Thursday, January 19, 2012

More Adventures in Enameling - Pagoda Pendant Tutorial

I decided to try using adhesive plastic stencils that I picked up from the dollarama to apply a design in enamel to a pendant. I just designed the pendant as I went along, so there was no sketching or planning process - I just let the creativity flow! It's fairly easy to do with a few basic metalsmithing techniques, so I've documented the process and outlined it here if you wish to do something similar.

I always make sure I'm wearing a good particulate mask when I'm sifting enamel. Trust me, you don't want to get silicosis . If you were a smoker and decided to quit today, your lungs would immediately begin to heal themselves. Inhaling glass is something your lungs can't really recover from. Be safe! (And that mask is pretty cute, too, isn't it!)

Here is my one-dollar sticker from the dollarama. I'm extremely happy I picked these stencils up, even though I wasn't sure what i was going to do with them at the time. You can make your own stencil if you want - just cut your negative space from paper with a craft knife or paper punches, and use Klyr fire to "glue" your stencil down before you sift your enamel on.

After washing my copper rectangle so that water flowed over it in a sheet and didn't ball up anywhere or pull away from the edges, I applied klyr-fire, sifted counter enamel over the piece, set it on top of the kiln to dry, then fired it until the glass flowed. I did another layer of counter enamel and two layers of black enamel on the right side of the piece before I applied my sticker. I left a little tab at the top of the sticker when I trimmed it to size so that I'd be able to easily remove it. Don't be tempted to skip the counter-enameling. Your piece will likely warp or crack if you don't have relatively equal amounts of enamel on both sides.

I brushed Klyr fire over the black parts that were showing through the stencil (if you've made your own stencil, there is already organic binder on the piece) and sifted blue enamel over the entire rectangle. I turned the piece upside-down and gently pulled the stencil off. Some blue enamel flaked onto the black spaces in between the design, but I simply brushed those off with a damp, fine artist's brush. I was surprised how little cleaning up I had to do after the sticker came off. I let the piece dry, and then fired it in the kiln.

It looks pretty good! That was considerably easier than I expected it to be. Next I had to make a setting for the enamel.

I decided to go with a fairly basic bezel shape, with the intention of possibly adding embellishments. I had some silver-filled sheet that I was eager to try working with, so I cut a rectangle the same size as my enamel, and bent some fine silver bezel wire to fit around the outside of the base. This is the hard way to make a bezel. Typically I would fit the bezel wire around the enamel, then solder it on top of the metal sheet before I cut the sheet out - but I didn't want the line of brass from the silver-filled sheet to be visible around the side of the bezel, so I had to cover the edges with the bezel wire. This requires a pretty tight fit and a bit of a finicky soldering job, but I got it done!

After soldering and pickling my bezel, I realized that it was boring. I decided to replicate a part of the enamel design on the back of the bezel and pierce it out. It was fun to design this piece on the fly and to make decisions about the design spontaneously. Normally I sketch things out and have a pretty good idea what I want to do before I start, but it's nice to work with only a nebulous beginning sometimes.

I like asian-themed design, and it seemed appropriate for this piece to have an arrangement of wires with a pagoda look on top of the pendant. Soldering these in place was a bit difficult because I was using only a small torch, and the entire piece needs to be heated at the same time for solder to join properly - the large bezel likes to steal heat away from the thin wires at the top. I switched from my creme brulee torch to the propane fat boy and was able to accomplish the soldering with only a few minor glitches.

I did take a few pictures of the fabrication of the bail, but they turned out blurry, so I'll have to do a separate tutorial for bails sometime in the future. I applied a finish that is a bit rough by using emery paper in small circles on the back of the bezel, and in straight lines for the wires, bail, and bezel walls. Placing the enamel in the bezel, I noticed that the counter enamel was not a very nice colour, and since I had sawn the design into the back, the counter enamel was showing through. I decided to put one last coat of enamel on the backside of the piece in black. Then the enamel was ready to set! I used a bezel roller to close it up nice and tightly and then I burnished the edges so they were close around the enamel.

I like it when the back of the piece has a little something extra. It's like a happy little secret for the wearer!


  1. You did a totally awesome job! I love the whole look, especially the hidden surprise in the back. I am new to enameling, so your tutorial is really helpful. Thank you!! Keep up the good work.

  2. You are a very skilled artist! beautiful work