Friday, June 1, 2012

Crow and Lamb Table

This was a really exciting commission that I got from Beeken Parson Furniture in Vermont. They had a client whose last name was also Crowe, and whose wife's maiden name was Lamb and they had commissioned a table that included these images. 
I had only just started making pieces in the grisaille technique - so I didn't have the level of confidence that I did with champleve, which I had been doing for over 20 years. 
What this meant was that I made a lot more samples before beginning the actual project. In order to show the clients what I could do I made two crow samples:

I sent the first one as my bid for the commission and happily the client liked it so much that they bought it! And I got the commission. 

Now I had other things to think about. They didn't want the traditional grisaille on black, as the wood for the table was to be light. I made a few samples on browns, but realised that I would have to see the wood before I moved on. So Beeken Parsons sent me a sample of the gorgeous burled maple. It then became clear that the base colour I would use would be mocha.

The small crow and lamb here were the last samples I made before beginning the project
I needed to begin by soldering some posts on the back of the circles. Not being an experienced solderer I took them to my good friend Charles Jevons.
But from there - I chronicled the whole process by making videos as I went along, 
You can find the first in a series of ten here:

In the end, we just ran into one small problem. I had sent the copper discs to Beeken Parsons so they would know the exact size of the medallions. What I didn't know at the time was that every time you enamel something it gets a little bigger: the copper expands, but doesn't reduce back to it's original size because the fused glass prevents it. So all the depressions that they had made in advance to take the medallions were too small! However they were able to overcome the prolems and put the table together. These are some pictures of the table as it was when it was finished.  

The large piece in the centre was a particular challenge, as it was 11" in diameter (larger than I had ever made before. In fact it was so large that I couldn't make it in my kilns. George Brown College generously allowed me to use their kilns - but it meant that I didn't have much time. I only had three hours to finish it!

The next year I went and visited the Crowes in Vermont, and Beeken Parsons furniture. It was nice to meet them, and I was delighted to be able to put faces to the voices I had been conversing with.  Jeff Crowe told me that he carried the original crow in his pocket when he went golfing for good luck ;-)

Below are detailed shots of the individual medallions - which were 3 " in diameter.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Joan of Arc

Grisaille is a technique that was perfected in the 15th century by the great painted enamel houses of Limoges: Penicaud, Limousin and Reymond.
I first saw grisaille enamels in the Taft Museum in Cincinnati and I was smitten. 
My drawing and painting skills were weak - so I had to spend a lot of time honing them, and learning techniques that would make the pieces affordable (unlike the traditional pieces which were fired as many as 35 times)

painted enamel Joan of Arc

So I start with a stencil which I make myself based on my design.
I sift a thin layer of opalescent white which serves two purposes: it gives me an outline to work within, and it reduces the chances of the painted layers 'crazing' (breaking apart with tiny cracks) as a painted enamel is likely to do on top of a regularly fired enamel.

painted enamel Joan of Arc

I carefully check my drawing and scratch areas which will need to stay dark throughout the process

painted enamel Joan of Arc
When it is fired this layer is barely noticeable
painted enamel Joan of Arc
 I then add the enamel paint (China paint) in thin layers.

painted enamel Joan of Arc
Each time it is fired, the white softens
painted enamel Joan of Arc
painted (fired picture missing)
I work from the shadows towards the highlights - which is a little unusual, as one sketches toward the shadows. So one has to think backwards. And always remember how much the paint softens when it is fired (allowing previous layers to show through

painted enamel Joan of Arc
painted enamel Joan of Arc
Each time I add the paint - I am thinking of what needs to be highlighted. The trick is in learning to see the drawing in a series of 2 dimensional planes: like layered transparencies.

painted enamel Joan of Arc
painted (fired picture missing)
Each time I paint a layer, I cover a smaller area, building up the high points, avoiding areas of shadow

painted enamel Joan of Arc
I continue to add the enamel paint in thin layers, The final layer of paint is usually just a few points. (note the finger tips and back of the hand). 

Usually it takes between 5 and 9 layers to build up the effect I want

painted enamel Joan of Arc
final fire
This piece is based on a Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting. If you would like to see the original click here. 

While copying another work is often frowned upon it is the most useful exercise in learning a new technique. It is important to focus on technique rather than composition when learning a new process and this is one of the best ways to do it.

Grisaille has now become one of my main techniques - I have an extensive line of jewellery and framed panels

Now I generally work from photographs, but I am getting more comfortable with this kind of composition and look forward to creating more original works. You can see my creations to date here:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Persian Minakari

This is a project that was inspired by an Iranian jeweller coming to my studio with an enamelled bowl and asking me what materials he would need to re-create this technique. The technique is called Mina-kari (which is Persian for "azure glass"). He had actually been taught to do it when he was young - but it had been so many years he didn't remember much. I hope this will jog his memory! To me it looked like fairly straight-foward sgraffito. So I decided to do some simple tests.

This is a series of tests I did to try and figure out common materials to recreate this ancient (and very beautiful!) technique. Here is a traditional piece

I started by trying three "paints" on three whites I used Ultramarine fines (the medium blue), China paint (the darkest) and Prussian fines (the lightest) all mixed with a water medium that I got from Coral Schaeffer (#1368) Iused 1010 Undercoat, 1020 Titanium and 1030 Foundation as my whites. You will see that the Prussian fines did not scratch very well.These were just initial tests so I didn't put too much effort into the design ;-)

The next level of test were influenced by an observation that my apprentice Alex Bolduc made - noting that the colour inside the lines was underneath the scratch marks - and must have been painted on before scratching - so I decided to try painting both the background and the pattern before scratching. I had eliminated the fines after the first test - I didn't have enough control - they were too 'slushy'. In the subsequent tests I used only blue china paint mixed with Coral's water medium. It is very slow to dry (at least 10-15 minutes on top of the kiln before it is dry) as opposed to the Thompson acrylic blue (which was the only other colour used in these tests) which dried very very fast.

The first tests were done of 1030 Foundation white

I scratched a line around the bottom design - but when fired the enamel paint spread and covered the line


The next tests used the same paint material - but were on 1010 Undercoat White

In the final piece (base 1020 Titanium) I tried putting the acrylic paint on quite a bit thinner when it was a base coat. This worked much better but for some reason it would not flow when it was painted over the china paint

Now for the final tests I eliminated the 1030 Foundation - the paint seemed always to go too blurry with this base. I felt that the china paint lost it's brightness and became to much like navy on the 1020 Titanium - so I used the 1010 Undercoat for the final tests.

I mixed the china paint with white liquid enamel - but I had the same problem with it not flowing. I am very happy with the turquoise background - but will need to go out an purchase some white china paint before I am entirely happy with the darker blue.
The red was Thompson Acrylic. It is by itself on the turquoise piece - but I thought it needed to be deeper - so I mixed it half and half with brown.
The trouble with Thompson Acrylic - is that the palette is limited to 12 colours - while china paint can be purchased in an unlimited palette. I will be doing some more tests with different mediums (I am going to try an oil medium today) so I will keep you posted!