Opalescent Enamels by Merry-Lee Rae

Opalescent Enamels by Merry-Lee Rae

Properties of Opalescent Enamels. Okay, get ready for this. Most modern day opalescent enamels are not truly opalescent but rather semi transparent. A true opalescent is a mixture of two immiscible enamels. (Immiscible Definition
Immiscibility is the property where two substances are not capable of combining to form a homogeneous mixture. The components are said to be “immiscible.” In contrast, fluids that do mix together are called “miscible.”
Components of an immiscible mixture will separate from each other. The less dense fluid will rise to the top; the more dense component will sink. This can also be true of solids but in the case of enamels, it is referring to the molten state.)
The old leaded Thompson were true opalescent enamels. In the case of their 835 Opal White, the glass was immiscible unless fired too hot. If you fire them too hot they become miscible and the resulting glass becomes an opaque. According to the late (great) Woody Carpenter, these enamels also contained arsenic. The “too hot” varied from one batch to another. I have a rather large container of 835 that goes opaque at about 1325 degrees and so as long as you fire under that temperature, your results will be a glorious true opalescent enamel. It should be noted that most medium fusing enamels are meant to be fired hotter than this. It is possible to get them to a glossy stage at 1325 but it will take 3 minutes or more for a small jewelry piece. In actuality, it doesn’t matter how many times you fire a piece as long as it never gets hot enough to change the chemical makeup and cause it to go opaque. Because they are so delicately fussy about temperature, you may find that firing on a layer near the end is safer for you but it really is about the temperature.
The Japanese opals are all semi transparent and not sensitive to overheating. The colors are quite lovely and troublefree but not actually opalescent enamels. Have a look at a Faberge Egg in person some time for an example of Opalescent Enamel. They are delicious.

The Lion and the Lamb
“Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and none shall be afraid.” -Martin Luther King, Jr .
The theme for American Jewelry Design Council 2018 is “Together”.

How to Make a Test Plate of Enamels

Demo for the Week! Making Color Test Plates of Enamels 

How to make a test a plate of enamel. Necessary to see the true enamel color once fired. What you see in the container un-fired is not what it looks like when fired.

First big reason I go about it this way, is all colors of the same family are here. Making a color test plate as you see below allows me to see how close the colors are to each other which gives me the opportunity use them to shade from light to dark.

Second and even more important is to see the different melting times of each enamel. These enamel dots were all applied at the same time and fired all at once. One did not melt = means it is a harder firing enamel.  If you lay it down next to one that melts quicker you will have cracking between the two enamel colors.

Third, I can see which pink enamels have yellow in them or blue in them. This tells me the ones with a yellow base will burn sooner than ones with a blue base.

Color-Plate

 

On to making the plate,

You can pause the slide show when you need to.

* Clean the Copper sheet of 18ga. using comet cleanser or penny brite.

*The copper will be bright and the water should run off. A good sign the metal is clean.

* My counter enamel is moist and I add a mixture of one part Klyre-Fire to five parts water. The Klyre-Fire acts like glue to keep the enamel from falling off when you flip it over the add the flux on the front side of your test plate. Add counter enamel to the back.

* Remove excess liquid with the brush, turn the test plate over and add enamel flux to the front of the test plate.

* Here in images 5 & 6 I am sifting on the flux to the front side of the test plate. If I wet pack the flux and get too much water it can disturb the enamel on the back of the test plate if it runs under. This is the only time I sift enamels, as I do not care for it to be airborne.

*Fire the enamel test plate,  I use 1450 degrees, for 1 minute to 1minute and 15 seconds, in my kiln. Images 6 & 7 front and back fired.

*Next prep fine silver foil, using 120 grit sand paper.

*This is accomplished by burnishing the fine silver foil on the sand paper with a small flat tool, like a ruler. This puts small holes in the foil so it will not trap air bubbles when fired. I am using foil to fire test of transparent enamels on instead of using fine silver sheet. It is just less expensive. 

*Gently brush off the back of the fine foil so no sand from the paper is on it.

*Lay the foil on the fired fluxed side of the test plate of copper.

 *After removing the plate from the kiln burnish the foil down.

*And fire in kiln. This image shows the foil fired on and 1/2 had flux added, then fired again. This way I can test transparent enamel on flux and the same colors without flux. Info I might use later.

 

* Last 2 images shows my color dots of enamel I wanted to test. These enamels were washed in distilled water before applying. Then fired in the kiln.

 

Now you know how to make a test plate of enamels

 This test plate is for enameling on Fine Silver. If you want to enamel on copper just skip adding the fine silver foil. Also if you are enameling on copper turn the temperature up to 1550 and fire to get a beautiful gold color to the copper sheet.

 

I would like to mention this plate with all the pink colors on it is .5″ x 3″. And the dots are small that would equal one layer of enamels. Not very much. Just remember you want to see the true color of the enamel and be able to see through it specially if you are enameling on fine silver.  If this is one layer think about how much it will darken also with 4-5 layers.

http://alohilanidesigns.com/color-plates-understanding-expansion-enamels/

 http://alohilanidesigns.com/enamels-and-getting-started/

 

 

When to Use Hard Medium and Low Firing Enamels

A question came up today about hard, medium, and low firing enamels.

Hard firing enamels are fired at a higher temperature as in the 1500’s degree range or longer in the kiln.

Medium firing enamels I think of using in 1400’s degree range, or at higher temp as 1500 degrees, but less time.

Low firing enamels maybe fired in the 1300’s or even in the 1400’s with less time.

