Janet Haigh : Her Work

Textiles: ideas, drawing, design, stitching….

Enamelling Skies

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enamel studio with colour chart and everything neat and clean ready to start firing in the small kiln

I took advantage of the first dull day in recent weeks to start enamelling the cut copper samples for the Sky project. My enamel studio is based in an old conservatory- simply because this was the only space suitable to house the larger kiln and the required water and electricity supplies on the ground floor – but it faces south and gets very hot and even hotter when the kilns are firing, so I tend to enamel in cooler weather

sample copper blanks laid out ready for firing

I had drawn up several colour studies for this work as I am not sure whether I want to have the stripes of the sky sized in relation to the drawings or seen simply as a colour chart – hence the 2 sets of samples opposite. Each sample had been cut, drilled and cleaned in preparation for firing, now I had to make up the colour recipes from one of my sky studies shown in the previous blog, Severn Seas Skies. What I find fascinating about enamel and what drew me to want to make this work is that using several transparent colours over different ground colours it is possible to achieve subtle and glowing tones, perfect for describing the coloured air of the sky. The sky I chose to work from is the first sky on the left of the picture below, plenty of scope to run through a gamut of contrasting colours.

sketches of dawn skies from 2009

The actual colour chart that I worked from can be seen below, it is as close as I can make using my pastel crayons which can be blended into many subtle shades. I will have to buy some more enamels later when I start the big pieces but meanwhile I work with what I have, this way I can discover some interesting outcomes and learn a lot. Making colour with enamel is not the same as using any paint I work with, I suspect it is like using glazes in tempera or certain types of oil paints, but I find it most like silk screen-printing which can be used for the over printing of transparent colours.

color chart hanging in studio window

One of the things to get used to with enamel is imagining the colours before you have fired them, some pale colours are just white in powder form, and sometimes different batches of the same colour  look totally different in the packages than the last batch you worked with – they always fire the well enough though. But it takes a long time to get used to all of this specially if you are a colour-control-freak.

colour difference between cold and hot enamel, the old flat iron is to keep the plates from bowing when cooling, I found this one after a long search round junk shops - like 'Wagon Wheels', it looked a lot smaller than I remembered.

I try to write the colour recipes down as I develop them, the scribbled notes can be seen below showing the half way stage of the sampling session.

midway through the enamelling with written recipes, colours, firing times and sieve meshes observed

By the end of enamelling I have the 2 sets of samples and the recipes are sorted, but one unexpected and useful thing is that the 2 colours I made for the muddy water of the estuary are similar to a paint sample I was given for a commission to make a set of door plates, the hellebore doorplate is shown next to the colours below…..and most poetically, the enamels that make up this particular mud shade are called Sandlewood, Blue Ruby and Rose.

finished sample colours and hellebore door plate in tones of "Portishead Mud"

Now my next task is to decide the colour and thickness of the  wires for  stitching the plates together to form a panel; the first idea of muted blues and greens isn’t working…..and I feel I may need to get rid of the shine – I will keep you posted on my progress.

Sample stitching with coloured wires.

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