Adventures in enameling

This weekend has been an exploration. I’ve tried new things. And, OK, not one of them turned out the way I would’ve liked. But that’s cool. You learn by doing. If nothing else, it’s helped me dispel some of my fear of the kiln. I mean, yeah- it’s still scary. REALLY scary. And I made some unwise choices.

For instance, for future reference, if you’re going to fire on or over fiber paper, that really needs to go in before you turn the kiln on. Even if you’re not adding the piece you’re firing until the kiln hits 1450°, don’t wait until then to add the fiber paper, too. Flames will ensue. It will be scary. Let’s not do that again, OK? Thanks.

But even doing something that scary/stupid, I didn’t burn the apartment down, and I didn’t injure myself. Heck, the smoke alarm didn’t even go off. Not entirely sure that’s a good thing, but… well, there you go.

I did, rather inevitably, drop the piece I was enameling as I pulling the screen from the kiln. Fortunately, it didn’t go far; it fell (freshly-enameled-side down, of course) onto the ceramic tiles the kiln sits on. I had horrific images in my head of it hitting either a part of me, or hitting the linoleum kitchen floor. Either would’ve been pretty catastrophic. But that didn’t happen. Yay!

Let’s start with yesterday.

I fused glass, from start to finish, without assistance or supervision, yesterday.
It didn’t come out right.

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Pardon the photograph quality; all photos in this post were taken with the phone.
I clearly didn’t get to full fuse; the pieces are quite bumpy. Also, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that I didn’t do things quite right. The black bases & clear tops are the same size; should the tops be a tiny bit larger? Should I have used more stringers, or dichroic chips,  to fill up the empty spaces? Don’t know yet. Still, I’m glad I did it. It was one of those things I’d been beating myself up for weeks for not having tried. Now I have… and I look forward to improving.

…But I’m way more hooked on enameling, right now.

I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by it. I did it at camp when I was a kid, so it’s not like I’m completely new to it. And it also means I have at least some sense of its limitations; I certainly don’t still have any of the pieces I made back then. Neither does my mother. At least the pottery ashtray was useful; the burgundy enamel fish-shaped brooch with the gem lumps that shattered later, not so much. I’ve seen some of the enamel projects people sell on Etsy. Some are quite lovely, but no one’s going to be able to quit the day job with what they make doing that. And yet… fascinated. Can’t wait to try again, & frustrated that there aren’t more opportunities during the week for a project of such magnitude. Strange.

Today’s enameling was no success.

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Waiting for the Amacote/Scalex to dry

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Sifting counter-enamel

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Fired counter-enamel after dropping on tile while cooling, then fired facing down on trivet

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Front of pendant: jungle green with three threads

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Finished front - Cajun blackened?

For one thing, I completely failed to keep the bail hole clear, so even if I hadn’t bollocksed it up, it would’ve been fairly useless.

For another… ew.

But I think I know what I did.
Well, sort of.
Some of it, anyway.

For those of you tuning in for the first time, let me ‘splain- I have a SpeedFire Electric Mini Kiln. It’s the basest of base models. It’s unwieldy; opening it entails lifting the entire kiln off of its base (a kiln shelf with legs). To do something like fusing or enameling, where you need to, at the very least, PEEK at your piece, you’re supposed to sort of tilt it open on one side. When you do that, two things happen.
1. A bunch of heat escapes the kiln, knocking your interior temperature down significantly.
2. It’s not exactly stable. Rock it up too far, it could easily shift, & bad things could happen to your piece, your arm, your body, your floor, & your security deposit.

When enameling, you have to do more than peek; at a certain point, you’re supposed to slide a metal spatula under the shelf or trivet & slide the whole thing out of the kiln while it and the kiln are still 1450°.

This would, of course, be the point at which the piece dropped onto the ceramic tiles.

Here’s the deal- I’m glad I have a kiln at all. I’m glad I have it to learn with and gain experience with. Because it’ll make adjusting to a REAL kiln, e.g. a Paragon SC2 or E9, with a hinged, front-closing door, an absolute breeze.
The SFEM fits in my apartment. It works. If I was more enamored of metal clay, it’d be ideal, but I’m not very good with metal clay. I think if I had the SFEM 1800 & could work with CopprClay, that might be different. Maybe now that I’m enameling copper, I’ll regain an interest in working with ArtClay Copper, which can be torch-fired; I have the tools to work with that, even though torch-firing limits the size of the projects you can do.  But PMC makes me uncomfortable. I don’t feel I have the artistry or creativity to do it justice, & it’s just too expensive to be messing around with. I find it off-putting.
But yeah. For now, I’m stuck with the SFEM 1600. I’m not entirely certain if this a product line issue or I’m just special, but mine doesn’t seem to get hot as quickly as it’s supposed to, nor does it get as hot as it should. It’s supposed to hit its max temperature of 1560 in about an hour; at an hour, I’m fighting for every degree over 1400. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it go much over 1500. I did learn that, when hooked up to its little dial temperature controller, if you let it ramp up above 1450, then dial it back to a 9, it’ll stay between 1455 and 1458. So that was good to learn, since 1450 is the magic number for enameling. I also learned that the firing time should, in theory, be about 3 minutes. Didn’t know that. The counter-enameled side took a long time to fire (I kept peeking, which probably didn’t help), so I promised myself I wouldn’t look at the green side for a full 10 minutes; I imagine this was a contributing factor in its blackening. I also let the piece sit in the kiln for a bit after I’d shut it off & it was cooling, as I was wary of another failed attempt to retrieve a burning piece of metal from the kiln. This, too, may have contributed to the blackening.

Anyway. Yes. Learning experience. The whole weekend was a learning experience.

Which is good, because I didn’t accomplish a darned thing other than learning how much I need to learn about glass fusing & enameling. *sigh* Ah, well. There will be other days to dig out from the mound of crap on the dining room table, surely.

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