Enameling Next Steps: 13 Ways to Enhance Your Enamel Jewelry Designs
While I was first learning torch-fired enameling, I did a lot of experiments–propane vs MAPP gas, sifting on vs dunking in enamel powders, opaque vs transparent, copper vs silver vs iron underneath–and even brass, which apparently couldn’t be done. I’m so glad I found that it can be done, because transparent enamel on brass makes a pretty opalescent look that I love.
ABOVE: enameled filigree beads from Mastering Torch-Fired Enamel by Barbara Lewis
After all that experimenting, I’ve ended up with a whole bunch of random pieces–enameled bead caps, organic enameled shapes, lots of enameled flowers and domed pieces for stacking (because that seems to be my favorite thing to do!), and wayyy too many melted things. Melted, you say? Yes. Most of the metal jewelry supplies you buy in craft stores, such as stamped metal components, metal charms and blanks, bezels, etc., are not made of a suitable metal for enameling. They’ll melt almost immediately. If it clings to a magnet, you can probably enamel it, but my brass pieces don’t cling to a magnet and they work fine.
While I enjoy playing with color combos and other enameling basics, I found myself wanting to explore more of this technique that feeds my creativity. There are many ways to add interest and alter enameled jewelry designs, beyond just different colors. (Note that these additions go on pieces that already have a base layer of enamel.)
13 Enameling Techniques
I tried using stencils with enameling right from the start. I took some pieces of firm plastic recycled from to-go container lids and used various craft hole punches to make designs in them. I kept it simple at first, making a stencil with lots of small dots, one with lots of larger dots, and stencils with just one of each size so I could have better control over placement.
Here’s the basic how-to: Enamel shapes as usual, and with the cooled piece already on the wire mesh or trivet, place the stencils and sift enamel powders over them. Then remove the stencil carefully and refire, warming gently to avoid cracking the existing enamel. In her video Basic Jewelry Enameling, Pauline Warg uses a feathery fern leaf, copper screen, metal mesh, punched papers, and other items as a stencil. There are really no limits on this one, but you should heat carefully so as to not lose the stenciled details.
2. Glass beads, (3) millefiori slices, and (4) glass threads are precise, easy, mess-proof ways to add concentrated spots of color and patterns to enameled pieces. Just place them where you want them (on pieces that already have an enameled base) and refire. Remember that enamels are simply pulverized glass, so adding glass in forms that are less pulverized (lumps, beads, discs, threads, etc.) is fun to try.
5. Enamel pens are the ultimate in versatility and creativity for enameled pieces. They come in a variety of colors and you can use them to draw or write anything your heart desires onto a cooled, base-enameled piece. Then just refire.
6. Liquid enamels are much the same as enamel pens, but you mix your own with water and paint them on as opposed to drawing with the convenient pens. Either way, it’s simply “painting” with enamels in a liquid form, and it’s how I made the white polka dots on blue in this test piece. The liquid/binder burns off leaving your enameled designs.
7. Stamps and ink: I love finding all kinds of ways to use rubber stamps from my “other” crafty life in jewelry making. You can use rubber stamps and Staz-On ink to stamp patterns and designs on base-enameled pieces. Press the stamped design into enamel powder, tap off the excess, and refire from underneath. You’re just using the ink sort of like Klyr-Fire to hold the enamel in place during firing.
8. Decals: I first experienced decals in a torch-fired enameling class with the wonderful Barbara Lewis in Tucson last year. You can buy ceramic decals and simply soak them following manufacturer’s instructions until the backing comes off, then place them on your base-enameled pieces. Dab off excess water, place the piece in a trivet on mesh on a tripod, sift on a good layer of clear enamel, and refire from underneath.
9. Metal wire, (10) metal foil, and (11) metal ink: We spend a lot of time adding color to metal–here are some ways to add metal back to your colorful enameled pieces. You can easily add texture and dimension to enameled pieces by adding wire shapes, whether in cloisonné style (like Pauline’s designs, above) or simply adding a wire design onto a base enameled piece and enameling over it (transparent or clear would be best, but a thin layer of opaque could work too). Enameling on screen creates a stunning texture.
Pieces of pure metal foil (silver, gold, or copper) can be adhered to metal or base-enameled pieces using Staz-On, Klyr-Fire, non-aerosol hairspray, or liquid enamels, allowed to dry, and be fired. If you choose, you can then cover them with a layer of transparent or clear enamel before firing again.
Note that metal foils must be fired with nothing over them first, to bond them to the metal or enamel underneath. Otherwise the pure metal foil can ball or crinkle up just like pure metals can and all but disappear. Metal foils add a bright metallic splash to your designs.
You can also draw metal designs onto enameled pieces using real metal “ink” pens. Cool Tools has a gold one in their new enameling offerings that I can’t wait to try.
12. Drawing, scratching, scrolling (like sgraffito): This is possibly the simplest and most complicated one of all. It’s simple because you don’t need anything–just the mandrel, soldering pick, or some other steel tool that you’re probably already using, though there is such a thing as a scrolling tool made for this–but complicated because you have to work in hot enamels to achieve it.
Working with two or more colors, you can add lump or powder enamels or glass beads to a base-enameled piece and heat. While it’s still in a liquid state, move the flame and “draw” in the molten enamel, pulling one color into another, making swirls, or scratching designs through several layers, even down to the metal.
Please be careful if you try this and keep it simple–the open flame and molten enamel complicate things enough. Check your morning latte foam for design inspiration–it’s the same technique of dragging one color into the other.
13. Negative space: This is a design element that I’m really drawn to but I often forget about. Mary Hettmansperger and Barbara Lewis, two enamel jewelry designers I’ve enjoyed learning from, turned me onto cutting out organic shapes, punching holes in them, then enameling. If you keep the holes clear of enamel, you end up with an interesting surface that you can leave as-is or embellish with other elements like beads, wire, etc.
Updated March 26, 2019.