Radical: thorough-going or extreme, especially as regards to change from accepted or traditional forms (from dictionary.com)
The Center for Enamel Art has thoroughly embraced this definition with their Radical Enameling workshops! One of the most recent, “Liquid Form Enamel and Enameling on Steel,” taught by instructor Kat Cole at the Richmond Art Center, took the art form in fascinating new directions.
During the three-day workshop we learned all about steel: different types (which had always confused me), which kinds of steel work best with enameling, and resources for finding special enameling steel (which can be difficult to track down). As we discovered, you can even enamel on stainless steel, which we did on bowls provided to us in the workshop!
Initially, we worked on pieces of enameled steel called whiteboard. We quickly moved on to enamel on raw (uncoated) enameling steel. The biggest trick with enameling, of course, is getting the enamel to bond properly with the metal.
Raw enameling steel has an extremely low carbon content as compared with other types of steel, which makes that bonding a bit easier. When enameling steel is used in industry, a ground coat is applied between the liquid enamel and the metal to help the enamel adhere. But as Kat showed us, that ground coat is unnecessary if the metal is prepped properly. And we found we could use a similar prepping technique to enamel on mild steel, which is also low in carbon.
We learned about porcelain enamels (liquid enamels) and how to mix them (details I had never known while playing with them on my own.) Kat demonstrated several different techniques for applying liquid enamels, and taught us how to sift jewelry enamels onto them, how to use sgraffito, or what she called mark-making, and how to add metal oxides and ceramic stains to create color.
In keeping with the “radical” approach, we were encouraged to experiment: forming, sandblasting, spraying, folding, torch firing, soldering, embedding, and generally thinking outside the box. Everyone in this intimate little group went off into their own little world, and created some amazing works.
And our experience didn’t stop there. In addition to the workshop, we attended a presentation by Kat in which she talked about the creative journey she is on and the importance of place as an inspiration in her work. I was able to attend Kat’s opening at the Velvet da Vinci gallery in San Francisco, where she presented her large sculptural work in the elevator shaft of the gallery, and as a delightful bonus I got to explore the galleries and restaurants of Point Richmond and Oakland.
A special thanks to Ed Lay, head of the jewelry department of the Richmond Art Center, for his vast supply of expertise, help, and fun at the workshop, and for showing me how to use the “weed burner” –a high-powered torch–to enamel my steel pieces! All in all it was a very full, informative, and fun weekend.
Thank you, Center for Enamel Art, for bringing enameling into the 21st century!
Evelyn Markasky has a BFA in sculpture from Youngstown State and lives and works in Santa Cruz, CA, where she makes sculpture and jewelry.
Photo credits: Gail Reid for the Center for Enamel Art