Enameling: Create Flower Jewelry with Enamels, for Color That Lasts Forever
Eternal Spring: Keep Your Colors Fresh with Enameling
Every January 2, I start watching for spring. As a kid I loved winter and I still love it in an abstract kind of way, but in a more concrete kind of way I am so done with it way before it’s done with me. Last year we were lucky: we hit 70 degrees in mid February, and that is an accomplishment for the Northeast! My rock irises came but with plunging temps, regrettably were soon gone. The crocuses started popping out in March, and my forsythia and daffodils were showing tinges of yellow soon after. But those are as much winter flowers as they are spring. It’s only safely spring for me when the tulips open up.
ABOVE RIGHT PHOTO: Tania McIntyre’s enameled bib necklace offers a hint of color in the center of every white blossom.
Enamels are the classic medium for adding painterly colors to jewelry. Gemstones, resin, bottle caps and bits of old skateboard can all bring more color to your work, but the range of colors and tones available through enameling have their own special attraction. Plus, unlike my frozen rock irises and any other flower if you give it time, enamel flowers don’t fade!
Jewelry artist Tania McIntyre not only works extensively with enamels, she is also singularly inspired by the organic, curving lines of Art Nouveau, Dutch tulips, and spring. The only thing that could make that better in my book would be an orange tulip. It’s not so much a spring color, but it’s warm and vibrant and that’s what I love about it!
Tania McIntyre’s enameled pendant with orange tulip: the sketchy quality of the flower just highlights how much that orange glows!
Enameling Nature Inspired Jewelry Designs
“Delft Nouveau sums up this piece,” says Tania in the introduction to her project “Sgraffito Bib Necklace,” from the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist special publication How to Enamel Jewelry. “Like many, I’m drawn to the looping, ornate lines and classic appeal of Art Nouveau, in its heyday incorporated into art, decor, furniture, jewelry, and sculpture — Art Nouveau made the everyday item a work of art.”
“With my Dutch background, I also love Amsterdam’s delft blauwe pottery, vibrant flower markets, and the Keukenhof,” Holland’s extravagantly laid out garden exhibition park. “So, when I set up the kiln and enamels as the tulips came out in spring, I was inspired to do a necklace that’s perfect for garden parties and picnics in the park.” Here are some of the steps Tania takes to create this spring-themed necklace.
The Curves of Art Nouveau
To create this piece, Tania started by sketching out a pattern with that distinctive Art Nouveau look of looping lines, then transferred the pattern to her metal so she could saw it out. “I used watercolor paint on the metal and charcoal crayon on the back of the image and traced to give a fairly clear sawing line for scribing into the metal. Then I washed the paint and charcoal away.”
With the piece sawn out, Tania was ready to start on the enameling. “Prep the metal for enameling by scrubbing it free of oils to ensure a full bond of enamel and metals. Water should sheet across the surface,” she advises.
“Apply your adhesive or holding agent to the back of the piece to counter enamel, and sift a light, even layer of counter enamel. If you are torch firing, it may be easiest to create several light layers. Scrub the fire scale from the front now and clean again.”
Blue Reminiscent of Delftware
To invoke the lovely Delft pottery for which Holland is almost as famous as it is for its tulips, Tania chose the shade of blue that is so distinctive of the work, starting with a layer of white underneath the blue. She used the same blue for her enameled copper focal with a tulip motif.
Before sifting on any enamels, Tania prepped the front of her metal design with adhesive, then added her first enamel layer.
She fired the top layer, going for “fully smooth enameled, though there’s room to play here with texture as well as layers of color,” she notes.
Tania allows the fired enamel to cool after removing it from the heat. Again she applies adhesive and then the second layer of color, scribing lines for detail at this point.
For Torch Firing
Both sections of Tania’s Necklace were fired with a torch, though she says you can fire in a kiln, too. Either works. If you are torch firing enamel for this design or something similar with mutiple parts, she recommends using a Blazer. “I used a Blazer torch for enameling smaller pieces and a hydroflux/water torch. In this case, the smaller torch will nicely fuse enamel, just not the full plate size. Breaking it down to smaller element pieces will work, just remember to add your drill holes to connect the elements when done.”
Pick Your Own Palette
Are you an orange fan or prefer blue? Whatever colors you want to add to your jewelry at the moment, enamels have something to offer you. To see the complete Sgraffito Bib Necklace project and many other enamel jewelry projects, find tips about enameling tools and techniques, discover the astonishing enamels of 19th century Russia, and see what some of today’s most creative enamelists are doing in jewelry, check out How to Enamel Jewelry today. And enjoy spring while it’s here — and all year long with your next piece of enameled flower jewelry.
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Read: Jewelry Enameling: Merle’s Top 5 Enamel Techniques for more on adding color to your metal.
See Tania’s design in detail along with others in this special issue