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Enamel Painting Part 3

If you’ve followed me this far you’ll be raring to get your hands on some enamel paints and get going!  If you haven’t read them yet, please see Part1 and Part 2 of my little tutorial on enamel painting first.

The idea of enamel painting is to put thin layers of paint on the tile and build up the intensity of the colours over several firings.  If you have used watercolours before, the technique of building layers and painting light colours before dark colours will be familiar to you.  Thick layers of enamel may not fuse properly or may crack off.

Painting enamels are usually passed through 325-gauge mesh so that they are fine enough to use as a paint, whereas ‘normal’ enamels used for sifting might be 80-gauge.



Firstly I used the techniques I described in Part 2 of this series to mix my colours on the tile below.  I used just a drop of Unimedia and then I used my palette knife to get only a tiny amount of enamel powder from the jar.  If you haven’t got a palette knife the back of a teaspoon will do!  Some people use a scalpel for this job but I would no doubt damage myself somehow if I used one.

The palette knife should be cleaned before it goes into the colours and after you have ground each colour into a paste on the tile with the Unimedia.  Although the enamel powder is fine, sometimes it can have a few small lumps in it that need ground in.  You may add more Unimedia if the colour is too thick, but believe me, you probably won’t need much.  You don’t want the colours to be too runny either.



Mixing enamel colours on a tile

Mixing enamel colours on a tile


The first layer of colour should be light.  Like watercolour, you can thin it a bit using Unimedia to get a more transparent colour.  It is better to do this rather than use white mixed in.  The best way to find out is to experiment – if you have a complete disaster with the colours before you have fired your piece, you can just wipe off all the colour and start again.



All of the photos below show the tile being painted on the left, and after each two-minute firing on the right, so that you can see the subtle differences.



On the photo above left I have used ochre to define Benja’s markings very lightly.  I have also added in light blue forget-me-not flowers in turquoise to the background and also to Benja’s gorgeous blue eyes.

I fired the tile for around two minutes.  This does not fire the enamel to a completely glossy stage, but rather leaves a little bit of a ‘key’ for the next layer to be painted on.  You can see that the ochre looks a shade darker after firing (above right).

When you fire a piece, get used to putting the tile into the kiln a quarter turn every time.  The back of the kiln is the hottest and this should help you to get an even firing.



I filled the background in using turquoise and tiny brushstokes and added a few darker petals to the forget me nots.  I also used the turquoise to darken the corners of Benja’s eyes in shadow.



To darken Benja’s fur a little I used chestnut brown, and for the forget-me-not leaves I used the imaginatively-named ‘green’.



I darkened the lower portion of the sky a little with more turquoise and continued to darken Benja’s fur using chestnut brown.  I used a little purple for Benja’s nose and ears which actaully comes out a nice pink colour when used lightly.



I used slate grey in the bottom left of the painting and used a technique called ‘sgraffito’, whereby I scratched into the enamel paint with the other end of my brush to create a fur-like effect.  I also used this colour to define Benja’s eyes, pupils and nose.

To darken some of the forget-me-not leaves I used reed green.



The painting now comes to life with the added depth that darker colours bring.  I continued to develop Benja’s markings with chestnut brown and use reed green and lamp black between the forget-me-not leaves to make them stand out.



Using my tiny brushes and lots of concentration I carefully painted lamp black around Benja’s eyes and nose to define them.



The background was too empty so I added some skeletal winter trees using lamp black.  I also used this colour to define Benja’s eyes and pupils again, and generally continue to darken areas that need it.  The painting is nearly finished.




After a few final tweaks, the painting is ready.  You won’t be able to see much difference between the photos below and those above, as I was just ironing out some small details.




My husband, being a cabinet maker, has helped me to appreciate all things wooden.  He is my chief framer and I requested a nice wide frame for this piece.  He made it from American white oak and ‘let in’ a square in the centre to take the painting, then used a router to create a smaller ‘frame’ which we filled in with black to create interest.

As a final touch I used my pyrography machine and a steady hand to ‘burn’ Benja’s name onto the frame.  To do this I always measure the lettering carefully.  The best way is to write down the words you want on paper and count the letters and spaces until you find the ‘middle’ of the sentence.  Then find the ‘middle’ of the frame and mark this in light pencil, plus draw some straight guidelines for your letters.  Finally, write the words onto the frame itself in light pencil, working from the middle outwards.

Using your pyrography machine and lots of support for your writing hand, carefully go over your pencil marks.  I use light strokes until I reach the required burn.

Below is the finished painting in its lovely frame.


Finished enamel painting


Happy birthday mam, I hope this brings you many good memories of our times with Benga!


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