is fired, leaving the original metal exposed.

Cloisonné, French for "cell", where thin wires are applied to form raised barriers, which contain different areas of (subsequently applied) enamel. Widely practiced in Europe, the Middle East.

Grisaille, French term meaning "in grey", where a dark, often blue or black background is applied, then a opalescent (translucent) enamel is painted on top, building up designs in a monochrome gradient, paler as the thickness of the layer of light colour increases.

Limoges enamel, made at Limoges, France, the most famous European center of vitreous enamel production. Limoges became famous for champlevé enamels from the 12th century onwards, producing on a large scale, and then from the 15th century retained its lead by switching to painted enamel on flat metal plaques.

Painted enamel, a design in enamel is painted onto a smooth metal surface. Grisaille and later Limoges enamel are types of painted enamel. Most traditional painting on glass, and some on ceramics, uses what is technically enamel, but is often described by terms such as "painted in enamels", reserving "painted enamel" and "enamel" as a term for the whole object for works with a metal base.

Plique-à-jour, French for "open to daylight" where the enamel is applied in cells, similar to cloisonné, but with no backing, so light can shine through the transparent or translucent enamel. It has a stained-glass like appearance; the Mérode Cup is the surviving medieval example.

Ronde bosse, French for "in the round", also known as "encrusted enamel". A 3D type of enamelling where a sculptural form or wire framework is completely or partly enamelled.

Stenciling, where a stencil is placed over the work and the powdered enamel is sifted over the top. The stencil is removed before firing, the enamel staying in a pattern, slightly raised.

Sgrafitto, where an unfired layer of enamel is applied over a previously fired layer of enamel of a contrasting color, and then partly removed with a tool to create the design.

Serigraph, where a silkscreen is used with 60-70in grade mesh.

Counter enameling, not strictly a technique, but a necessary step in many techniques, is to apply enamel to the back of a piece as well - sandwiching the metal - to create less tension on the glass so it does not crack.


The links will take you to http://en.wikipedia.org for further reading

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