So far all the enameling tutorials I've posted have been based on sifting techniques. Sifting is great if you want an even layer of enamel over an entire surface, but sometimes you need a more controlled application of enamel. This is when you would use wet packing. Wet packing is used for several advanced enameling techniques, including cloisonne and champleve. It's a very simple technique, but it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it. Before you begin, check out my Intro to Enameling tutorial for basic information about enameling.
Here's what you need:
- Enamel powders
- Small metal spatula/pick
- Plastic palette or spoons (optional)
- Kiln or torch for firing
- Firing supports, trivets, wire screens, etc
- Copper or Fine Silver
- Nitric acid and Baking Soda (if using copper)
- Prepare your metal for enameling. Here I am using a metal clay setting I made.
- Wet your enamel powders. Many people use a plastic palette or plastic spoons to hold their wet enamels. I use the lids of my enamel jars. When the enamel dries out it just falls back into the container. Scoop a little enamel into whatever container you are using and add water drop by drop until you get the consistency you want. It takes a little experimentation to figure out how much water to add. I like to make mine a little wetter as I find that the water helps to carry the enamel into the corners and edges of the opening I'm filling. If you want a more controlled application keep the enamel a little drier.
- Take your spatula or pick and scoop up a tiny blob of enamel. Place it on your piece in the center of the area you are enameling and use your tool to push the enamel into the area or shape you want. Keep adding enamel until you have covered the desired area and built up a thin, even layer. If you are filling an opening in a metal clay or etched piece, don't try to fill it up to the top all at once. It will take two or three layers.
- Very carefully check your piece for stray grains of enamel. You will be able to see a single stray grain of enamel on your piece!
Firing the Enamel:
- Dry your piece thoroughly by gently heating it with the torch or placing it on top of the kiln.
- Fire in the kiln or with the torch until the enamel is smooth and glossy.
- Continue to add coats and fire until you have achieved the thickness of enamel you need.
- Fine silver will stay clean when firing. Go right on to your next coat if needed.
- Copper will oxidize in any areas not covered with enamel. This oxidation needs to be cleaned off before your next firing or it can pop off and get into your next coat of enamel. Sparex Pickle can do funky things to enamel, so you will need to clean it in a 5% nitric acid bath instead. Make sure you neutralize with baking soda and clean your piece really well to get rid of all the acid before you continue. (I've never tried it myself, but some of the alternative pickles like vinegar or citric acid would probably also work and not harm the enamel. If you try it let me know!)