 

The purpose of all this is two things expansion of the metal being used and your technique being used.

Start with copper as it is used most commonly in enamels.

Copper oxidizes the fastest of the metals we use in enameling. We balance this by using medium firing enamels so they melt or fuse before the copper has time to oxide. If it oxides the enamel is likely to flake off or just discolor.

Many enameling on copper use the oxidation to get some beautiful colors.

You can fire at a higher temperature so it fuses quickly not allowing the copper to oxidize. Another way to balance this is to use finer grit of enamel. The finer grit will fuse quicker than a larger grit of enamel without allowing oxygen to get to the copper. This allows the enamellist to achieve that beautiful gold or stunning golden orange copper color.

It is best to know the fusing points of all your enamels so you know which ones to apply as a base or flux. Your base coat of enamel or known as flux, should be the hardest enamel you are applying to your base metal so you do not have these problems.

1)My-Heart

 

Above the flux was a lower firing enamel than the top coats. So as the top layers melted the flux rose up and the top layer of enamel sank down.

 

2) Same here,

Tresa

 

 

The flux coat of enamel was not hard enough to prevent the following layers of enamel  from touching the sliver. And the brownish color of enamel is just burnt.

In cloisonné we never want our warm colors to touch the silver. It causes burning. Silver is going to hold heat longer than copper so we use a hard firing base. And in some incidences we will use several layers of the hard firing flux before layering in our warm colors to be very sure the red never touches the silver base.

 

A comment to address

“I’m torch-firing, I always have my work in my sight so I just watch for signs of melting, which happens very fast.  I’ve had “pull through” with Titanium White.  Titanium White really reacts nicely with copper and you can get some really lovely, but unpredictable, effects.  With a little overfiring the enamel turns a beautiful rust color and in spots will be green.”

Yes these effects can be used to your advantage, this is the oxidation of the copper coming through. And in torch firing I realize you are not going by temperature and have the advantage of seeing all that is happening.

 

Enameling on copper, as in painting enamel  in this piece,

Flesh-Colors-004Flesh-Colors-010IMG_0140

It is necessary to use a hard firing flux as it will be fired many times and I do not want the painting to disappear into the base coat of flux. Also in repeated firings the copper can still oxidize through the enamel and show a color change after many firings.  As I paint in my image I need the painting enamel to adhere to the base coat of flux by firing the piece, then I can continue layering my painting with enamel colors (soft firing enamel)that fire at a lower temperature or less time. The domed metal add strength or less expansion. So it can handle a harder firing enamel without so much expansion or movement in the enamel. If the base coat was a lower firing temperature it would become soft enough in firing the image would distort as the enamel base or flux would move before the image enamels fuse. Painting enamels are a soft or low firing enamel= as they are ground to a face powder grit.

 

A color plate is a very good answer to help you know which is which when you are not sure.

The enamel dot fourth from the left is still grainy after all the rest are fused.

Color-Plate

This color plate shows the top row, second from the right, as becoming liquid so much faster than all the other enamels it is completely flat.

Flesh-Colors-003Flesh-Colors-003IMG_0132

 

If you have three enamel on a plate, one hard firing, one medium firing, one low firing and fire the plate once you will see they melt at different speeds.

If you want to use them all in one project just remember the hard is on the bottom then the medium and then the soft or low firing enamel. This is also why you can use unleaded with leaded enamels as long as you put the unleaded on the bottom as it is a high fire enamel.

Happy Enameling!

 

Those Tiny Bubbles in My Enamels

A couple of things bubbles can be from,

The addition of Klye-fire. And some times the more firings the more they go crazy. I do my best not to use this but I realize in some designs we need it. The last time I used Klyr-fire, a mixture of 1-20 parts distilled water was best. It help on a 3d surface but I could still see a few tiny bubbles.

Bubbles can come from sterling silver that has not been depleted properly. The more you fire the worse they get.

Specks usually come from old or deteriorating enamels. When you wash them  you see tiny white specks in the container. On your first few firing you will see some are white in your enamel, then continue  firing some look like beige-brown goo, and sometimes they turn into bubbles.

Patsy

Cracking In Your Enamels

There are several reasons enamels crack. The most common reason enamels crack is there is not enough counter enamel on the jewel. Counter enamel is enamel on the back side of the jewel. Your base metal expands as well as the enamel when heated, and contracts when cooled. Without enamel on both sides of your base metal one side is going to expand more causing the opposite side to crack. If enamel is placed evenly on both sides of the metal you can eliminate this cracking. Sometimes this happens as it is cooling, when this happens there is very little enamel on the back. But I have seen the enamel crack years later when the enamel was not even on both sides of the base metal.

In some cases you can also dome a piece of metal and use less counter enamel as in a bead. But if you plan to put a thick layer of enamel on the front of the metal you then need more counter to avoid cracking.

Another reason enamels crack is if you use a hard firing enamel next to a low firing enamel. Hard firing enamels take longer to fire, and low firing enamels take less time to fire. Great reason the make test plates and see when each enamel melts first when they are all fired at the same time on the same plate. You can see on my test plate dot #4 is still grainy while the others are smooth. So #4 is a harder firing enamel and if placed next to #5 and you fired it long enough that both enamels were smooth in time the jewel will crack.

Cracking takes place in leaded enamels as well as unleaded enamels. Unleaded enamels are harder firing enamels than leaded enamels so if you combine them on the same jewel you can experience cracking. If you need to use them together use the unleaded first then layers of leaded to avoid cracking.