Color Plates and Understanding Expansion of Your Enamels

Color Plates

Color plates are very important. And yet so many choose not to do them. I know it takes time and you can get recommendations of colors from other artist, but if you have a direction in your work, by that I mean, a vision of your complete art form, and you want to get to that vision the practice of doing color plates can not only save you time and frustration but also end with the beautiful jewel you had visioned. As in rendering a water color of your visioned jewel can help you with your color choice, making a color plate to test how the colors work together can make you more successful in this medium.

This  is a color plate,

There is a lot of information on this plate, see what you can find. No matter if you are working in the technique of Cloisonne, Plique a Jour, Champleve, or sifting on colors of enamel, you should know the properties of the products you are working with.

1. This is my pink color plate. Some artist have just a few colors and mix two, to get a color shade in between them. I prefer to have separate colors, one reason I have mixed colors together and came out with a speckled effect, so I have a choice to set them next to each other to work in a color family and be able to go from light to dark.

Also there are problems here. And if you were to mix some of these together you will have cracking.

2. First, I notice the 4th enamel dot did not flow at the same temperature and time as the rest of the enamel dots. This means the expansion rate is different in the two enamels. The one that is grainy has a higher expansion rate, than the ones that are smooth.

You can layer enamels of different expansion rates with the higher on the bottom but if you put them side by side in a cell or on any enamel piece you will have cracking. The odd thing is it may not crack today or even next month, it could be in two years. Enamelist like to use the terms soft and hard enamels. Hard enamels on the bottom and soft enamels on top. Enamels that are hard are used on the bottom as it takes longer for this enamel to fuse and flow smooth. This also gives you a hard base that will not become liquid at the same time as the second and third layers of enamels you use to create colors. What does this mean? If you like warm colors and we all know warm colors burn. This can help you prevent that. The reason they burn is they come in contact with the metal. So ideally you want to keep them away from the base metal. And with a hard base = flux or several layers of a hard flux your warm colors will not penetrated to the lower levels and touch the base metal. This way the in the next layers softer enamels will fuse and flow before the harder base enamel becomes liquid= no burning. I recommend Bovano #3 for fine silver as it is harder than other fluxes I have tested.

3. The 7th color dot has a bit of yellow in the base color. What would this mean to the enamelist? Enamels have colors bases of yellow, ash or blue. When you line up your colors this way you can easily see which are which. If a color you have chosen for your design has a yellow base, you would want to add it as you last color layer as it will also have a tendency to burn.  Your enamels with a blue base or an ash base are safer. And yes you have yellows that have an ash base, or ones that are true yellow. = Test plates!

4. # 10 and #13 Are pinks with a blue base. These are less likely to burn that the yellow base ones, but will if allowed to come in contact with the metal. If you want a yellow pink just use the blue base ones first then the yellow.

These two images show problem with the soft enamel being used on the bottom and the harder enamel on top. When heated the soft enamel bubbles up and around the hard enamel.

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