How did you do that? The making of a Eutectic fired Enamel Bowl.

July 27, 2017 1 Comment

How did you do that? The making of a Eutectic fired Enamel Bowl.

As an artist I have  spent many years learning to look, listen, and feel in order to create my work. Often, I look at an art work and wonder how in the world did the artist make that?  So many times you have to take a course to learn a new process or technique. That can get very expensive when you figure in tuition, travel, lodging, and meals.  I also understand that some techniques in art, like enameling, take years to perfect and learn with inherent dangers of a kiln and the enamel dust, so precautions are a must before you venture into a new direction.   

Most artists are very helpful and open, but I would encourage all artists to openly share their passion and let people in on the secret.  I feel this this would only stimulate more people to take an interest in your art, or to take a course to learn more. 

I just finished this bowl for the Enamel Society 2017 auction. I took some process pictures to document my thoughts and challenges of how this bowl came to life.  I hope you enjoy the process and my art better.  If you have any questions I will try and answer them.  Enameling is a process that is part chemistry and sometimes part magic.  

I am always curious how artists produce their work. So many times you have to take a course to learn a new process or technique. So, I decided to take some process pictures while making this bowl and share my process and my challenges. I am always up for suggestions....Also a big thank you to 2 people. My mentor, Jan Harrell, a master enamelist whom I have been taking classes with at the Glassell School of Art in Houston for a long time, and Averill Shepps who introduced me to eutectic enamels during a break out session at the last enamel society meeting in Boston. This piece will be a donation the The Enamel Society auction in 2017.
This copper bowl was formed on a Tm technology power hammer . This is what I have in my shop. I took a course with the developer Kent White and a close friend a few years ago and it was fascinating. If you want to learn more visit his web site: I get no royalties!!! I just love his teaching and tools. Kent is master metalworker in aviation and autos plus a great and fun guy. I bought this because of 2 bad wrists and a bad back. It serves several functions: 1. I am able to use this with my worn out body parts, 2. It saves me a great deal of time, and 3. It gives me the ability to create in so many new ways .

​Roughing dies... I used the leather die

Stage 1
Roughing out center with a  roughing leather head top and domed bottom head. An ugly hat at this stage. Started with a  12 inch round  blank 18 g Cooper.
​Stage 2 shrinking dies I used the hard metal die as that was the only one I had
I used the polymer bottom die  and large upper  planishing dies
 ​Stage 3 Planishing dies smooth things out
​All done. No annealing during the entire process.  I used a round plastic dowel to make the center impression with the bowl sitting on a  steel table.     Bowl  edges were upset with a planishing hammer  and texture was  added with fine cross peen hammer  Finished size is 12 X 3 inches.  It took me 45 minutes to form this bowl using this process.  Normally it could take at least 8 to 12 hours if I used a stump with hammers, and  with multiple annealings for a bowl this size. Not something my back or wrists could do.
Now onto more excitement and enameling.
​Stage 1
Sifted and fired 2015 Thompson 80 mesh thru 100 mesh sifter. The enamel flux coat was applied to both sides after cleaning and polishing with 3M fine  wheel and acid wash between sides and polishing.  Do not overfire! also may not do a flux coat on thinking is: it may be less pooling when eutectic reaction occurs..  room to explore.
Sifting enamels and adding 18 g fine silver wire....these are the colors I used.

​The eutectic magic happens at 1650 degrees with transparent unleaded Thompson enamel and fine silver wire.  I am sure any unleaded enamel may work, but I have only experience with this process and unleaded  Thompson enamels.  Tried it with leaded enamel and it didn't work well. The eutectic reaction occurs    around 1650 degrees.  At this temp things move fast and the enamels do too. You have to crack the door of the kiln and watch, or you will have a mess.  You never know the result!!!😀 I am fairly abstract​ in my work.  Some may take hours to do sifting of enamels.. but for me I let the magic happen in the kiln. I used 18 g fine silver wire that will fuse into the copper and displace the enamel. 20 g works as well.  Here are the colors I used.   The image below is what happens when you try this  with leaded enamels.  Not much flow of the silver.

