From the time we open our eyes in the morning until we go to sleep at night, color surrounds us. It fills our world with unspeakable beauty that can touch our deepest soul. As jewelry artists we have an incredible opportunity to capture the memories of those colors and transfer them to our designs through the beauty of enamel.
For those new to the technique, enamel is a durable coating of melted glass fused to the surface of metal. While an enameled piece draws attention and intrigues, it has also been known to overwhelm an artist when they first look into the process.
In an upcoming series of posts here on Rio’s Blog, I’ll break down the basics, helping the beginner become familiar with enameling safety, supplies, preparation, and finally some projects you can try for yourself. My hope is to help diminish any intimidating feelings you may have had about enameling. This art form is easy to learn, and you’ll see quick results. You’ll hear it said many times, “Enameling takes a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” Once you have the basics, it’s up to you to put in the time.
According to recent research, it takes three weeks to form a habit. With enameling it is important to form the appropriate safety habits from the beginning so they become second nature. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind when you begin enameling:
- When working with a kiln or torch, wear closed-toe shoes, heat protective gloves, and kiln-approved safety glasses.
- If working in a shared studio, it is up to you to look out for others.
- Always work in a well-ventilated area on a heatproof work surface, and away from flammable materials.
- When sifting any type of enamel, it is important to wear a particulate respirator that is recommended for use during enameling.
- Wash your hands frequently while working, and never eat or drink anything while you are enameling.
Keeping these safety precautions in mind, you can begin to gather the necessary supplies, which will allow you to complete many of the basic enameling techniques. Rio Grande carries everything needed for the beginner to the advanced enamelist, so you won’t have far to look for supplies. The following list will get you well on your way for any beginning enameling project.
Thompson Enamel BEK-1X Beginner’s Kit– This kit contains everything you need—except a kiln—to start enameling.
Pumice powder – or a scouring cleanser product
Old glossy magazine or catalog pages
Thompson Lead-Free Enamels – In various colors of your choice
Woven Fiber Kiln Discs (if firing in a kiln)
Soldering Tripod (if using a torch)
When starting out, it is more cost effective to purchase a starter kit like the one mentioned above than to purchase items individually. Of course, as time goes on, you will be adding additional brushes, enamels, and various tools to make things easier for your personal workspace. You will also need to decide whether to use a kiln or a torch to fire your enamels. If you’re just beginning enameling and haven’t decided whether or not it’s a long-term endeavor—starting small, with a torch, might make sense. But this choice will also be determined by the size of the piece you’re working on.
I’ve shared some things to ponder until the Enameling 102 blog post, where I’ll cover kiln firing vs. torch firing, and metal preparation. Until then, take some time to look at the colors that surround you in nature. They can be the inspiration for future enameling projects!