Enamel Butterflies

Learning new techniques is both fascinating and frustrating. When my mother-in-law commissioned me to make a butterfly for her birder-turned-lepidoptera-enthusiast sister, I was unsure what techniques to use. Etching? Ceramit? Kemboo? Enamel? Let's try enamel!

I poured over Deb's butterfly photos  to pick a target. I chose the Baltimore Checkerspot both because its colors are compartmentalized, and because I have a soft spot for checkerspots from my year living in California. As a backup, I also prepared the linework for the Northern Eyed Brown which could be created in silver without additional color. 

Since Deb's husband Bill is also a butterfly enthusiast, I designed a matching tie bar for him from the other side of the checkerspot wing. The simple rectangle shape of the tie bar and larger polygons were ideal for practicing the enamel technique. 

The powdered enamel sat well in the larger cups of the tie bar and I was pleasantly surprised that the first try worked perfectly. The butterfly itself was less cooperative. Because the torch blows the heat onto the surface of the silver, the tiny pockets of powdered color on the butterfly would not likely stay put. On to the kiln.

The results were discolored, dark and bubbly. The tiny patches of white and orange were burning - and removing burnt glass from silver is a thankless task.  It took many rounds of firing, grinding, and re-firing before we were able to pinpoint the problem. 

I only have access to a front-loading kiln. An enameling kiln has an opening at the base so you can place and remove pieces without disrupting the interior temperature. As the kiln door was opened and closed, it was reheating and shooting the temperature far too high. 

Armed with a low temp setting on the kiln and the buddy system, we tried again. This time with someone holding a ceramic panel over the kiln opening to retain as much heat as possible during transfer. Success!