​My shop turns into a mess during  this  process!

​After fired at 1650 for 1 min 45 sec you can see how the silver fused to the copper and displaced the enamel even the flux coat as well.  The grey is the fine silver with fire scale. If you keep firing multiple times you can burn thru the silver.
Final firing before acid wash
​Bottom of the bowl ....My signature/logo is fired on with a decal,   This image was made in  illustrator.  I then printed with a  laser printer on to  decal paper.  Cut it out and then when wet slid it on.  Let it dry, and fired it at 1400 for about 3 minutes.    ..The image after the first firing  was much darker than the final , but it worked. It will only hold up for a couple of firings. Great technique Jan Harrell! Thanks.
​After acid wash, silver is cleaned up and polished. The inside I  thought was done.  Plan was to add color tomorrow on the bottom .  Then I  will need to re-polish the fine silver veins.
​Bottom with signature.  Oh no, I forgot the date!!!!

​It seems like there are always surprises or problems that pop up.  When I woke up I had several stress fractures in the bottom of the bowl where the enamel pooled during the eutectic firing.  So time to solve the challenge. How to protect the silver and clean up the pools of enamel that were now cracking?????  A great time to sit back and think.

​I recently came across  Michael Glancy and amazing artist and who  also teaches at RISD.   Here is a link to his website. .  I spoke to him and learned he uses a 3M sandblasting resist before he sandblasts and then  electroforms his glass. So, earlier I had purchased some on amazon as I was interested in pursuing electroforming.  It was sitting on the shelf waiting for an application.  I  applied it to the fine silver areas to protect them  and then sandblasted the fractured enamel off with 180 grit aluminum oxide. I then peeled resist off, cleaned it  and then  refused it .

Buttercut is the common name for this 3M product used in the grave stone making industry.  The resist is easily applied as  it is  peel and stick.   It is easy to cut with surgical blade, or cutting printer like a silhouette.
Sandblasting done.Resist peeled off and cleaned with silver protected.   Thanks Michael!!!

​Before Re-firing after cleaning

​When I fire big work I wire the rack to a mesh base so nothing slips getting it to hot kiln. It makes it easier to keep things from falling.  Yes, I have done that!  Experience teaches.
​Fired at 1450 for opaques 3 minutes. Time started when vessel is to temp in kiln.

​I needed to keep bowl flat so used weight on bottom while still hot on my steel table.
​The colors I used for the bottom.

Now for superb Pictures...      Art and  product  photography is part of my studio. 
​Finally done here are several views.  A fun donation and project ... always with surprises and learning!!!

​I like the end result.  I live on a lake and the colors I used reflect  my my love of nature, fire and light.  I also like the abstract interplay of the silver and the enamels.  It is always a surprise to see how it turns out in the end.  The blue/sapphire  bottom seems to add life and a surprise.

​Bottom of bowl with  logo, signature and date. I hope you enjoyed this explanation.  If you have questions/suggestions  let me know.   
Namaste Al

​Post Scrip:
So the story goes on.... Woke up and was ready to pack and low and behold a crack and a chip came off the bottom.  Oh the joys of enameling!  It's always a balance to get the stresses equal. And sometimes stuff happens in the heavens..... So this was not acceptable and needed to be repaired.
​You can see the pooled enamel is not in balance.  A lesson that is easy to forget, but is of the utmost importance.   It was to thick and unbalanced.  so I decided to use a diamond wheel on a burr under water to take down the thick  pools and refire. The issue with refiring multiple times is the silver will eventually burn out.  I had a small amount of that but a little  renaissance wax and off to the Auction.

​I applied a new decal before the last firing over the old one that had burnt off .. This will be the last firing. A wise friend told me "There is a time to call it good enough....before it starts going south". So true with enameling.  Thanks for your time.
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1 Response

Lily Winter
Lily Winter

May 25, 2022

Thanks so much.. super interesting! I can feel your frustration about the cracks! I am new to enameling, trying to find my place and my vision (&, of course, technique). Sincerely, Lily Winter

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