Colorful Metal: Fun with Enamel Shapes and the 24-Cent Necklace

It's funny how our interests change. Each time I sit down to write to you on a particular topic, I think back about what we've discussed about it before, and I find more and more that I am liking techniques I didn't like in the past!

Take color and metal, for example. I used to be a purist–all silver, all the time–and then I warmed up to the idea of copper and soon really liked it. Naturally brass followed soon after, and I love brass now, possibly even more than copper. I've always loved the pretty verdigris on copper, and that allowed me to enjoy and enjoy creating other patinas, especially flame patinas or torch painting. I came to the realization that adding patinas, inks, enamel, or other color to metal doesn't hide the metal, it just adds a new dimension to it. The metal I love creating with is still there.


Now I'm hooked on all kinds of ways to add color to metal, especially enameling. A technique that I once thought might've covered up my metal actually does just the opposite, helping to bring out some of its unique features and shapes, especially in pierced metal. I find that when I'm enameling, I seek out metal components that have more unique shapes and more dimensional interest than I did before I got hooked on enameling. Enameling helps highlight a metal component's interesting negative space as well as its shape.


When I'm jewelry-supply shopping, I find myself looking for old iron skeleton keys with unique openings and teeth, scalloped pieces I can dome to turn into flowers (it's always about the flowers with me, you know!), and pieces with interesting curves or curls or coils. A simple coil of wire becomes a pretty design element when it's enameled, and a humble hardware-store washer can become a colorful disc to hang on a chain or layer with other pieces. Short lengths of pipe, bits of copper plumbing fixtures, even a copper penny can be enameled into a work of jewelry art.


In Tucson last February, I was lucky enough to sit in on Barbara Lewis's enameling class with some very talented students. I overheard one of them, Patricia Ford Ferguson, talking about her "24-cent necklace," but I thought she must have given it that name for some personal reason. It wasn't until later in the class that I realized she literally had 24 cents hanging around her neck, in the form of brightly colored discs that were actually enameled pennies. (Patricia said to use pennies from 1981 or before. See below for more info about enameling coins.)

I was fascinated. In all my trips to the craft and bead stores to find "things to enamel" when I first got hooked on it, it never occurred to me to use pennies, the cheapest of all "things to enamel." The enamel on Patricia's 24-cent necklace was thick enough to cover up all of the design on the pennies, but it gave me the idea of using transparent enamels with pretty coins so their designs could show through.


Foreign coins with pretty ships, queens, flowers, and crests make fun enameled design elements, and I like to dome some of them before enameling. Before doming and enameling, I pierce a hole in their centers (you see where this is going…) so I can stack different ones of different sizes together. And yes, of course, two or three domed and/or fluted coins can make pretty flowers, since all jewelry roads seem to lead back to flowers for me. Ha!

To learn all kinds of fun and unique ways you can add color to metal and really show off the metal elements in your jewelry designs, check out Coloring on Metal for Jewelry Makers DVD (or instant download), a video workshop hosted by one of my absolute favorite jewelry artists, Gail Crosman Moore. You'll learn to add color to metal in a bunch of fun ways–including inks, enameling, heat patinas, even nail polish! Not many things come in so many colors as nail polish, and certainly not for such a low price. Oh, the possibilities!

P.S. Be sure to check the dates on your coins (make sure they aren't valuable before drilling and/or enameling them!) and do some coin composition research. I've heard that enameling on zinc can be toxic (some pennies contain zinc), but my research on Ganoksin shows that the trouble with enameling on zinc isn't toxicity but poor adhesion and color. Be safe! You should always enamel in a well-ventilated area because it's almost impossible to know every metal in a piece, especially in found objects and alloyed pieces.

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