Faublous Fire and the Quantum Karp

Have I mentioned to you yet that I am TOTALLY addicted to enamels? Oh my have I been having fun! My journey to addiction began when I tried my hand at some simple sifted enamel pendants. I thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with sgrafitto in enamels early on. If that wasn’t fun enough I then discovered Barbara Lewis’ immersion method of torch firing beads and other jewelry components. It helped me to re-familiarize myself with the torch (it’s been a while since I did any serious work with a torch) and gain confidence in my enameling capabilities. I loved watching the enamel fuse to the bead in the flame and playing in all the wonderful color. I find this new art form to be very soothing to the spirit. Therapeutic if you will, though dangerously addictive. After a long period of torch firing beads and emboldened by my success I decided to dip my toe into the world of cloisonné … and I’ve decided I’m never coming back.
After playing around with some 20 gauge round wire to make my first pieces I finally invested in some proper fine silver cloisonné wire, and what a world of difference it has made. I can hardly believe how quickly I’m going through the stuff… I already feel panic setting into my heart as I realized I have less than a foot left today. I’ll have to wait a week to get more. I can’t imagine how I’ll cope when I run out. Did I mention that this art form is like the crack of the jewelry arts? Oh yeah … I’m sick. 🙂
After admiring several pieces of Japanese themed pieces from other artists online I found myself inspired to attempt to make a Karp, or Koi in a pond with a lily pad. I started it yesterday about 5:00 and was a woman possessed, working until 1:00 a.m. to finish it. I had to be up at the crack of dawn, and through I tried to convince myself that getting sleep was the wiser course of action it was impossible to get my mind off of the little carp painting that was coming to life before my eyes.
In the first phase I prepared my copper base by fusing a couple of layers of counter enamel to the back and a base of white to the front. Once the base was prepared I drew my design out to scale in my notebook then I cut and shaped the cloisonné wire to form every detail of my carp and little lily pad. I use a product called Blu-Stick to glue the wires in place as I am setting them. It looks like blue elmers glue and is about the same consistency but it burns off clean in the firing process. You can see some traces of it in the picture. I had not yet fired the wires into place.


     In the next phase I pick my pallet of colors and begin wet packing them into the cells created by the cloisonné wire.  I add enamel to the cells, fire it in the torch to fuse that layer and then wet pack again.  This is a process repeated many times, fusing layer upon layer of glass until all of the cells are full.  The wet packed enamel is allowed to dry before firing.  The dry enamel looks like colorful sand.  The coloring is much lighter before the enamel is fired, and then it darkens with beautiful effects.

Here is the wet packed design unfired:


And here is the design after firing when the enamels have darkened:


     After several layers are fused and the cells are full the image is ground back with an alundum stone to level the surface and remove excess glass that may be covering the wire design.  I was very pleased with my little coy!  I then torch fired beads in matching colors to create a necklace to show off my new friend.  I absolutely love the colors, the design and everything about my latest piece.   I cannot wait to see what my efforts over the next year will yield if I remain steadfast in my enameling experiments.  I am enamored with enameling, so I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.




11 thoughts on “Faublous Fire and the Quantum Karp

  1. Delia, I too have taken up torch fire enameling and just love it. Since this is so new to me, it’s like opening a new present everytime I do a piece…not knowing what to expect. I’m so glad I found you, as you give me inspiration to continue to move forward and try new things. I have yet to try cloisonne. Enjoy the adventure!

    • Cindy,
      Glad to have a fellow enthusiast to share the journey with. 🙂 I really surprised myself with this little guy. I didn’t know if I could pull it off or not but I am happy that I gave it my best shot despite all of those doubts – otherwise I would have never known that I could do it. I say, be brave, be bold! The worst thing that can happen is that I make a mistake and have to start over. The stakes are low and there’s so much to gain. 🙂

  2. Beautiful! I LOVE following along on your journey. You are just like me when I’m learning something new – can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t think of anything else. It’s like falling in love. Actually, it IS falling in love! I’ve always admired cloisonne, and have a stash of beads. However, they always feel too “mature or old fashioned” for my customer. I love vintage, but they don’t even feel vintage. But THIS LITTLE GUY!!! He’s modern and the colors are so on trend! I think you have a real winner here!!!!

    • Desiree, that is the best description I’ve heard for that all consuming drive that sweeps us away. It really IS like falling in love! I understand what you mean about some cloisonné seeming to feel too ‘old fashioned’. I think of the blue beads with the flowers all over them. While I have developed an appreciation for the craftsmanship of those pieces, they do not turn me on. I am interested in fun cloisonné – little artful pictures painted in fire. They make my heart happy. Thanks for the comment btw. It really inspires me to share more of my journey over here.

  3. This is gorgeous, Delia. The colors are beautiful and the design is amazing!

    I am also very interested in torch enameling, but haven’t started yet. I saw your post on the Painting with Fire site.

    I had no idea complex pieces like this could be torch fired. Where did you learn to do this?


    • Thank you Joyce. I started experimenting with sifted enamels early in the year after receiving Linda Darty’s book as a Christmas present from my mother-in-law. It has sections on a wide spectrum of enameling work. There was a section in there about cloisonné but as is often the case in books of this nature there wasn’t room for a lot of detail so I supplemented what I learned there with many google searches and youtube searches. I believe it was on youtube that I saw a video of a basic torch fired cloisonné piece. The problem is that I didn’t save most of my google searches so I can’t point you to the video, but if you search youtube for ‘torch fired cloisonne’ it should come up. After playing with Barbara’s technique I had gained a reasonable amount of confidence and decided to just go for it and try to make my first cloisonné – the mermaid in copper cloisonné. My love for enameling is all consuming now.

  4. Hi Joyce,
    Thanks for the kind words. 🙂 I will be playing with this color combination a lot more. And to think I once had an aversion to blue and orange together – not anymore. I adore how they compliment each other. I think they are actually opposites on the color wheel, so I suppose that would make sense.
    I taught myself to do this after my mother in law gave me a book called ‘The Art of Enameling’ by Linda Darty for Christmas. It had some basic instructions, but as is often the case there wasn’t a lot of room for step by step detail so I supplemented my education by endless googling. Youtube was very helpful. I believe it was there that I learned that you could torch fire cloisonné. I never felt like I found any one good solid source but combining the knowledge I found scattered across the internet took me a long way toward the finish line.
    I can say this for certain. Using Barbara Lewis’ torch firing technique really helped to build my confidence in my enameling adventures. It’s a fun, easy and low cost method to get you started. The only difference in tools used from the torch fired beads to cloisonné are a trivet, a firing tripod and a paint brush or two. So once you’re set up for the torch fired beads you’re only about a $25 difference in tools away from being set up for cloisonné work. I say go for it. You’ll love it!

  5. It’s absolutely stunning Delia! I’m so glad I got to see it yesterday at the market, because I doubt you’ll keep it, someone must already be wearing it beaming:)

    • Thanks Arielle. 🙂 I am so thrilled with it – I just made another one lastnight that I will be showing off here soon. I’m just on FIRE! Pun intended. lol I’m telling ya, if this one doesn’t find a home soon it just might land in my own jewelry box.

    • Thank you Barb. 🙂 If you’re interested, I say go for it. You can start with a $35 torch head from the hardware store – no need for a fancy jewelers torch to start out. It’s so much fun!

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