This is an excerpt from the Enamel on Steel – some insights section of this self-same blog. The enamel insights area is a work in progress that receives updates such as this from time-to-time. Please feel free to add your own insights in the comments, or email me.
enamel brands: behaviour of unfired and fired enamels
I’ve recently been working with my WG Ball enamels in earnest, enamelling a series of neckpieces that I have also enamelled in a Thompson colour, a 930 Chinese Red. The WG Ball colour I will use for comparison is their 10104 Sky Blue. Both are liquid enamels that I bought in powdered form, and both applied over a Thompson Clear (low fusing) base. First up, I have found the WG ball enamels to be grainier than the Thompson ones when in solution, and the application to be tougher as they either don’t give good, even coverage (too little water) or when they are covered nicely they then ages to dry and have a tendency to run as they dry (too much water). I’m yet to find a good medium, though as I’m newer to them than the Thompson ones it might just be my water adding and mixing technique. I’ve also tried grinding them down more to help them mix and therefore have better application results, which worked but due to other issues (see below) seemed to be of minimal overall benefit.
The other issue is that thus far, the aforementioned Sky Blue, (as well as some of the other WG Ball enamels I have tried) don’t seem to take on a glossy surface when fired. Again, this is measured in comparison to the Thompson colours (and other colours from Elizabeth Turrell’s studio – I remember a German range there) that I have worked with.
Even to get a semi-gloss is tough. It could be that in my temperature control and timing I am missing the optimum fuse point repeatedly (but once again, I’m hitting the desired time/heat fine with other brands), so the best I can say is that it is very elusive. I’ve either managed to overcook them (they started to flake off the work) or have them look slightly under-fired, with the tell-tale lack of glossy final surface. In the end I have resorted to adding a final layer of clear.
To save time I decided to try mixing them in with some Thompson low-fusing clear. This turned out quite well, to the point that I have begun to mix some of my own colours, thus far just sticking with a single coloured enamel with a single clear.
This works especially well if you are after a more transparent finish, which is something that I happened to want at the time, but in the long run is not really a solution to the gloss-less problem. So far the combinations have played well together in mixing, (meaning they actually go onto the work better) and in finish, as they have fired easily to the desired surface finish.
In my work I have been trying to dilute the strength of the colours a bit too – I’m not into opaque colours at the moment (I like the black of the steel to make itself known and the variegation of the thicknesses of the enamel over a surface give what I find is a desirable smokey quality), but opaque colours are just about everything that I have. In my experiments I’ve been making a mixture of 2:1 (the ratio being premixed clear to premixed coloured enamel, or even more on the clear side of the equation for stronger pigments or to get lighter colouration) on some to ‘water’ them down a bit. That seems to have worked well.
Or shall I say, I liked the finish. If you’re near Gallery Bilk in Canberra in the next month or so you can go check out some of my new experiments on the earrings I’m sending for their earring show to see what I mean.