{April 12, 2013}   Crafting Cloisonne

If you’d told me a year ago that I could create a piece of cloisonne jewelry, I wouldn’t have believed you. You might just have well have told me I could make my own mattress or shoes. Crafting items like those requires specialized skills, tools, and materials that aren’t readily accessible to an average person.

Cloisonne, an enameling technique that’s been around since the 8th century, sounds like it demands precision, talent and expertise. Maybe that’s why my sister-in-law Lisa didn’t use the word and instead asked if I’d like to make enameled jewelry. Enameling sounds more approachable. So I agreed.

Our sister-in-law Kathy also joined us. These two talented women have been with me from the beginning of my year-long quest to try new things. Lisa is an art teacher and showed me how to make and glaze pottery. She also joined me for indoor rock-climbing, the Dirty Girl Mud Run and the Polar Plunge. Together, she, Kathy and I took a class on blowing hot glass and spent an evening painting with acrylics.

This time, Lisa walked Kathy and me through the process of making a cloisonne pendant. Broken down into steps, it was simpler than I could have imagined.

First, we each sanded a 1-1/2-inch copper disk and punched a hole in it to make it into a pendant.

Next, we used pencil to draw our designs on the disks.

Then we bent special silver wire to match the shapes of our designs. Each piece of wire must have a bend or fold to keep it from falling over in the kiln. The wires form the cells that hold different colors of enamel.

When we finished creating our design in wire, we brushed the copper disk with a gum solution to help hold the wires in place. We arranged the wires on our disks and sifted a thin layer of fusing flux over the pieces. Into the kiln they went for 3 minutes.

After they cooled, it was time to add color. We referred to an enamel chart to select our colors. Working with one color at a time, we mixed water into the colored, powdered glass to form a paste. We used flat toothpicks and paint brushes to fill the cells with the paste. We filled cells that did not touch with different colors before the pendants were fired in the kiln.

Once they cooled, we went back and added additional colors and filled in low spots before firing them again. I think we added colors and fired our pieces four or five times.

To finish the pendants, we lightly sanded the fronts to bring out the silver wires, popped them in the kiln a last time, and then spray-painted the backs. They turned out great! Mine lacks the glossy even layers of enameling that Lisa’s and Kathy’s possess. But I know that’s because I was not as precise or exacting when I filled the cells. (They both love intricate work like that—not me.)

Overall, it was a successful afternoon: I learned a new art form and now have a piece of brightly colored cloisonne jewelry to show for it.


{May 15, 2012}   Amazing Glazing

If it’s fun to throw a pot, it’s even more fun—and easier—to glaze it after it’s fired.

Last month, my sister-in-law Lisa gave us the opportunity to use a pottery wheel for the first time. (Read more about the experience here.)

After our creations were fired in the kiln, she invited us back to glaze them. Pottery glaze is used to “coat, color, preserve, or otherwise leave the artist’s signature finish on a ceramic piece.” Glazes contain silica, which melts and forms glass when heated at a high temperature.

Before we started, Lisa pulled out examples of glazed cups, vases and dishes to show us how different glazes might look after the items are fired in the kiln. We could choose one color or combine colors for different effects.

The glazes we used look similar to paint. There are different ways to apply glaze, but we used brushes to paint or drip it on, depending on the results we wanted.

Four-year-old Jamie hadn’t used a pottery wheel, but had a ball making “marbles” and little “bowls” by hand. The marbles could not be glazed, but he decided to glaze each bowl in one color. He painted two with orange glaze and three in green. (He decided the largest one is just right for holding tiny LEGO studs.)

Dylan, 7, had thrown a bowl and two cups. He painted the bowl with two coats of pink glaze, let it dry, and then dripped Black Magic over the edge. The resulting color combination is reminiscent of a strawberry ice cream sundae…yummy!

One of his cups he painted with two coats of yellow, then dripped some red along its top edge for a cool effect. The second cup he painted green, then dripped a speckled glaze called Blue Caprice along its top edge. This glaze itself is light blue and has a gritty texture, so it was hard to imagine exactly what it would look like after it was fired. It turned out great!

I was taken with the Blue Caprice glaze as well. I painted my shallow bowl with two coats of leaf green. I then added the speckled glaze along its top edge, letting it drip down the sides and inside. After it dried a bit, I dripped an opalescent glaze called Bluebell over top. I love the contrast of the robin’s egg blue and darker blue flecks with the bright green base.

I decided to paint my plate with a purple glaze. When it was dry, I covered it completely with a coat of Blue Caprice. It didn’t look like much when we added it to the kiln. But after it was fired—wow—the flecks of gold, green and blue are amazing!

When Dylan saw it, he said, “Mom, it looks like a real plate!”

“It is a real plate,” I replied.

“No, I mean like a real manufactured plate.”

I’ll take that as a quite a compliment.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Click here.

et cetera